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26 April 2008

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

A lot has happened in the world since Ray Bradbury wrote his 1953 "Fahrenheit 451." Bradbury has adapted his novel for the stage and it is the current guest production by Bradbury's Pandemonium Theatre Company at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena. Bradbury's play starts slow, with some weak transitions, and yet there are some promisingly powerful moments.

For those that are more familiar with Michael Moore's documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," a title that Bradbury protested, this story is about book burning. The title refers to the temperature that books will ignite and yet the story is not meant to be about censorship.

There is, in this script adapted by Bradbury and directed by Alan Neal Hubbs, a slight speech about how minorities worked to condemn certain books, but according to Bradbury, this story was originally written to express his great love of books and his fear that the boob tube was making us mindless.

In the future, firemen do not put out fires, they burn books. Guy Montag (David Polcyn) is one such man, following in the footsteps of his father. During one such burning, he secretly takes a book and this brings him to the attention of his captain (Michael Prichard) and scares his wife (Meaghan Boeing). He also finds himself drawn to his young neighbor Clarisse (Jessica D. Stone). He eventually is forced to flee and joins other lovers of literature.

Yet the future Bradbury imagined in the 1950s doesn't reflect what we know now. Sure there are now huge televisions, but what about the Internet, GPS and books online? A few miles away, a rare book was on display at the local botanic garden--totally on a computer screen. Bradbury's script doesn't attempt to address issues that the audience would be familiar with. If you argue Bradbury is staying true to his original vision, he has already made some changes to the plot for the play.

Aside from the clash between the imagined future and our present, the play suffers from some awkward transitions, abrupt endings of scenes that do not flow into the next one and some scenes that seem extraneous. Some things remain unclear. At first I thought Clarisse was meant to be a child, or a girl not quite yet a woman and that gave Montag's attraction to her sort of a creepy undertone. The first scene is feeble yet the ending gives a different dimension than other interpretations I have seen, one that makes sense and resonates with the whole context of a play. You'll have to see this production to understand what I mean. No spoilers in this review.

Certainly this production shows promise, but could stand some editing and re-working.

"Fahrenheit 451" continues until June 8 at the Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave (at El Centro) in South Pasadena. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. and Sundays,3 p.m.
(323) 960-4451 or Plays411.

A Noise Within's Don Juan

Lord Byron portrayed Don Juan as a victim of Catholicism's sexual repression and of women's desires, but in Moliere's version, "Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre," Don Juan is an atheist condemned to hell. The current production of "Don Juan" at Glendale, California's classical repertory theater, A Noise Within, maintains the integrity of Moliere's script, managing to mesh a tragic moral tale with moments of brilliant comedy.

Moliere's genius is giving us Don Juan's put upon servant, Sganarelle, who acts as Don Juan's conscience and yet he is forced to retreat, bend his words into convoluted excuses as he is beaten down by his humble position and his master's complete selfishness. Don Juan's latest conquest is Elvira (Libby West), whom he has lured from a convent. To defend her honor, her brothers (Stephen Rockwell and Dale Sandlin) vow revenge. Yet justice will come from a statue.

As Don Juan, Elijah Alexander is handsome and virile and often bare chested. He has a manly command of the stage while JD Collum shifts between momentary heroics and shrinking into comedic cowardice. Yet, Alexander's Don Juan is a man without a sense of humor; he is a straight man driven by his own lusts. He has no morale compass. We see this as well as his modus operandi as he plays the two peasant girls (Abby Craden and Sarah Green) against each other.

Director Michael Michetti, working with Richard Nelson's translation, skillfully gives us elegance, dashing charm and yet over the top comedy in this serious moral tale. Having Rockwell and Sandlin dressed in black and white--the overall color scheme of this production--with flourishes of pink is inspired. Yet the two stray locks that Rockwell flips back every now and then (wigs and hair by Monica Lisa Sabedra) and his hilarious lisp gives this fop hysterical panache. Sandlin, a bit huskier than Rockwell, wears an ill-fitting costume--he can only button the top few buttons and his belly hangs out. One senses from Sandlin's portrayal that this nobleman is too vain to admit he needs a new outfit and assumes that no one notices. Rachel Myers costume design gives Alexander swashbuckling swagger to contrast these two aristocratic buffoons.

Still we do not admire Don Juan. We sympathize with Sganarelle and grow fond of the two brothers and admire Elvira when she comes to her senses and accepts responsiblity for her own mistakes, but we do not protest Don Juan's fate. We do not wink at the troubles and heartbreak he has caused for Michetti has shown us a man who can speak sweet words without seducing us into actually liking him, not an easy task, but both Michetti and Alexander are up to this task. This excellent production ends on May 24.

JAPAN FILM FESTIVAL: Atagoal Cat's Magic Forest

This 2006 computer animated movie, Atagoal wa Neko no Mori directed by Mizuho Nishikubo is about a boisterous cat whose morality is suspect, but whose passion for life saves the day. Based on a popular manga by Hiroshi Masumura, this screen play by Hirotoshi Kobayashi condemns mindless conformity for the sake of peaceful existence. The title literally means Atagoal: The Cat Forest, but is translated as Atagoal's Cat Magical Forest.

Atagoal is a town of cats (with some humans) and Hideyoshi (Koichi Yamadera) is the biggest party animal there. His fun veers toward destructiveness and infuriates the other villagers, particularly since he snatches a few tuna fish. He escapes and his friends, humans Princess Tsukimi (Aya Hirayama) and Tempura (Asahi Uchida) run after him, finding him with a sealed chest. Thinking that there must be something to eat in it and warned by the slender cat with an eye patch and cape, Gilgars (Seiichi Tanabe) not to open it, Hideyoshi replies, "If you tell me not to do something I simply must," he mistakenly opens a magic seal that releases the beautiful Botanical Queen Pileah (Mari Natsuki). Pileah's voice hypnotizes the cats and the people of Atagoal, turning them into plants. As queen, Pileah wants to bring world order and peace by turning the cats into mindless, though happy zombies. Her only obstacle is the King of Plants, Kagayakihiko-no-Miya, or Hideko (Tesuko Kozakura).

Hideko has chosen Hideyoshi as his father and because of this, he never grows into a large, majestic plant, but remains a small, cute little seedling. Hideko has greater moral strength than Hideyoshi but gains strength from the big cat's strong life force.

The story is basically about how even children or the child-like beings can have great spiritual power and be severely underestimated by the bigger, more adult like beings. In that respect, it is not unlike the Chronicles of Narnia although less spiritual.

Sometimes the subtitles are not not spot on, but this movie is exuberant and family-friendly, especially for those that love cats. This DVD was not available on Amazon (26 April 2008)

25 April 2008


What do you do when your small, poverty-stricken town where the major industry is coal mining, is headed for financial disaster as the coal mines slowly close down?

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, one town had the answer. They opened the Joban Hawaiian Center in January 1961. It was the first resort facility and theme park to open in Japan and it strove to bring the image of "The Dream Island, Hawaii" to the local people for an admission fee of 350 yen. Aloha shirts and muumuus were an additional 300 yen each.

Utilizing the hot springs from the mines, they were able to grow palm trees and banana trees in a 7,000 m giant dome, quite exotic for Japan, especially in the north. In the first year, they had 2,000-3,000 visitors on weekdays and 10,000 on Sundays. About 1.2 million visitors came during their first fiscal year.

Now called the Spa Resort Hawaiians, the center has a golf course, spas and a technical school for flamenco and Polynesian dance. Opening in 1965 by the governor of Fukushima, it cultivates dancers for the stage of the center.

According to the current director of Joban Kosan, Yukio Sakamoto,

Former President [Yutaka] Nakamura traveled to mining countries around the world--including Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States--looking for ideas about new businesses, but he found nothing promising. He made two tours, following almost the same route, but in the end his efforts were nearly in vain. As he made his way back to Japan with a sense of dejection, he stopped in Hawaii to take a rest, where he got a big hint. In an instant, the wonderful spaciousness and warmth of Hawaii and the rhythm of percussion instruments that reminded him of a village shrine festival gave him the idea of creating a Hawaii in Japan using Joban's geothermal heat and hot springs. This is what I was told.

Instead of outsourcing and hiring professional dancers, he had a professional dancer trained miners' daughters and eventually, whole families would work--at reception, in the restaurants and in the souvenir shops and on stage. This was part of the "One Mountain, One Family" creed of the Joban management because "if this project does not succeed, there will be no tomorrow for Joban."

Sang-il Lee's 2006 movie "Hula Girls" is a fictional story based on the inception of this resort. At the Japanese Academy Awards, the movie won for best film, best director, best screenplay and best supporting actress.

The movie centers on two friends, Sanae (Etsushi Toyokawa) and Kimiko (Yu Aoi) who persevere after the first disastrous meeting with the teacher, Madoko Hirayama (Yasuko Matsuyuki) whose career has been a string of failures. Sanae's mother has died, leaving her father to support four children. As the eldest, Sanae feels responsible for her family. Kimiko's mother, Chiyo (Junko Fuji), opposes the whole enterprise, thinking dancing is not respectable enough for her daughter.

This is, at its heart, about family. There are no samurai in disguise. There are no supernatural beings. Sanae and Kimiko both choose family in different ways and take on adult responsibilities. Sanae will leave to follow her father who has been laid off as he moves to another mine so that she can care for her siblings. Kimiko will lead through her dedication and quiet continued opposition to her mother, choosing her new family of hula dancers as well as the larger family--the whole village that can only survive through the success of this new enterprise.

An unabashed tear-jerker, this movie will perhaps be classified as a chick flick, but this is really a film for anyone who has been courageous enough to take up dance and stick with it past the awkward stages, had disastrous recital nights and been lucky enough to bond with others who have the same passion. And in a time when American and Japanese companies are outsourcing jobs to China, India, Southeast Asia, this movie is a comforting realization that business success can also save and build a healthy community.

18 April 2008


There's moment in the rough cut version of "Tokyo Cowboys," supposedly a documentary of foreign men in Tokyo that startled me, causing all my built up understanding of the situation to come crashing down at the foundations carefully built up by director Daneeta Loretta Saft. Saft comes on the screen and we learn she was married to the guy, Mark Saft, whom I'd come to identify as the creepy guy, the lech, the tsukebei (Japanese for lecherous). The man who wanted an open marriage, but more likely wanted to sample the sexual side of his Oriental fantasies.

"Tokyo Cowboys" is not a labor of love, but one of discontent and perhaps even closure.

This is not a collection of random men, but men whom Daneeta Saft had known during her time in Japan and the kind of men who would hang out with the dog of a husband who was Mark Saft. This is, even from the perspective of foreign men in Japan limited, particularly since all the "gaijin" men are white and English-speaking in her movie presented at the 2008 Japan Film Festival.

Mark Saft isn't the only character in this movie. Ken is a recruiter who wants to become an actor and is willing to earn extra money by performing Christian marriages for Japanese despite being born Jewish. Dave rock star wanna-be and part of a band, Guyjin, white rappers hoping to make it in Japan. Patrick Of all the men, Cloudy, a man with dyed blond hair who drags around his vacuum cleaner "pet," would probably have been the most noticeable in his own country, Australia.

This is not to suggest that Saft doesn't know Japan well, or at least a part of Japan. . In an interview with Metropolis, we learn more about Daneeta Saft.

The 38-year-old director is more than just a visitor to Japan. Initially coming here with her boyfriend, she lived in the country from 1993 to 2000, first in Fukuoka on the JET Program and afterwards in the capital to work in the intense world of headhunting.

Mark Saft, now her ex-husband and still a close friend, is one of the characters in her documentary. “What the film is about is the point of view of the long-term foreign male resident in Tokyo,” she explains. “The only criteria are that they’re here for over ten years and they’re men. I didn’t want the female experience because I’ve experienced that already.”

Part of the experience was being fed up with the place. “I had such a bad time my last year in Japan. I started to blame Japan for all the problems I had in my life,” she says. But the US-born Saft didn’t decide to fly back home. Instead, she went to England and enrolled in the London Film School.

By making a film about white men finding success in the Asia, particularly with two of the main characters hooking up with Asian women, Saft is only adding to an old genre, the one where a white male goes into the so-called Orient, makes piles of money, has an affair with a local woman or local women and may even marry her and becomes more than he could ever been at home. Most famous or infamous of such romances was written by Louis Marie-Julien Viaud, under the pseudonym Pierre Loti: "Madame Chrysantheme" which later became the basis for "Madame Butterfly."

In the same respect, Saft's image of the wild west and cowboys and Westerns isn't totally accurate.

Instead, she looked at her own inability to describe her feelings on life in Tokyo as a woman for "Tokyo Cowboys." “There’s a reason Westerns are about men. It’s the frontier. It’s about reinventing yourself,” she says. “I can never have the same experience they have.”

Maybe Saft is thinking of westerns that mimicked samurai movies such as Clint Eastwood's character, a man with no name, in the Sergio Leone series or Eastwood's "Unforgiven." Yet there were women in the West who re-invented themselves, who became famous, who were more than good housewives, helpmates or prostitutes. Think Calamity Jane, the Unsinkable Margaret Tobin Brown, Annie Oakley, Willa Cather and Dale Evans. Debbie Reynolds starred in a 1964 movie musical about Brown "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," Doris Day starred in a 1953 musical called "Calamity Jane." Oakley became the subject of a 1946 musical on Broadway. What about Barbara Stanwyck in "The Big Valley," a western TV series. Stanwyck had starred as Oakley in a 1935 film. Gail Davis played her in a TV series from 1954 to 1956.

Yet what kind of woman is Saft and would she attract such gutsy pioneering women and get to know them?

This is not all that is Tokyo. We do not see the white women who become consorts to rich Asian men, white women who become nightclub singers or fashion models. We do not see the white men who are married and stay married to their white wives and we do not see the white women who are married to Asian men. We do not see the Americans, British or Australians who can pass as Japanese or other Asian.

These people do exist. I knew some of them the three times I was in Japan as an exchange student. For this reason, I cringed when one of the men was disgruntled and complained about being a gaijin and having a gaikokujin registration, to be registered as an alien. I, too, had an alien registration for Japan as well as the United Kingdom. My grandparents had alien registration in the U.S. as well. Yet Saft does nothing in her documentary to mitigate the mistaken bias of this comment.

Are the Japanese really so different from the U.S. or the U.K.? Ask any Asian ethnic, one born and raised in the US, UK or Australia if they haven't been complimented on his or her English and you'll know that you don't need a card to be identified as alien and that the marvel of someone speaking the local language with a different face isn't uniquely Japanese.

While learning the ins and outs of filmmaking, Saft says she started to long for Japan. “The school had some Japanese students and I gravitated towards them.” Then she caught up with one of her headhunting associates in London. Over a night of drinks, the former colleague mentioned he would give her $5,000 to shoot something in Japan. That was enough to get the ball rolling. The colleague eventually forgot his promise, and Saft was forced to raise the small budget of £60,000 herself.

At first, she thought she’d make a film about headhunters. “But their life is this Bermuda Triangle of their flat, Roppongi and their office because they work so hard. There’s no Tokyo. It’s not cinematic,” she says. “I didn’t want to make that movie.”

Instead, she looked at her own inability to describe her feelings on life in Tokyo as a woman for Tokyo Cowboys. “There’s a reason Westerns are about men. It’s the frontier. It’s about reinventing yourself,” she says. “I can never have the same experience they have.”

Reading Saft's blog entries is also informative. She writes,

"I'm thinking that BG is right. Maybe I should shoot something in Tokyo. Maybe something about the economic hostages. That's what we used to call ourselves--"economic hostages." How arrogant is that. But I don't know anything about documentary, really. And I have to work on my graduation film. I'll have to think about it.

The next morning, my flatmate asks me what I did in Tokyo. I tell her I was a writer.

"And, how was it...your writing," she asks.

It didn't suck. I could do what I wanted. I had fans. It was kind of rock and roll.

Please, God...if I go back there...please let it be rock and roll.

Is it fair to read her blogs? Why not when she so clearly ties it into the movie? We see how her documentary starts shaping up.

I've been watching my old tapes of Japan trying to get a feel for it again. There were so many strange experiences...so many things that I'd forgotten...things on the street. I even filmed myself having a nervous breakdown...5 hours of tapes of my crying pathetically.

I could even smell it...Tokyo It was such a strange place, and I swore that I would never go back. Now I'm seriously considering it. BG has put the seed in my head.

Five hours crying? And yet she finds herself drawn to the Japanese students at her film school in London where she is a registered alien as well.

At the screening, Saft seemed rather proud that she was the only non-Asian foreigner or gaijin to have her work included in the Japan Film Festival 2008. Yet she has produced a messy traditional view of the white males' experience in Japan, without the benefit of commentary from their Japanese colleagues or acquaintances as if these gaijin lived a compartmentalized life in a highly compartmentalized world.Her documentary is a small part of Japan, but we do not see the boarder view.

When I looked up gaijin on Amazon, the first page featured only books by men. Saft has given us more of the same. Is it really still a white man's world?

16 April 2008

JAPAN FILM FESTIVAL: Los Angeles April 11-17

The Japan Film Festival is historically five years old and suffers from some growing pains. Originally called the Chanoma Film Festival, it focused on films that focused on everyday life. Chanoma literally means living room.

After all, samurai and geisha movies come over to the US. More recently, anime has become popular here. Films about everyday people in every day Japan were and are less popular and this void creates a biased view of what Japan is and how the Japanese see themselves. Few Americans who have never been to Japan have seen "Otoko wa Tsurai Yo" ("It's Tough Being a Man"), a long-running series with the same lead actor (Kiyoshi Atsumi) and same director (Yoji Yamada) that only ended with the death of the actor (48 movies from 1969-1995). Yet Zatoichi has made it over. Americans seeing only this side of Japanese films can easily theorize that Japan's national character clings to the sensibilities of the samurai. Atsumi's character, Tora-san is the anti-samurai and there are many characters that would contradict the samurai morality.

Now that anime and J-horror have found fans in the US, the festival organizers decided to reflect the growing variety of genres represented by re-christening it the Japan Film Festival. Supported by the Japanese Consulate General, the Japan Foundation of Los Angeles, numerous Japanese-American corporations, and much of the Japanese media in the Los Angeles area, the festival this year screened independent films to indicate the depth and variety of Japanese filmmakers.

Some of the problems with the film festival include the brochures: The schedule didn't seem to be printed based in alphabetical order, order according to the Japanese syllabary or day. The panel discussion on the Saturday prior to the festival lacked focus. Reviewers were not given screeners and many of these movies were not readily available.

American moviegoers might be shocked that the movies actually start on time--without endless commercials or trailers. Of course, the festival features some Kurosawa classics: "The Hidden Fortress" and "Sanjuro."

"The Hidden Fortress" stars Toshiro Mifune was a general who is protecting the princess of the defeated royal family. With the family's gold, they travel to a safe territory. Along the way they pick up two cowardly peasants who provide comedic relief. George Lucas was inspired by this 1958 film when he was making the original "Star Wars" movie, particularly in terms of having two often bickering and absurd characters telling the story--in his case R2-D2 and C3PO. The actual Japanese title, "Kakushi Toride no San Akunin" is "The Three Villains of the Hidden Fortress."

The 1962 "Sanjuro" is the follow up to "Yojimbo." Its original name is "Tsubaki Sanjuro" which means "Camellia Thirty-Something Man." Based on the Shugoro Yamamoto novel "Peaceful Days," however with the success of the 1961 "Yojimbo" Kurosawa resurrected the anti-hero. In that movie, Mifune's character named himself "Mulberry Field Thirty-Something Man." This would later become Sergio Leone's "Man With No Name" who was embodied by Clint Eastwood. In "Sanjuro," nine young samurai plan to battle the corrupt leadership of their clan, but they are too innocent and rashly trust the wrong people. Luckily a rude and coarse ronin (Mifune) comes to their aid.

"Sanjuro" and "The Hidden Fortress" are available on DVD and at most of my local rental stores, but it is nice to see such classic on a big screen as they were meant to me.

Another film readily available on DVD, but nice to see on the silver screen is the more recent "One Piece: The Alabasta Adventure--The Desert Princess and the Pirates." Based on a Shonen Jump series (Shonen Jump is a weekly manga compilation that I've never really liked) by Eiichiro Oda, "One Piece" is both a TV series with 349 episodes as of the end of March and a movie series. This is the eighth in the series which now has nine episodes. The desert princess, Vivi, needs the help of Monkey D. Luffy, the captain of the Straw Hat Pirates. Luffy himself wears a straw hat. The duplicitous Crocodile has engineered a war between Vivi's father, King Cobra, and the rebels. The pirates all have special abilities or super powers as does Crocodile and his main henchman, the gay (his cape says "Okama") Bon Clay. There's a lot of blood-splashing violence, cute characters (usually animals) and odd-looking ones as well. If you're looking for the cute inventiveness and the environmental messages of Hayao Miyazaki, you won't find it here. To a certain extent, this movie, a retelling of the Alabasta arc of stories, is like a condensed form to quickly catch one up to the One Piece series that follows Luffy in his quest for the One Piece, the ultimate treasure that will make him the pirate king. The TV series began in 1999 and 349 episodes is a lot of catching up for anyone with a life.

13 April 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: Debating Stereotypes of "The Great Debaters"

Is it OK to promote a stereotype or false assumption if you are black?

That is the question that the movie, "The Great Debaters" indirectly asks. Two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington directed and led a cast that included Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker in what is a moving story about the kind of odds faced by a small black school, Wiley College, in the deep South when the Jim Crow laws were in effect.

In the Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Production movie, the team has their greatest moment when they travel North to debate with the Harvard team. Harvard is presented as the bastion of the establishment, the best and the brightest the nation has to offer and, with a very, very white student body. In reality, the Wiley team did not debate against Harvard because the ivory tower of the Ivy League had already fallen. The Wiley team traveled to Los Angeles, to debate with USC in 1935.

In essence, the movie asks the audience to step back into a time that existed, but not at the same time. One Harvard was a leading college in debate. Once Harvard was all white male. Yet that was not the Harvard of 1935. Wiley was founded in 1873 by the Freedman's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church near Marshal, Texas. In comparison, Harvard was founded in 1636 and is the oldest institution of higher education in the US.

The race barrier at Harvard had been broken by the time Wiley College was founded. According to Mass Moments, Richard Greener was the first African American graduate of Harvard in 1870. He went on to become a lawyer and a foreign service officer.

Compared to these two institutes, the University of Southern California was new. USC opened in 1880 with only 53 students and 10 teachers. It was, for its time, formed by a diverse group of men: a Protestant, an Irish Catholic and a German Jew. According to a 2001 article written for the "Daily Trojan" about black Trojan history, African Americans have been actively involved at USC since 1897. The first African American graduated from USC in 1909. The same article claims that during the Civil Rights era, Southern black families sent their children to USC.

Jim Crow laws didn't reach all corners of the US, as portrayed in another movie, also inspired by historical events and characters, the 2004 "Ray." The absence of different laws based on race in other areas didn't mean there wasn't racial prejudice or segregated neighborhoods and entertainment.

What Martin Luther King Jr. did during the civil rights movement was to bring the South in line with the rest of the nation. People outside of the South were shocked by the conditions and extent of racism yet this didn't answer the problems faced by people in New York--the reality that Malcolm X reacted against. Being able to legally sit at the front of the bus, attend the same college or eat at the same diner didn't mean racism didn't exist in Seattle, Los Angeles or Cambridge. Born in the Midwest (Omaha, Nebraska) and raised in Wisconsin and Michigan, Malcolm X's family experienced harsh treatment, threats and hate crimes perpetrated against them. Martin Luther King Jr's peaceful protests, just as Gandhi's, involved a majority population that was treated as a minority. Malcolm X addressed what it was like for a minority to gain attention and rights.

What kind of place of Los Angeles in 1935? In Los Angeles County, a Georgia-born African American athlete graduated from Muir Tech, now Muir High School, after playing shortstop and catcher on the baseball team, quarterback on the football team, guard on the basketball team and winning awards in the broad jump for the track and field team. That young man would go on to play on various teams at Pasadena Junior College, now Pasadena City College and even, for a short time, play at UCLA. He was the first athlete, black or white, to earn varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. What he would become famous for would be baseball, when he, Jackie Robinson, became a Brooklyn Dodger in 1947.

That was after the Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 where some African Americans assisted the Mexican Americans, but before the Watts Riots of August 1965. In 1935, yellow perilism was building up on the West Coast. Racial prejudice was focused on other minorities in Los Angeles and African American were aware of this.

In this respect, the movie, "The Great Debaters" isn't so great in showing the shades of racism that existed outside of the Deep South and outside of the North. Even in 1935, the US was more than North and South and racism came in different shades and affected people of different skin colors.

The script went for the easy win with a plot of black versus white, of new versus old, of small versus big. A better film might have left us questioning the gray areas and seen beyond the landowners and the landless and the North versus the South. Such a simplistic theme harks back to the original Constitution which granted voting rights to landowning white men (landless white men gained the vote in 1856) and to the Mason-Dixon Line of the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

In February 2008, "The Great Debaters" won at the NAACP awards for motion picture, best actor in a motion picture (Washington) and actress in a motion picture (Jurnee Smollett). Yet did this movie really serve people of color well?

California was neither North nor South. At the time, legal racism in California didn't focus on the African Americans, yet that doesn't mean racism and racism against African Americans did not exist. It doesn't even mean that African Americans in California or anywhere else aren't racist themselves. Do we really need movies that promote a stereotypes, even if they favor African Americans from the Deep South?