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With a simple tweet, April Reign launched a diversity movement

WAVE NEWSPAPERS — Reign, a writer, editor and a former attorney who frequently tweets about race, politics and pop culture, said she was compelled to tweet in 2015 watching the Academy Awards nominations being announced on national television and being disappointed about the lack of diversity in the nominations. Her tweet #OscarsSoWhite went viral and a movement was underway.

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By Wave Staff

EXPOSITION PARK — April Reign didn’t mean to spark a movement.

Reign, a writer, editor and a former attorney who frequently tweets about race, politics and pop culture, said she was compelled to tweet in 2015 watching the Academy Awards nominations being announced on national television and being disappointed about the lack of diversity in the nominations.

Her tweet #OscarsSoWhite went viral and a movement was underway.

“It was supposed to be a runoff hashtag,” she told a capacity crowd May 15 at the California African American Museum. “I was in my living room watching TV and Chris Hemsworth, who played Thor, announced the nominees for the Oscars. I immediately noticed that African Americans were not represented in any of the categories. I tweeted the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and left for work.”

Reign said that hours later, she checked the tweet, curious about the reaction it may have generated and was stunned to find that it had gone viral.

“I thought that the lack of minority candidates for Oscar nominations in 2015 was a fluke,” she recalls, adding that she thought the hashtag would eventually fizzle out. But to Reign’s surprise, #OscarsSoWhite continued to go viral.

Reign said that the following year when people of color again failed to garner nominations, she realized that the exclusion was no fluke. Pausing, she added, “How white was the Oscars? It was snow.”

Reign once again tweeted the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.

“People, especially black people, really caught on as to what was happening,” she said, adding that the tweet once again went viral.

Due to the overwhelming response on social media, Reign made a decision.

“I had to determine if this moment was going to be a movement. I decided to focus a spotlight on the need for equity and diversity,” she said, realizing that systemic change was needed within the entertainment industry.

Since the hashtag went viral in 2015, Reign has lectured at conferences and academic institutions nationally and internationally about the need for inclusion of marginalized groups historically excluded by Hollywood.

“The lack of inclusion isn’t just a race and ethnicity problem, it is also a problem with gender identity, sexual identity and age discrimination,” she said.

“Why don’t we have more black trans women, people with disabilities, gay men and Latinos represented?” she asked, adding, “We have never had a disabled person playing a superhero. Asian and LGBTQ people should raise their voices and speak out about [the lack of] inclusion, as well,” she said.

In 2016, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced that the Academy would diversify the group’s membership by doubling the number of women and people of color within the Academy ranks. That same year, the Academy invited 683 new members to join. Nearly half were women and people of color, the most diverse group the Academy had ever had in its 88-year history.

Although the academy still remains overwhelmingly white and male, Reign, a former editor at BroadwayBlack.com, hopes that it will continue its mission to double the number of women and minorities by 2020.

“The key is to make studio heads understand that the more diverse a project is, the more it will positively affect their bottom line,” she said. “It can’t be like a Band-Aid on a cancer. There is no putting Tussin on it and praying it away. That will not work. They have to make anti-racism part of the agenda every single day.”

The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag ignited globally as well. Producers, moviegoers, actors and activists in Germany, London, South Africa, New Zealand and South America began calling for inclusion and diversity in their own countries.

Reign was invited to attend the 91st Academy Awards earlier this year and despite the fact that movies like “Black Panther” and “Roma” received awards, she still believes that the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag needs to continue.

“Until we are no longer having these conversations about firsts in 2019, and until we see everyone having the opportunity, whether it’s race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or indigenous people in this country, until we all have an opportunity to see ourselves represented on screen, not just during awards season but all year long, I’ll still continue to talk about #OscarsSoWhite,” she told Variety magazine recently.

During the diversity controversy, Reign praised actress Frances McDormand, who publicly announced that she would work to include people of color in front of and behind the camera.

And Reign noted that actors and actresses of color were no longer waiting for Hollywood to offer roles but are taking their careers into their own hands.

“Actors and actresses of color are no longer waiting for a seat at the table. They’re spearheading their own projects and creating content themselves,” Reign said. “Ava DuVernay, Will and Jada Smith, Michael B. Jordan and Issa Rae have all started their own production companies.

“I have made people mad,” Reign said of her inclusion efforts. “There are groups that feel that I am not doing enough or doing it the wrong way. I know that speaking out about marginalization will continue to be an uphill battle.”

Despite her critics, Reign said that the hashtag has generated invitations to speak about diversity and inclusion at conferences and universities around the world, and she added that most of the feedback from the Hollywood community has been positive.

“Arsenio Hall reached out to me. He said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’ And Spike Lee said he believed he would not have received an Oscar if it had not been for the #OscarsSoWhite movement,” Reign said.

“The purpose of this movement is to move the next generation,” Reign said. “Racial diversity and equity may not be solved in a lifetime, but we must take pride in the progress that we have made.”

#OscarsSoWhite was not Reign’s first foray in igniting debate on twitter. She frequently uses her voice and social activism to speak up for causes she strongly believes in.

In 2017, she helped to create the #NoConfederate hashtag as well as the Keep Birth Control Copay Free campaign, a clap back at some of the recent votes to restrict abortion.

In 2014, Reign launched a twitter campaign to protest a celebrity boxing match between rapper DMX and Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.

The charity event’s proceeds would have gone directly to Trayvon Martin’s family, who adamantly stated that they did not want the money and announced that they would not support the fight.

Reign also thought the fight was a bad idea. She created the #StopTheFight hashtag, which attracted protests and prompted one woman to start an online petition that generated thousands of signatures.

With online outrage continuing to brew over the upcoming fight, Reign received a call from the boxing promoter, who took note of the disapproval on Twitter and officially canceled the much-anticipated match up.

The activist urged audience members not to hesitate to get involved if they are passionate about a certain project or a cause.

“We must find ways to advocate for justice by any means necessary,” she said. “Just be sure to learn your issue backward and forward and you can help to make the world a better place.”

This article originally appeared in Wave Newspapers

Arts and Culture

Former Post Staffer Releases New Film, ‘I Thought You Knew’

With the intent of addressing LGBTQ themes as well as mental health issues and how to cope with them, Haqq Shabazz’ most recent effort, “I Thought You Knew,” follows beautiful and intelligent Lavette, who has just been released from prison after completing a two-year sentence. While inside, she succeeds on her college SATs exam, realizing her desire of going to college.

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Amir Abu Haqq Shabazz, left, with Elise Neal, an actress who has appeared in several films Haqq Shabazz has produced. Phot courtesy of Haqq Shabazz.
Amir Abu Haqq Shabazz, left, with Elise Neal, an actress who has appeared in several films Haqq Shabazz has produced. Phot courtesy of Haqq Shabazz.

IN YO FACE Filmworks recently released the film, “I Thought You Knew” on the internet and is available for viewing through IMDb.

Amir Abu Haqq Shabazz, owner of Haqq Shabazz Entertainment, and staffer for the Post News Group more than 20 years ago, has produced and/or co-produced many films with Black casts and crews.

With the intent of addressing LGBTQ themes as well as mental health issues and how to cope with them, Haqq Shabazz’ most recent effort, “I Thought You Knew,” follows beautiful and intelligent Lavette, who has just been released from prison after completing a two-year sentence. While inside, she succeeds on her college SATs exam, realizing her desire of going to college.

But things swiftly spiral out of control. To her astonishment, her terrible connection with her father re-emerges as do troubles with her psychotic best friend.

It results in a life-or-death situation.

The stars of the film are Glenn Plummer, Felicia Snoop Pearson, Marcus T. Paulk, Drag-On, Lindsey Cruz, Zaina Juliette, and Michael Monteiro.

The story concept was created by playwright and executive producer Retornzia Riser and the screenplay was written and directed by Conrad Glover.

Haqq Shabazz, Damon Jamal, and Chad Montgomery, executive producers of IN YO FACE Filmworks, led a fine team of line producers in Riser, Cleo Flucker, Anthony A.B. Butler and Emily T. Hall.

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Activism

San Rafael Elks Club Presents Documentary Film on Child Sex-Trafficking

“California’s Forgotten Children” is an award-winning, feature-length documentary directed by Melody C. Miller, and, according to the documentary’s website, exposes the commercial sexual exploitation of children in California.

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Top, movie poster. Middle from left: Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, photo from www.theextraordinary.com; Carissa Phelps photo from alchetron.com; Minh Dang photo from www.globalslaveryindex.org; Leah Jonet Albright-Byrd photo from www.gannett-cdn.com, Nikolaos Al-Khadra photo from hollyaustinsmith.com; and Rachel Thomas, M. Ed., photo from www.rachelcthomas.com
Top, movie poster. Middle from left: Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, photo from www.theextraordinary.com; Carissa Phelps photo from alchetron.com; Minh Dang photo from www.globalslaveryindex.org; Leah Jonet Albright-Byrd photo from www.gannett-cdn.com, Nikolaos Al-Khadra photo from hollyaustinsmith.com; and Rachel Thomas, M. Ed., photo from www.rachelcthomas.com

By Godfrey Lee

A special screening of “California’s Forgotten Children,” a film about children who were victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, was shown at the San Rafael Elks Lodge #1108, on Nov. 2, 2022.

A Hula dance group performed, and hamburger dinner was served prior to the screening of the film. Laurel Botsford, founding president and CEO of Wisdom International: Help2Others presented the film. Marin County District Attorney Lori Frugoli joined Botsford after the screening to answer questions concerning human trafficking.

“California’s Forgotten Children” is an award-winning, feature-length documentary directed by Melody C. Miller, and, according to the documentary’s website, exposes the commercial sexual exploitation of children in California.

Survivors shown in the documentary share their individual stories and help the viewer gain insight into this hidden world. Available online, the film can be shared with children who may also be facing such issues themselves wherever they live.

The resilient survivors featured in the film overcame the commercial sexual exploitation that they experienced as children. They are now changing the world by ensuring that no child is forgotten.

Stories from movement leaders like orator Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, attorney Carissa Phelps, academic scholar Minh Dang, activist Leah Jonet Albright-Byrd, therapist Nikolaos Al-Khadra, and educator Rachel Thomas, M. Ed., were featured in the documentary.

Current statistics and perspectives on sexual exploitation from professionals in social services, law enforcement, advocates and child welfare were also shown in the film.

Through their honest, personal stories, viewers can see the real world of sex trafficking by uncovering every aspect of commercial sexual exploitation. The film presents a better understanding of this crime, and encourages people to act against the injustice, violence, and slavery, and keep children safe from behind-doors rape.

Viewers also develop empathy for the children being unjustly arrested for prostitution and learn about how to help empower survivors on their path to freedom. Hope and inspiration is found through these survivors who have overcome incredible trauma and who are now leaders in their communities.

If you suspect human trafficking or recruitment and grooming in progress, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or the new San Francisco Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-415-907-9911.

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#NNPA BlackPress

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

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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.

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