Oscars 2016: Nonwhite Presenters Present Bright Spots in White Cinema

Chris Rock!

“I counted at least fifteen black people in that montage!”

Thus did emcee Chris Rock kick off the 88th Academy Awards after an animated intro full of lamps with adjectives on them and Oscar statuettes being imbued with all the colors of the rainbow. After the actors and actresses of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences offered up their second consecutive slate of twenty white nominees in a row, the Academy faced an online onslaught of #OscarsSoWhite criticism and went into full damage control mode, enlisting writer/director and former BET CEO Reginald Hudlin as an additional producer and basically giving second-time host Rock a free pass to do whatever came to mind. This served him well for a surprisingly outrageous monologue and a few later comedy bits, until later in the ceremony when he threw away a significant chunk of goodwill on a quick, pointless, unfunny, racist gag that had nothing to do with anything.

It was one surprise in a night full of several, some of them not so tasteless. A few movies I really liked in 2015 came away with bragging rights, so I got that going for me.

Right this way for the list of winners and rundown of memorable moments!

Oscars 2015: A Salute to Diversity on Stage (or, Never Mind the Ballots)


87th Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris reminds you there are no small winners, only small haters.

“Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest…”

Thus did Neil Patrick Harris kick off the 87th Academy Awards, whose twenty acting nominations failed to impress any onlookers who favor a multicultural viewpoint on everyday life. Much has already been said about this disconcerting coincidence over the past month-plus, but the show’s producers, no doubt in tandem with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, went all-out in assembling a team of celebrity presenters positioned a bit more broadly across the racial spectrum. Big names announcing or handing out awards included Oprah Winfrey, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o (a lock regardless of controversy thanks to last year’s 12 Years a Slave win), Jennifer Lopez, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kerri Washington, Viola Davis, Zoe Saldana, Dwayne Johnson, Terrance Howard, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Hart, Eddie Murphy, and AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (another lock by virtue of her position).

Their compensation efforts were noticed. And to be fair, not everyone who took home a statue tonight was white. There are other interesting categories besides acting.

Right this way for the winners and special moments!

Science Fiction is Our Most Realistic Defense Against Random Shooters

Candle.Headlines today informed Portland, Oregon, they were the next unfortunate recipient of a tragic American public shooting incident. You can dive into Twitter, Facebook, or any other corner of the internet where people with human emotions dwell and witness a diverse cross-section of reactions: horror, terror, outrage, lamentation, grief, et al. There are other corners where you can pull quotes from those who bask in inhuman emotions, but there’s no healthy reason for that.

Sadly, stories about shootings are commanding so many front pages and conversations, as much from frequency as from simple impact, that we’re seeing numbness and moral surrender joining the social-media chorus in increasing numbers. I’m a proponent of directed prayer myself because I firmly believe that many things are parsecs beyond my control, but when it comes to talking preventatives or cures or root causes or coping mechanisms with others of differing beliefs, I fear the internet in general may soon run out of eloquence on the subject. How many more ways can we express indignation, extend comfort, and proffer wisdom over the same kind of event over and over again? Could we reach a point of having to reuse the same sentiments every time it comes up? At the rate we’re covering this same ground at length, I won’t be surprised to see Hallmark mining everyone’s retweets and reblogs for material to reuse in a new line of shootings-specific sympathy cards.

So what can we do?

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Oscars 2014: Three Big Winners and Not Enough Pizza to Go Around

Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres

“Possibility #1: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility #2: you’re all racists.”

Thus did host Ellen DeGeneres conclude her ten-minute opening monologue for the 86th Academy Awards — possibly not as safe and innocuous as the producers might’ve hoped, but not likely to inspire internet firestorms on Monday morning, either. Of all the nominees, three films walked away with the most awards, most of them unsurprising to anyone who kept up with the discussions to any degree. I’d guess Best Original Screenplay probably ruined the most Oscar pools this time around.

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Empty Nest Update #3: Handling Our First School Shooting

Purdue shooting black ribbon, 1/14/2014

For Andrew Boldt and family. Our prayers and thoughts are with them tonight.

Today during the course of one of our usual workday back-‘n’-forth email volleys, I thought it odd when my wife sent me another, separate email with a new title: “Purdue Shooting”. She knew she’d have my full attention.

Within the same minute that I opened her email, my son the Purdue freshman texted me. In case I heard about a shooting at Purdue, he wrote, he wanted me to know he was fine, even though he’d been in the same building where and when the shooting occurred.

That disrupted my concentration for a while.

In case you missed the news…

One Good Thing to Come Out of the “Bridgegate” Scandal

Chris Christie, New JerseyFor those just catching up on the week in headline news: Republican politician Chris Christie, currently governor of New Jersey but intermittently mentioned in hushed tones among optimistic rank-‘n’-file as a possible party savior in the 2016 Presidential race, has been accused of directing his subordinates to pull transportation strings and create a four-day traffic snarl where the George Washington Bridge connects Manhattan to the New Jersey town of Fort Lee, allegedly because its mayor hadn’t fallen in lockstep with his party colleagues and publicly endorsed Christie’s future endeavors.

Or something like that. I’ve missed some finer details. Political stories don’t stick with me for long. (When I first began noticing heated debates in my circles about Benghazi, my only reaction was, “Is that Ian MacKaye’s new band?”) Bridgegate was unusual enough and filled with enough bipartisan hot-button issues — political extortion, abuse of power, petty vengeance — that I finally relented and read an article or two about it. At this point it’s now all about denials, apologies, firings, and now I’m seeing the word “subpoena” creeping onto the battlefield. I imagine this brouhaha is only in its infancy and in no danger of falling off the main page anytime soon.

I am grateful for one noticeable change that’s a direct result of Bridgegate: over the past two days, whenever internet users were overwhelmed with the urge to take potshots at Christie, the jokes were no longer about his weight.

The following has zero to do with politics…

Behold the Future of Chicago Sun-Times Photojournalism

Marvel NOW!, C2E2 2013Hardly an award-winning pic, is it?

When I attended the “Marvel: From NOW! to Infinity” panel at C2E2 last April, I arrived late from another panel and found myself in the back row. I thought covering the panel from an amateur perspective might be a fun lark for one segment of the MCC readership. Unfortunately I back-burnered that part of my C2E2 experience because (a) pro comics-news sites had the panel’s announcements posted online days before I would’ve gotten around to them; and (b) my photos were rubbish.

I’d rather not imagine a world in which I might’ve had a chance of selling this reject for real American money. I enjoy seeing the work of skillful eyes and hands that justly shame me in this area. I doubt few dream of a world in which our news sites and newspapers drop several degrees in visual competence and settle for publishing any available photos to accompany their articles regardless of quality, offering whatever they can scrounge up from overworked reporters or untrained bystanders.

The Powers That Be at the Chicago Sun-Times believe so deeply in this alternate future that they’ve decided to push our timeline forward in that direction. Last week numerous sources reported the venerable institution dismissed all 28 of its staff photographers (including one Pulitzer winner) as a cost-cutting measure and announced plans to offer smartphone photography lessons to its staff reporters, who clearly had too much time on their hands and needed extra busywork to keep them from turning into total goof-offs.

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