On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. touched thousands of people with his unforgettable “I have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963. In the face of discrimination against African Americans, more than 250.000 activists protested during the famous March on Washington. That very same day, in the very same place, another watershed moment occurred: The New York folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary sang a cover of “Blowin in the Wind”, forever adding Bob Dylan’s masterpiece to the canon of American protest music.
“If you’re a star, they’ll let you do it,” Donald Trump explained in his boastful account of casual assault on women. This rant, known as the Access Hollywood tape, was released years after he said it, during his presidential campaign. It did not, however, keep him from becoming President. He was right about the privilege of stardom. We are a country that protects power, whether it’s the star, the producer, the tycoon, or the supervisor in the department store in Topeka, Kansas. Women learn early: disrespect power at your own risk.
As many of you might know, Hidden Figures (2016) is a biopic directed by Theodore Melfi based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s popular history book and New York Times Bestseller, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (2016). The film about the NASA’s black female computing group at Langley’s Research Center during the Space Race was nominated for three Oscars and has reaped high praise from movie critics the world over. I was among the droves of people who rushed to the theater to see the movie when I read that Hidden Figures is an inspirational film that makes little known achievements of intelligent, determined women visible. I also appreciated the fact that this ‘feel good’ Christmas film might encourage girls to seek Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers. The plot also avoided all too familiar themes in black films, such as brutal beatings and rape of black women, which were taken to an extreme in Precious and 12 Year’s a Slave. It seemed like a win-win situation for all and the perfect story of triumph in dark times. And to be honest, that is exactly how I experienced the film. Well, at first. Then I read the book.
During the spring of 1971, 19-year-old American table tennis player, Glenn Cowan, wrapped up his training session in Nagoya (Japan) in order to prepare for the 31st World Table Tennis Championship about to take place later that week. He had been concentrating on perfecting his game for hours before he left the building. To his great surprise, Cowan encountered an almost empty parking lot. His team bus had left without him. But when the Chinese players, who were about to leave as well, saw a young American who looked lost, they motioned to him to hop on their team bus. During the short bus ride, Glenn was approached by the Chinese star player Zhuang Zedong. Against instructions to not seek contact with the American players, Zhuang introduced himself to Cowan and presented him with a gift – a silk-screen portrait of a Chinese mountain range. The next day, this friendly gesture was repaid in kind when Glenn gave Zhuang one of his personal t-shirts which had a peace symbol and the Beatles’ lyrics for “Let It Be” on it. These small, spontaneous acts of human kindness triggered a series of events with great political consequences. Read more
In 2017, just five years after a Minnesota art exhibition marked the 150th anniversary of the 1862 hanging of 38 Dakota Sioux men at Mankato, that grisly event drew new public attention. Well-known multi-media artist Sam Durant – whose installations often focus on events from American history – erected his latest work, a two-story wood-and-metal sculpture entitled Scaffold, in the garden of the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis.
On October 28, the Hallmark Channel launched its annual “Countdown to Christmas.” During the eight weeks before Christmas, the channel will broadcast 21 original movies that are all about Christmas and the spirit of the holidays. Established in 2001, the Hallmark Channel is a subsidiary of the company that has provided many Americans with sappy greeting cards for all occasions. The Christmas movies continue with the company’s tradition of kitsch, especially romantic kitsch, as shown in not-so-subtle titles, such as A December Bride (2016), My Christmas Love (2016), or Marry Me at Christmas (2017). Christmas, it seems, is not primarily about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ – or, like in my family, food – but about finding love in the midst of snowy landscapes, hot cocoa, and conveniently hung mistletoes.