More Than Oprah

Many people are aware that Oprah Winfrey is the richest black woman in America, with a net worth of more than 2.8 billion dollars (which still doesn’t put her in the top 10 richest American women). She is, however, in the top 10 richest self-made billionaire American woman – and the only African-American woman to make the cut. But long before Oprah, there was Sarah Breedlove.

Success Started Early

Breedlove was America’s first self-made female millionaire. Born in 1867, she was an orphan by the age of 7, a domestic by the age of ten, and married her way out at 14. After several marriages that ended in widowhood or divorce, in 1905 Breedlove began her own line of beauty and hair care products for African American women (under the name Madame C.J. Walker), many of whom were going bald because of the harsh lye soaps of the era. The need was great, her products worked, and she went on to become an American philanthropist.

To a degree. Marjorie Joyner was one of her employees. Marjorie became the first African American woman to be issued a patent – for the first machine to permanently wave hair (no Toni kits back then!). However, she never saw a dime for her creation – the royalties and rights went to Madame C.J. Walker! Next time you go to a salon or use a home perm kit, remember to think of Marjorie Joyner.

When we think of African-American women in history, we seem to get stuck on Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, and Coretta Scott King, but they are just the very tip of the iceberg.

The Long Hard Climb for Recognition

It’s been a slow, hard climb for African-American women. While Hattie McDaniel won a Best-Supporting Actress Oscar for Gone With the Wind in 1939 (the first African American to do so), a Best Actress award didn’t come until Halle Berry won in 2001 for Monster’s Ball. That’s a long wait. While the first white woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature was in 1909, the first African-American woman wasn’t until the great Toni Morrison won in 1993. Although actress Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame showed African-American women as educated members of space crews in 1966 (and gave television’s first interracial kiss), Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman astronaut, didn’t make it to space until 1992. To this day, African American women are disproportionately victims of more violent crimes than any other group of women – by more than double. While more African-American women are enrolled in college than any other group (9.7%), they make up only 8% of the workforce, and earn only 64¢ on the dollar compared to 78¢ for white women; 21% of African-American women live in poverty, compared to just 9% of white women. Only now, decades later, are we beginning to appreciate the remarkable contributions of African-American women in the fields of science and math, such as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who helped launch NASA’s space program by doing the math in their heads.

Making Strides

While there is still so far to go in equalizing opportunities for minority women, the 21st century has shown remarkable gains, with not only Condoleeza Rice becoming National Security Advisor and then Secretary General under President Bush, but with Michelle Obama becoming the First Lady of the United States.  African-American women continue to enter politics, with record wins in 2018, including the first African-American women elected to Congress from Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. So grab a novel, a biography, a great DVD on the lives and achievements of African American women, and catch up on some of the great history you never learned about in school.

 

         

  

             

Tales of Three Chrises

befunky-collage-5-11While looking at upcoming films, I watched the newest trailer for the Wonder Woman movie (due June 2, 2017, and it looks fantastic), and was surprised to see actor Chris Pine in the role of Steve Trevor – I had no idea he was in the film. I like Chris Pine, he’s a worthy actor, and I think he’ll do a wonderful job in the role. But I can’t help but notice, he’s been cropping up in an awful lot of films lately.

Sometimes Hollywood gets hooked on a new actor and they become “hot” – in high demand because they seem to pull in audiences and thus make a lot of money, worthy or not. They may hang around a while, then fade off into obscurity when it’s realized they have no real talent, only to reappear on a C-grade cable network show pushing designer socks. Sometimes actors let their popularity run for a few years, make their money, and then get out altogether, to pursue directing, theater, music, or sometimes even a college degree.

But lately the name Chris seems to be the favorite in Hollywood – Chris Pine, Chris Pratt, and the other blockbuster, Chris Hemsworth. All are fine actors who have taken on roles that shot them to stardom, yet all have solid resumes of good films behind them even if you’ve never heard of them.

mv5bmtm4otq4ntu3nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwnjewndu0oq-_v1_ux214_cr00214317_al_Chris Pine comes from an acting family – his dad was Robert Pine, Sgt. Getraer from CHiPs, and he’s one of those well-rounded actors with actual talent. Although currently best known for taking on the iconic role of Captain James Kirk in the Star Trek reboot, he’s done an array of very worthy films, from action hero in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, to wine maker in Bottleshock (a very underrated movie with an excellent cast), to Coast Guard skipper in The Finest Hours. If you doubt his acting talent, listen to his singing voice as he belts out the tune “Agony” in Into the Woods. If he runs out of films, he can  switch easily to Broadway. If you’re of a certain age, or have daughters of a different age, you may remember him from Princess Diaries 2.  He’s not just taking on any role to make a buck.

On the other end, you have Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, who gained thirty8e289e037001b64b43665c8be542d3f9 pounds of pure muscle to take on the role of powerful comic book hero Thor in the multitude of Marvel films. But Hemsworth is not just eyecandy. His latest film was a comic role in the Ghostbusters reboot (okay, not exactly a great film, but not Thor either), but he’s popped up regularly in Snow White and the Huntsman, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, chasing Moby Dick in In The Heart of the Sea, racing cars in Rush, and escaping computer espionage in Black Hat, a worthwhile thriller though not of the same caliber of a Marvel film. He may look like he fell off the cover of a romance novel, but you can’t say he’s allowed himself to be typecast. He, too, was in the Star Trek reboot, as George Kirk, James T.’s father – a role he will be reprising in the next Star Trek film, which has not yet entered production (even though he’s three years younger than Chris Pine). If you really want entertainment, listen to him speak with his native Australian accent – you realize just how impressive his American accent is.

chris_pratt_-_guardians_of_the_galaxy_premiere_-_july_2014_croppedChris Pratt landed two franchises – starring in the latest Jurassic Park flick, Jurassic World, as well as the lead of Peter Quill in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (and the upcoming GG2, due out May 5 of 2017, and the next Jurassic, in pre-production, and reprising his Peter Quill role in the Avengers Infinity War, currently filming – talk about busy!). AND he starred with Jennifer Lawrence in December’s new release, Passengers. Before taking over the action-hero trade, he appeared in such varied films as Zero Dark Thirty, Moneyball, and the recent star-studded western, The Magnificent Seven. Of the three, he’s also done extensive television, with recurring roles on Parks and Recreation, The O.C., and Everwood.  He’s earned the right to be exhausted!

So while the weather is less than delightful, make it a weekend of high entertainment and Chris-cross some of these films off your list. No matter what your style of movie – westerns, intrigue, racing, science fiction, comic heroes, fairy tales, covert wars, musicals or more, one of these men has the perfect film for you.

Remembering Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015

MV5BMTIzMzY1MzEyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjU4MTg1._V1_SY317_CR8,0,214,317_AL_Actor, writer, poet, photographer and folk singer Leonard Nimoy, most famous for his acting role in the television series Star Trek as the iconic half-breed alien Mr. Spock, died on February 27th from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.#

Most famously known as the cool and logical half-Vulcan first officer on Star Trek, Nimoy shot to fame and popularity beyond anything ever seen in television. Initially he resented his fame and the type-casting it brought him, which he discussed in his 1975 book, I Am Not Spock, but by 1995, in his sequel, I Am Spock, he had come to grips with both the character and how it had effected his life.

In addition to Star Trek, Nimoy also had a recurring role as Paris in season four and five of the indexoriginal Mission: Impossible, and voiced the paranormal exploration documentary series, In Search Of… , in addition to countless television guest roles and films such as A Woman Called Golda and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Nimoy had an extensive theater career, starring on Broadway in Equus and Vincent, a play he himself adapted about van Gogh. He became a successful director, directing not only the third and fourth installments of the Star Trek franchise, but Three Men and a Baby, the highest grossing film of 1987.

Nimoy had a life-long love of photography, one of his greatest passions. He had several books published, as well as exhibits at the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. (Nimoy was born in Boston, and remained faithful to the area.) In addition he published several volumes of poetry, the most recent being 2002, A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life.

Following theindex poetry angle, Nimoy tried to make a singing career, putting together albums as early as 1967. He wrote the song “Maiden Wine” that he sang in the Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” To be dreadfully honest, some of the songs live in infamy as being so painfully bad, they’re camp. Perhaps it was just the songs chosen, or the musical direction. I was part of a room skyping with Nimoy last August, during which he sang a song for us that he had written, and not only were the lyrics beautiful, he sang it beautifully as well. Perhaps Nimoy’s voice just needed to mellow with age, but I wish I had a recording of that. Nimoy mourned the fact that even though he had quit smoking thirty years before, his COPD was a direct result of having smoked, and urged everyone to quit immediately, and better yet, never even to start.

I had seen Nimoy in person at least twice, three counting the skype, and he never failed to please a crowd. He was honest and sincere, speaking about science, space exploration, and philosophizing about it all. He never displayed the arrogance of some television stars, and never spoke poorly about costars, as others have. If he had gripes, he kept them politely to himself. The world has lost not just a television icon, but a well-rounded artist of film, theater, television, photography, voice, and print. Truly, he was someone who lived long – and prospered.

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In Memorium, Ann C. Crispin 1950-2013

Just barely a month ago, I was sitting on a panel next to writer Ann Crispin hashing out issues with the film, Star Trek: Into Darkness. I’d known she’d been battling cancer for some time, but I was surprised how well she seemed.  I guess she was very good at hiding it, for she passed away on September 6, 2013, just 3 days after posting to her fans that she was not doing well after all. She was 63 years old.

Ann was a gifted science fiction and fantasy writer.  She wrote Star Wars novels, V novels, the StarBridge series, and created novels and backstory for Pirates of the Caribbean, but her Star Trek novels, Yesterday’s Son, and later, Sarek, are often regarded as among the best Star Trek novels ever written; they are certainly in my top ten, and I’ve read hundreds. Ann knew and truly loved her material, and it showed in her clever and conscientious works.  Earlier this year, she was named the 2013 Grandmaster by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

A native of Connecticut, Ann served as Regional Director and later Vice-President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She cofounded Writer Beware, a subgroup of the SFWA, to help writers avoid the myriad con artists and scams aimed at them, and prosecute the people running them. At her workshops she would drill into her students, “Money flows to the writer, never away. If someone is asking you for money up front to publish your work, run. It is a scam.”

Ann was a frequent guest at science-fiction conventions, often running workshops for writers, one of which I attended perhaps 15 years ago. Ann was a tough teacher and a tough editor, which was not unreasonable. Like Hollywood, the writing industry is a tough business, and it’s best to get the stars out of your eyes at the start. While I felt gifted for not getting her “You need to go back and take a class in basic grammar and sentence structure” speech, my hands shook for the next year with every word I put to paper. She helped greatly, but at the time it felt like getting pushed off a cliff.

Ann’s books will survive, but they are a shadow to such a brilliant and talented writer.   

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