REVIEW:  When They See Us – Central Park Five


30 years might appear long ago……. but not really.

If you saw “When They See Us” that is great news AND if you ALSO saw the actual documentary “The Central Park 5” – Congratulations, you are in the top of the class.  If you only have seen one of the titles or haven’t seen any at all……. please do yourself a favor and do your homework – watch them.  The 1989 Central Park Five issue has been reignited with Ava DuVernay’s recent production.  It is the most talked about subject at work, at home or at play.  DuVernay’s piece makes it that much riveting or fuels inspiration for you to get up to speed.  Even the person who takes pride in being the local curmudgeon will appreciate the time they invest to join the crowd.  


Noted film-maker Ava DuVernay has struck a nerve across the globe with her docu-drama series, “When They See Us.”  Fueled by the Netflix platform a record 23 million viewers tuned into the first month, which was June 2019.  “When They See Us” is a spin-off from the documentary.

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 20: (L-R) Raymond Santana, Jr., Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, director Ava DuVernay, Antron McCray, and Yusef Salaam attend the World Premiere of Netflix’s “When They See Us” at the Apollo Theater on May 20, 2019 in New York City. at The Apollo Theater on May 20, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic) (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

The Central Park Five” which was created by the erstwhile story teller, Ken Burns and his daughter, Sarah.  Their piece showcased in 2012.

Both pieces relive the story of five teenagers from Harlem who happened to be at New York’s Central Park when Trisha Ellen Meili while doing her routine jog was viciously raped and left for dead.  The case exploded in the media as the teenagers were rounded up and faced charges of the jogger’s plight.  They were comprised of four African-Americans and one Puerto Rican.  The victim was a young career professional who was white.

A matter of perspective

Public sentiment was fueled by the racial characteristics of the incident.  During that period there was an epidemic in communities across the United States being affected by drugs and other criminal behavior.  Those in urban cores such as Harlem was defined as “ground-zero” for the mayhem which became an everyday occurrence.

 

As difficult as it is for people to candidly talk about race, in reality it is pretty easy as it can only be based on one’s perspective or experience.  Such is the case when you read and hear comments about both pieces.  Generally, whites or those who adopt a white perspective define the films a certain way and those who are non-white see things from a different lens.  More specific whites see police or those in authority of simply doing there job.

DuVernay takes you on a journey to help you grasp the issue from the beginning such as giving you a glimpse of what life looked like for those teenagers who were charged.  Her piece was split into four parts with each being a little bit more than one hour.  So, after completing the journey you have consumed a piece of history that very few could articulate while insuring accuracy to understand a very complex subject.

Sarah Burns

In the documentary one of the teenagers,  Kevin Richardson tells how he was approached by then college student Sarah Burns who was researching a project for one of her classes.  She wanted his permission to share his perspective of the incident.

She persuaded her father, Ken Burns to help bring the story to life via a documentary.  Through their team they produced a piece which was woven into two hours.  The footage they produced never stopped as with the case of most of their films. Hard facts and the actual subjects zoom right into your zone.

(Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for NPCA)

Race

Both pieces showcase the issue of racial injustice.  They showcase ego and incompetence.  They showcase the personal and financial toil of how families must navigate a person who is incarcerated.  They showcase fear in victims who must suffer the wrath and intimidation of those investigating and/or interrogating them.  They showcase the rawness or life for those incarcerating and the basic survival skills necessary to stay alive and not lose your mind.  They showcase the paltry support system of those who have served their time and must transform themselves back into their community.

Central Park Jogger case at 100 Center St. in Manhattan. DA asks for more time to review evidence. Demonstrators protest outside courthouse in favor of dismissal. Council member Perkins, Dolores Wise, Mother of Khery, and Raymond Santana Sr. (Photo By: Michael Albans/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Despite their incarceration the five teenagers had morphed into manhood from serving their time.  Following serving their time, they accepted their sentence and simply committed to get on with their lives.  Call it a fluke, luck or magic the five held onto to their knowledge of serving time for a crime they did not admit.  Years had passed but by chance, the person who actually committed the crime came forward and shared his confession with the oldest defendant; Kory Wise and later with prison authorities.

“This tragedy reminds us how much we struggle to come to terms with America’s original sin, which is race,” Ken Burns.

The bottom-line is all had their sentences exonerated.  Even with the clear confession and proof the five had nothing to do with the initial crime.  The prosecution and various authorities as well as many in the public could not accept, they were totally vindicated.  Yes, the victim who performed the rape was finally identified BUT many people simply brought into the notion that prosecution or authorities would never resort to coercing any type of confession or they subscribed to the belief the teenagers lived in projects and had troubled-lives so even though there was no evidence they did the act, surely they most be guilty – if not for the rape, OF SOMETHING!!!  Part of their assessment was based on confessions molded on their naïve belief that “who would confess to something they did not do?” but to be more specific they allowed the disparity of race to cloud their lens in proclaiming the five young men as guilty.

 

Just as Sarah Burns and her dad received extraordinary acclaim for their documentary, the same can be expected for DuVernay and her team as they have presented a compelling piece or work that will be referenced for years way into the future.

 

Recommendation

DuVernay’s piece is split into four parts so give yourself enough time to absorb and understand the content.  No doubt since there is more than four hours of footage, she was able to stretch out more than what is presented in the documentary.  That is necessary to help you understand the complexity of the characters and the issues they faced.

 

The documentary is a must see, as by investing two hours you are able to grasp actual information and filter it through your own lens or understanding.  Your assignment is not complete until you have seen the docu-drama and the documentary.


Chasing King’s Killer – The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin – My Review


If this book were a novel it would easily earn 5 stars.

Unfortunately, because it deals with history and is one person’s account, I will be generous and rate it 3 stars, simply because there are a couple of critical omissions, so unless the reader is fully informed on the life of Dr. King and the events which led to his assassination, they are left to the narration of others.

The book is masterfully designed and in hardback looks great.  It is designed as part of the Scholastic series or targeted for high school students or young adults.  However, regardless of age, the content is so intriguing it is a great find for your library.

It weaves you through the journey of Dr. King’s life including one of the initial assassination attempts during his inaugural book signing which took place in New York.  Also, there are some great photographs in the book.  It continues and traces Dr. King’s work which eventually took him to Memphis.  Then, it changes course and brings James Earl Ray into focus.  Swanson does a good job in narrating the life and struggles of Ray.  It concludes with his decision to finally pull the trigger firing the deadly blow which allegedly fell Dr. King.

The book covers 373 pages and has a touching forward by civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis.  Upon reflection I doubt if Congressman Lewis read the entire book?  The contradictions made in Swanson’s representation are basic well-known facts, so either Lewis let it slide, didn’t think it was significant enough to challenge or simply lent his name to the book but didn’t read it?

Dr. King’s life and work is well documented.  Some facts or issues are disputed but I am one who has studied Dr. King for some time and while mistakes or errors do occur from time to time, from my perspective Swanson writes from a viewpoint he feels worthy of directing.  Also, in fairness to Swanson I received a copy for review so perhaps corrections have already been made?  My critique is not to be a knit-picker but facts are facts and any omission raises red flags and as previously mentioned are very important when historic events or figures are the topic.

Two Contradictions

Here are two contradictions on why I reduced my rating from 5 stars to 3 stars.   Fortunately, in addition to studying Dr King’s work, I have been to Memphis.  Been to the Lorraine Hotel, the area where the shot was allegedly fired from.  Additionally, I have been inside the Mason Temple arena where Dr. King gave his last speech, the famous “Mountaintop Speech.”  As Swanson describes the day of April 3, 1968 on page 128 he specifically mentions on the third paragraph Dr. King had spoken for an hour and a half.  That translates into ninety minutes?  Fortunately, many of Dr. King’s speeches and remarks were recorded.  I have listened to the “Mountaintop Speech” well over 50 times and the facts are simple; Dr. King did not speak for ninety minutes but more like 30 minutes from the time Rev. Abernathy introduced him until his last words where he was helped to his seat when finished.

The other issue is accepting the notion that James Earl Ray was the only killer?  Coincidently, in 2008 I met Judge Joe Brown at the Lorraine Motel and he spent over three hours explaining the case federal case  where he was the presiding judge.  The trial is well documented and was brought by the King family to determine if James Earl Ray was the only killer?  Judge Brown is known for his controversy but whether you believe them or not, or whether you believe Swanson’s narrative or not was not the sole criteria for my review.  However, Swanson appears to marginalize the King family’s attempt to get “their” truth as on page 251 he writes, “his lies (Ray) deceived Dr. King’s family and one of King’s sons visited Ray in prison, told him he believed him, and shook his hand.”  The problem for me what Swanson’s represents is the tone of denial or questioning the reality of the King family, at least as how they saw it!   In other words who is it for them to question the narrative which most of the public has accepted?

 

Judge Brown told me directly that based on the trial, James Earl Ray was not the killer.   As shocking as that might sound, it is a critical fact or point of view worth exploring.  The bigger point and the reason I challenge Swanson is the King family accepted the jury decision of the trial, which concluded James Earl Ray was not the lone killer as people had been made to believe.

Nevertheless, Swanson has presented a good book.  It is yet another perspective of Dr. King and his assassination.  I am sure he has an explanation on the issues I have raised regarding the accuracy or narration of the book?  For some the omissions I have pointed out may appear irrelevant but the factual record is clear and if the King family supported granting James Earl Ray a trial to determine if in fact there were other conspirator’s, then who is for Swanson or me to refute their desires or motivation?

Cuba:  The Forgotten Revolution – My Review


[Westchester, CA ]    When most people think about the Cuban Revolution, whether you love him or hate him it is recognized Fidel Castro was the leader.

This past weekend Loyola Marymount University hosted “A Celebration of Cuban Arts and Culture.”  Among several activities, Professor Glenn Gebhard, noted film director and professor in the LMU School of Film and Television screened his Emmy award doc, “Cuba – The Forgotten Revolution.”   The film came out in 2015.

The piece is not just another bio-pic about Cuba.  What it does is update the historical record and highlights how Fidel rose to the ultimate leadership position.

I decided to make the film with the understanding that some would hate it and try to dismiss it, and others would love it!!  Professor Glenn Gebhard

 

Prior to the noted take-over in 1959, escalating in the 1950’s there were several opposition forces to the Bautista regime.   The film highlights leaders who at the time were more powerful than Fidel.  Two which deservingly captured the research of Gebhard was Jose Antonio Echeverria and Frank Pais.  Many young people across the island formed their activism while attending the University of Havana.    Jose Antonio Echeverria was student body president and developed quite a following which bled out of the University to the western part of the country.   Frank Pais (Pie-Es) was at the southeastern portion of the island in the Santiago region and also had assembled an impressive opposition group.

Fidel’s martyrdom is well documented.  Unfortunately,  Echeverria nor Pais lived to see the victory of the revolution.  Echeverria was killed at 25 years old in 1957.   Several months later in July País who was just 22 years old was also killed.

Even though previous historical accounts skip over their place in the revolution (highlighting Fidel as the primary leader), Gebhard’s film gives you a much better perspective how their actions fueled the revolution and successfully forced Bautista out.   After all, following the July 26, 1953 ill-fated battle at Moncada prison, where Fidel suffered a defeat and subsequently was captured and imprisoned, Echeverria and País had forces much larger than his.

 

In completing the film, Gebhard compiled a fledging team who were able to cull together solid documentation.  However, it was through his connection with Steve Krahnke and his team at PBS that finally made the film a reality.


The thing about a documentary is facts are pulled together from the perspective of the producers.  Some may dismiss their facts but just as Gebhard presented information to update the record, until others provide refuttable facts, the presentation becomes the current account.

My score, a 10 based on content.

**screening dates of the film are pending, however it is available on Netflix**

Nespresso Coffee Machine by Breville – My review



Postscript – since my initial post I have really gained lots of experience in using the machine.  Additionally readers on our YouTube site have offered edits, so for the most updated commentary I would encourage you to read the comments on the YouTube page.  Thanks.

Most of you know I am fortunate to have been selected by one of the nation’s top merchandiser’s to review consumer products.  I try to make my reviews simple, easy to understand and not so lengthy they bore the reader.

Here is the Nespresso Coffee Machine by Breville.

This machine is fantastic and transforms even the motley coffee enthusiast such as myself into a professional barista.

The price ranges from $200-$250 but after you so some simple math you will see the benefit as for some you will see an immediate saving over what you are paying for your brew.

 

Review: Roman J. Israel, esq – Symposium & Discussion


Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a dramatic thriller set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system. Denzel Washington stars as a driven, idealistic defense attorney whose life is upended when a turbulent series of events challenge the activism that has defined his career. Colin Farrell costars as the ambitious, monied lawyer who recruits Roman to his firm.

[Leimert Park, CA]  Known as the cultural heartbeat of the African-American community Leimert Park was full of energy as SONY Pictures, the African-American Film Critics Association and the Urban Issues Forum hosted a symposium and discussion on the upcoming movie Roman J. Israel, esg.  Last night a standing room only crowd squeezed in the iconic Regency West supper club to hear first hand why this movie is a must-see.

“You have lots of great civil rights attorney’s but they are not the same as civil rights activist.”  Jasmyne Cannick.

Led by AAFCA president Gil Robertson the panel was allowed to stretch out and gave great examples of current day activism in Los Angeles.  The panelists were social critic and political commentator Jasmyne Cannick;  the film’s director and producer Dan Gilroy; Professor of African-American studies and noted historian of activism in Los Angeles, Dr. Anthony Samad and noted community activist attorney Nana Gyamfi.

Asked about what motivated him to create the film, director Gilroy stated he is a “child of the 60’s” who grew up in a very liberal-minded family.  He noted the impact of the civil rights movement and how he came to appreciate the activist attorney’s who worked during that period even up until now.  “The issues never stop,” mentioned Gilroy.  He spoke how the character portrayed in the movie had a unique personality and once he showed the screen play to lead actor Denzel Washington the rest is history.  Washington played a critical role in developing the film and once the movie “Fences” was completed he gave his full energy in helping Gilroy bring the movie to the big screen.  Screening is set with a special engagement on November 17th in Los Angeles and New York.

The film is set in Los Angeles during the ’70’s and is one you will enjoy.  Coincidently, coming out of the civil rights movement many students moving on to college were motivated to study law.  A good crop were led to become proficient as “people’s law” attorney’s with the aspiration to bring justice to all of those who were underserved or victims of the criminal justice system.  Like the movie character Israel, they weren’t the most flashy in appearance but were extraordinary in understanding the law and how it could benefit the clients who sought them out.  Israel’s character also reminds you of the work such as James Bell who has built a stellar legal career dealing with the injustices of youth.

Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates “We Were Eight Years in Power – An American Tragedy”


Ta-Nehisi Coates “We Were Eight Years in Power – An American Tragedy” is a must read for those who desire to stay informed in our current environment.

CLICK PHOTO ABOVE TO VIEW ENTIRE VIDEO.  (L-R), Ta-Nehisi Coates, author and national correspondent for The Atlantic, and moderator Michele Norris, freelance journalist and author, participate in The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC hosted “A Conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates: We Were Eight Years in Power”, on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto)

We Were Eight Years in Power” showcases Coates’ voice who is a Gen X’r but offers credible perspectives as seen through the African-American lens, or at least from those such as his. The book weaves eight essays and demonstrates a new thought of how our world is changing. The notion of Barack Obama running for president, let alone thinking he could get elected seemed like a lark, if not an impossible reality to so many. Yet, people like Coates and later generations such as millennial’s write with pride as Obama defied the odds to become President and successfully completed two terms. Starting as a Blogger, Coates joined the team at the Atlantic and in a short period has taken off.

The content of the book takes you on a journey of historic reality. Some may be troubled from how Coates portrays racism and how it has shaped our culture. He admits there has been progress but while so many dismiss the gains as we are “so better off,” his point is to remind you of the vestiges created from the notion of using race as a benchmark.

Regardless of whether you agree with some of Coates perspectives or not, the book is chalk-full of personal examples and other documented facts which allow you to better appreciate his writing style. He is unapologetic and reminds you how African-American’s have risen to tremendous levels of success, despite the barriers of how life is conducted in the United States.

Through his credibility as a journalist/writer he was given the opportunity to be in the company of Barack Obama. The first meeting morphed into a relationship where then president Obama invited him to the White House for more robust discussion centered around race and progress. Coates writes how much he treasured the invite and subsequent relationship.

The chapter “My President is Black” came from an essay which received international acclaim. Despite your feelings of Barack Obama, Coates allows you to better understand the rise and how he and first lady Michelle took the notion of being the first African-American president with pride and conducted themselves impeccably.

As this review is being written, Coates is concluding his book tour. Also, the recent elections of November 7, 2017 which brought a solid rebuke to Donald Trump, his politics and the rhetoric he spews is a point Coates makes, still in disbelief the voting public elected him as the 45th president is very interesting. The book references this point with a unique twist. Coates brings it home by helping the reader understand the dilemma and pressures Obama had to contend while, while Trump with just the reality of being a “white man” desiring to be president never had to deal with the continuousness. His primary issue was brought on by his own actions, not from systemic racism.

Coates admits not trying to be a “voice” for people or causes, but through his writing and how he has penned this book you quickly are thought to elevate him to a credible voice, which will be prominent for years to come.

The book which is a tad under 400 pages is a quick read. The good news is each chapter is its own separate essay and does a very good job of referencing how Coates saw things during the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. It is a worthy investment for your library, especially if part of your frequent communication is on politics and race, and you truly desire a different perspective.

The movie MARSHALL: My review


[Los Angeles, CA] The movie “Marshall” is set for release this weekend.  I was fortunate to be in attendance with some of my BPG (Black Professional Group) colleagues as they hosted an advance screening Wednesday, October 11th.

 

The life of Thurgood Marshall has been chronicled in the annals of contemporary history.  However as iconic as his legal career was and his subsequent place as a justice on the Supreme Court, there is much about him the public does not know.   The two most recent books of his life do a good job in presenting his career; Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary written by Juan Williams (2000) and Showdown, written by Wil Haygood (2015).

 

Marshall” the movie does a good job of showcasing his brilliance of our legal system.  It is not a documentary but more of a bio-pic.  Therefore, it does take creative license in presenting a very entertaining movie.  Certain scenes take me back to “Native Son” as race and sex are center stage.  You have a black chauffeur accused of raping a white woman, whom he worked for.  We have seen this plot before.  As a young attorney Marshall was part of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund so he was summoned to represent the chauffeur who claimed to be falsely accused.

bi·o·pic
ˈbīōˌpik/

noun

informal
noun: biopic; plural noun: biopics; noun: bio-pic; plural noun: bio-pics
  1. a biographical movie.

 

Through twist and turns of dealing with sheer racism and a system which automatically assumed those accused, especially if they were black (African-American) were guilty, Marshall used his gift to motivate and convince the lead attorney they could turn the system to their favor while seeking to exonerate their client.

My grade

If you know about Justice Thurgood Marshall, you will score the film high.  However, if you are not aware of his career or the plight of blacks during that period, you will miss the sensitivities and may provide a lower grade.  My grade comes in at a solid 7, and after some reflection I could see moving it up to an 8 because it covered so much ground.

 

The cast is very contemporary but at the end you are treated to three people who make a cameo appearance which make you appreciate the struggle of working through the legal system in trying to achieve justice.

 

More information.

 

On Tuesday, October 10th the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC also had a special screening.  Those in attendance were treated to a post question and answer conducted by Wil Haygood (The Butler) as he interviewed the director, Reginald Hudlin.    There are many poignant comments during the 32-minute session, including how not one U.S. company was willing to fund the project.  The usual excuse of the film not having a broad audience was the reason Hudlin shared.  How many times have we heard that only to see such movies take on worldwide interest?   Hudlin’s work was eventually realized as Chinese investors stepped forward.

Question and Answer with director

Here is the official trailer

Chadwick BosemanJosh GadKate Hudson