2016 Oscar Picks and Predictions

Tonight’s the big night, and I have to confess I’ve seen fewer of the movies up for awards than I’ve usually seen at this time. Before I present my handful of Oscar picks, I’d like to make some predictions about the red carpet fashions and the show itself:

  1. Viola Davis will stun. She will glow. She’s going to win an Oscar tonight, and she’s going to wear something bright and dazzling that honors her curves and her gorgeous skin tone.
  2. Meryl Streep will look comfortable.
  3. Jimmy Kimmel will do just fine.
  4. The speeches will rivet, if you’re into political commentary. If you’re not, you’ll be changing the channel.
  5. The show will go long by, I’m guessing, 24 minutes.

Here are my Oscar picks:

  1. Movie: Moonlight–I’ve never seen a movie like it; it’s extraordinary and a story too rarely told.
  2. Actor: someone not Casey Affleck (who will probably win) or Denzel Washington (whom I love but whose acting in Fences was overwrought); anyone else, please
  3. Actress: Natalie Portman–her performance in Jackie was phenomenal. She was that movie. But she already has an Oscar, and sometimes the Academy likes to recognize someone different, which might make it Emma Stone’s night, and that’s okay. Emma Stone’s a darned good actress too.
  4. Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, hands down. Superb character, superb performance.
  5. Supporting Actress: Viola Davis for Fences, though she probably should’ve won for Doubt years ago. Davis is a golden actress, an American treasure, and every performance she turns out is excellent. I don’t care about the snot she had during the big crying scene in Fences. This award is for the whole performance but mostly for her amazing body of work.
  6. Director: Barry Jenkins for Moonlight. Please, please, pretty please!
  7. Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins again please. If he can take home two, that would be wonderful and well deserved.
  8. Original Screenplay: It’s okay with me if LaLa Land wins this one.
  9. Documentary Feature: I Am Not Your Negro. I haven’t seen it yet, but if what I hear about it is true, it’s a necessary, an urgent, and an amazing film. It’s next on my list to see.

It should be noted that I haven’t seen LaLa Land either, and I probably will someday, but right now I can’t stomach the thought of it. I like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (and would much prefer Gosling to take home the Actor Oscar over Affleck or Washington), and I’ve heard good things about this movie from people I didn’t expect to hear such good things about it from. It’s been nominated for a record-tying 14 awards. The two movies whose nomination numbers it tied are All About Eve and Titanic. All About Eve was an outstanding movie, one I still watch when I can. Titanic was good the first go-round, but its special effects were, frankly, the only dazzling thing about it. (Okay, Kate W. and Leo D. are very good to look at, but wow, the terrible script sank that ship! Haha, little joke.) And I wasn’t even that taken with the special effects.

And from what I know of LaLa Land‘s storyline, it seems sweet enough and the characters relatable enough, and whatever. But if you’ve seen Moonlight, you’ll know how big a difference there is, how rare a gem this film is. It’s a long-needed love story. Moonlight for the win, the big big wins!


Twitter Prediction

When the Deplorable-Elect takes office tomorrow and becomes the Deplorable-in-Chief (DiC, pronounced “dick,” for future usage), he intends to take the weekend off before he starts his new job. But methinks he will take his thumbs to Twitter and fill our feed with fake news: He will multiply the numbers of his inaugural crowd. If he shows humility (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!), he will claim numbers on a par with those that President Obama drew on his inaugural day. But we know the future DiC is not one to show humility, so I assume he will claim the bigliest numbers of them all, record-breaking numbers, big big bigly numbers.

Shortly after, he will reduce the numbers of those who show up for Saturday’s Women’s March. However much he adds to his inauguration’s crowd numbers, he will subtract from the Women’s March numbers. Fake math by our faking-it DiC.

Just you watch.

Some Thoughts on Assassination and Inaugurations

On the eve of an inauguration I will not watch, I am thinking about the day of President Obama’s inauguration with such nostalgia that I verge on tears. I remember the crowds, their soaring hope; I remember the cold, the concerns over bathroom usage. I remember Aretha Franklin’s astonishing attire, her towering, big-bowed hat. I remember the swearing-in, Justice John Roberts’ fumbling over the oath, and President Obama’s insistence that the swearing-in take place a second time so that no one would challenge it. (He knew very well the resistance he faced. He wanted to get things right.)

But what I recall with startling clarity this morning was how I held my breath when President and Mrs. Obama chose to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, to wave at the people they would serve. I had assassination on my mind, its ugly possibility. We were not living in post-racial America. I was well aware of the racist hatred already aimed at President Obama and his family and their imminent occupation of the White House. The many meanings of that word, “White,” more than resonated.

They walked along Pennsylvania Avenue. They waved. They made it safely.

Already I had watched President Obama—as President-Elect and as Senator—address the crowds from behind walls of bullet-proof glass. (And now I remember Oprah Winfrey crying in the audience the night of the election, when then-President-Elect Obama delivered his victory speech in Chicago.) I had taken note of that bullet-proof glass with equal parts sadness and worry. It signified the risks to our incoming President. It signified the very real possibility of assassination.

President Obama made it for two terms without assassination attempts—well, not of that kind, at least.

The man who is being inaugurated tomorrow as this country’s 45th president made sure to attempt character assassination. He led the charge on the birther movement. He spent years making loud his claims that President Obama, winner of both the electoral college and the popular vote, was not a citizen of the United States. The man whose inauguration takes place tomorrow has never actually served this country; he has done ample disservice, however. And his attempted character assassination was nothing less than a violent act of racism.

Eight years ago Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, was particularly poignant. “I have a dream,” we quoted, many of us, a chorus of proud citizens. That holiday seemed especially important to many of us again this year, though we tended to favor the words of “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated at age 39.

Tomorrow I have to work. Had the 2016 election had a different, a better outcome, I would have canceled classes so that I could partake of history. Tomorrow I will keep my television off, in the interest of my well-being. Tomorrow I will search the world for the beauty it yields. I will take solace in my friends, in nature and kindness and art—the very people and things the incoming administration seems intent on harming.

It occurs to me now that the assassination I most fear is that of this country by the bully puppet of the Russian dictator and the inept, out-of-touch gazillionaires and criminals with which he is staffing his cabinet. My mother and a handful of friends assure me I have nothing to worry about. They’ve been wrong too many times about too many things for me to feel assured. I can hope that the country is strong; President Obama’s eight years in office have certainly strengthened us. I can hope the country is self-correcting; there will be so very much to correct in the days and years ahead. I will look to the President we have now, today, for a model of grace and composure, intelligence and compassion, hope and hard work. And I will look to the candidate who won the popular vote by nearly three million votes for a model of strength and stamina, capability and resilience. And I will try, I will try, I will try and hope eventually to succeed at “going high,” as Michelle Obama reminded us, “when they go low”—because god knows “they” are already digging a new bottom to feed on.

On Checking Sources: The Bible Says, “Commit Adultery”

I’m almost finished grading my freshman comp students’ annotated bibliographies for their upcoming research papers. This year, I finally cracked the code of how to get the students to do everything I’ve asked. As usual, some are doing better than others, but on the whole, these two classes are a big improvement over past classes.

One thing I require is that a portion of the annotation be dedicated to a thorough check of the source’s reliability. It’s downright refreshing to see how many of the students took the time to do in-depth background checks on the publications, the authors, the organizations, etc. 

I wish everyone (by which I mean everyone, not just students) would take the time to check their sources, to dig deeper, to examine them for bias. I wish everyone would take the time to see when they’re posting a quote or video out of context or so-called “news” from a severely right- or left-leaning source.

As we all know, the Bible says, and I do quote, “Commit adultery.” But it’s downright ugly of me, isn’t it, to delete the all-important first words. It’s ugly and inaccurate and the very opposite of what’s intended.

I’ve see such “quoting” and “editing” occur on Michael Moore’s recent film, in which he talks about people in Michigan voting for the GOP nom (the beginning of his speech is used and cuts away from his final argument). I’ve seen this with Hillary Clinton’s testimony on Benghazi–a key line entirely separated from its context. I’ve seen this done to President Obama. I’ve seen white supremacist website articles posted as if they were gospel–by people who I don’t think mean to align with white supremacists. I’ve almost posted stuff without checking the source; sometimes I’ve posted it anyway, after checking. At least I know that when I’m watching Rachel Maddow, I’m watching a pundit and not a hard journalist.

One of the things that’s so effective about some of Hillary Clinton’s ads is that they quote the GOP nom in context. Yep, he said all that, and if you put the context around it, it paints an even uglier picture.

Folks, check your sources. Learn how to check your sources. Please.

On the Killing of a Gorilla by the Cincinnati Zoo

Two days ago, Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, was shot dead by zookeepers as their way of rescuing a four-year-old boy who had fallen into the enclosure. I watched the videos, and in one, when Harambe dragged the little boy through the water from the far side of the enclosure to a more central location, I considered the situation urgent, even dire. But Harambe sat the boy beneath his arms and protected him, it appeared to me, from the screams and cries of the human onlookers. They sat still, both the gorilla and the little boy, and appeared calm.

The boy, as I understand it, had snaked his way through some shrubs surrounding the enclosure and fallen into the moat below. Harambe went to get him, perhaps to inspect him, perhaps to tend to him, perhaps to detect whether the boy presented a meaningful threat. The boy both did and did not present a meaningful threat.

Within minutes, Harambe was dead, and the little boy was safe. Zookeepers determined that the gorilla needed to die and thus shot him. The little boy was taken to the hospital and released uninjured later that evening.

As is true of many consumers of this news, I am outraged. From what I understand, a number of people are blaming the boy’s parents and the zookeepers for the “senseless” death or “murder” of Harambe, who had just turned seventeen. A part of me wants to blame the parents — that part of me is automatic — but four-year-old children are tricky, sly creatures, full of play and mischief, and I do not know whether the little boy was untended in his game or whether his guardians were well aware of his climbing and let him go to it. For all I know, they were scolding him or insisting he come back when he fell into the moat below; in as likely a scenario, they were letting him run wild, giving their attention to a text or photo op or some other distraction.

I do not have trouble blaming the zookeepers who decided to kill Harambe. I heard an interview of one of the zoo’s representatives, who assured the newscaster and television audience that the right action had been taken and there was no other choice. The good journalist asked a fair question: Why not shoot the gorilla with tranquilizer darts? The zoo representative described why that would be a bad decision: If Harambe were injured or sensed injury, he might harm the child. The zoo rep asserted yet again that zookeepers had made the correct decision.

I would have pressed further. Shouldn’t they have started with tranquilizer darts and, in the event Harambe tried to harm the child, had their rifles at the ready? What thinking precluded that decision? After all, the tranquilizers might have worked, the child rescued, and Harambe still alive.

“Every thing that lives is holy,” wrote William Blake. I am not unaffected by Harambe’s death, which I do consider an outrage, a senseless act, murder of a kind. Little more than a week ago, I visited the Audubon Zoo and admired the male gorilla sitting placid and alert in the shade of a boulder. Upon learning of Harambe’s killing, I thought of that gorilla and blessed his life.

For more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/29/us/cincinnati-zoo-gorilla-shot/

Dear, Damned Mississippi: An Open Letter Regarding HB 1523

Dear, Damned Mississippi,

As you know, I parted ways with you 29 years ago next month. I was 23. I had been born on the Gulf Coast, and I had lived in you for all but a year and a half of my life. I knew at puberty that I had to leave you — you weren’t good for me; you suffocated me with more than your humidity — but I couldn’t yet pinpoint why I had to go. I understood instinctually that my survival depended on it, and to this day, I believe that I am alive because I left you.

Years ago, long after I had left but when my parents still lived in you, my mother used to try to shame me for our physical distance. I lived in Atlanta at the time, then in the Southwest. Families should stick together, she said. I should live closer, as other children of other parents did, in order to look after my parents as they aged. There is much more to this argument — my mother is very much like my motherland — but I told her, intending no melodrama, that if I had not left you, Mississippi, I would probably have been dead, a suicide, or (at best? at worst?) so deeply depressed that I might as well have been dead.

I stopped calling my parents’ house “home” while I still lived in you, Mississippi; I stopped calling the Gulf Coast “home,” too. If I returned for a visit to my parents or for a trip to the beach, I said I was going to the Coast. “Home” had become, for me, a conflict-ridden conundrum. It did not represent a specific place, and it certainly did not represent a place I was wanted, welcomed, or safe. “Home is where you are,” my friends and I used to say when I was working on my masters and still very much your captive, Mississippi. Home, by definition, became a place I carried with me, inside me, as if my skin were its husk, my ribcage its protector.

I never felt safe when I was in you, Mississippi. I still don’t. I haven’t been in you since October 2005, six weeks after Hurricane Katrina razed your shoreline for miles and miles inland. When I saw that destruction, I ached for you as I had never done before. You may have been cruel to me, you may have been a cruel warden and a cruel teacher, but I did not want to see cruelty done to you.

It is impossible for me to separate you from my family members, Mississippi, the ones I am related to by blood rather than by choice. In their house that was a prison, I tried to make myself small and secret. To be myself, to express myself — these were dangerous acts that met with punishment. The more overt the act, the more cruel and inhumane the punishment. I strived to be good, to be Christian and Christ-like; I strived for perfection in my studies and my work; I strived to be loving and proper. I strived not to be the other things I was; I hated what and whom I desired. I strived not to reveal myself but, rather, to put on a great performance. Most of the time it worked. I erased my truest, most authentic self.

What lurked hidden inside me did not go undetected. My family accused me of being gay. They punished me for being gay. And this was at a time I did not act on the feelings I tried to disguise and pray or hate away. Some classmates saw through me, accused me, bullied me. The worst among those bullies was also gay, loved in the ways I loved, and showed that love in the ways I showed that love.

This was in the late 1970s, the early 1980s. I went to college sixty miles from where I’d grown up, and though my mind expanded as my world expanded, the cage remained the same. Why am I telling you this? You know the story, Mississippi.

When I was born in you, you were already known for your racism. You were home to Beauvoir, the former estate of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy. The Gulf Coast, where I was born, it was said, was your most progressive region. To call any of your regions “progressive” then was a lie. The country and I knew you for your racism. When I left you, at least 45 other states could point to you and assuredly say you were more racist than they. All 50 of you could bond in your hatred of gay people.

You made me hate myself. You made me believe I was the worst abomination on earth. The rest of the country supported you in espousing this hatred. By the time I left, the small, pure part of me that was a survivor had determined that I was good, that I was love-worthy, that I was kind, that I was these things and more at heart, no matter my flaws. I still had a long way to go in shedding the hatred you had taught me, though, too long a way, a longer way than I care to admit. You had gotten inside me.

Mississippi, I write about you. I set most of my stories in you. If I think about you deeply enough, I remember your beauty, the scents of honeysuckle, magnolias, and gardenias, the colors of all the azaleas, your rivers and creeks, your good food, your voice with its many dialects. Sometimes I want to defend you as too much maligned. Sometimes I want to justify your ways, your traditions and beliefs. Sometimes I want to describe your poverty. I know what it’s like to be from a particular place at a particular time. So do we all. Some of us live at a time in a place that is inhospitable to us. This was my childhood. This was my early adulthood. Mississippi, you tried to kill me or, at the very least, to make sure my life was miserable, a morass of despair. I got out. I lived. I don’t miss you.

Sometimes I think about the people like me who still live in you, Mississippi. Sometimes I think about the people like me who don’t have the means to leave you, Mississippi. The worst of my high school bullies still lives in you. I’ve learned from Facebook that she is married now, that her spouse is a wife. They look happy. I hope they are happy. Maybe they found a way to live in you and still be happy.

Your governor signed a bill into law yesterday, HB 1523. It’s the harshest piece of hate legislation currently in existence. I am 1200 miles away from you, nearly three decades removed from you, and I’m buckling under the weight of the hatred you consider “religious freedom.” Mississippi, I want to school you in what it means to be Christian and, beyond that, Christ-like, but I don’t think it will make a difference. You were the reason I came to consider Christian and Christ-like as antonyms.

I have always been ashamed of you, Mississippi. The only thing I’ve been proud about is getting out of you. If only I could get you as completely out of me. Even as I write of the particular form of oppression I suffered as your citizen, I am aware of my privilege. I am white. I come from a middle- to upper-middle-class family. I am educated. And though I am gay, I am nowhere near all of the many things you hate.

I remember too well a day in the mid-1990s when I drove from Georgia to the Gulf Coast to visit my parents. Crossing a long bridge, I saw puppies running alongside the median barrier. They’d been dumped there, unwanted. I was seeing them at the beginning and the end of their lives. I had a Honda Civic then. I’d put a rainbow sticker on the bumper, a small rectangle of colors, and knew it would not go unnoticed. I’d put it there because I’d wanted others like me not to feel alone, as I had when I was growing up. I am telling you this because, Mississippi, you have so much to be ashamed of, so much hatred and violence and abuse, and because I know you have people like me, people who are loving and good and flawed and who deserve a chance at a different sort of life.

Just Another Super Tuesday

The stress of these past few Tuesdays has had a physical impact on me. My disgust over Tyrantosaurus-Rump has clutched at my gut. Last night I had to remind myself that I would have American Crime Story to look forward to this evening, not to miss it because I was spending time with Rachel Maddow as she helped me digest — better, helped me past my indigestion over — the results of the latest primaries. MSNBC informs me I have another hour and several minutes prior to the closing of the first polls, and I have a craze of words spinning in my head: “March Madness,” “just another super Tuesday” (to the tune of “Just Another Manic Monday”), and is this “the superest Tuesday of them all?” (as if it could bear any resemblance to a fairy tale).

True, I’ve enjoyed the excitement over the Democrats. Not too long ago, we wondered whether anyone would rise to challenge Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. She needed a worthwhile debate partner. She got that and more in Bernie Sanders. Each has strengthened the other, and though it is a very different debate season from eight years ago, both candidates strike me as capable nominees who would be effective leaders. The Republican camp, on the other hand, creates for me the kind of excitement that is better defined as anxiety. I believe I’m not alone in that anxiety. I believe most Democrats and even many Republicans suffer similarly.

My mother, Mama Gaga, voted in the primaries for that orange-faced big dick of a blockhead, claiming, “He tells it like it is,” and “He says what most people are really thinking.” (I proudly informed her that I didn’t know any of those people, aside from her.)  She lives in Republicanville City in the state of GOP, smack-dab in the center. Her neighbors across the street are extremely active in Republican politics; they attend conventions and visit their state’s capitol city when its government is in session and all of that. I asked her what her neighbors thought of T-Rump. They don’t like him. They’re “scared of him,” in fact. They like Rubio. That satisfied me. Marco Rubio represents some evil values too, in my humble opinion, but he seems a slightly lesser evil — or at least a more palatable — than the leading candidate and the strong second Teabagger Ted Cruz.

More palatable? Even Rubio causes me gastroenterological distress of a kind. But he’s going away soon. So may Kasich, whom I recently called the best of that bunch. I still hold to that claim, but that’s not saying much, not according to this moving-left Democrat.

Anyway, I’ve been watching the news too much, and I’m destined to do so again tonight. Months ago, the commentators didn’t believe T-Rump was a legitimate candidate. However, he made for good ratings, so they gave him more air time. He responded by becoming emboldened. He has dominated every news story for the past six, seven, eight months or so. After a while, that domination and the increased ratings his ugly rants brought meant the commentators and his opponents had to treat him as the real thing; his rise has been the rearing of the ugliest head of the Republican Party. So the commentators have changed their stories. They’ve called his rise the “fracturing” of the Republican Party; likewise, they’ve dubbed it the party’s “destruction,” its “collapse.” And some people have gone on to say he is the recognizably ugly spawn of the GOP’s various shenanigans over the past seven years or so. The Republican Party is getting what they deserve.

So those people say.

I’ve been torn about whether to consider their leading candidate the nadir or the epitome of the Republican Party. The flat fact of it is that he represents what they represent. He shares their values — if he can be believed, I mean. His bigotry is the unveiled version of theirs. His crude talk is an undisguised version of their hateful rhetoric. His power is the culmination of the racism that’s been launched time and again, in some other not very convincing guise, against President Obama. Nadir or epitome of the Republican Party? Depends upon one’s point of view, I suppose.

I was talking to a friend a couple of nights ago and pointed out what seems obvious to me. I’m not convinced he won’t be the next president of the United States. Is there a point at which the talk will turn to this: We the people are getting what we deserve?

Anyway, I’ll cast my vote(s) in hopes of helping form a less imperfect union.


I had a phone call in the middle of this post, and now the poll results are coming in. Too close to call…. Too close for comfort.