John Lewis refuses to attend Civil Rights museum opening because Trump is attending

Rep. John Lewis announced that he would not be attending the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum over the weekend, because President Donald Trump will be there.

Lewis said that Trump’s “attendance and hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed” by the museum itself.

“After careful consideration and conversations with church leaders, elected officials, civil rights activists, and many citizens of our congressional districts, we have decided not to attend or participate in the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum,” Lewis said in a statement.

“After careful consideration and conversations with church leaders, elected officials, civil rights activists, and many citizens of our congressional districts, we have decided not to attend or participate in the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum,” Lewis said in a statement.

In particular, Lewis pointed to the president’s “disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants, and National Football League players.”

“The struggles represented in this museum exemplify the truth of what really happened in Mississippi,” he said. “After President Trump departs, we encourage all Mississippians and Americans to visit this historic civil rights museum.”

This is a particularly damning decision and statement from Lewis, considering the fact that he is a hero to the civil rights movement.

Lewis is not the only one to express concerns over Trump attending the museum opening, either. The NAACP has also said that it does not want Trump there.

“President Trump’s statements and policies regarding the protection and enforcement of civil rights have been abysmal, and his attendance is an affront to the veterans of the civil rights movement,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO, said in a statement. “He has created a commission to reinforce voter suppression, refused to denounce white supremacists, and overall, has created a racially hostile climate in this nation.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi also announced that he would not be speaking at the event if Trump was there.

“The civil rights marchers who are being honored would turn over in their grave knowing that somebody who’s stood for that stuff would be in attendance,” Thompson told the Boston Globe. “The question is, do I want to be associated with someone who is that narrow in focus.”



Alabama Senate Candidate Jones Reaches Out to Black Voters
The Democratic candidate in Alabama's Senate race is reaching out to black voters as Election Day approaches.

Doug Jones, left, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, walks in a Christmas parade Saturday, Dec, 2, 2017, in Selma, Ala. Jones is trying to shore up support among black voters in his U.S. Senate race against Republican Roy Moore by appealing for an end to the divisiveness that has long been part of the state's politics.

Speaking at the scene of the one of the climactic confrontations of the civil rights movement, Alabama Democrat Doug Jones on Saturday again made his pitch that Alabama's black and white voters have unified concerns that he can best represent.

"They face more issues in common," Jones said after walking during Selma's Christmas parade. "They face issues of health care, they face issues of education, they face issues of jobs."

Trying to be the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama in 25 years is an uphill fight for Jones, a white attorney with working-class roots who has to gain the support of both white and black voters.

Jones needs to peel away moderate GOP support from the deeply conservative Roy Moore, who has maintained a dedicated evangelical following, despite multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against underage girls. But black voters are key to any hopes the Democrats have of victory. The 23 percent of registered voters who are African-American are the bedrock of the Alabama's Democratic party, and a poor turnout by those voters could sink Jones.

Voting and voting rights are ever-present in Selma, which lives daily with the legacy of 1965's Bloody Sunday, when state troopers beat civil rights demonstrators at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Televised scenes of those beatings galvanized national opinion and helped spur Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. Jones walked past the west end of the bridge Saturday, across the Alabama River from where the confrontation took place.

African-Americans in Dallas County are heavily Democratic. But it's unclear if black residents of Selma and Alabama will be energized to vote for Jones in the numbers he needs. Some voters Saturday said they were turned off by the campaign's conflict, and weren't sure whether Jones would be able to have an impact in Republican-controlled Washington.

"Really, he probably can't do anything," said 57-year-old Lorenzo Simmons, an African-American who works at a silicon metal foundry and intends to vote for Jones. "It's probably more about the body as a whole."

Jones acknowledged that such fatalism can keep people from the polls.

"We've got to let them know that they have a partner, somebody who's going to be working for them, that's going to be a voice for them and to try to reach out to those communities," he said Saturday. "It's not an easy task with any segment of the population that gets very cynical, in this state in particular."

Aware of the odd dynamics of a special election held during the holiday season — when voters' minds are more often on football or shopping than politics — Jones' campaign has launched an effort to get out the vote that includes radio, billboards and neighborhood canvassing. The Alabama chapter of the NAACP and a collaboration of majority-black fraternities and sororities also have launched a drive aimed at getting those younger voters to the polls.

State Sen. Hank Sanders, a Democrat from Selma, said he had concerns that Jones wasn't reaching enough black voters, but believes he is doing better recently in that effort.

Partly to reach black voters, Jones has emphasized his role leading the prosecution against the two Klansmen who bombed Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, killing four little girls.

The campaign has also specifically targeted millennial African-Americans with ads emphasizing positions on education and the economy.

Tommy Edwards, a frequent Democratic campaign volunteer in Tuscaloosa, shook hands with Jones at a barbecue restaurant after the parade. Edwards said intends to drive people to the polls.

"The black voters are going to decide this," Edwards said. "We've got to get the people to the polls."

Jones' focus on "kitchen table" issues connects better with some black voters who said they're turned off by Moore, even though in many cases they share Moore's evangelical Christian faith. Barbara Lewis of Selma said she worries about the education her grandchildren are getting in the city's public schools. Simmons said he hoped Jones could help improve the economy of rural Alabama's Black Belt, where incomes are low, unemployment is relatively high and population is shrinking. In Selma, where the median yearly household income of $22,000 is only 40 percent of the national average, the city struggles with recruiting new businesses and preventing abandonment of its grand 19th century core.

"Put some money and some business in the rural areas, the people that have been forgotten," Simmons said.

Some black Democrats, though, say multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore over the past month are motivating them. Elizabeth Engerman, a Montgomery retiree who was shopping with her father Saturday in Selma, said the accusations levied against Moore "blew me out of the water." She said friends at her beauty shop are hotly opposed to Moore, who has denied the allegations.

"We as African-Americans don't vote in these types of elections," Engerman said. "But they're coming out in droves, or at least they say they are."

Jones, for his part, continues to tell audiences that "we have more in common than we have to divide us," casting Moore as the divider.

"What we're trying to show is a stark contrast between Roy Moore and Doug Jones and I don't think the contrast can be greater. And it's really about what people want for the future of Alabama going forward, one that's divisive or one that tries to unify the people of the state."




Blacks at Microsoft Scholarships

Blacks at Microsoft (BAM) is a company-sponsored employee network dedicated to supporting the continued growth and development of black employees at Microsoft Corporation. This year, BAM will award two US$5,000 scholarships to outstanding high-school seniors who are interested in pursuing careers in technology. The scholarships are renewable, so winners who continue to meet the criteria can receive an annual $5,000 award for up to four years.


To be considered for a BAM Scholarship, you must:

  • Be a high-school senior of African descent (for example, African American, African, or Ethiopian).
  • Plan to attend a four-year college or university in the fall of the year following high-school graduation.
  • Plan to pursue a bachelor's degree in engineering, computer science, computer information systems, or select business programs (such as finance, business administration, or marketing).
  • Demonstrate a passion for technology.
  • Demonstrate leadership at school or in the community.
  • Have a cumulative GPA of 3.3 or higher.
  • Require financial assistance to attend college.

How to Apply

To apply for a BAM Scholarship, print and fill out the application. Enclose it in an envelope with the following items:

  • Two letters of recommendation. At least one letter must be from a faculty or staff member at your school. Letters of recommendation should be original and should not be duplicates of college recommendation letters. (Letters must be on letterhead.)
  • Résumé. Your résumé should include the following information:
  • —Extracurricular activities (school and community related)
  • —Honors and awards that you have received (if possible, include awards that are technology related)
  • —Work experience
  • Picture of yourself.
  • Transcript. Include an official "sealed" copy of your current academic transcript. (Unofficial copies will not be accepted.)
  • Two essays.
  • 1. In no more than 500 words, describe how you plan to engage in the technology industry in your future career. (If you have done exemplary work using technology during high school, please describe that also.)
  • 2. In no more than 250 words, demonstrate your financial need for this scholarship.

Mail your completed application to the following address by March 1. You will receive a response by April 15.
  • The Seattle Foundation
  • c/o BAM Scholarship
  • 1200 5th Avenue, Ste. 1300
  • Seattle, WA 98101
Download the BAM Scholarship application (Microsoft Word document, 88 KB)

Mother Of Vegas Survivor Pleads With Lawmaker To Change Gun Laws

“Our schools, hospitals, concert venues and churches are now all battlefields.”

More than a month after 58 people died and more than 500 were wounded in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the mother of one of the survivors of the Las Vegas massacre is reminding local lawmakers that part of the solution lies with them.

In a gut-wrenching letter to her local representative, Illinois Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria), Anne M. (as she asked to be named) described the harrowing trauma her daughter Hannah suffered following the Las Vegas tragedy. Without stronger gun laws, Anne M. warned, tens of thousands of Americans are set to suffer the same fate.

“As you are gathering with your family during these holidays, I ask that you remember us and all the other families who have suffered losses due to gun violence,” she pleaded. “Reflect on the power and responsibilities that your office entails and be prepared to act for positive change when the new legislative session begins.”

“Anne M.” told HuffPost her story and that of “Hannah” on the condition of anonymity. She lives in a region of Illinois that she describes as anti-gun control and is fearful for her family’s safety following the shooting. Additionally, her daughter is employed by one of the companies involved with the music festival and was not authorized to speak publicly about the incident. We’ve identified them both by the pseudonyms they used in the letter to the state lawmaker.  

Flowers and other tributes to the victims of the Las Vegas massacre pile up at the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.

Hannah had been preparing for the Route 91 Harvest Festival, a three-day country music fest that drew tens of thousands to the Las Vegas Strip, for days. On Oct. 1, she was working from a trailer near the stage when gunman Stephen Paddock unloaded hundreds of rounds into an unsuspecting crowd listening to Jason Aldean perform. At first, Hannah thought the popping sounds were the sound system experiencing problems. Then it dawned on her she was hearing rapid gunfire blasting overhead.

Hannah barricaded the doors of her trailer, turned off the lights, computers and audio equipment. She huddled under the tables, fervently texting her colleagues to see if they were safe. Outside she heard crying and screaming as dozens lay dying.

“I am safe. Many dead,” she texted her family from the trailer.

Hannah stayed hidden in the trailer for about an hour, eventually making her way out of the venue with the help of law enforcement. She was later released and escorted to another hotel to rest. As morning broke in Las Vegas, she took a photo of the sunrise from her hotel room and texted her mother.

“I never thought I’d live to see this day.”

The photo Hannah took from her hotel room the morning after the shooting. She told her mother: “I never thought I’d live to see this day.”

By the following afternoon, Hannah was on a plane back home. But once back in Illinois, she had trouble picking up her life.  

“In many ways I feel like every bullet that didn’t physically hit me, because none of them did, all hit me mentally and emotionally,” she told HuffPost. “If you could do a fictitious scan of my head, it would look like Swiss cheese, because they all went through me on some level.”

Profoundly haunted by the killings, Hannah would come home from work and collapse in her mother’s arms, recounting the details of the shooting, over and over again. She’d complain of chest pain and had trouble breathing. Being in public became stressful, and being near strangers frightened her. The sounds of dogs barking and children laughing were too much to bear.

One evening shortly after the shooting, as fireworks popped off during the halftime show of a school football game nearby, Hannah burst into tears and became panicked ― she didn’t hear fireworks, she heard gunfire, and she was instantly pulled back to her trailer at the festival hearing instead the bullets flying. Anne had to pull Hannah into the bathroom and turn on the exhaust fan, to drown out the fireworks, and hold her daughter as tight as she could.

Anne, a former therapist, recognized her “bright, happy, spunky girl” was suffering from severe trauma and found her a therapist who specialized in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

While most often discussed as a disorder that affects members of the military, any person who experiences trauma can suffer from PTSD. About 7 to 8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetimes, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD. In any given year, about 8 million adults have PTSD, and it is common among survivors of mass shootings: About a third of them will experience PTSD.

Watching her daughter suffer the effects of the shooting made Anne keenly aware of the trauma that tens of thousands of Americans ― gun violence survivors and the members of their families ― go through.

The only way to prevent the trauma is to stop the shootings, she argues. “We can no longer deny that mass shootings are a terrifying, nearly daily part of American culture,” Anne wrote in her impassioned letter to Spain. “We have allowed assault rifles to become weapons of mass destruction in our everyday lives.”

“Our schools, hospitals, concert venues and churches are now all battlefields,” Anne wrote.

There are no readily available answers for Anne, Hannah, their family and the thousands of others affected by this national tragedy. Nearly 3,000 people have been shot in the weeks that followed the Las Vegas massacre, according to data collected by the Gun Violence Archive. About 800 of those victims have died. Just two weeks ago, a gunman opened fire at a church in a small town in Texas, killing 26 people and wounding 20 others.

Despite numerous high-profile massacres involving firearms in recent years, from Aurora to Sandy Hook to Orlando, Congress has not passed meaningful legislation that could prevent another mass shooting. And while lawmakers briefly voiced support for a restriction on bump stocks following the Las Vegas shooting, the devices that facilitate rapid firing are still legal. Any hope for a legislative fix was dashed when the National Rifle Association issued a statement urging the Trump administration to address the matter via existing regulations and not new laws.

Gun rights activists consider gun laws in Illinois to be strict. Gun owners are banned from carrying handguns that are visible to the public, and those with concealed carry permits are banned from bringing their firearms into schools, public parks and government buildings. Still, bump stocks remain legal, and the semi-automatic firearms that Paddock used during his rampage are as well. The state’s legislature has adjourned for the year without passing any new gun control legislation.

Anne is trying to change that. She’s starting locally, with her state representative. “Until and unless stronger gun laws with thorough background checks are in place, our country is not safe,” Anne told Spain. “Not for my Hannah. Not for [Spain’s daughter] Eleanor. Not for any of us.”

Rep. Spain told HuffPost in an email that he received Anne’s letter and found it to be “heartfelt and impactful” and that it gave him an opportunity to take time before the state’s next legislative session to find common ground on gun laws. “Out of strong respect for what her family has been through, I am looking for opportunities to work together toward addressing the scourge of mass-shootings on our society and that is what I told [Anne M.]. She asked me to take time to think about this issue and I am doing so.”

Hannah hopes that, at the very least, making her story public will remind the nation of what she and the thousands of other people ― numbers that are growing ― who have been been hurt by gun violence are living through and to keep remembering it. And in doing so, perhaps Americans will decide they’ve finally had enough and fight for safer gun laws.

“Nobody should have to experience this. Whether you’re 7 years old at Sandy Hook or 55 years old at a country music festival, there’s real action we can take. Somebody’s right to a gun should not be more important than anyone’s piece of mind.”





How ‘Mudbound’ Director Dee Rees Convinced Mary J. Blige To Join Her Cast

”For me, it was a long shot. It was a Hail Mary. But she said yes.”

Mudbound,” a sprawling, ambitious drama that debuted on Netflix and in select theaters last Friday, has earned its director, Dee Rees, a deserved crown.

Rees’ first movie, the 2011 coming-of-age jewel “Pariah,” was a festival hit that netted her an Independent Spirit Award and a small but devoted audience. She followed that with 2015′s “Bessie,” the Emmy-winning HBO movie about famed blues singer Bessie Smith. Both showcase a filmmaker with a sharp eye for the nuances of human connection, but “Mudbound” is in a class of its own, chronicling two families ― one black, one white ― on a dusty plantation in World War II–era Mississippi. Racial stratification plagues everyday existence on and off their farmstead, especially once the clans’ sons (played by Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund) become friends. Rees, who adapted Hillary Jordan’s novel of the same name with “ER” writer Virgil Williams, weaves numerous characters’ perspectives together to create a searing, audacious masterwork. 

None of Netflix’s original releases have secured acting, directing or writing nominations from the Oscars, but the acclaim that has greeted “Mudbound” could help to end the streaming service’s dry spell. I talked to Rees in New York in October ― right as awards-season campaigns were first escalating ― about portraying the Jim Crow South, working with Mary J. Blige and the films she thinks are worthy of history classes.

Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan star in “Mudbound.”

“Mudbound” was among the toasts of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It felt very much like your moment in particular ― you were no longer just a director on the rise. Did you feel those good vibes, too?

So that’s exactly why I love doing press. My partner, Sheila, filters stuff to me, or friends will send me bits and pieces. But to me, I try to keep focused on the work and be sobered by the fact that it’s not a meritocracy, this world. If things happen, great. If they don’t, great. At the end of the day, I think, just as a maker, just as an artist, hopefully this makes my way a little bit easier. Or it makes the way of someone else a little bit easier. Or it it’ll make some film exec go watch shorts programs at festivals instead of going to the gala. To me, that would be the big thing ― for the studio system in general to do more interesting material. Go to shorts programs and find a voice there that you’re interested in and make their next film. It’s a reminder that discovery is the thing.

“Pariah” is a micro-budget indie movie that won incredible acclaim and found a second wind in streaming. Maybe the average moviegoer isn’t familiar with it, but in certain circles it’s a very big deal. Were the doors that opened to you after “Pariah” the ones you hoped would open?

I feel like they opened in that I never stopped working. Did the kind of doors open for me that would have happened if another maker made that film? Probably not. You know what I mean? But after “Pariah,” I never wasn’t working in film. Part of it was this deal for Focus Features. I wrote a script for them about a detective ― a Memphis cop ― that they didn’t produce because it wasn’t, you know, big enough. But I got a feature script, and then I got a job writing “Bessie.” It was this whole thing where someone was like, “Oh, wait, actually do you want to direct it? This is written so specifically.” It’s kind of like “Pariah” opened doors. I wrote a pilot for HBO for Viola Davis. It didn’t get produced, but I was always writing, so I was blessed in that, since January 2011, I’ve never stopped working. I’m kind of pushing along on my own. Lee Daniels gave me my first shot in TV.

Did you do an episode of “Empire”?

Yeah, in the second season. It was when it was still new. Lee, like, bullied me into the studio and was like, “Dee is doing this.” I feel like “Pariah” was a blessing. I feel like all of us from that film work. It launched Bradford Young as a DP.

That’s right. He got an Oscar nomination this year for “Arrival.”

Yeah! Exactly. And Adepero Oduye. So “Pariah” launched all of us, I think, in different ways. I’m grateful for the fact that I kept working, that I could build up street cred. It becomes this cumulative effect thing that happens.

Dee Rees attends the premiere of “Mudbound” at the BFI London Film Festival on Oct. 5, 2017.

Here we are talking on National Coming Out Day …

Yeah, but then the Mississippi religious freedom act goes into effect today, too.

That’s the way it works, I suppose. But with “Pariah,” you made a movie that’s like a warm blanket in its ability to speak to young queer people’s experiences. And now, with “Mudbound,” you’ve made something far more sweeping. It has a large ensemble, its topicality is grander. What does it mean to you to have given people movies that speak to their history?

I think I’m realizing now that, thematically, there are these ideas that I keep returning back to. Because for me, in many ways, “Mudbound” is about not being able to go back home. You have these soldiers who actually can’t go back home. They’ve been outside of this context, and they’ve seen the world, and they’re asked to step back into these family dynamics that don’t work for them. Also, I’m realizing that friendship is a theme — how friendship can shackle you or hurt you, in a way, because [Jamie, Hedlund’s character] and [Ronsel, Mitchell’s character] have this brotherhood that is unconsummated. This relationship is queer in that way — black and white guys aren’t supposed to be friends, so it’s subversive. Same with “Pariah.” They have this friendship where Alike feels limited by Laura’s idea of butchness or lesbianism or presenting masculinity. I feel like thematically there’s things I keep coming back to, maybe subconsciously.

Since “Pariah” didn’t crack $1 million at the box office, what do you hope for in terms of the legacy of “Mudbound”?

I just want to make films that last. I want “Mudbound” to last. In the same way that “Pariah” is still being discovered, I want “Mudbound” to be a film that, five years from now, is still being discovered. It’s not just a Kleenex film, where you watch it once and you’re done with it. That’s why I was glad Netflix got this film, because, for me, “Pariah” got picked up by Focus and got this small platform release ― it got kept alive because of Netflix. I was aware of that, so I had a different idea: When they got “Mudbound,” I was like, “OK, great, it’s going to be kept alive and be available.” It’ll have this simultaneous global audience, which is a different feeling. In terms of their support of the film, this is the most marketing support I’ve ever had for a film. It feels great to have them actively putting this film in front of audiences. The festival support has been amazing. It’s almost been like a reunion. All the festivals we’ve done so far are the festivals with the “Pariah” wins: Sundance, Toronto, London and then New York. In a weird way, it’s like six years later we’re making the same rounds again.

It’s just interesting for me as a filmmaker. A bigger budget can buy you more background. It can buy you more days ― which, in this case, it didn’t, really ― but it’s not going to buy you better performances. For me, the directing work is still in the performances. It’s still in the blocking, the composition. Money doesn’t buy you better frames, you know what I mean? I want to show that storytelling is storytelling. I’m always attracted to characters and relationships first, and then themes. Even though it happens to be topical, I’m never wanting to be polemic. I’m not preachy or didactic. I’m just going to tell you the story. If you’re into it, cool. To me, you can’t lead with the message because that’s a turn-off. Lead with characters that are interesting, and then people kind of won’t care what happens because they’re interested in people.

Let’s talk about Mary J. Blige, who disappears in the role of Florence. Many people have said they can’t believe it’s her.

Yeah, totally. Her manager, Shakim [Compere], also manages Queen Latifah, so I knew Shakim from “Bessie.” I called Shakim and said, “Hey, do you think there’s any way Mary would want to do this?” I had also gone to CAA, and in the first meeting I said, “I want Mary. Would she be willing?” For me, it was a long shot. It was a Hail Mary. But she said yes.

I just really wanted someone unexpected. I wanted someone for Florence who could have this very reserved exterior but have a very empathetic, alive, vulnerable inner life. With Mary’s music, if you’ve been to her concerts, it’s literally like a therapy session for thousands of people. She’s not just performing; she’s living it. Every verse, she’s reliving the heartbreak or she’s reliving the joy, and you feel it. I needed a character that can make people feel, and I knew she could bring it. She has a beautiful, tear-drop-shaped scar, and I wanted to use it, this perpetual tear. Actresses, especially with huge ones, it’s rare that they’ll will want to strip down. We do this very naturalistic makeup look on her: no lashes, no nails, no hair. Mary’s bold enough and brave enough to go there. Most actresses would be like, “Nope, I still need my wig.”

Was that part of your original pitch to Mary?

Yeah. Well, I kind of waited until a little bit later to say it to her. I remember the first day she walked into my office. I was a little bit starstruck, like, “Oh my god,” because she’s, like, Mary. She’s amazing. We just talked about it. I just wanted her to feel safe. I wanted to talk to her as an actress and let her feel comfortable in being able to be vulnerable and allow herself to be seen. She was amazing with that.

We did these little acting exercises. It was the same way with “Pariah,” in terms of the performances. I took these one-on-one pairings. I did Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan. We did repetition things. “Look at each other in the eyes.” For me, the core of that relationship was power, so I had them repeat it back and forth: “You have the power.” “No, you have the power.” That was a way to break the ice. It starts them looking at each other. They’re just holding eye contact, which I think is everything. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, then you start laughing. It’s just being seen and seeing another person. Just looking at each other is huge.

Same thing with Mary J. Blige and Jason Mitchell. I’d seen Jason in “Straight Outta Compton,” and I loved his performance as Eazy-E. I grew up listening to the bootleg tapes because my parents wouldn’t buy it because of the parental advisory. I thought I knew the story [of N.W.A.], but through him I realized I didn’t know the story at all. I didn’t understand who this person was at all, and the fact that he’d do that, in the scene where he’s in the hospital dying of AIDS and hugging this man and showing that male vulnerability. I knew he could be Ronsel, who’s very square and stony. He’s this solid guy who, at the end of the day, is very sensitive and seeing, in a way. Anyway, I had them stand with each other, Mary saying over and over again, “You’re making a mistake”; Jason saying, “No, I’m not.” It’s just letting the actors talk to each other in character off-script. That’s what I find interesting.

Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund star in “Mudbound.”

At what point did you do those exercises? On the set?

No, it’s in my office, in prep, during pre-production. That’s my idea of rehearsals. I think I did it over two days, these different pairings. We’d meet in my office and close the door — it was just me and the actors. I’m not drilling them on lines, I’m not rehearsing the words. I feel like if we can get the subtext of it, then I’m trusting you’re going to know the text. So, understand the subtext, and the text will almost be — not inconsequential, but you have to know why you’re there, and you have to really believe it and feel it. Everything else is informed by that.

People have said this movie should be taught in history classes.

Yeah, if that happens, I just don’t want this to be turned into a didactic thing.

Right. “Selma” got the same attention a couple of years ago, but that was a historical drama.

Right. I think hopefully the takeaway is that history doesn’t just happen to us. We’re creating it; we’re making it. We’re not passive — we are actors in our own story, so it’s just being aware of how we’re acting and the ideas we’ve inherited. It’s instructive maybe, but it’s not didactic in that way. Understand these relationships, maybe to the extent that it makes you ask, “Hey, what was my grandpa like, or how did he get what he got? How did my parents get what they got?”

Even if your parents came over from Italy with $2 in their pocket — if that’s your story, then why did we need to own slaves? But it’s like, OK, but if the narrative of coming over with $2 in your pocket is a noble narrative, then why can’t someone come from Belize with $2 in his pocket? If that’s a noble story, then use that knowledge to say, “Wait a minute, our ideas about immigration are flawed, because we all have this immigration story, which we brag about now.” We should be welcoming other people who are coming with $2 and a dream.

It’s that kind of interrogation of our own personal histories and how we came to have what we have and be where we are. It’s being mindful of what we’re maybe unconsciously passing on to others. I think inheritance is a more expansive way to talk about it. In history classes, this is not just to me, like, “This is a picture of Jim Crow South.” It’s meant to be about all those things about how we’re actors and we can’t just stand there and watch things.

If you were to devise a syllabus of movies taught in history courses, what would would be on it?

I like “Killer of Sheep,” by Charles Burnett, because even before [the filmmaking movement] Dogme 95, it’s a way of filmmaking that was raw and honest and feeling. It was about a way of life. I like “Midnight Cowboy,” just because I like it. It feels like it’s about New York and this kind of ingenue in a package you don’t expect. He’s this big, hulking hunk of a guy. It’s about naiveté and the city. I like “Network” because of how fast it moves, and the dialogue, just the feeling of it. What else do I love? I love “A Woman Under the Influence” by John Cassavetes, because, again, I love that style where I can never hear the lines and you don’t think of the script.

It’s those movies that I love, where you can just feel something in them and it’s not this down-your-throat thing. I was also going to say “Blood Simple” or “Raising Arizona,” even. It’s a goofy Coen brothers film, but it’s fun. It was the birth of Nicolas Cage, when movies used to launch people before they were stars. It’s how cinema can be about discovery — John Goodman and those guys. I watch a lot of stuff. People ask “what are your favorite films,” and the answer is, there’s so many. In terms of a syllabus, I would just choose films that show life that you haven’t seen, or different parts of life that you haven’t seen, or people we haven’t seen.

I love that, because the temptation might be to name a slew of biopics, adaptations of historical court cases, fact-based fodder.

Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But, like, “Network” talks about the industry and the manufacturing of news ― the spectacle. They could release that today, and it would be like, “Oh my god, this is happening now.”




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