Open letter to Motion Picture Academy, L.A. Women’s Theater Festival

Dear Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences,

You have come under intense criticism for Cloroxing this year’s Oscars, without nominating a single Black-themed film or actor for an Academy Award. As an entertainment/arts reviewer I’d like to help you – and the motion picture industry at large – with this whitewashing conundrum, which also reflects your overwhelmingly Caucasian membership. As the history of professional sports proves, the problem isn’t a lack of talent in the Black community, but rather a lack of opportunity. (Can you say “Jackie Robinson?”)

So, in order for the Academy to resolve this membership and Oscar snafu, and also for those studio decision makers inhabiting the executive suites who can greenlight motion picture projects, I advise you to please attend the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival (LAWTF). While this annual fest is open to women of all ethnic backgrounds who present live solo performances, it does highlight women of color who work onstage. Of course, much of L.A.’s unique live theatre scene is connected to the film and TV world (television currently seems to be far more diverse than movies, as the 2016 Emmys illustrated).

Please send your casting directors, agents, managers, producers, suits, et al, to LAWTF, and I guarantee you that much of the Academy’s and the movie industry’s colorblindness will be solved, and the national embarrassment and shame of being regarded as racist will dissipate. There are so many Black, Latina, Asian and other talents presenting their artistry at this Festival that you will have a colorful cornucopia of talent to choose from. Chris Rock will no longer be able to mock the Academy for its perceived bias while hosting your live awards ceremony.

The 23rd annual LAWTF just concluded (but see below for deets on an April 30 encore). On opening night (March 24) a musical number was performed by about ten of this year’s solo performers, raising the roof together with a song celebrating this year’s LAWTF theme of “Telling Our Truths.”

Amidst much good-natured banter, this year’s hosts – actress Starletta DuPois (Friday After Next, Big Momma’s House, South Central, Whitney Houston’s mom in Waiting to Exhale) and actor Barry Shabaka Henley (Ali, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Black-ish) – presented this year’s LAWTF awards, accompanied by graphics projected onscreen. Writer/producer/director/actress Marja-Lewis Ryan, who called herself “a queer girl from Brooklyn” during her impassioned acceptance speech, won the Maverick Award. (Although one wonders about accepting ovations for being unconventional: Does that defeat the purpose of following the beat of a different drummer?)

The Rainbow Awards for diversity actually went to two winners this year, both Cuban-Americans. Choreographer Ana Maria Alvarez and Dr. Chantal Rodriguez, programming director/literary manager for the Latino Theater Company, each received it.

Curious indeed was the bestowing of the Integrity Award on the executive of a defense contractor, Northrop Grumman. Sandra J. Evers-Manly, their Vice President for Corporate Responsibility, has also been involved with the NAACP Image Awards and was founding president of the Black Hollywood Education Program. As her hyphenated name indicates, she is a cousin of the slain Civil Rights martyr Medgar Evers, who was gunned down at Jackson, Miss., in 1963. On the front page of Northrop Grumman’s website are many militaristic images of drones, bombers, rifle-pointing uniformed soldiers and other warlike propaganda. One can’t help but wonder what Medgar – a leader in the Civil Rights movement, which espoused nonviolence – would make of his name being associated with such militarism. There’s no “integrity” in arming U.S. imperialism!

The late, great Cuban-American actress Elizabeth Peña won the Infinity Award, which is well deserved. I particularly enjoyed her in John Sayles’ 1996 Lone Star, where she and her onscreen lover, Chris Cooper, discover that they are actually half-siblings – and what they decide to do about this is pretty quirky and kinky.

Singer and Broadway actress Eloise Laws received the Eternity Award and rocked the house with two songs. However, unlike in previous years, aside from the opening evening’s two musical acts, there were no other live dramatic performances by the solo talents participating in LAWTF. The awards ceremony’s final speaker was the Festival’s co-founder and president, actress Adilah Barnes, whose long list of credits includes 2000’s Erin Brockovich and depicting journalist Ida B. Wells opposite Hilary Swank, Anjelica Huston and Vera Farmiga in the 2004 suffragette HBO movie Iron Jawed Angels.    

Other co-hosts for this year’s LAWTF include the great director/actress/writer Iona Morris, whose father Greg Morris co-starred in the 1960s TV series Mission Impossible. LAWTF ticket buyers travel from near and far to attend, such as the Bay Area’s Diane Barnes, who wrote and performs the one-woman show My Stroke of Luck (see: www.dianebarnes415.com/) and has studied with Anna Deavere Smith, maestra of solo shows. This was Barnes’s first visit to LAWTF but one suspects not her last – perhaps she’ll return as a performer?

For more info and a full schedule, go to: www.lawtf.org. Okay, so no excuses, Academy and movie execs, casting directors, etc.! You know where to go to find the female talent that reflects the true diversity of 21st-century America. And that’s telling the truth, Ruth!

Sincerely yours,

Ed Rampell, Your Most Humble and Obedient Reviewer

LAWTF and the City of West Hollywood are presenting Encore! A Day of Theatre starting at noon on April 30 at The Actor’s Company, 916 N. Formosa Ave., West Hollywood, CA 90046. Performances include Sandy Brown’s Oh, Yes She Did! (which could be the slogan of LAWTF). For schedule information: See www.lawtf.org or call (818) 760-0408.  


CONTRIBUTOR

Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Film historian and critic Ed Rampell was named after CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow because of his TV exposes of Sen. Joe McCarthy. Rampell majored in cinema at New York's Hunter College. After graduating, he lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, where he reported on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific movement for "20/20," Reuters, AP, Radio Australia, Newsweek, etc. He went on to co-write "The Finger" column for New Times L.A. and has written for many other publications, including Variety, Mother Jones, The Nation, Islands, L.A. Times, L.A. Daily News, Written By, The Progressive, The Guardian, The Financial Times, and AlterNet.

Rampell appears in the 2005 Australian documentary "Hula Girls, Imagining Paradise." He co-authored two books on Pacific Island politics, as well as two film histories: "Made In Paradise, Hollywood's Films of Hawaii and the South Seas" and "Pearl Harbor in the Movies." Rampell is the author of "Progressive Hollywood, A People's Film History of the United States." He is a co-founder of the James Agee Cinema Circle and one of L.A.'s most prolific film/theatre/opera reviewers.

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