October 03, 2013

By Kam Williams

LAWT Contributing Writer 

 

Artist and filmmaker Steven Rodney McQueen was born in London on October 9, 1969. His critically-acclaimed directorial debut, Hunger, won the Camera d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. He followed that up with the incendiary offering Shame, a well-received, thought-provoking drama about addiction and secrecy in the modern world.

In 1996, McQueen was the recipient of an ICA Futures Award. A couple of years later, he won a DAAD artist’s scholarship to Berlin. Besides exhibiting at the ICA and at the Kunsthalle in Zürich, he also won the coveted Turner Prize. He has exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Documenta, and at the 53rd Venice Biennale as a representative of Great Britain. 

His artwork can be found in museum collections around the world like the Tate, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Centre Pompidou. In 2003, he was appointed Official War Artist for the Iraq War by the Imperial War Museum and he subsequently produced the poignant and controversial project Queen and Country commemorating the deaths of British soldiers who perished in the conflict by presenting their portraits as a sheet of stamps.

Steve and his wife, cultural critic Bianca Stigter, live and work in Amsterdam, which is where they are raising their son, Dexter, and daughter, Alex. Here, he talks about his latest film, “12 Years a Slave,” which recently won the People’s Choice Awards for Best Film and Best Director at the Toronto Film Festival.

LAWT: I’ve loved all three of your feature films, this new one, and Hunger and Shame as well. They are so different from each other and yet quite remarkable and memorable, each in their own way.

SM: Thank you. Well, I do my best. I’m just happy that people are responding to the films as positively as they are. To be honest with you, it’s one of those things where we’re just happy to get them made. When you get to make something, you always hope people will go and see it. And we’re very, very pleased by the response to “12 Years a Slave.” It’s kind of humbling and remarkable.

LAWT: Your work reminds me of Ang Lee’s in terms of its quality and versatility in the way that his movies are each phenomenal yet so very different from each other.

SM: Wow! That’s a huge compliment. What can I say? He’s a master. Ang Lee is a person I really admire and look up to. I love so many of his films, especially Ride with the Devil, Sense and Sensibility, and The Ice Storm.

LAWT: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: What does it mean to you to be in charge of adapting Solomon Northup’s memoir? How do you explain that his autobiography was buried for around a hundred years contrary to those of some of his contemporaries like Frederick Douglass?

SM: I feel tremendously honored but I also feel a tremendous responsibility because through this film, we can bring Solomon Northrup’s memory to the surface. His story was buried for so long. When the book first came out in 1853, it was a phenomenal best seller for its time, and sold 27,000 copies in 18 months. But what happened was Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published the following year, and that was it for “12 Years a Slave.” It fell into obscurity. Academics knew about the memoir but it otherwise became lost. To me, it was always like the American equivalent of The Diary of Anne Frank. That’s why it became my passion to get this film made.

LAWT: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: In a film described as a historical drama, how do you establish a healthy balance between history and drama?

SM: By relying on the book. As a filmmaker I was interested in illustrating the history of what slavery was about, which was slave labor. In the background of one frame, for example, you see sugar cane. In the second plantation, you see logging. And on the third location, we see corn. So, at the same time you’re following Solomon’s adventure of trying to get home, in the background you simultaneously see the horrors and pains of what slavery was about. 

LAWT: Fellow director Rel Dowdell asks: Do you feel that the great success of Django Unchained improves your very visceral film’s chances for a warm reception?

SM: I think that film was very helpful, of course, in making people aware by getting the subject-matter on film. So, I couldn’t say it didn’t help.

LAWT: What interested you as a Brit in an African-American story?

SM: The story’s not just an African-American story. It’s a universal story. It’s a world story. My parents are from the West Indies. My father’s from Grenada, which is where Malcolm X’s mother was born. My mother was born in Trinidad, which is where Stokely Carmichael, the man who coined the phrase “Black Power!” was born. Sidney Poitier was born in the Bahamas. I’m part of that diaspora of people displaced by the slave trades. I’m part of that family. It’s our story. It’s a global story.

LAWT: My grandparents were born in St. Croix, St. Kitts and Barbados. Do you eat any West Indian food like curried goat, callaloo or roti?

SM: Yeah, all of that. And then, when you go to New Orleans, you find similar dishes. We’re all family!

LAWT: How did you settle on Chiwetel as Solomon Northrup?

SM: Chiwetel was always the one I wanted to make the movie with because there’s a certain humanity and gentility about him that I needed for the lead role. Solomon was a person who maintained his humanity whatever his circumstances, and I needed someone of that same caliber, because he would be tested to the breaking point. I needed an actor who could hold up during those moments of extreme stress. 

LAWT: Why did you use the great Michael Fassbender in each of your films?

SM: I think Michael is the most influential actor of his generation. He’s like a Mickey Rourke or a Gary Oldman. People want to be him. Actors want to act with him. Students choose to pursue acting because of him. I was very fortunate to land him for Hunger. We’ve been close friends ever since. He’s an amazing actor and I will always want to work with.

LAWT: How did you assemble such a top-flight cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, Quvenzhane Wallis, Paaul Dano, and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o.

SM: I had huge help from the casting director, Francine Maisler. She did an incredible job. We auditioned over a thousand girls for the role of Patsey. And we ended up with Lupita who hadn’t even graduated from acting school yet. But she auditioned for us, and that was it. A star was born!

LAWT: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

SM: The last one I actually read was a children’s book I read to my son last night called something like “Teacher Goes to School.” 

LAWT: What is your favorite dish to cook?

SM: Pasta, because it’s easy.

LAWT: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

SM: I see all the lines in my face from tiredness.

LAWT: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

SM: Borrowing roller skates from a next-door neighbor when I was about 3 or 4 years-old. 

LAWT: The Mike Pittman question: What was your best career decision?

SM: Meeting my wife.

LAWT: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

SM: World peace. It might sound corny, but that’s the truth.

LAWT: The Jamie Foxx question: If you only had 24 hours left to live, how would you spend the time?

SM: With the people I love.

LAWT: The Kerry Washington question: If you could be another animal, which one would you choose?

SM: A dolphin.

LAWT: The Melissa Harris-Perry question: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?

SM: I learned that life is a long and difficult road, but you have to keep going, or you’ll fall by the wayside.

LAWT: The Anthony Mackie question: Is there something that you promised to do if you became famous, that you still haven’t done yet?

SM: Am I famous? 

LAWT: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?

SM: As a person who tried.

LAWT: Thanks again for the time, Steve, and best of luck with the film.

SM: Thank you. Take care, Kam.

To see a trailer for 12 Years a Slave, visit: www.foxsearchlight. com/post/3764/12-years-a-slave-official-hd-trailer/  

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

October 03, 2013

By ANTHONY McCARTNEY

Associated Press

 

A jury cleared concert promoter AEG Live on Wednesday of negligence in the hiring of the doctor convicted of killing Michael Jackson.

The panel unanimously rejected a lawsuit brought by Jackson's mother that sought to financially punish AEG Live LLC, the promoters of her son's “This Is It” concerts planned for London.

“I couldn't be more pleased with the way the jury came out. They got it exactly right,” AEG Live lead defense attorney Marvin S. Putnam said after the verdict was read.

Katherine Jackson told reporters she was OK after the verdict.

A victory could have meant hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for Katherine Jackson and the singer's three children and provided a rebuke of AEG Live LLC, the nation's second-largest concert promoter.

Lawyers for Katherine Jackson argued that AEG Live hired Dr. Conrad Murray to be the singer's physician without considering whether he was fit for the job.

AEG Live denied any wrongdoing and said it was Jackson who hired Murray.

Murray was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter after giving Jackson the overdose as he prepared for a series of comeback shows.

The case provided the closest look yet at Jackson's drug use and his battles against chronic pain and insomnia. It also took jurors behind the scenes in the rough and tumble world of negotiations with one of the world's most famous entertainers looking to solidify his legendary status after scandal interrupted his career.

Witnesses said he saw the “This Is It” concerts as a chance for personal redemption after being acquitted of child molestation.

But as the opening date of the shows approached, associates testified that he had bouts of insecurity and agonized over his inability to sleep. They said he turned to the drug propofol and found Murray, who was willing to buy it in bulk and administer it to him on a nightly basis even though it is not meant to be used outside operating rooms.

Testimony at the civil trial showed that only Jackson and Murray knew he was taking the drug.

In his closing argument, AEG Live attorney Marvin Putnam told jurors that the company would have pulled the plug on the shows if they knew he was using the anesthetic.

“AEG would have never agreed to finance this tour if they knew Mr. Jackson was playing Russian roulette in his bedroom every night,”

Brian Panish, a lawyer for the Jackson family, countered that AEG Live was negligent by not looking far enough to find out what it needed to know about Murray. He claimed in his closing argument that the lure of riches turned the company and Murray into mercenaries who sacrificed the pop star's life in a quest to boost their own fortunes.

Panish asked jurors: “Do people do things they shouldn't do for money? People do it every day.”

He said a $150,000-a-month contract to care for Jackson was a lifeline to help Murray climb out of his financial troubles, which included $500,000 in debt. AEG Live, meanwhile, had only one interest — launching a world tour for the King of Pop that would yield untold millions in profits, the lawyer said.

AEG Live's lawyers framed the case as being about personal choice, saying Jackson made bad choices about the drug that killed him and the doctor who provided it. They said he was the architect of his own demise and no one else can be blamed.

Putnam said Jackson insisted on hiring the cardiologist, despite objections from AEG Live.

“It was his money and he certainly wasn't going to take no for an answer,” the lawyer said.

Putnam portrayed AEG Live and its executives as victims of deception by Jackson and Murray. He showed brief excerpts from the “This Is It” documentary to show that Jackson appeared in top form just 12 hours before he died.

“AEG Live did not have a crystal ball,” he said. “Dr. Murray and Mr. Jackson fooled everyone. They want to blame AEG for something no one saw.”

Murray was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter for causing Jackson's death and is due to be released in October after serving a two year jail sentence.

Jurors heard testimony from more than 50 witnesses, including Jackson's mother and his eldest son, Prince, as well as days of testimony from AEG executives who were repeatedly asked about emails in which they discussed Jackson's missed rehearsals and described Murray's pay as a done deal.

They also heard about Jackson's close relationship to many of his doctors, including Murray, who he first met in Las Vegas in 2007.

Katherine Jackson called the case a search for the truth about the death of her son and the trial featured potentially embarrassing revelations for both sides. AEG's executives had their emails picked apart, revealing concerns that Jackson wouldn't be able to perform the shows as planned, that a lawyer at their parent company referred to Michael Jackson as “the freak,” and that Jackson was derided even though the company had invested more than $30 million in his shows.

AEG Live, meanwhile, laid out Jackson's medical history, presenting testimony about his use of drugs, including the powerful painkiller Demerol, for pain stemming from an accident that occurred decades ago while he was filming a Pepsi commercial. Jackson had no trace of that drug in his system when he died.

The lawyers called witnesses who recounted Jackson's use of propofol dating back to the 1990s. In 1997, two German doctors administered the anesthetic to help the singer sleep between shows in Munich.

A few years later, Jackson requested the anesthetic from a dental anesthesiologist who refused, as did another doctor who testified that Jackson kept a box of propofol in his bedroom at Neverland Ranch.

On the issue of possible damages, expert witnesses for the company said any estimate of Jackson's future earnings were speculative, and they showed the panel that the singer was deeply in debt and consistently spent more than he earned.

In the verdict form, jurors were first asked to decide the central question of the case — whether AEG Live hired Murray to treat Jackson. During the trial, they heard evidence that AEG had drafted a contract that was signed by Murray. But there were no indications that it was signed by AEG Live or Jackson.

Attorneys for the singer's mother argued that Jackson's signature was not necessary, but the company's attorneys said the contract required his consent to be binding.

Jackson's mother and his three children are supported by his estate, which provides a comfortable lifestyle for them and erased hundreds of millions of dollars in debts by debuting new projects and releasing new music featuring the King of Pop.

 

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

September 26, 2013

By LINDA DEUTSCH

Associated Press

 

LOS ANGELES — A lawyer for Michael Jackson’s family on Tuesday portrayed concert promoter AEG Live LLC and Jackson’s doctor as mercenaries who sacrificed the pop star’s life in a quest to boost their own fortunes.

Attorney Brian Panish made the claims while delivering his closing argument at the long-running negligence case, asking jurors: “Do people do things they shouldn’t do for money? People do it every day.”

A $150,000-a-month contract to care for Jackson was a lifeline to help Dr. Conrad Murray climb out of his financial troubles, Panish told jurors, saying the doctor was $500,000 in debt and about to lose his home.

AEG Live, meanwhile, had only one interest — launching a world tour for the King of Pop that would yield untold millions in profits, the lawyer said.

The lawsuit filed by Katherine Jackson, the singer’s mother, accuses AEG Live of negligence in hiring Murray and seeks as-yet unspecified damages for the singer's family.

Panish told a packed courtroom that Murray’s woes were unknown to AEG Live when Jackson proposed the cardiologist as his private physician because the company did not research his finances.

He also said Murray’s willingness to close his medical offices to take the job could have raised a red flag if AEG Live had investigated the cardiologist.

“Obviously, he was incompetent and unfit,” Panish said. “He caused the death of Michael Jackson.”

Murray was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter after giving Jackson an overdose of the anesthetic propofol as he tried to sleep during preparations for his “This Is It” concerts in London.

Attorneys for AEG will present their closing argument Wednesday.

The company has claimed that Jackson insisted that Murray treat him because the doctor was giving him propofol as a sleep aid. The drug is not meant to be used outside operating rooms.

AEG Live drafted a contract for Murray’s services, according to testimony, but it was only signed by Murray. Still, Panish said, the contract was valid because it was the result of oral negotiations with Murray.

Panish urged jurors to act as the conscience of the community and award damages to Jackson’s family. Jackson’s mother, Katherine, her daughter Rebbie and nephews Taj and TJ, sat in a front row as Panish delivered his remarks.

The trial had been moved to a larger courtroom to accommodate media, spectators, lawyers and Jackson fans. A delegation of justice officials from Thailand also observed from the gallery.

The plaintiffs, who have the burden of proof, were expected to tell jurors on Thursday that they are seeking more than $1 billion. Experts have testified that Jackson had a long, lucrative career ahead of him when he died at 50.

On Monday, Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos gave the jury legal instructions. Everyone has biases, she said, but they must not be swayed by prejudice, sympathy or public opinion while deliberating.

If the jury finds that damages should be assessed, the judge said they must not consider such issues as the grief endured by the Jackson family or the wealth of both sides in the bitterly fought case.

A unanimous verdict is not required. Only nine of the 12 jurors must agree.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

September 26, 2013

 

ARIES

You have made many friends through a social network you’ve been involved with. Continue to cultivate those friendships this week. Long distance phone calls are worth the money. Your actions will speak much louder than words this week. Prove your love and your friendship. Others might need convincing. Soul Affirmation: My imagination is the source of my happiness. Lucky Numbers: 19, 21, 30

 

TAURUS

This is no time to try to be neat. Continue with your messy thinking. Others might not know how things fit together but your faith allows you to work without a plan this week. Faith will guide you through the chaotic mental atmosphere that surrounds you this week. Soul Affirmation: I give extra attention to my mate this week. Lucky Numbers: 20, 29, 37

 

GEMINI

Call a family member and ask for advice. You know the one to call –the same person who has been level headed in the past. Your head is not as level as it should be. Move forward not on your own understanding. Allow advice to have a great affect on your decisions. Soul Affirmation: I find peace in communing with nature this week. Lucky Numbers: 29, 40, 55

 

CANCER

Your suspicions will give you misleading information. Now is a time for trust. Base the trust on the fact that nothing is in danger. No matter what the outcome of current affairs you are going to come out wiser and better. Soul Affirmation: I release internal pressure by enjoying the beauties of the world around me. Lucky Numbers: 1, 26, 34

 

LEO

Ponder your intimate thoughts when you feel that you would rather have stayed in bed. Treasure the remembered image of a friend and play the image over and over to uplift your sleepy spirit. Soul Affirmation: I make a special effort to bond with old friends. Lucky Numbers: 34, 36, 39

 

VIRGO

Give yourself a break this week. Coast! You might not feel it but you are on the top of a hill. You don’t have to work to move forward. Just let your momentum carry you. Smile and things will get done. Spend some time on the phone taking care of social obligations and social diversions. Soul Affirmation: I try to smile more often than usual this week Lucky Numbers: 8, 15, 20

 

LIBRA

This week you’re likely to notice that your relationship with your lover has been elevated into a strong friendship as well. Play up the friendship side this week. Don’t feel inhibited when the two of you are alone. Act and speak freely. You will be pleasantly surprised at the reception your lover/pal gives you. Soul Affirmation: I open myself up for a glad surprise. Lucky Numbers: 14, 23, 45

 

SCORPIO

It is true that the universe provides but you are part of the universe and so you have to be a provider for yourself this week.  Willful activity is the key this week. Ego matters. Pursue it because you want it and are good enough to get it. Make the changes necessary to add dynamism and excitement to your body of affairs. Soul Affirmation: This week I forgive myself for everything that has happened. Lucky Numbers: 5, 34, 52

 

SAGITTARIUS

You definitely need to ease up on your work schedule and immerse yourself in some good quality quiet time. You have forgotten what it is like to relax hiding behind all those seeming necessities. Let it go. Smell the roses take a stroll in a real or imaginary garden. Chill! Soul Affirmation: There are other fish in the sea waiting for me. Lucky Numbers: 8, 52, 54

 

CAPRICORN

Your popularity is at a personal peak this week!  Be sure to pick and choose among your social engagements so that you gather the best from the most. Financial matters, along with family members, will stir your interests in feathering your nest. Your smart business sense will make the most of an unusual opportunity.  In your personal life, let your softer emotions speak. Soul Affirmation: I focus on long-range financial security this week. Lucky Numbers:  14, 31, 42

 

AQUARIUS

This week is better than last for financial goals. Put on the thinking cap. Think about money. There is a solution to money problems hidden in the way you conduct your home life. Make the adjustment. Reap the reward. Soul Affirmation: I change who I am by changing where I am going. Lucky Numbers: 21, 39, 43

 

PISCES

Think about small stuff. Be petty. Know that details are important. Look not at the bigger picture. Go to the trenches. Get fine points taken care of. Step-by-step movement will help with the grand designs that you are seeking to manifest. Soul Affirmation: I remain adaptable so I can deal with changing circumstances. Lucky Numbers: 2, 35, 45

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

September 26, 2013

By Kam Williams

LAWT Contributing Writer

 

“There have been many marches since, and several before, but no other march to the nation’s capital captured our collective imagination like the March on Washington of August 28, 1963… The momentous pilgrimage showcased an inspired… Martin Luther King, Jr., the celebrated leader of black America who hadn’t yet delivered an entire speech that the nation had listened to…

Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson… encouraged her friend to depart from paper… “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin,” she bellowed from the background. And respond to her call King did… King cast aside his prepared speech… to weave the dream metaphor into the tapestry of the nation’s self-image, and in the process he grafted black folk to the heart of American democracy.”

Excerpted from the Essay by Michael Eric Dyson (pgs. 1-5)

 

“Leonard Freed’s photographs of the March on Washington depict

both the march and the marchers… For the participants, this was both a serious and a happy occasion, a chance to exercise their rights and to petition their government for a redress of ancient grievances. The marchers are at once sober, somber, and gleeful—proud to be present as they sense history is being made.”

Excerpted from the Foreword by Julian Bond (page ix)

 

When you think of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, what automatically comes to mind for most people is Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And while Dr. King’s remarks certainly deserve every bit of recognition they have garnered over the years, it is also important to remember that hundreds of thousands of ordinary American citizens committed to civil rights had descended on the National Mall to attend the event.

I was only a child at the time, but I can still readily recall the palpable concern in the air about the folks from the neighborhood boarding buses for DC. After all, the press had been speculating about the prospect of rioting and arrests if the crowd were unruly, so those participating were doing so with the prospect of considerable personal risk in mind.

Fortunately, the glorious gathering went of without a hitch and came to represent a watershed moment in U.S. History. Now, a half-century later, we are lucky to have an opus like “This Is the Day” available to remind us of that high point in the nation’s non-violence movement.

The book is essentially a photographic essay chronicled by Leonard Freed (1929-2006) before, during and after at the March. His beautiful black & white images are rarely of the leaders (only one of Dr. King), but rather are evocative portraits of the movement’s hopeful foot soldiers who’d trudged from all over the country to petition the government for equal rights.

A few of the photos captured are wide-angle panoramas which give a sense of the mammoth scale of the demonstration. But most are intimate snapshots which afford you an opportunity to read each of the earnest subject’s faces.

Besides the timeless stills, the tome is devoted to the reflections of civil rights leader Julian Bond, who was at the March, as well as to a very colorful essay recounting the day by Michael Eric Dyson, written with a profusion of the popular professor’s trademark rhetorical flourishes. It also features a postscript by Paul Farber analyzing the gifted Freed’s approach to his craft.

Overall, this timely tome is a perfect way to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of one of the most important landmarks in African-American history.            

 

Book Information:

 

This Is the Day

The March on Washington

Photos by Leonard Freed

Foreword by Julian Bond

Essay by Michael Eric Dyson

Afterword by Paul Farber

J. Paul Getty Museum Publications

Hardcover, $29.95

120 pages

ISBN: 978-1-60606-121-3   

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

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