Review: ‘Beba,’ starring Rebecca Huntt

June 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rebecca Huntt in “Beba” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Beba”

Directed by Rebecca Huntt

Culture Representation: The documentary “Beba” features a racially diverse group of people (African American, Latino and white) in director Rebecca Huntt’s autobiographical account of her life experiences as a young person.

Culture Clash: Huntt, who identifies as an Afro-Latina, talks about the prejudices she’s experienced in white-dominated environments, violence in her family, and her own personal flaws that have led to negativity in her life. 

Culture Audience: “Beba” will appeal primarily to people interested in a very personal and introspective documentary that tackles issues of race relations, social classes, domestic violence and self-identity.

Rebecca Huntt in “Beba” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

What does it say about a filmmaker when the first feature film directed by the filmmaker is essentially a documentary where the filmmaker talks about herself and her life? This choice and the end results often depend on who’s telling the story and how it’s told. In the case of “Beba” (the feature-film debut of director Rebecca Huntt), this unconventional autobiographical documentary comes close to being self-indulgent, but Huntt’s ability to point out her troubling personal flaws makes it a candid and fascinating story.

“Beba” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, and made the rounds at several other film festivals, including the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival and the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. “Beba” is a non-traditional documentary because the format is Huntt’s voiceover narration, with the movie’s visuals consisting mostly of photos and archival video footage from her life, with only a few interviews done specifically for the documentary. The only people interviewed are a few of Huntt’s family members and one of her former professors at Bard College.

“Beba” gets its title because it’s one of the nicknames that Huntt has had since her childhood. She says her other nicknames are Beca and Bebe. In the documentary, Huntt says that she was born in New York City on May 9, 1990. New York City is where she grew up with her parents (Juan and Veronica) and her two older siblings (Juan Carlos and Raquel).

According to Huntt, her working-class parents, who met each other in New York City in the 1970s, “sacrificed everything” so that the family could have the prestigious street address of Central Park West, where they lived in a small one-bedroom apartment that was rent-controlled. Rebecca says half-jokingly that she and her siblings were “the poorest kids on Central Park West.” Her parents had the choice to rent a larger apartment, but it was in a less-safe neighborhood where they didn’t want the family to live.

In one of the early scenes in “Beba,” she explains why she took a first-person narrative for this documentary: “You are now entering my universe. I am the lens, the subject, the authority. As the product of the new world, violence is in my DNA. I carry an ancient pain that I struggle to understand. I use it to hurt those closest to me.”

She continues, “Every one of us inherits the curses of our ancestors, but we may put an end to the cycle by constantly going to war with ourselves. I’m watching the curses of my family slowly kill us, so I’m going to war. And there will be casualties. This cannot be our legacy.”

Rebecca also describes herself as “brave, stubborn, narcissistic and chronically cruel. Existing is to hold space for all of this.” This narration takes place within the first five minutes of “Beba.” And this point so early in the movie, viewers will either be turned off or intrigued to find out more about this filmmaker who’s doing an autobiography where she will reveal unflattering and messy things about her life.

Rebecca’s comment about “going to war” isn’t about political issues. It’s about personal issues and the conflicts she has with herself, her family and other people. She explains why her family history is intertwined with who she is.

Her father’s side of the family is black and has roots in the Dominican Republic. When her paternal grandfather told people he wanted move from the Dominican Republic to the United States, he was laughed at for this idea because he was “poor and black.” At this time, it was 1965, the year of the Dominican Civil War. Rebecca’s father Juan told her vivid memories of his experiences during this period of civil unrest. When people (especially men and boys) walked outside, they had to walk with their hands up, to show that they were unarmed.

Rebecca’s paternal grandfather wanted a better life for his family. And so, in 1966 or 1967, he brought his family of nine people to New York City, where they settled in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, which has a large percentage of residents who are African American or immigrants. Rebecca describes her paternal grandfather as “illiterate” who was just as likely to be seen carrying sugar cane as he would be likely to be seen carrying a belt to whip his kids to discipline them.

Later in the movie, she talks about how domestic violence seems be an inherited curse in her family. Rebecca comments on her father, “I know him better than anyone, yet I have no idea where my father’s mannerisms come from. When I’m angry, I remind him of his father.”

Her mother’s side of the family has roots in Venezuela. Rebecca says that her mother Veronica grew up in Venezuela and studied at Pace University in New York City to escape from Veronica’s “glamorous” mother who had schizophrenia. Veronica settled permanently in New York City after meeting and marrying Juan, and their children often spent summers in Venezuela.

Growing up with parents of two different races came with its share of identity issues. Rebecca says that when she was a child, she once got into a fight with a Jamaican boy who said that Rebecca was black, and Rebecca denied it, because her mother taught her to identify only as Latin. In a documentary interview, Rebecca’s mother Veronica admits, “I’m a Latin person, and I raised my kids as a Latin person, because I don’t know anything else. I don’t know about being an American, white or black.”

The documentary also hints that Veronica could have suffered from some mental illness, since it’s revealed that Veronica used to hit herself with a belt instead of disciplining her kids. Rebecca describes her father as the parent who would get violent when disciplining her and her siblings. Rebecca says multiple times in the documentary that this domestic violence is a family curse.

Rebecca also says that she and her siblings would sometimes get violent with each other and other members of the family. Rebecca describes how her older sister Raquel once took a machete from a closet and swung it at her parents. Raquel also “[handed] me my first [marijuana] joint at age 10, to apologize for choking me until I can’t breathe.” Later in the documentary, Rebecca describes an incident where Rebecca (as an adult) choked her own mother during a vicious argument.

And there are more family feuds and dysfunction detailed in the documentary. Rebecca says, “If I am Daddy’s girl, and Juan Carlos is Mama’s boy, my sister falls into a neglected dimension I don’t even try to understand.” Rebecca then goes on to describe that Raquel graduated from boarding school but skipped college to “hop trains with junkies.”

According to Rebecca, Raquel’s life experiences include “agoraphobia, disability checks, solitary confinement, destruction and pathological lies. Now, she has two daughters of her own who will inherit our curses.”

Rebecca’s older brother Juan Carlos is also described as troubled. She shares a story of how the family went to Disney World on her seventh birthday, and she got into an argument with Juan Carlos. It was the last time that their father spoke to Juan Carlos. For the documentary, Rebecca’s father Juan still refuses to talk about Juan Carlos.

Rebecca also says for a period of two years, she and Juan Carlos stopped talking to each other. And there were feuds that Rebecca had with her mother. She says that her mother called her a “snitch.” In response, Rebecca reveals what she did at the time: “I [made] sure to call her at work the next day to tell her that she’s garbage.”

These days, Rebecca says that she and Juan Carlos are on speaking terms. However, their conversations seem to be very superficial. Rebecca says, “Juan Carlos only talks to me when a new Jay-Z album is out.”

Toward the end of the documentary, Rebecca shares what she thinks she inherited from her family’s history. On her mother’s side, Rebecca thinks she inherited “passion, resilience and crippling delusion.” On her father’s side, Rebecca thinks she inherited “courage, ambition, abuse and rage.”

But at what point should people stop blaming their parents or ancestors and take responsibility for their own lives and their own actions? It’s an existential question that seems to be a major struggle for Rebecca. She seems to want to stop the cycle of domestic violence in her family, but in the documentary, she doesn’t really say what she’s doing about it. For example, she doesn’t mention if she’s chosen to seek help through therapy or other resources.

Rebecca describes her childhood summer vacations in Venezuela (where she stayed with her mother’s relatives) as being an oasis from all the chaos she experienced at home with America. These vacations inspired her to see more of the world when she was an adult. As she says in the documentary: “I backpacked the world in search of what Venezuela gave me: freedom, unconditional love and a room of my own.”

In another childhood story, Rebecca mentions a community garden in Manhattan where she and her sister Raquel would spend time as children, but the only other people she used to see there were white. When she was a child, she found crack vials in the garden and brought them to school for an art project. She didn’t know what the crack vials were, and she got in trouble for bringing this drug paraphernalia to school. It confused her at the time because she didn’t think she did anything wrong.

In another story about her childhood school experiences, Rebecca says that when she was in fifth grade, the students had a class assignment to come to school dressed as a hero. Rebecca chose Harriet Tubman and went to school in a Harriet Tubman costume, using makeup to “make fake whip marks and broccoli to recreate a plantation.” She also brought Ken dolls with her to represent slave masters, while she had Barbie dolls and Ken dolls depicted as enslaved people. Whatever “Beba” viewers make of this story, it seems to be Rebecca’s way of saying that she had a bit of an iconoclastic streak in her at an early age.

Throughout the movie, Rebecca discusses how her identity was shaped by growing up in a working-class family of color but spending most of her education and social life in environments with mostly white people from more privileged backgrounds. It goes without saying that people who have to navigate being in very different environments often have to present themselves in different ways in order to fit in whatever environment where they want acceptance. And it’s impossible to escape from racism, no matter where people go in life.

In high school, Rebecca says she began to discover herself and what she wanted to do with her life. She says that it was through Maya Angelou’s writings that she first found out that the Afro-Latin identity exists. Rebecca also remembers that in high school, “Shakespeare lights my brain on fire, and not even the bulletproof windows in my high school can contain it.”

Comments like that make Rebecca sound pretentious, but at least she’s honest about her tendency to be pretentious. This truthful self-awareness will either make viewers want to keep watching “Beba” or want to stop watching it. For all of her admitted flaws, Rebecca seems willing to bare her life in ways where she will undoubtedly get criticism. Too often, directors who narrate documentaries about themselves aren’t willing to show the worst sides of themselves.

“Beba” also shows a perspective that isn’t seen too often in documentaries: What it’s like for an Afro-Latina from a working-class background to attend a mostly white university or college where many of the students come from affluent backgrounds. At Bard College, Rebecca was hanging out with children of millionaires.

The friends she met through Bard College included Rumer Willis (daughter of movie stars Bruce Willis and Demi Moore) and Lola Kirke (daughter of Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke), who had very different childhoods from the childhood that Rebecca experienced. “Beba” includes some footage of Rebecca, Rumer Willis and Lola Kirke hanging out somewhere outdoors and doing an acoustic performance of a song called “Cocaine Blues.”

Later in the movie, there’s a staged recreation of Rebecca and some of her unidentified white friends have a heated discussion about race and white supremacist racism. The two white men in the room seem to be the most uncomfortable when Rebecca talks about white privilege. She also makes this comment: “There is nothing honorable about trying to assimilate into a system that is designed to destroy you.” Rebecca might want to sound like Malcolm X, but there’s nothing in the movie that shows she’s an activist for civil rights. Talking is one thing. Doing is another.

Rebecca doesn’t spend a lot of the documentary’s screen time on her college friends, but she does interview a Bard College professor who made an impact on her because she was one of the few African American professors who was part of the Bard College faculty. In the movie, this professor is only identified by her first name (Annie), and she says she remembers advising Rebecca on how to conduct herself as a Bard student. Annie says that she told Rebecca that college wasn’t a utopia but a reflection of how the real world is, so she suggested to Rebecca to stop wearing belly shirts to class and start showing up on time. Later, Rebecca says that she decided to study for a semester in Ghana, in part to get more in touch with her African ancestry.

Rebecca also reveals some details about her love life. She says she lost her virginity at age 17 to an “asshole” who is not named in the movie. Later, when she was in her 20s, she had a volatile love affair with a bipolar man named Michael, who was around the same age and grew up in New York City’s Bronx borough.

In “Beba,” Rebecca bravely exposes a lot of her personal failings, emotions and struggles. Her narration is admirable for being unapologetic and not trying to be crowd-pleasing or contrived to make as many people like her as possible. What’s missing in the documentary is any clear sense of why she wanted to become a filmmaker.

Who or what inspired her the most in the cinematic arts? What types of movies does she want to make? What types of movies does she like to watch? Does she think she’ll be in it for the long haul, or is filmmaking something she’s dabbling in until something else comes along that interests her? These are questions that are never really answered in this documentary, which gives the impression that Rebecca wanted to do a lot of venting about her family rather than present a completely well-rounded self-portrait.

Perhaps at the time she made this documentary, Rebecca was still figuring out what she wants to do with her life. If she decides to do another autobiographical documentary, it will be interesting to see how much time has passed and how much she might have changed. If “Beba” is any indication, she has many more compelling things to say as a filmmaker and as a person.

Neon released “Beba” in select U.S. cinemas on June 24, 2022.

Review: ‘The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,’ starring Rosa Parks, LisaGay Hamilton, Carolyn Williamson Green, Lonnie McCauley, Jeanne Theoharis, Georgette Norman and Keisha Nicole Blain

June 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rosa Parks at the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March in “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” (Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Peacock)

“The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks”

Directed by Yoruba Richen and Johanna Hamilton

Culture Representation: The documentary film “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” features a nearly all-African American group (with one white person) of historians, activists, family members and associates discussing the life and legacy of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

Culture Clash: Even though she was world-famous, Parks refused to profit from her fame, as she was sometimes disrespected within the civil rights movement because of her gender and her age. 

Culture Audience: “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a comprehensive documentary about an important public figure in the U.S. civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks at the 1968 Poor People’s March on Washington in “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” (Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Peacock)

“The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” follows a conventional documentary format, but it’s still a well-made biography that should be informative for people who know very little about civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Directed by Yoruba Richen and Johanna Hamilton, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” is based on author Jeanne Theoharis’ 2013 biography of the same title. Thoharis is one of the people interviewed in the movie. In the documentary, portions of Parks’ letters and memoir are read as narration by actress LisaGay Hamilton. “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.”

Unless someone is a Rosa Parks expert, people who watch “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” will find out something new about Parks that they didn’t already know. Parks is most famous for an act that is widely credited with sparking the racial civil rights movement in the United States: On December 1, 1955, when she was 42 years old, Parks refused to give up her bus seat for a white man on a bus in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, and she was arrested for it.

This arrest happened during a shameful time in U.S. history when white supremacist racial segregation was legal. If white people and non-white people were gathered in the same space, such as on a bus, a white person could legally demand to make the non-white person move. During this Jim Crow racial segregation era, anyone who wasn’t white had to sit in designated seats in the back of the bus and could sometimes sit in the middle section of a bus, as long as white people allowed them to sit there. Parks’ act of standing up for herself and refusing to give in to a racist law inspired the U.S. civil rights movement to grow and move forward.

“The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” tells Parks’ life story in mostly chronological order. However, the movie (which announces a pivotal year in big and bold letters that take up the entire screen) occasionally jumps around the timeline when it goes more in-depth about a certain landmark event in the civil rights movement, to put an emphasis on how this event related to Parks’ life. (Parks died in 2005, at the age of 92.) “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” has the expected mix of archival footage and new interviews that were done exclusively for the documentary.

Parks had a soft-spoken and unassuming way about her that endeared her to a lot of people. However, one of the myths that this documentary aims to dispel is that Parks’ humble image should not be mistaken for Parks being a passive people-pleaser. “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” makes it clear that she was all about disrupting anything to do with white supremacist racism. And far from being a pacifist, she believed that people of color needed to physically defend themselves and fight back if necessary.

The movie also explains how Parks had to come to terms with and overcome her own racism. Because of violent bullying that she experienced by white people in her youth, she spent much of her youth fearing and hating white people. It wasn’t until she got involved in the civil rights movement, when she saw how many white allies were willing to fight for the same causes, that Parks changed her views and came to understand that not all white people were “the enemy.”

Parks was born as Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Alabama, on February 4, 1913. Her early views on race relations were influenced by racism she experienced and hearing about the horrible treatment that her biracial maternal grandfather received throughout his life, when he wasn’t completely accepted by white people or black people. Her maternal grandfather Sylvester, who could pass for white, was the son of a white plantation owner named John Edwards and an enslaved African American woman who worked in the plantation owner’s house.

Both of Sylvester’s parents died when he was very young, so he was sent to live with African American relatives. Carolyn Williamson Green, a cousin of Parks, comments in the documentary on Sylvester: “He looked white, but he wasn’t afraid of white people” Williamson Green adds that because Sylvester was often harassed for being biracial, he passed on to his family a strong sense of not putting up with bad treatment from anyone. He kept a gun with him at all times and taught his family how to defend themselves.

Sylvester married a woman named Rose, and they both helped raise their grandchildren Rosa (the future Rosa Parks) and Sylvester when the kids’ parents split up. The elder Sylvester was the father of the children’s mother Leona (a teacher), who was married to a carpenter named James McCauley. By all accounts, Rosa was very protective of her younger brother Sylvester, although their relationship at times became strained later when they were adults.

In an era when African American kids weren’t expected to complete an education past sixth grade, Rosa’s mother Leona insisted that Rosa continue her education at a private school called Ms. White’s, which was an all-girls school for African Americans. The documentary mentions that this school had a tremendous impact on Rosa, because it further taught her not think of herself as inferior or set limits for herself because of her race. She graduated from high school during a time when most African Americans could not.

Georgette Norman, former director of the Rosa Parks Museum, says that Rosa knew from an early age that the racist Jim Crow laws (which were especially prevalent in the South) could only be changed when the oppressed fought back: “Rosa got the idea [of] ‘I want to change that what makes me have to need to be protected.’ White supremacy was the threat.”

Rosa met her future husband Raymond in 1931. By all accounts, he was the first political activist she ever met. And she wasn’t very attracted to him at first because he was a light-skinned black man who could pass for white. Rosa thought that the man she would marry would have much darker skin.

However, Raymond won over Rosa with his intelligence, compassion and willingness to treat her like an equal. The couple married in 1932 and had no children. After she became world-famous, people in the documentary say that Raymond didn’t mind being overshadowed by Rosa whenever they would go out in public together. It was through Raymond that Rosa got involved with the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the earliest national groups to spur the U.S. civil rights movement.

Rosa became a secretary for the NAACP’s Montgomery chapter by accident, when the regular secretary didn’t show up for the chapter’s election day, so Rosa was voted into the position instead. The documentary mentions that this secretary position was a catalyst that inspired Rosa to become a more outspoken activist. Along with other members of the NAACP, including NAACP Montgomery chapter chairman E.D. Nixon (one of Rosa’s early civil rights mentors), she helped fight for justice in many cases where African Americans were unjustly treated.

These cases included the Scottsboro Boys case where nine African American teenagers and young men who were falsely accused of raping by two white women 1931); Recy Taylor, a sharecropper’s wife who was gang raped by white men in 1944 in Abbeville, Alabama; and the brutal murder a Emmett Till, a 15-year-old boy who was viciously tortured, lynched and slaughtered after being accused of whistling at a white woman in Drew, Mississippi. One of the NAACP’s victories was helping in the defense of Joan Little, who was found not guilty of murder in the 1974 death of a white prison guard whom Little said she killed in self-defense when he tried to rape her.

In the case of rape survivor Taylor, whom Rosa had to interview for NAACP evidence testimony, Rosa was personally invested, because Rosa was also a victim of a sex crime. In a letter that Rosa wrote and is read in the documentary, she describes how she was nearly raped by a white man, who only stopped after Rosa told him that he would have to kill her if he was going to rape her. In other words, she warned him that she was prepared to fight to her death if he was going to try to violate her.

As historian Robin D.G. Kelley tells it: “One of the biggest myths in the Black Freedom movement is that non-violence is a default position. That’s not true. It’s the other way around. And Rosa Parks grew up in a movement culture where armed self-defense was simply taken for granted.”

Rev. James Watson, a former Detroit city council member, adds this comment: “Mother Parks supported self-defense. She couldn’t have been a supporter of the Republic of New Afrika had she not been. To her, there was no conflict in supporting Imari Obadele [Republic of New Africa president], Robert F. Williams and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom she loved. She saw that as the same line of freedom fighting. She was holistic in her approach to the right of all people to be free.”

Rosa was also heavily involved in the movement getting more black citizens registered to vote and acting on their right to vote. It wasn’t easy, when voter suppression based on race was not only blatant but also legal. Many people believe that legal voter suppression that targets mostly people of color still exists today. Rosa also led several NAACP Youth Council groups. Doris Crenshaw, Elaine Huffman and Rosalyn O. King—three interviewees in the documentary who were part of these youth groups—have nothing but praise for Rosa.

What many people might not know is that Rosa was not the first person the NAACP considered backing after being arrested for not giving up a bus seat for a white person. As has been reported elsewhere and repeated in the documentary, a 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin, who was a member of a Rosa Parks-led NAACP youth group, was arrested for not sitting at the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 5, 1955.

At first, the NAACP seemed to be willing to give major public support in Colvin’s defense. Ultimately, the NAACP declined to put its clout behind Colvin’s case. African American historian Keisha Nicole Blaine explains in the documentary: “At the age of 15, they did not think she would make a good witness, that she would not be reliable. Some people described her as being a bit rebellious and feisty. And Claudette Colvin was a dark-skinned black girl. There was colorism.”

Rosa fit the profile of what the NAACP needed as a symbol for the civil rights movement: She was a middle-aged, married woman who was well-respected in her community and looked non-threatening. It made her arrest look even more like racist bullying. She was already well-informed about peaceful ways to protest and to be an activist. And she was also an insider at the NAACP. Williamson Green adds, “Her quietness was her strength.”

Rosa was arrested during other civil rights protests, but her 1955 arrest for not giving up her bus seat was what catapulted her into the international spotlight. The arrest inspired the widespread bus boycotts in Alabama and other parts of the U.S. where racial segregation was still legal and enforced. The NAACP helped with planning and scheduling carpools that African Americans could take instead of public transportation that had racist segregation.

The boycotts spread to other racially segregated businesses and were instrumental in the progress on legislation that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that made it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. These successful boycotts are an example of how oppressors often don’t change their ways until they get hurt financially. Rosa and Raymond eventually settled in the Detroit area in the mid-1960s.

The documentary rightfully points out that even with all of Rosa’s accomplishments in the civil rights movement, Rosa and other women experienced prejudice within the movement. At civil rights protests and rallies in the 1950s and 1960s, women were rarely allowed to give speeches. And if they did get to say anything resembling a speech, their speech time was very limited, while the men were allowed to give long speeches.

Over the years, Rosa received many accolades, awards and honorary university degrees for her civil rights activism. For example, the U.S. Congress named her as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.” She became a close ally of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, who were both murdered at 39 years old. (King died in 1968, while Malcolm X died in 1965.) However, the documentary mentions multiple times that Rosa (whose day jobs were mostly being a housecleaner or a secretary/administrative assistant) never tried to get rich from her fame. She turned down many lucrative offers and gifts.

In fact, Rosa and her husband Raymond sometimes lived in poverty. Theoharis says in the documentary that in 1959, the couple’s tax return reported a combined income of only $700. In addition, Rosa often lived for years in obscurity after becoming a civil rights activist. For example, after a “where are they now” type of article was published about Rosa and reported that she was living in poverty, donations poured in from around the world to help her and Raymond with their financial problems.

Rosa’s niece Rhea McCauley says that Rosa had the type of personality where Rosa wouldn’t complain about personal problems, and she would to be too proud to ask for financial help: “Auntie Rosa never discussed financial hardships. You would not know she was hungry, for instance. You wouldn’t know that she couldn’t pay this bill.”

Raymond was a barber as his main money-making profession. Vonzie Whitlow, who used to be Raymond’s barber apprentice, is one of the people interviewed in the documentary. It’s an example of how the documentary goes a little bit off-topic, but it takes up such a small amount of time that it’s not a major flaw.

As mentioned in the documentary, Rosa didn’t get her first paying full-time job in politics until 1965, when she became a secretary for John Conyers Jr., a U.S. Representative from Michigan. She held the job until 1988. Conyers died in 2019. The documentary has an archival TV news interview of Conyers that was conducted when Rosa and Conyers worked together. In the interview, Conyers says he was in awe of Rosa and looked up to her, even though he was her boss. And it wasn’t until 1992 that she published a memoir: “Rosa Parks: My Story,” which she wrote with Jim Haskins.

But even the great Rosa Parks was not immune to ageism. Years after Rosa and Raymond settled in the Detroit area, civil rights activist Joe Madison worked with Rosa in the NAACP’s Detroit chapter. He tells a story in the documentary about how he and Rosa wanted to be running mates for the chapter’s open leadership positions, but several members thought that Rosa was too old for the job. Madison and Rosa didn’t win in their campaign, but Madison says it was a huge honor for Rosa to be his running mate.

Other people interviewed in the documentary include Rosa’s great-nephew Lonnie McCauley; activists Bree Newsome, Dan Aldridge, Ericka Huggins, Barbara Smith, Bryan Stevenson, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Dorothy Aldridge and Patrisse Cullors; historians Francis Gourrier and Mary Frances Berry; journalists Herb Boyd and Tiffany Cross; and Ed Vaughn, founder of Vaughn’s Bookstore, an African American-oriented bookstore in Detroit where Rosa and Raymond Parks were frequent customers.

Rosa had a life of triumphs and tragedies. The documentary mentions how cancer claimed the lives of her husband Raymond, her brother Sylvester and her mother Leona—all within a two-year period. Raymond died in August 1977, Sylvester passed away in November 1977, and Leona died in December 1979. Rosa also survived a brutal home invasion assault and robbery in 1994. The attacker was convicted of the crime.

An example of how Rosa had periods of obscurity is shown in the documentary’s opening scene, which features Rosa in a 1980 episode of “To Tell the Truth,” a game show where three people claim to be the same person, and celebrity contestants have to guess which one out of the three is telling the truth about their identity. In this episode, the contestants were entertainers Nipsey Russell, Tiiu Leek, Kitty Carlisle and Gordon Jump. Three women, including the real Rosa Parks, claimed to be Rosa Parks.

Leek and Carlisle incorrectly guessed someone else was Rosa, while Jump made the correct guess. Russell abstained from voting because he says he already knew who Rosa was since they were both involved in the civil rights movement. The fact that half of the contestants didn’t know who Rosa was is an example of how many people didn’t really recognize her.

Unfortunately, they’re not unusual, since there are probably millions of people in America who have never heard of Rosa Parks—or if they’ve heard of her, they’re not quite sure what her claim to fame is. Keep in mind that most people in America can’t even name the politicians who represent their state in the U.S. Senate. However ignorant or knowledgeable people are about the civil rights movement in the U.S., the documentary “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” is a worthy history lesson for anyone who wants to learn more about this impassioned activist who made a positive impact on the lives of countless people.

Peacock will premiere “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” in 2022, on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘The Lost Weekend: A Love Story,’ starring May Pang

June 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

An archival photo of John Lennon and May Pang in “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” (Photo courtesy of May Pang Collection)

“The Lost Weekend: A Love Story”

Directed by Eve Brandstein, Richard Kaufman and Stuart Samuels

Culture Representation: The documentary film “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” features a nearly all-white group people (with one Asian) discussing the 1973-1975 love affair that John Lennon had with May Pang, who was also his personal assistant at the time.

Culture Clash: Pang, who is the documentary’s narrator, says that Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono insisted that Pang start an affair with Lennon during the spouses’ separation, and that Ono was the cause of manipulative conflicts that eventually led to Lennon reuniting with Ono.

Culture Audience: “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” will appeal mainly to fans of Lennon and the Beatles who want to know more about the life that Lennon had when he was separated from Ono.

In the very personal documentary “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story,” May Pang narrates and shares her memories of the love affair that she had with John Lennon from 1973 to 1975. Pang’s 1983 memoir “Loving John” went into many of the same details. However, this cinematic version of Pang’s story is a visual treat and an emotional journey that offers intriguing photos and audio recordings, including rare chronicles of Lennon’s reunions with his former Beatles bandmate Paul McCartney. “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Directed by Eve Brandstein, Richard Kaufman and Stuart Samuels (who are also the producers of the documentary), “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” refers to the notorious “Lost Weekend” in Lennon’s life. It actually wasn’t a weekend but it was in reality a period of about 18 months when Lennon was separated from his second wife, Yoko Ono, whom he married in 1969. It was also a time when, by Lennon’s own admission, he was drinking and drugging heavily, although Lennon says he eventually sobered up and stopped his hard-partying ways around the time he made his 1975 album “Rock and Roll.”

The documentary starts out with Pang describing her turbulent childhood where she often felt like a misfit. Born in New York City on October 24, 1950, Pang says that her Chinese immigrant parents had an unhappy marriage. She spent much of her childhood growing up in New York City’s Spanish Harlem district, which was populated by mostly African Americans and Puerto Ricans. “I was a minority among minorities,” Pang comments in the documentary.

Pang describes her father as “abusive” and someone who eventually abandoned her when he adopted a son, since her father was open about preferring to have a son. By contrast, Pang describes having a close relationship with her loving mother, who encouraged Pang to be strong and independent. Pang’s mother, who had “beauty and brains,” opened her own laundromat called OK Laundry. Pang’s older biological sister is not mentioned in the documentary.

Pang says, “Dad was an atheist, and Mom was a Buddhist, so naturally, they sent me to Catholic school … Dad fought with Mom. I fought with the nuns, so my only escape was music.” From an early age, Pang says, “I was hooked on rock and roll, especially these four guys from Liverpool.”

Those “four guys from Liverpool” in England were, of course, the Beatles. Pang didn’t like school very much, so she dropped out of college and quickly found a job working at the New York offices of ABKCO, the company that managed Apple Corps, the Beatles’ entertainment company. ABKCO, which was founded by Allen Klein, also managed Lennon’s solo career.

Pang says she walked right in the office one day, asked if they were hiring, and she basically lied about having secretary skills in order to get the job. A week later, she started working for ABKCO’s Apple Corps side of the business. Pang describes herself as a go-getter who doesn’t get easily defeated.

But not long after she started working for Apple Corps, the Beatles announced their breakup in 1970. Pang then started to do more ABKCO work for the company’s management of Lennon’s solo career. By the early 1970s, Lennon and Ono had relocated to New York City as their primary home base, although they still maintained a home in England. And then, Pang was asked by Lennon and Ono to leave ABKCO to be the couple’s personal assistant. She eagerly accepted the offer.

Sometime in 1973, Lennon and Ono decided to separate. Ono had an unusual demand during this separation: According to Pang, Ono told Pang that Pang had to start an affair with Lennon. The reason? Ono knew that Lennon would be dating other women, and she felt that Pang was a “safe choice.” Pang and Lennon than moved to Los Angeles, where the so-called “Lost Weekend” really began. In the documentary’s archival interview footage (which is mostly from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s), Ono doesn’t really deny Pang’s claims but is vague about how she interacted with Lennon and Pang during the marital separation.

Just as Pang did in her memoir and in many interviews that she’s given over the years, Pang says in the documentary that she was at first very confused and frightened by Ono’s demand for Pang to have an affair with Lennon. Up until that point, Pang’s relationship with Lennon was strictly professional. Pang says her first instinct was to say no, but she eventually agreed because she says she didn’t want to lose her job. She also liked Lennon immensely as a person. Pang describes him as witty, funny, intelligent and generous, but with a bit of cruel streak and some insecurities that didn’t make him always easy to deal with on a daily basis.

Pang says that after Ono gave Lennon “permission” to start dating Pang, Lennon ended up pursuing Pang, starting with flirting. Flirting led to kissing, and then after a short period of time, they became lovers. Pang says, “Before I knew it, John Lennon charmed the pants off of me.” Pang remembers her first sexual encounter with Lennon: “After we made love, I started to cry.” She says she asked him: “What does this mean?” Lennon replied, “I don’t know.”

Pang says in the documentary that she believes Ono mistakenly assumed that Lennon and Pang would have a casual fling. Instead, Pang says that her romance with Lennon was true love for the both of them, and she and Lennon eventually moved in together. Before Lennon and Ono reunited in 1975, Pang says that Pang and John looked at houses on New York’s Long Island, because he was planning to buy a Long Island home where they could live together.

At the beginning of the relationship, Pang and Lennon spent most of their time in Los Angeles, where he did a lot of heavy partying with friends such Ringo Starr (his former Beatles bandmate), Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper, Mickey Dolenz and former Apple Corps employee Tony King. Cooper said they called themselves the Hollywood Vampires. The documentary includes some amusing video footage of King, dressed in drag as Queen Elizabeth II, doing a commercial for Lennon’s 1973 “Mind Games” album, with Lennon and King goofing around with his ball gown lifted up to show his underwear.

The intoxicated partying wasn’t all fun and games. Pang retells the infamous stories about how much of a tyrant Phil Spector was as a music producer in the studio, especially when he was drunk, which was often at the time. Spector was a producer of the Beatles’ 1970 “Let It Be” album and several of Lennon’s solo albums. Pang was there to witness Spector taking out a gun and shooting during an argument in the studio. (It’s a well-known story.)

Luckily, no one was physically hurt during that incident. But considering that in 2009, Spector was convicted of the 2003 shooting murder of actress Lana Clarkson, it’s an example of how his dangerous and erratic behavior had been going on for years prior to the murder. (Spector was still a prisoner in California when he died of COVID-19 complications in 2021. He was 81.)

Eventually, Lennon befriended Elton John and David Bowie, which resulted in successful collaborations with these other music legends. Lennon provided background vocals for Bowie’s 1975 hit “Fame.” John provided harmony and played keyboards on Lennon’s 1974 hit “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” Pang retells the story of how she and Lennon were in bed watching televangelist Reverend Ike on TV, and the preacher said, “Whatever gets you through the night” as part of the sermon. It inspired Lennon to write the song.

Lennon and John performed “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” live one time on stage at John’s Madison Square Garden concert on November 28, 1974, after Lennon lost a bet. When they were recording the song in the studio, John had predicted that the song would be a No. 1 hit in the United States. Lennon disagreed, so John made a bet with Lennon that if the song became a No. 1 hit, Lennon would have to perform the song in concert with John if that prediction turned out to be true.

This concert was Lennon’s first time performing at an arena show without the Plastic Ono Band (whose members included Ono), and it would turn out to be his last time performing in public. Pang describes Lennon as being extremely nervous before the performance. It was also at this fateful concert that Ono showed up backstage in what would be among the many signs that she was ready to get back together with Lennon.

Pang says in the documentary that some of her best memories of being with Lennon were the times she spent in the recording studio with him. She was credited as a production coordinator in several solo albums that Lennon made during the 1970s. Pang also did some backup vocals on a few of Lennon’s solo songs, most notably on “#9 Dream” from Lennon’s 1973 “Walls and Bridges” album. Pang can be heard whispering “John” on the song.

She got to witness a lot of music history, including a jam session with Lennon, McCartney and Stevie Wonder doing an impromptu version of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” Pang says that Linda McCartney (Paul’s first wife) was playing the organ during this session, while Pang and Mal Evans (former Beatles road manager/personal assistant) accompanied on tambourine. The documentary includes a brief audio clip of this recording session, which is believed to be the last recording of Lennon and Paul McCartney playing music together.

Pang was an avid photographer who took a lot of photos during this period of time that she was involved with Lennon. Her photo book “Instamatic Karma: Photographs of John Lennon” was published in 2008. “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” also includes many photos from Pang’s personal collection, including a photo that Pang took of Lennon and Paul McCartney at a hillside house in Los Angeles where Lennon was staying in 1974. (The house was semi-famous for being where Marilyn Monroe would have sexual trysts with John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Robert F. Kennedy.) The candid photo shows Lennon and Paul McCartney sitting outside (on what looks like a balcony) and talking while shielding the sun with their hands near their eyes. Pang says it’s the last-known photo of Lennon and Paul McCartney together.

“The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” also includes several of Lennon’s sketches and doodles that he gave to Pang as gifts. One of these drawings shown in the documentary is of the UFO sighting that Pang says she and Lennon experienced one night when they were on the top of their apartment building on August 23, 1974. Another illustration shows what Lennon (who went to art school when he was in his teens) thought his future would look like. The drawing depicts him in a heavenly-type garden as a naked, potbellied old man with a young-looking and nude Pang floating above on a cloud.

Pang also credits Lennon with being the inspiration for her political awakening in the early 1970s. He was an outspoken anti-war activist, which got him on the “enemy of the state” radar of then-U.S. president Richard Nixon, whose administration caused immigration problems for Lennon. It was revealed years ago that Lennon was under FBI surveillance during this time. All of these issues are mentioned in the documentary through archival news footage. Pang doesn’t give any further insight, except to say she saw firsthand that Lennon knew he was being spied on by the U.S. government, and he was paranoid about it.

One of the most poignant aspects of the documentary is Pang describing how she befriended John’s son Julian (from John Lennon’s first marriage, which ended in divorce), who came from England to visit John Lennon on a semi-regular basis, after father and son ended an estrangement that had been going on for a number of years. Pang remembers Julian being a mischievous child but an overall good kid who craved his father’s love and attention. Pang says she encouraged John Lennon and Julian to spend as much father/son time together, which Pang says was in direct contrast to what Ono wanted.

Pang says that when Julian called, Ono would sometimes order Pang not to put the call through to John Lennon, so that Julian wouldn’t be able to talk to his father. According to Pang, Ono also ordered Pang to lie to John Lennon about how many times Julian called. In the documentary, Pang expresses deep regret about participating in these lies. Pang says that her friendship with Julian also extended to Julian’s mother, Cynthia Lennon, who died of cancer in 2015, at the age of 75.

Even when John Lennon and Pang were thousands of miles away from Ono, Pang says that Ono was a constant presence in their lives, because Ono would call at all hours of the day and night. Ono is described by Pang as being a highly manipulative control freak, who eventually got jealous that John Lennon had fallen in love with Pang. Ono wasn’t exactly celibate during the marital separation, since it’s mentioned in the documentary that her guitarist David Spinozza was Ono’s lover.

In the documentary, Pang fully acknowledges that John Lennon loved Ono too, and that he once loved his first wife Cynthia. However, Pang wants to make it clear that the love that she and John Lennon shared was real and very meaningful to both of them. Some people interviewed in the documentary, including John Lennon’s son Julian, confirm that John Lennon and Pang were in love with each other. Things were more complicated for Pang in this love triangle because John Lennon and Ono remained her employers during her entire “Lost Weekend” affair with John.

Pang says that even though John Lennon and Ono reunited in 1975, he was never completely out of Pang’s life. In the documentary, she admits that she and John Lennon would occasionally see each other and had secret, intimate trysts in the years after he and Ono had gotten back together. Pang does not mention Sean Lennon (John Lennon and Ono’s son), who was born on October 9, 1975, which was John Lennon’s 35th birthday. Like many people around the world, Pang was devastated when John Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980.

An epilogue in the documentary mentions that Pang was married to music producer Tony Visconti from 1989 to 2003. The former spouses have two children together: Sebastian and Lara, who both are seen briefly in a childhood photo. But since this documentary is about Pang’s time with John Lennon, don’t expect to hear any details about what happened in her life during and after her marriage to Visconti.

One of the curiosities and flaws of “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” is that it has voiceover comments from several people who knew John Lennon and Pang during the Lennon/Pang love affair, but it’s unclear how much of those comments are audio recordings that were made specifically for the documentary, or if they are archival recordings from other interviews. Paul McCartney, Cynthia Lennon, Julian Lennon, Cooper, King, drummer Jim Keltner, Spinozza, photographer Bob Gruen, former Apple Corps employee Chris O’Dell, attorney Harold Seider and former Apple Corps employee Francesca De Angelis (who gave Pang the job at Apple) are among those whose voices are heard in the documentary. Pang and Julian Lennon are the only ones seen talking on camera for documentary interviews. (Pang doesn’t make her on-camera appearance until near the end of the movie.)

“The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” has the expected array of archival video footage from various media outlets, but there’s also some whimsical animation to illustrate some of Pang’s fascinating anecdotes. She has a tendency to name drop like a star-struck fan, but it might be because she was and perhaps still is a star-struck fan of many of the people she got to hang out with during her relationship with John Lennon. Pang also says that she did not drink alcohol or do drugs during this period of time. It made her an outsider to some of the partying, but this sobriety allowed her to continue to do her job professionally when she was required to do a lot of important planning and scheduling in John Lennon’s career and personal life.

Pang briefly mentions that sometimes John Lennon was physically abusive to her when he would be in a drunken blackout, but that he was extremely remorseful and apologetic for his abuse when he was sober. Pang will only admit that he shoved her against a wall, but you get the feeling that the abuse was much worse than that, because at one point she says she temporarily fled to New York because she was scared of John Lennon. He later made public apologies and expressed regrets to people whom he hurt in his life. The documentary includes a media interview with one of these regretful apologies.

Despite his flaws, Pang says that John Lennon was someone who really did try to live by his “peace and love” values that he shared with the world. He was a brilliant artist, of course. But viewers of “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” will also come away with a deeper sense that he was not only Pang’s first love but also an unforgettable friend.

2022 Critics Choice Real TV Awards: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and ‘Top Chef’ are the top winners

June 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

“Top Chef” host/judge Padma Lakshmi at the Fourth Annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles on June 12, 2022. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for the Critics Choice Real TV Awards)
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” producers and stars, including judge Michelle Visage (fourth from left), at the Fourth Annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles on June 12, 2022. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for the Critics Choice Real TV Awards)

The following is a press release from the Critics Choice Association:

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) and nonfiction producers’ organization NPACT unveiled today the winners for the fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards, which recognize excellence in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming across broadcast, cable and streaming platforms. Hosted by the Sklar Brothers, the annual event returned to an in-person ceremony and gala this year on June 12 at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Top Chef” led the winners, taking home three awards each. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” captured Best Unstructured Series and Best Ensemble Cast in an Unscripted Series, while “Top Chef” won for Best Culinary Show and Best Show Host – Padme Lakshmi; the two shows shared a win as well, tying in the Best Competition Series category.

In the fan-voted categories, Robert Irvine of “Restaurant: Impossible” (Food Network) was awarded Male Star of the Year, while Selena Gomez of “Selena + Chef” (HBO Max) was named Female Star of the Year.

Bravo was the most awarded network of the evening, topping five categories.  

The late Bob Saget was honored with this year’s Critics Choice Real TV Impact Award, which recognizes an outstanding individual for career excellence and the positive impact they have made on the world of nonfiction content. John Stamos presented the Impact Award to Kelly Rizzo, wife of the late Bob Saget. Saget starred in many successful unscripted television shows, including the long-running “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and A&E’s “Strange Days with Bob Saget,” in addition to starring in the iconic “Full House.” He was also a Grammy-nominated standup comedian for over thirty years. Saget also previously hosted the inaugural NPACT Impact Awards (now the Critics Choice Real TV Awards) in 2018.

The Critics Choice Real TV Awards were launched in 2019 as a large-scale awards platform to give the robust (and still growing) unscripted genre critical attention and support. The awards celebrate programming across platforms, and also recognize industry leaders with special awards highlighting career achievements. Bob Bain and Joey Berlin serve as Executive Producers. Michelle Van Kempen also executive produces the show.

The Critics Choice Association monitors all awards submissions and selects the nominees in all competitive categories. Blue-ribbon nominating committees made up of CCA members with expertise in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming determine the nominees. Winners are chosen by a vote of the CCA membership. NPACT leads the selection of non-competitive discretionary awards and awards for platforms and production companies.

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA) 

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 525 media critics and entertainment journalists. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the intersection between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com.

About NPACT

NPACT is the trade association for nonfiction production companies doing business in the U.S. Its members are comprised of production companies of all sizes, as well as allied services companies. NPACT serves as the voice for the nonfiction creative community, providing a forum for producers as they navigate changes in media and tackle business issues. For more information visit NPACT.org.

WINNERS AND NOMINEES OF THE FOURTH ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE REAL TV AWARDS

**=winner

BEST COMPETITION SERIES

  • Chopped (Food Network)
  • Making It (NBC)
  • **RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • **Top Chef (Bravo)
  • The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)

BEST COMPETITION SERIES: TALENT/VARIETY

  • Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
  • Finding Magic Mike (HBO Max)
  • Legendary (HBO Max)
  • **Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls (Prime Video)
  • Next Level Chef (Fox)
  • The Voice (NBC)

BEST UNSTRUCTURED SERIES

  • Couples Therapy (Showtime)
  • **RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked (VH1)
  • The Kardashians (Hulu)
  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
  • The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
  • We’re Here (HBO)

BEST STRUCTURED SERIES

  • Catfish: The TV Show (MTV)
  • Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Food Network)
  • Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)
  • Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted (National Geographic)
  • **How To with John Wilson (HBO)
  • Sketchbook (Disney+)

BEST CULINARY SHOW

  • Cooking with Paris (Netflix)
  • Crime Scene Kitchen (Fox)
  • Is It Cake? (Netflix)
  • Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
  • The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)
  • **Top Chef (Bravo)

BEST GAME SHOW

  • Family Game Fight! (NBC)
  • Holey Moley (ABC)
  • **Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
  • Supermarket Sweep (ABC)
  • The Price Is Right (CBS)
  • Weakest Link (NBC)

BEST TRAVEL/ADVENTURE SHOW

  • Alone (History)
  • Family Dinner (Magnolia)
  • **Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
  • The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals (Netflix)

BEST BUSINESS SHOW

  • American Greed (CNBC)
  • Bar Rescue (Paramount+)
  • Million Dollar Wheels (Discovery+) 
  • Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
  • **Shark Tank (ABC)
  • Undercover Boss (CBS)

BEST ANIMAL/NATURE SHOW

  • Crikey! It’s the Irwins (Discovery)
  • **Critter Fixers: Country Vets (National Geographic)
  • Eden: Untamed Planet (BBC America)
  • Growing Up Animal (Disney+)
  • Penguin Town (Netflix)
  • The Wizard of Paws (BYUtv)

BEST CRIME/JUSTICE SHOW

  • 911 Crisis Center (Oxygen)
  • Cold Justice (Oxygen)
  • Heist (Netflix)
  • Rich & Shameless (TNT)
  • **Secrets of Playboy (A&E)
  • Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller (National Geographic)

BEST SPORTS SHOW

  • 30 for 30 (ESPN)
  • Bad Sport (Netflix)
  • **Cheer (Netflix)
  • Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team (CMT)
  • Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO)
  • UNINTERRUPTED’s Top Class: The Life and Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers (Freevee)

BEST RELATIONSHIP SHOW

  • 90 Day Fiancé (TLC)
  • La Máscara del Amor (Estrella TV)
  • **Love Is Blind (Netflix)
  • Love on the Spectrum (Netflix)
  • My Mom, Your Dad (HBO Max)
  • The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On (Netflix)

BEST LIFESTYLE: HOME/GARDEN SHOW

  • Celebrity IOU (HGTV)
  • Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia)
  • Houses with History (HGTV)
  • Married to Real Estate (HGTV)
  • **Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles (Bravo)
  • Rock the Block (HGTV)

BEST LIFESTYLE: FASHION/BEAUTY SHOW

  • Glow Up (Netflix)
  • Love, Kam (SurvivorNetTV)
  • Making the Cut (Prime Video)
  • My Unorthodox Life (Netflix)
  • **Project Runway (Bravo)
  • The Hype (HBO Max)

BEST LIMITED SERIES

  • Abraham Lincoln (History)
  • Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes (Netflix)
  • Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer (Netflix)
  • Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo (Netflix)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (History)
  • **We Need to Talk About Cosby (Showtime)

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN AN UNSCRIPTED SERIES

  • Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
  • **RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
  • The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
  • The Voice (NBC)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)

BEST SHOW HOST

  • Mayim Bialik – Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
  • Daniel “Desus Nice” Baker and Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez – Desus & Mero (Showtime)
  • **Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
  • Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
  • John Oliver – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
  • RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)

MALE STAR OF THE YEAR

  • Jeff Goldblum – The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
  • **Robert Irvine – Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
  • Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
  • Phil Rosenthal – Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
  • RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • Stanley Tucci – Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy (CNN)

FEMALE STAR OF THE YEAR

  • Samantha Bee – Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)
  • Kelly Clarkson – The Kelly Clarkson Show (Syndicated); The Voice (NBC); American Song Contest (NBC)
  • Joanna Gaines – Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia); Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
  • **Selena Gomez – Selena + Chef (HBO Max)
  • Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
  • Sandra Lee – Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION PROGRAMMING BY A NETWORK OR STREAMING PLATFORM

  • Discovery+
  • **HBO Max
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • TLC

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION PRODUCTION

  • Bunim/Murray Productions
  • **The Intellectual Property Corporation (IPC)
  • Kinetic Content
  • Raw TV
  • Sharp Entertainment
  • World of Wonder

WINNERS BY NETWORK FOR THE FOURTH ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE REAL TV AWARDS

Bravo – 5

HBO / HBO Max – 3

Netflix – 3

VH1 – 3

A&E – 1

ABC – 1

CBS Television/Syndicated – 1

Food Network – 1

Hulu – 1

National Geographic – 1

Prime Video – 1

Showtime – 1

Review: ‘Box of Rain,’ starring Lonnie Frazier, Betsy Abel-Talbott, Peter Conners, Joey Talley, Jim LeBrecht, Tim Zecha and Brian O’Donnell

June 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Box of Rain” (Photo courtesy of Mutiny Pictures)

“Box of Rain”

Directed by Lonnie Frazier

Culture Representation: The documentary film “Box of Rain” features an all-white group of middle-aged and elderly Grateful Dead fans discussing how this rock band’s music and culture made a positive impact on their lives.

Culture Clash: Grateful Dead concerts, which were about improvisation and peaceful freedom of expression, inspired the same attitudes in Grateful Dead fans (also known as Deadheads), who are sometimes misunderstood or stereotyped by other people. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Grateful Dead fans, “Box of Rain” will appeal to people interested in documentaries about unique music-based fandoms.

Jim LeBrecht in “Box of Rain” (Photo courtesy of Mutiny Pictures)

The documentary “Box of Rain” is an admittedly sentimental love letter to Grateful Dead fans (also known as Deadheads) that doesn’t reveal anything groundbreaking. The movie (directed by Lonnie Frazier, who counts herself as a longtime Deadhead) mostly consists of Deadheads sharing rosy memories of their experiences going to Grateful Dead concerts and how Deadhead culture changed their lives. There’s a lot of hippie nostalgia in the movie (which only interviews Deadheads), but it’s the type of nostalgia that isn’t preachy or too wistful of a bygone era. The movie tends to be repetitive, but it’s also uplifting and celebratory of people finding communities that are positive, which is the overall tone of this fan-oriented documentary.

“Box of Rain” is named after the “Box of Rain” song on the Grateful Dead’s 1970 “American Beauty” album. The documentary is a collection of thoughts and anecdotes from Grateful Dead fans who experienced the San Francisco-based rock band in the decades when the Grateful Dead toured with lead singer/co-founder Jerry Garcia, who died of a heart attack in 1995, at the age of 53. He was staying in a drug rehab facility at the time of his death.

One of the reasons why “Box of Rain” is so appealing is that “Box of Rain” director Frazier made it a personal film to share her own story about how becoming part of the Deadhead community helped her tremendously in healing from trauma. She provides occasional voiceover narration for the movie, and she appears in several of the documentary’s scenes. Frazier is an immensely likable presence in the movie and comes across as completely genuine in wanting to share how much of an impact the Grateful Dead made on her life and on the lives of so many other people.

As Frazier explains in the beginning of the movie, when she was 17 years old, she was violently raped by a group of male students who went to the same high school and whom she had known since they were all in elementary school. This horrific crime happened one night when she accepted a car ride from them after leaving a party. Instead of driving her to her car, these attackers drove her to a field and raped her.

Frazier says in a documentary voiceover: “After that, I felt like I was drowning in hopelessness. I reached out for help, but I was dismissed and sometimes even blamed. I was scared and suicidal. I didn’t feel safe anywhere. When home doesn’t feel like home, where do you go?”

She continues, “I was lucky. I found kindred spirits who showed me what a family can be, and what home can feel like. Being accepted into the Deadhead community had a profound influence on my life. Making this film is my way of thanking them for saving me.”

What was that turning point for her? Frazier says, “It all started with free tickets to see the Grateful Dead and a road trip.” Not long after she was raped and in a very dark place in her life, a friend named Betsy had free Grateful Dead tickets and invited Frazier and another friend to go on a road trip to travel from Maryland to see the Grateful Dead at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. The concert took place on September 6, 1985 (the documentary briefly shows a ticket stub from the show), and Frazier had just recently gotten a new car, which was used for the road trip.

Frazier says in the documentary that she was so eager to get out of her current living environment, she jumped at the chance to go on the trip, which she took with the two other teenage friends: Betsy Abel-Talbott and Kelly Gallagher. (A grey and white cat was also along for the ride.) Abel-Talbott, Gallagher and Frazier are shown together in a reunion interview that’s fun to watch, as they happily reminisce about this road trip. Abel-Talbott comments, “The trip was an incredible bonding experience for three girls. It was phenomenal.”

Later, in the documentary, Frazier is shown returning to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which is a located in the middle of a natural rock structure, to share more memories of that concert, which was the first time that she saw the Grateful Dead perform. She vividly describes the overwhelming feeling of belonging to a community and feeling immediately accepted by strangers at this concert, which are feelings that she’d never experienced before. Frazier mentions that it feels a little strange that Abel-Talbott and Gallagher weren’t able to go with her on this return to Red Rocks. It was probably because the footage was filmed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are seen wearing pandemic masks in this Red Rocks footage.

This feeling of belonging to a welcoming community and feeling instantly accepted are recurring themes when people describe Deadhead culture in this documentary. Although some people describe the Deadhead lifestyle as almost like being part of a religion, it has never been a religion or a cult. Cults are defined as having leaders who dictate what cult members do with their lives, with an “us against them” mentality when interacting with people who aren’t in the cult. Deadhead culture is just the opposite, since the overall attitude is to let people be themselves peacefully, and to respectfully let people make up their own minds about what makes them happy.

Still, like any famous band, the Grateful Dead had a lot of fanatical followers, many of whom dropped out of school or quit their jobs to follow the band around on tour. Many of these Deadheads also raised families in this lifestyle and sustained themselves by selling art, food, jewelry, T-shirts and/or other memorabilia to get enough money for living expenses and to get to the next Grateful Dead concert. Grateful Dead concerts were also known for their communal scenes in each venue’s parking lot, where there was plenty of partying before and after the concerts. A few people in the documentary briefly mention financial hardships because of the costs of following the Grateful Dead on tour, but it’s all framed in a nostalgic tone of “youthful adventures,” without going into details about any of the harsh down sides to the lifestyle.

The people interviewed in the documentary all consider themselves to be Deadheads with a wide range of experiences. When asked to estimate the number of Grateful Dead concerts they saw in their lives, the lowest number named by one person is 20 to 30, while the highest number named by another person is 400. Grateful Dead concerts were beloved by fans not only because of the Deadhead community but also because the band never played the same set list at each concert. Songs often stretched into improvisational jams and were never played in the same way twice at Grateful Dead shows.

Rev. Joey Talley, who is described as an “old Wiccan minister” in the documentary, is the Deadhead in the movie who estimates that she’s seen about 400 Grateful Dead concerts, starting from the 1970s. She comments on Deadheads traveling around the United States: “We saw the good, the bad and the ugly. And sometimes, we saw bad things done to those places. And that gave us a sensitivity for taking care of the planet.”

It’s no coincidence that many Deadheads are also vegetarians/vegans and environmentalists. However, one of the things that comes up a lot in the documentary is that there are all types of Deadheads. And although it might be tempting to stereotype Deadheads as disheveled hippie types who take psychedelic drugs and are stuck in a “peace and love” Woodstock Festival mindset, the Deadheads in this documentary say that there are many Deadheads who definitely do not fit this stereotype.

For example, Frazier says that she’s never taken hallucinogenic drugs in her life. “Growing Up Dead” author Peter Conners, who became a Deadhead when he was a teenager, comments in the documentary that he’s met many non-Deadhead people who have assumed that his time following the Grateful Dead on tour meant that he had a lifestyle filled with non-stop drug parties and sex orgies. Conners said when he was a young Deadhead, he was definitely interested in dating, but his Deadhead lifestyle wasn’t nearly as decadent as many people assume it was.

Several of the Deadheads in the documentary say that, unlike many rock concerts, Grateful Dead concerts were environments where being physically aggressive and ready to start fights were severely unwelcomed and not allowed to become a problem. Violent and rude people were shunned or removed from Deadhead communities. Deadheads say that treating people with respect and showing kindness to others are core values to Deadhead culture.

The closest that anyone in the documentary comes to criticism of the Grateful Dead is when a few people mention that sometimes the band wasn’t playing at its best at a concert, but that the festive atmosphere from the crowd made up for any disappointing musicianship on stage. A few of the Deadheads in the documentary also gripe about how the Deadhead scene changed (and not for the better) in the late 1980s. They blame this change on the Grateful Dead reaching a new audience because of the band’s 1987 hit “Touch of Grey,” which was popular on the radio and MTV, and which brought a lot of “meatheads” and “macho frat boys” to Grateful Dead concerts.

Because so many of these Deadhead stories have a positive spin, the documentary leaves out a lot of uncomfortable truths about Grateful Dead concerts. For example, no one in the movie talks about overcrowding or drug freakouts at Grateful Dead shows, which were notorious for many attendees being under the influence of psychedelic drugs. No one talks about any legal problems or health problems they might have encountered as a direct result of being a Deadhead, since getting involved in illegal drugs was part of the lifestyle for many Deadheads.

Instead, the documentary has people saying they never saw any violence at Grateful Dead shows they attended. That doesn’t mean nothing unpleasant ever happened at these shows, but the Deadheads in the documentary say that any violence was more likely to come from someone who wasn’t a true Deadhead. Every community has its share of people who behave badly, so it’s not entirely believable that there were no Deadheads who committed violence.

Talley shares a story that happened years ago when she was a young woman at a Grateful Dead concert. She was introduced to a man who was newcomer to the Deadhead scene, and he greeted her with a hug but also by grinding his genitals against her without her consent. When a longtime Deadhead, who had brought this creep to the concert, found out about this sexual assault, Talley says that this protective Deadhead brought the assaulter to Talley and told him to make an apology to her, which the assaulter did. Talley says that was an example of how Deadheads looked out for each other.

Overall, most of the women interviewed in the documentary say that they felt safe at Grateful Dead concerts. Frazier has this to say about becoming part of the Deadhead community, where she could openly talk about her love of art, photography and movies: “It was the first time I felt viewed as a female human being who had things to offer besides what someone could take from me.” Later in the documentary, Frazier begins crying when she comments that after recovering from her rape, becoming part of the Deadhead community restored her faith that most people are essentially good.

However, Conners admits that when he was a young Deadhead, he didn’t really think about how concert experiences could be different for women and the “greater risks” that female Deadheads were “taking with their personal safety … that I took for granted because I had the privilege of being a 6-foot-tall white male moving through the world. I didn’t have to worry about safety issues so much.”

“Box of Rain” admirably brings up an issue that often gets ignored in documentaries about fans of rock concerts: how disabled people experience these concerts. One of the documentary’s interviewees is Oscar-nominated “Crip Camp” co-director Jim LeBrecht, a longtime Deadhead who uses a wheelchair. LeBrecht describes what it was like to go to a Grateful Dead concert before and after 1990’s Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) outlawed discrimination against people with disabilities, thereby requiring disability access for disabled people in buildings that are open to the public.

Before the ADA (and when most concerts were general admission), wheelchair-using people who went to concerts were usually put in a section in the back where they could see above the crowd but still were far away from the stage, in an era when most concerts didn’t have large video screens. Despite often being treated like second-class concertgoers, LeBrecht says marijuana-using Deadheads in wheelchairs had some “perks” when they went to a Grateful Dead concert: “If you’re ever at a party, and you’re looking for the person with the best pot, you’re looking for the person in the wheelchair, because these folks had great pot.”

The death of Grateful Dead leader Garcia was devastating to many fans, and there’s a section of the documentary that discusses this topic. Tim Zecha, who says he thought of Garcia as being “like a shaman,” gets tearful when he remembers meeting Garcia and being an admittedly “star-struck fan” during this encounter. LeBrecht comments on his own reaction to Garcia’s death: “I don’t think I recovered for a year, because it was the absolute closing of an era in my life.”

Other people interviewed in the documentary include Marty “Ziggy” Leipzig, Johnny Adams, James Talley, Mark Mullis, Jack Gerard, Bob Shugoll, Jen Rund, Kelley Condon, Julie Moore, Jim McWatters and “Deadheads” documentary filmmaker Brian O’Donnell. The “Box of Rain” documentary includes a section where many of the interviewees talk about “magic shows,” a Deadhead term for Grateful Dead concerts that were extraordinarily magical experiences for Deadheads.

The Grateful Dead was the first major rock band to allow fans to record the band’s concerts. It resulted in widespread tape trading among fans who collected recordings of these shows. A section of “Box of Rain” covers the Deadhead tape-trading community. Tape trading seems very quaint now in this digital era where anyone with a smartphone can record concerts and share these digital recordings.

It’s an example of how the Grateful Dead was ahead of its time, because the band let fans record Grateful Dead shows during an era when audience members who were caught recording concerts could get expelled or arrested for copyright law violations. Nowaways, it’s become common to go to a concert and see numerous people openly recording it. Entire concerts or large portions of concerts are now uploaded or livestreamed by audience members for people around the world.

In one way or another, the Deadheads interviewed in the “Box of Rain” documentary say that the band’s music, especially at the live concerts, helped them be better people, resulted in great experiences, and got them through tough times. Leipzig, whose husband Michael died of prostate cancer, says that listening to the Grateful Dead’s music was a comfort to her and Michael and helped them cope during his cancer battle: “I know when we listened to certain songs together, we were moved to another plane of understanding and compassion—so thank you, Grateful Dead.”

Many of the stories told in the documentary will be moving to anyone, especially people who can relate to finding a lot of joy and emotional healing through music. In other words, viewers don’t need to be fans of the Grateful Dead to enjoy the “Box of Rain” documentary. The movie isn’t perfect, but if the intention of “Box of Rain” is to make viewers smile and feel good about humanity, then this documentary definitely succeeds in that purpose.

Mutiny Pictures released “Box of Rain” on digital and VOD on May 3, 2022.

Review: ‘The Janes,’ starring Heather Booth, Judith Arcana, Marie Leaner, Dorie Barron, Martha Scott, Diane Stevens and Laura Kaplan

June 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

A 1972 photo of Jane members in “The Janes” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“The Janes”

Directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes

Culture Representation: The documentary “The Janes” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few African Americans) discussing the Jane network, a Chicago-based group of mostly women who provided abortion services and counseling before the U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade made abortion legal on a federal level in 1973.

Culture Clash: The Jane network had to be an underground, outlaw group when abortion was illegal, and some members got arrested for homicide in 1972. 

Culture Audience: “The Janes” will appeal primarily to people interested in a fascinating documentary about reproductive rights and people who believe in a woman’s right to choose if or when to have a child.

A 1972 photo of Jane members in “The Janes” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

Regardless of how people feel about abortion, “The Janes” documentary is not only a history lesson about what life in America was like before Roe v. Wade but it’s also a compelling reminder of what’s at stake in reproductive rights and family planning. One of the best things about the movie is that it doesn’t give the narrative over to politicians. Instead, the story is told mostly from the perspectives of people who were involved with the Jane network, the Chicago-based underground group that provided abortion services and counseling at a time when abortion was illegal in Illinois and most other states in America.

The Jane network, whose origins began in 1965, disbanded in 1973, when the U.S. Supereme Court case Roe v. Wade made abortion legal on a federal level. The Jane network got its name because people who needed the services were told to ask for someone with the code name Jane when contacting the network, which advertised through flyers and through word of mouth. The outreach began on college campuses but then extended to many other communities in the Chicago area, including low-income and underprivileged communities.

Directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes, “The Janes” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary begins with a harrowing personal story told by Dorie Barron, who got two abortions when abortion was illegal. She got the first abortion at a place that turned out to be disreputable: “I just wanted it over with,” Barron says of the abortion. “I had no other options. I was that desperate.”

Barron also remembers that because of the outlaw nature of this procedure: “It was [like] the mob. You had to talk in code.” “Chevy” meant the abortion cost $500. “Cadillac” meant that the abortion cost $750. “Rolls Royce” mean that the abortion cost $1,000.

Barron vividly recalls that as she was waiting to get her abortion that there were “three men and one woman, who brought another patient. They spoke all of three sentences the entire time: ‘Where’s the money? Lie back and do as I tell you. Get in the bathroom.'”

This cold and uncaring attitude wasn’t the worst of her experience though. After the abortion, she and the other abortion patient were sent to a hotel room. Barron says she was bleeding profusely and decided to get professional medical help for herself, knowing she’d be at risk of being arrested if the medical professional who treated her wanted to report her for having an abortion. “If I had stayed in that hotel room, I’d be dead,” Barron says emphatically.

Barron says she had her second abortion with the Jane network, which she describes as giving her a “total opposite” experience compared to her first abortion. With the Jane network, Barron says: “All I heard were kind words, consideration, concern. When I tell you they changed my life, they changed my life.”

Barron’s story is an example of how the Jane network distinguished itself from the incompetent patient care that other underground abortionists provided. According to “The Janes,” the Jane network is estimated to have performed about 11,000 abortions, with none of the patients dying as a direct result of these abortion procedures. It’s an astounding feat, considering all the horror stories before Roe v. Wade of women and girls who died after getting illegal abortions.

The documentary includes disturbing details of septic wards in Chicago hospitals where women and girls with botched abortions often received improper treatment and sometimes died as a result. Those who didn’t die were at risk of being arrested. Several people in the documentary say that the Jane network was different from other abortion groups because the Jane network was led by women, and the services included empathetic counseling in a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere.

The Jane network’s origins began in 1965, when activist Heather Booth was a student at the University of Chicago. A friend, who was also a University of Chicago student, was raped, and the rape victim was unfairly shamed for being “promiscuous.” In 1965, Booth also became involved in the Freedom Summer Project, an activist event. “And during that summer, I learned you have to stand up to legitimate authority,” Booth says in the documentary. “Sometimes, there are unjust laws that need to be challenged.”

Booth states that the turning point for her to become a reproductive rights activist was when a friend told her that his pregnant sister was suicidal because the pregnancy was unwanted. It motivated Booth to start an underground abortion service that ended up growing into the Jane network, whose official name was Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. Booth says in the documentary that when she launched this service, she was referred to Dr. T.M. Howard, a medical professional who could perform abortions. When she started getting more people to refer to Dr. Howard, she knew there was a demand to have an underground network.

“The Janes” documentary has interviews with several other women who worked in the Jane network, including Judith Arcana (also known as Judy Pildes), Marie Leaner, Martha Scott, Diane Stevens, Eleanor Oliver and Laura Kaplan. The documentary also features interviews with women who used the Jane network’s abortion services (or took a friend to the Jane network) but who only wanted to be identified by a first name in this movie. They include women identified by the names Abby, Eileen, Crystal O., Jeanne, Peaches and Sheila.

After Dr. Howard was arrested for performing illegal abortions, Booth was referred to someone who is interviewed in the documentary and uses the alias Mike. When Mike worked with the Janes, he used the code name Dr. Kaplan, even though he was never a medical doctor, but he received abortion training from a real medical doctor. The Jane network found out that Mike wasn’t a real doctor, but continued to use his services out of necessity until they parted ways with him because of money issues.

Mike says he got involved in doing Jane network abortions because it paid about “four or five times” the amount of money that he could make from doing construction work. He says he didn’t get personally involved with any of the patients’ feelings or problems when doing abortions. “It was a job,” he says nonchalantly in the documentary. By his own admission, Mike eventually had a falling out with the Jane network when he wanted to get paid more money than the network could give him.

Leaner comments on Mike: “I thought he was a blowhard, sort of a con man and a showman and a wise guy. But I also thought that he had a heart.” Mike wasn’t the only person doing abortions for the Jane network. Many women of the Jane network eventually performed abortions, even though they were not medical doctors either. It’s mentioned in the documentary that they did so because licensed medical doctors did not want to get involved or would charge too much money.

Because of the secretive nature of the Jane network, it was standard practice to talk in code. “The Front” was the term used for the waiting room. “The Place” would be the place where the abortions procedures happened. Women and girls who needed the abortion services could use aliases, although they often had to provide the real phone numbers where they could be contacted. In an era before the Internet or burner cell phones, it was a lot harder for people to get temporary contact information that couldn’t be traced back to them.

However, the Jane network had a confidentiality policy not just for their clients’ protection but also for their own protection. It’s mentioned in the documentary that the Chicago Mafia got involved (no doubt through payoffs for protection), which is typical of any illegal operation that attracts the Mafia. At a time when the overwhelming majority of attorneys, doctors and clergy were men, the Jane network also had male allies in these professions who would secretly offer their services to Jane clients.

Speaking of attorneys, Arcana’s lawyer husband (who has a surname that is not Arcana) is also interviewed in “The Janes.” At his request, he is only identified in the documentary by his first name: Michael. He says that he and many of his mostly male attorney peers did not want to get involved in abortion issues at the time, not only because abortion was illegal then but also because civil rights attorneys such as himself were more focused on race relations and had little to no interest in women’s rights.

Still, Arcana says that being a white woman married to an attorney helped a great deal when she and six other Jane network members were arrested in Chicago for homicide on May 3, 1972, because of the abortion services that they provided. The arrestees were Arcana, Scott, Stevens, Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Abby Pariser, Sheila Smith and Madeleine Schwenk. (Ironically, nearly 50 years to the day later—on May 2, 2022—the news website Politico revealed a U.S. Supreme Court leaked draft suggesting that members of the court are preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade.)

Arcana, who had recently given birth at the time of her 1972 arrest, says in the documentary that she had certain privileges that she knew would work to her advantage when it came to getting out on bail. Arcana comments, “Not only was I a nursing mother, I was a college graduate, a white woman, and married to a lawyer. And all of those things were going to get me out on bail. And boy, did I not disbelieve that.”

Because most of the Janes were privileged white women (many were homemakers, college students and full-time activists), they often came from very different backgrounds from many of the low-income people who needed the Jane network’s services. When New York state made abortion legal in 1970, and certain women in the Chicago area could afford to travel to New York for abortions, the Jane clients’ demographics changed to have more low-income people than ever before. “The Janes” documentary mentions that there were tensions and disagreements in the group about how to interact with underprivileged people. The Jane network eventually agreed to offer discounts or free services to those who couldn’t afford to pay the full price.

Issues of race and social class also came up because women of color were rarely allowed to be Jane network leaders. Leaner (who is African American) comments, “There were more women of color—not necessarily on the team of people, but the people who consumed the service.” Kaplan agrees: “The women who came through the Jane network [for abortion services] were very, very different from the women who were in Jane. We would say to women [of color], ‘You can join us,’ but there weren’t a lot of takers.”

“It was a concern for us,” Kaplan says of the differences in racial and social classes between the most of the Jane network workers and most of the Jane network clients, particularly in the network’s later years. “We were primarily white, middle-class women.” The documentary mentions that efforts were made to be mindful of different races and social classes, but the Jane network wasn’t perfect, and it how to deal with race/class differences was an area that always needed improving.

“The Janes” documentary says that Leaner was instrumental in getting civil rights attorney Jo-Anne Wolfson to represent the Jane network defendants in the homicide case. Wolfson, who was initially reluctant to take the case, had a strategy to delay the trial as much as possible. It turned out to be the correct strategy because the U.S. Supreme court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 made the homicide charges no longer legally viable, so the charges were dropped. The Jane network disbanded not long after the Roe v. Wade decision, since their underground services were no longer needed.

The documentary doesn’t sugarcoat that abortion before Roe v. Wade was risky not just for physical reasons and legal reasons, but also for psychological and emotional reasons. The stress of being involved in illegal abortions took a toll on many of the clients and workers of the Jane network. The documentary mentions that one Jane leader identified only as Jody eventually had to check into a psychiatric facility because she had a breakdown. Jody eventually quit the Jane network.

And how did the Jane network stay underground for as long as it did with no arrests until 1972? Arcana’s husband Michael puts it bluntly by saying that a lot of the Jane network’s abortion clients were the wives, girlfriends and daughters of influential people in law enforcement and politics. Many of these men paid for the abortions.

Other people interviewed in the documentary include former Chicago homicide detective Ted O’Connor, Rev. Patricia Novick-Raby and Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper. In the documentary, Dr. Allan Weiland and former registered nurse Kathleen Kennedy talk about what they witnessed in pre-Roe. v. Wade septic wards at Chicago hospitals. A man who is only identified by the name Wayne says in the documentary that he was married to a woman who worked in the Jane network with his full support. “Our daughters understood not to talk about it, but they understood that it was just part of my life,” Wayne comments.

As a documentary, “The Janes” might not change people’s minds about the abortion issue. But the movie certainly succeeds in showing that abortion is a health issue that can affect anyone. This isn’t an issue that should be considered only the realm of a select number of elite politicians and other lawmakers. “The Janes” shows in no uncertain terms that people who are directly affected can be family members, friends and other loved ones of people from all walks of life. These human stories and experiences are at the heart of reproductive rights and family planning.

UPDATE: On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, thereby eliminating the federal law making abortion legal in the U.S., and giving jurisdiction to each U.S. state to decide what the state’s abortion laws will be. This ruling means that abortions in the U.S. can now be illegal or legal, depending on the state.

HBO and HBO Max will premiere “The Janes” on June 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Take Me to the River: New Orleans,’ starring the Neville Brothers, Irma Thomas, Big Freedia, Dr. John, the Rebirth Brass Band, Snoop Dogg and Ledisi

May 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” with entertainers that include Aaron Neville, Cyril Neville and Charles Neville (far right); members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band; and director Martin Shore (second from left). (Photo courtesy of 360 Distribution)

“Take Me to the River: New Orleans”

Directed by Martin Shore

Culture Representation: The documentary “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” features a racially diverse (African Americans and white people) group of music artists and some producers talking about New Orleans music as they record the movie’s soundtrack songs.

Culture Clash: New Orleans has been a melting pot of different types of music, with certain genres (such as jazz and blues) originating directly from African American experiences of being enslaved and oppressed.

Culture Audience: “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” will appeal mostly to people who are interested in seeing New Orleans music and culture celebrated by music artists of many different generations.

Irma Thomas in “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” (Photo courtesy of 360 Distribution)

“Take Me to the River: New Orleans” is partly a promotional vehicle showing the recording of the songs on the movie’s soundtrack and partly a history of New Orleans music culture. The documentary has got some editing issues, but the diverse performances in the studio are joyous to watch. Fans of jazz, blues, R&B, rap/hip-hop, Cajun and brass band music will find something to like in “Take Me to the River: New Orleans,” which has representation of all of these music genres.

Directed by Martin Shore and narrated by actor John Goodman, “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” is a sequel to Shore’s 2014 documentary “Take Me to the River,” which focused on the musical history and legacy of Memphis. “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” is not a fully comprehensive history of New Orleans music, because most of the history discussed is about the New Orleans music scene in the 20th century and the early 21st century. And the history is only covered in the context of which songs are on the soundtrack album to “Take Me to the River: New Orleans.” For example, before the recording of a Cajun song is performed, the movie does a brief history of Cajun music in New Orleans.

Filming of the documentary mostly took place at two New Orleans recording studios: Music Shed Studios and The Parlor Recording Studio. On the one hand, it gives viewers a very up-close and intimate view of the artists and their creative process when recording music in a studio. On the other hand, it makes the documentary look somewhat insular by putting so much focus on the recording studio sessions.

New Orleans has a vibrant live music scene that is barely covered in this documentary. There is some brief footage of outdoor performances by local street performers during parades, as well as very old archival clips of concerts by a few well-known New Orleans artists. That’s the extent to which live performances are covered in “Take Me to the River: New Orleans.”

The concept for the documentary and its soundtrack was to bring together artists of various generations to record classic songs that have New Orleans origins. Many of the artists in these recording sessions are New Orleans natives or people whose careers have been significantly influenced by New Orleans culture. And, not surprisingly, the documentary interviews have nothing but praise for New Orleans.

The artists who participated in these recording sessions included the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Ledisi, G-Eazy, Snoop Dogg, William Bell, Galactic, Mannie Fresh, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, George Porter Jr., Christian Scott, Donald Harrison Jr., Big Freedia, Ani DiFranco, Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton, Rebirth Brass Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Soul Rebels, Voice of the Wetlands, 79rs Gang, The Givers, Dumpstaphunk, Cheeky Blakk, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Big Sam, Terence Higgins, Shannon Powell, Whirlin’ Herlin Riley, Alvin Ford Jr., Stanton Moore, 5th Ward Weebie, Walter Wolfman Washington, Eric Heigle, Dee-1, Erica Falls, Ivan Neville, Ian Neville and Davell Crawford. In addition, “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” has interviews with some artists who weren’t part of these recording sessions, including Jon Batiste, Mia X, DJ Soul Sister, Jazz Fest founding producer Quint Davis and Deacon John Moore.

The documentary features the recordings of these songs:

  • “Wish Someone Would Care,” performed by Irma Thomas and Ledisi
  • “Li’l Liza Jane,” performed by drummers Terence Higgins, Shannon Powell, Whirlin’ Herlin Riley, Alvin Ford Jr. and Stanton Moore
  • “Firewater” performed by Donald Harrison Jr. and Christian Scott
  • “Wrong Part of Town,” performed by 79rs Gang
  • “Sand Castle Headhunter,” performed by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band
  • “Blue Moon Special,” performed by Roots of Music, Ani DiFranco and Lost Bayou Ramblers
  • “Stompin’ Ground,” performed by Aaron Neville
  • “Hey Mama (Wild Tchoupitoulas)” performed by the Neville Brothers
  • “504 (Enjoy Yourself),” performed by Soul Rebels and 5th Ward Weebie
  • “Street Parade,” performed by Cyril Neville
  • “New Orleans Girl,” performed by PJ Morton, Rebirth Brass Band and Cheeky Blakk
  • “Act Like You Know,” performed by Dee-1, Mannie Fresh, Erica Falls and Big Freedia
  • “Jack-A-Mo,” performed by Dr. John and Davell Crawford
  • “Yes We Can Can,” performed by William Bell, Snoop Dogg and G-Eazy

“Take Me to the River: New Orleans” includes discussions of Mardis Gras Indian culture in New Orleans; the origins of “bounce” hip-hop in New Orleans; the influential legacy of New Orleans musician/producer Allen Toussaint; and the impact of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina on the New Orleans music scene. The words “family” and “community” come up a lot when people talk about the New Orleans music scene.

DJ Soul Sister, Big Freedia and Mia X are among the artists who say that many musicians permanently moved out of New Orleans after the devastation of Hurrican Katrina. Mia X comments on the New Orleans music scene after Hurricane Katrina, “We have this sense of family, unlike no other city, but it’s different.” As difficult as it was for many people to recover from Hurrican Katrina, the recovery process is testament to New Orleans’ resilience. In the documentary, rapper 5th Ward Weebie says, “If you ever seen people go through tough times, rough times, and still come at the end of the day smile about it, that’s what makes New Orleans unique.”

New Orleans native Morton says that he wrote “New Orleans Girl” after Hurricane Katrina changed the city. Morton says about the song “New Orleans is the girl. I’ve been all over the world, and there’s no place like New Orleans.” Snoop Dogg comments, “New Orleans is a safe haven of love.” Aaron Neville states, “New Orleans music is a way of life.”

A recurring theme in the documentary is the importance of passing down musical and cultural traditions or “passing the torch” to younger generations. Many of the New Orleans native musicians have the experience of growing up in musical families and with older musical mentors, perhaps more than musicians who grow up in many other cities. Powell says of learning from his elders: “I hung out with the old cats. I was taught not only how to play the drums but how to be a man.”

Riley, who’s been a drummer for Wynton Marsalis and George Benson, says in the documentary: “My family were my biggest influences My uncle and my grandfather [band leader Frank Lastie], they showed me how to play the drums. My grandfather showed me how to play [the drums] with butter knives … on the breakfast table … There’s a unique and distinct way we play the bass drums here. It really identifies the New Orleans sound.”

There’s a considerable segment on how African-oriented music intertwined with Native American culture in New Orleans, and this blend gave rise to Mardi Gras Indians, who have elaborate costumes and ritual dancing. The male leaders of these Mardi Gras Indian groups are called Big Chiefs, while the female leaders are called Big Queens. Many of these leaders have their own music groups.

The documentary features interviews with Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr. of the Wild Magnolias; his mother Big Queen Laurita Dollis; and 79rs Gang members Big Chief Romeo Bougere of the 9th Ward Hunters and Big Chief Jermaine Bossier of the 7th Ward Creole Hunters. Bougere and Bossier say that even though the 7th Ward and the 9th Ward are considered rival wards with a lot of feuding, these two musical collaborators decided to form the 79rs Gang to show that these two communities can be united through music.

Bougere comments, “We need to get past hating someone because they’re from another ward.” Bossier adds of Mardi Gras Indian culture, “This is a warrior culture. Things happen. But for the most part, it’s about being pretty. It’s about showing off your suit.”

One of the highlights of “Take Me to the River” is the collaboration between Thomas and Ledisi, who is ecstatic over being able to perform and record a song with one of her musical idols. Ledisi (who grew up in the New Orleans music scene, where her mother Nyra Dynese was in a band) practically swoons when Thomas greets her at the studio by giving Ledisi a gift of shrimp and okra. “Yes! She hooked me up, man!” Ledisi exclaims. And later Ledisi literally jumps up and down with joy after she and Thomas record their duet of “Wish Someone Would Care,” one of Thomas’ classics.

Thomas says of Ledisi and the legacy of New Orleans music culture: “As far as I’m concerned, she’s one of the few who will be passing it on … She seems to have a natural knack for it. And that’s a good thing. I feel very good about passing the torch to her.” Ledisi adds, “We don’t want to lose the story. We’ve got to honor our legends while they’re here.”

DiFranco comments, “The deepness and the intactness of the New Orleans community is being threatened. As a result, people here have to be more intentional about staying in touch with those roots, so the continuum is not broken.”

Preservation Hall Jazz Band member Ben Jaffe, whose parents Allan and Sandra Jaffe co-founded the legendary Preservation Hall music venue, says of continuing this legacy: “The most important thing that Preservation Hall can do is make music available to people. When we’re collaborating with musicians, we’re not looking for someone who has an affinity for New Orleans jazz or understands New Orleans jazz. We’re looking for people who share our soul.”

Another documentary highlight is the Neville Brothers’ recording of “Hey Mama (Wild Tchoupitoulas).” Not only was it the first time in years that brothers Aaron Neville, Cyril Neville, Art Neville and Charles Neville were in the same recording studio together, it would also turn out to be the last recording that all four brothers would make together. Charles Neville died in 2018, and Art Neville died in 2019.

Unfortunately, parts of “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” look very dated because of the deaths of some of the documentary’s on-camera participants. By the time “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” was released in theaters in 2022, several people in the documentary had already passed away. They include Charles Neville, Art Neville, Dr. John (who died in 2019) and 5th Ward Weebie (who died in 2020). However, it doesn’t take away from the great music shown in the documentary.

“Take Me to the River: New Orleans” has some flawed editing that doesn’t always make the transition between the topics very smooth. And except for a brief mention by a Neville family member that the Neville Brothers were ripped off by bad business deals at the height of their careers, the documentary glosses over any mention of corruption in the music industry and how it affected New Orleans artists. Ultimately, the best parts of the movie are in seeing the artists and their talent come alive when collaborating in the studio with other artists they admire and respect.

360 Distribution released “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” in select U.S. cinemas, beginning in New Orleans on April 22, 2022, and in New York City and Los Angeles on April 29, 2022.

Review: ‘King Otto,’ starring Otto Rehhagel

May 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Otto Rehhagel in “King Otto” (Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group)

“King Otto”

Directed by Christopher André Marks

Greek, German and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Greece and other parts of the world, the documentary film “King Otto” features an all-white group of men who are connected in some way to Greece’s national soccer team of the 2000s.

Culture Clash: German soccer coach Otto Rehhagel, who had success in coaching German professional soccer teams, took a big risk to coach Greece’s national soccer team, which was on a losing streak for decades, to transform the Greek team into underestimated winners.

Culture Audience: “King Otto” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of soccer and underdog sports stories.

Otto Rehhagel (top center, in black and white outfit) in “King Otto” (Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group)

You don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy the documentary “King Otto,” the inspirational story of how German coach Otto Rehhagel transformed Greece’s national soccer team from a group on a losing streak into international champions in the 2000s. It’s also a story of how people can overcome language barriers and cultural differences to succeed in common goals without losing their identities. “King Otto” follows a familiar documentary format for this type of story, but the thrilling archival sports footage and insightful interviews make this movie an engaging watch from start to finish.

Directed by Christopher André Marks, “King Otto” is also just the right length (82 minutes) to tell the story well without being too long or too short. At the center of the interview footage is Rehhagel, who has a compelling way that he shares his memories of how he took the Greek national soccer team from the bottom of the pack to the top of the heap. He was with the Greek team from 2000 to 2010. It’s a story of massive risk-taking and how confidence and the right teamwork can pay off to great rewards.

Most coaches who are at the top of their game with a championship and well-respected track record don’t decide to do an about-face to relocate to another country and coach a losing team. But that’s exactly what Rehhagel (a former soccer player himself) did in 2000, when he began coaching the Greek national soccer team. When Rehhagel took the job offer to coach the Greek team, he was a very famous soccer coach in Germany. He had the nickname King Otto because of his charismatic leadership qualities.

Rehhagel had his greatest success in German soccer as the coach of Werder Bremen from 1981 to 1995. During this time period, Werder Bremen was transformed from a modestly winning team to a powerhouse, winning German championships in 1988 and 1993, as well as the European Cup in 1992. Rehhagel left Werder Bremen to coach rival team Bayern Munich from 1994 to 1995, but it was a tumultuous change that resulted in Rehhagel being fired.

Rehhagel then moved on to manage the German soccer team Kaiserslautern from 1996 to 2000, to mixed results. The team won the German national championship in 1998, but that turned out to be the peak victory for the team under Rehhagel’s leadership. He resigned from Kaiserslautern in 2000. It’s no wonder, under these circumstances, that Rehhagel probably thought it might be good for him to do something radically different. And that’s when he accepted the offer to coach the Greek national soccer team.

In the beginning of “King Otto,” Rehhagel is shown looking around at an empty Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, Greece. In a voiceover, he makes this comment about why Greece appealed to him: “We admire the Greeks for their history. They have given so much to the world. I, as a German, had a special relationship with the Greeks.”

He continues, “And if someone had told me what would happen one day, no one would have believed it. We were outsiders in the entire world of football. But, as Greek history teaches us, the gods always have their own plans.”

Most of Rehhagel’s interview footage is of him in a room literally sitting on a throne, which was probably the “King Otto” filmmakers’ idea, not his. Although Rehhagel’s nickname is King Otto, he doesn’t put on pretentious airs. There are touches of arrogance in his storytelling. However, this pride isn’t so much about himself as it is about the collective pride that he feels about what he was able to accomplish with the team members who were widely underestimated and disrespected in the world of soccer until Rehhagel came along.

Greek National Team president Vassilis Gagatsis was the one who recruited Rehhagel for the job. Gagatsis says in the documentary: “I wanted to hire Rehhagel because I thought [Rehhagel] being a German, he would be able to instill the discipline that we Greeks lack.” Gagatsis describes Greek culture as a lot of partying and procrastination—two words that he said also could describe the Greek National Team at the time.

There were other problems too. Gagatsis remembers, “When I became president, the National Team was like a traveling circus.” By the time Rehhagel joined as the coach, the team still didn’t have its own training center. “The team had to wander around and beg local clubs to let us use their facilities,” adds Gagatsis.

Rehhagel (who was born in 1938) remembers that he was reluctant to take the job at first. For starters, he was in his early 60s, an age range when most people in his line of work are retired or plan to retire within a few years. Second, there was a language barrier, since Rehhagel did not speak Greek, and none of the Greek players spoke German. And third, there was no denying that it was going to be an uphill battle to transform an underfunded, perpetually losing team into winners.

But take the job he did. And it wasn’t easy, because Rehhagel’s strict and intense style clashed with the Greek players being accustomed to a more laid-back way of coaching. Rehhagel also refused to permanently relocate to Greece and maintained his home in Germany in those early years, thereby adding to the perception that he was just a visiting outsider. With tensions rising between the German coach and the Greek team, something had to be done to solve this problem.

Understanding that he couldn’t bridge the gap alone, Rehhagel recruited Ioannis Topalidis, a former soccer player who was fluent in Greek and German, to be Rehhagel’s assistant coach. In the documentary, Topalidis says that in his translations to the team members, he would “sugar coat” Rehhagel’s often-harsh criticisms to the team members. In other words, Topalidis would translate Rehhagel’s comments as being nicer and more humorous than what Rehhagel was actually saying. The trick worked, because Topalidis said the team started responding better to Rehhagel when they thought that what he was saying was more diplomatic.

Also interviewed in “King Otto” are several former Greek National Team members who worked with Rehhagel as their coach. They include midfielder Giorgos Karagounis, defender Georgios “Giourkas” Seitaridis, goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis and defender Takis Fyssas. Their interviews—along with the interviews of Rehhagel, Gagatsis and Topalidis—provide lively play-play-play recollections of some of the team’s best tournaments, including the 2004 European Championship. (David Beckham and Thierry Henry in their youth are included in the documentary’s archival footage.)

“King Otto” does what every good sports documentary does, even if you might already know the outcome of the matches shown in the movie: It makes you root for the protagonists, feel the pain of defeat, and rejoice in the glory of hard-won and well-deserved victories. It’s a well-edited documentary where the pace never drags.

There’s also even-handed mix of the archival footage and the interviews, all presented in a straightforward manner. “King Otto” does not make the documentary mistake of having too many talking head interviews. Some viewers might get a little emotional at the end of the documentary, which shows a sentimentally sweet moment when former coaching partners Rehhagel and Topalidis reunite at an empty Panathenaic Stadium to reminisce together about their best memories of the Greek National Team.

Sports are often indicative of how people overcome obstacles in other areas of their lives. Sports can teach people how it’s important not to get too conceited or too comfortable in life’s accomplishments. In this unique soccer story, “King Otto” also proves that it’s never too late to take bold risks in life; to mentor people who need mentoring; and to be willing to work hard to make seemingly unattainable dreams a reality.

MPI Media Group released “King Otto” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 25, 2022.

Review: ‘Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story,’ starring George Wein, Quint Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Irma Thomas, Jimmy Buffett and Bruce Springsteen

May 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire in “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” (Photo courtesy of The Kennedy/Marshall Company and Sony Pictures Classics)

“Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story”

Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the documentary “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” features a cast of white and black people (with a few Latinos), mostly music artists, who are connected in some way to Jazz Fest, an annual music and cultural festival in New Orleans.

Culture Clash: Jazz Fest has had its share of obstacles, including overcoming racial segregation issues, Hurricane Katrina and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Culture Audience: “Jazz Fest” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in this festival and its impact on New Orleans and pop culture.

Nashville Super Choir in “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” (Photo courtesy of The Kennedy/Marshall Company and Sony Pictures Classics)

“Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” is a purely laudatory documentary, told mostly from artists’ perspectives. The film is sometimes unfocused, and some of the commentary praise is too effusive, but the dynamic concert scenes make the movie a worthwhile watch. The movie capably demonstrates how Jazz Fest has become a necessary and influential cultural institution in New Orleans.

Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” does nothing groundbreaking in how the film is presented. It’s a traditionally formatted documentary that blends archival footage with the movie’s exclusive interviews. “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” does an excellent job of showing the diversity of Jazz Fest, the commonly used name for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Despite its name, this beloved event isn’t just a festival for jazz music. Jazz Fest—an outdoor festival which traditionally takes place in the spring at Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots—also features R&B, rock, pop, country, gospel, blues, Latin music, Americana, world music, and a number of other music genres from numerous artists from around the world. Jazz Fest, which launched in 1970, is owned by the non-profit New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Foundation Inc. The event is produced by AEG Presents and Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans.

Jazz Fest founder George Wein (who died in 2021, at age 95) is one of the people interviewed in the documentary. A longtime concert promoter, Wein says in the documentary that he was first approached to do Jazz Fest in 1962 by “someone from the Hotel Corporation of America” to do a “Newport [Jazz Festival] type of festival.” Wein said that because of Jim Crow laws at the time that made racial segregation legal in Louisiana, “I couldn’t have white musicians and African [black] musicians on stage at the same time.”

And so, Jazz Fest had to wait to launch only after the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed into law and ended legal racial segregation in the United States. Shell Oil Company signed on to be Jazz Fest’s first corporate sponsor. Jazz Fest’s first concert lineup in the event’s inaugural year included Mahalia Jackson, Duke Wellington, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Clifton Chenier, Fats Domino, The Meters, and the Preservation Hall Band.

Jazz Fest received support from the artistic community from the beginning, although attendance from the public was very low by today’s Jazz Fest standards. In the first year of Jazz Fest, which took place in Congo Square in 1970, about 350 people attended. Since then, Jazz Fest has become the biggest annual concert event in New Orleans, with an estimated 425,000 to 475,000 people in attendance, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jazz Fest founding producer Quint Davis comments in the documentary: “When Jazz Fest started, it was like we were presenting this music to the world … There were a lot of reasons everybody thought we would fail. One of them was bringing Cajun people and Latin people together.”

Davis adds, “Well, everybody eats, and everybody dances. So, if we can get people together to see what they eat and see what they dance to, I think that can work. When it was all put together in one place, it was stunning to the local people. They were amazed at themselves and felt tremendous pride.”

One particular New Orleans family became integral to Jazz Fest: the Marsalis family, who are world-renowned for their musical accomplishments, particularly in jazz. Ellis Marsalis Jr. (who died in 2020, at age 85) and four of his six sons—Wynton, Branson, Delfeayo, and Jason—are interviewed in the documentary, and they share fond memories of performing at Jazz Fest. The Marsalis brothers literally grew up at Jazz Fest and frequently performed as part of the musical group called the Ellis Marsalis Family Tribute. Branford Marsalis comments on performing with his brothers and his father Ellis: “When we walked out on stage, he ceased being my dad. He was the leader of the group.”

Davis comments on another popular Jazz Fest artist: “Jimmy Buffett is very, very special to us. He’s been responsible for drawing more people to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival than maybe anybody else.” Buffett says in the documentary: “Everything I do, from writing shows to writing songs comes out from being a child of the Mardi Gras.”

Other artists interviewed include Irma Thomas; Pitbull; Boyfriend; Sony Landreth; Big Freedia; Tom Jones; Divine Ladies member Angelina Sever; Preservation Hall Jazz Band member Ben Jaffe; Cowboy Mouth member Fred LeBlanc; High Steppers Brass Band member Daryl Fields; Tab Benoit; Marc Savoy; John Hammond; and Earth, Wind & Fire members Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson. The documentary also has archival footage of several performances, including those by Aaron Neville; Katy Perry with the Gospel Soul Children; Thomas; Pitbull; B.B. King; Al Green; Hammond; Big Freedia; Preservation Hall Jazz Band; Herbie Hancock; Nashville Super Choir; and Earth, Wind & Fire.

There’s an entire segment in the documentary about the food of Jazz Fest, with soundbites from some Jazz Fest food vendors, along with the expected delectable-looking display of New Orleans cuisine, such as jambalaya, crawfish, pralines and beignets. The movie tends to drift off-topic in the middle of the film, when it veers into a prolonged discussion of Mardi Gras, including the history of Mardi Gras and how Mardi Gras has impacted New Orleans Fortunately, the documentary eventually gets back on track to talking about Jazz Fest.

One of the best aspects of the documentary is the discussion about how Jazz Fest had a triumphant comeback in 2006, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bruce Springsteen’s emotionally moving Jazz Fest 2006 performance of “My City of Ruins” is in the documentary. Springsteen comments, “There are certain moments when you meet your audience, and that’s when the healing begins. It was one of the most beautiful concert experiences I ever had.”

The epilogue of “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” includes mention of how, for the first time in Jazz Fest history, the event was cancelled. It happened in 2020 and 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The epilogue includes a brief mention of Jazz Fest’s return in 2022, with footage of Buffet performing a rousing cover version of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

“Jazz Fest” is a documentary that often comes across as an electronic press kit video, because the commentary is non-stop praise of Jazz Fest and/or New Orleans, with no mention of any under-reported problems of Jazz Fest. The movie lacks any constructive criticism of the event and doesn’t talk about issues such as overcrowding or overpricing. But as a documentary that’s meant to celebrate the event, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” is at its best when it lets the music and performances do the talking.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” in select U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022.

2022 Critics Choice Real TV Awards: ‘Top Chef’ is the top nominee

May 16, 2022

“Top Chef” judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio ad Gail Simmons (Photo by David Moir/Bravo)

The following is a press release from the Critics Choice Association and NPACT:

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) and nonfiction producers’ organization NPACT today unveiled the nominees for the fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards, which recognize excellence in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming across broadcast, cable and streaming platforms. The annual event returns to an in-person ceremony and gala this year, taking place on June 12 at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

“Top Chef” leads this year’s nominations, earning nods in five categories including Best Competition Series, Best Culinary Show, and Best Ensemble Cast in an Unscripted Series, with Padma Lakshmi earning nominations for Best Show Host and Female Star of the Year. Netflix leads the networks, having projects recognized in 20 categories.

Actors, comedians and television and podcast hosts Randy and Jason Sklar will host the fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards. The brothers notably hosted and produced History Channel’s “United Stats of America” and created and starred in the ESPN cult hit series “Cheap Seats,” besides being guest hosts on “Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle.” The Sklars can next be seen on “The Nose Bleeds,” a hilarious deep dive into UFC’s history that will launch this summer on UFC’s Fight Pass streaming service.

“Given its ongoing popularity across broadcast and cable networks, streaming services and other platforms, it’s clear that unscripted programming is deserving of special recognition by the Critics Choice Association,” said Ed Martin, President of the Critics Choice Association’s TV Branch. “The exciting programs and diverse personalities selected by our five nominating committees represent the best that this multi-faceted genre has to offer. The fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards ceremony promises to be our most exciting yet.”

Said NPACT General Manager Michelle Van Kempen, “The amazing depth and quality of unscripted programming is evident in this year’s nominees, and we’re especially excited to be able to pay tribute to them and the entire unscripted community at an in-person gala, after two virtual years. It’s truly an honor to collaborate with the Critics Choice Association to celebrate the excellence and innovation of nonfiction content.”

Bob Bain and Joey Berlin will serve as Executive Producers. Michelle Van Kempen also executive produces the show.

The Critics Choice Real TV Awards were launched in 2019 as a large-scale awards platform to give the robust (and still growing) unscripted genre critical attention and support. The awards celebrate programming across platforms, and also recognize industry leaders with special awards highlighting career achievements.

The Critics Choice Association monitors all awards submissions and selects the nominees in all competitive categories. Blue-ribbon nominating committees made up of CCA members with expertise in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming determine the nominees. Winners will be chosen by a vote of the CCA membership. NPACT leads the selection of non-competitive discretionary awards and awards for platforms and production companies.

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA) 

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 525 media critics and entertainment journalists. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the intersection between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com.

About NPACT

NPACT is the trade association for nonfiction production companies doing business in the U.S. Its members are comprised of production companies of all sizes, as well as allied services companies. NPACT serves as the voice for the nonfiction creative community, providing a forum for producers as they navigate changes in media and tackle business issues. For more information visit NPACT.org.

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NOMINATIONS FOR THE FOURTH ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE REAL TV AWARDS

BEST COMPETITION SERIES

  • Chopped (Food Network)
  • Making It (NBC)
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)
  • The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)

BEST COMPETITION SERIES: TALENT/VARIETY

  • Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
  • Finding Magic Mike (HBO Max)
  • Legendary (HBO Max)
  • Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls (Prime Video)
  • Next Level Chef (Fox)
  • The Voice (NBC)

BEST UNSTRUCTURED SERIES

  • Couples Therapy (Showtime)
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked (VH1)
  • The Kardashians (Hulu)
  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
  • The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
  • We’re Here (HBO)

BEST STRUCTURED SERIES

  • Catfish: The TV Show (MTV)
  • Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Food Network)
  • Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)
  • Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted (National Geographic)
  • How To with John Wilson (HBO)
  • Sketchbook (Disney+)

BEST CULINARY SHOW

  • Cooking with Paris (Netflix)
  • Crime Scene Kitchen (Fox)
  • Is It Cake? (Netflix)
  • Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
  • The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)

BEST GAME SHOW

  • Family Game Fight! (NBC)
  • Holey Moley (ABC)
  • Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
  • Supermarket Sweep (ABC)
  • The Price Is Right (CBS)
  • Weakest Link (NBC)

BEST TRAVEL/ADVENTURE SHOW

  • Alone (History)
  • Family Dinner (Magnolia)
  • Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
  • The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals (Netflix)

BEST BUSINESS SHOW

  • American Greed (CNBC)
  • Bar Rescue (Paramount+)
  • Million Dollar Wheels (Discovery+) 
  • Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
  • Shark Tank (ABC)
  • Undercover Boss (CBS)

BEST ANIMAL/NATURE SHOW

  • Crikey! It’s the Irwins (Discovery)
  • Critter Fixers: Country Vets (National Geographic)
  • Eden: Untamed Planet (BBC America)
  • Growing Up Animal (Disney+)
  • Penguin Town (Netflix)
  • The Wizard of Paws (BYUtv)

BEST CRIME/JUSTICE SHOW

  • 911 Crisis Center (Oxygen)
  • Cold Justice (Oxygen)
  • Heist (Netflix)
  • Rich & Shameless (TNT)
  • Secrets of Playboy (A&E)
  • Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller (National Geographic)

BEST SPORTS SHOW

  • 30 for 30 (ESPN)
  • Bad Sport (Netflix)
  • Cheer (Netflix)
  • Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team (CMT)
  • Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO)
  • Top Class: The Life and Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers (Prime Video)

BEST RELATIONSHIP SHOW

  • 90 Day Fiancé (TLC)
  • La Máscara del Amor (Estrella TV)
  • Love Is Blind (Netflix)
  • Love on the Spectrum (Netflix)
  • My Mom, Your Dad (HBO Max)
  • The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On (Netflix)

BEST LIFESTYLE: HOME/GARDEN SHOW

  • Celebrity IOU (HGTV)
  • Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia)
  • Houses with History (HGTV)
  • Married to Real Estate (HGTV)
  • Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles (Bravo)
  • Rock the Block (HGTV)

BEST LIFESTYLE: FASHION/BEAUTY SHOW

  • Glow Up (Netflix)
  • Love, Kam (SurvivorNetTV)
  • Making the Cut (Prime Video)
  • My Unorthodox Life (Netflix)
  • Project Runway (Bravo)
  • The Hype (HBO Max)

BEST LIMITED SERIES

  • Abraham Lincoln (History)
  • Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes (Netflix)
  • Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer (Netflix)
  • Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo (Netflix)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (History)
  • We Need to Talk About Cosby (Showtime)

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN AN UNSCRIPTED SERIES

  • Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
  • The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
  • The Voice (NBC)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)

BEST SHOW HOST

  • Mayim Bialik – Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
  • Daniel “Desus Nice” Baker and Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez – Desus & Mero (Showtime)
  • Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
  • Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
  • John Oliver – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
  • RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)

MALE STAR OF THE YEAR

  • Jeff Goldblum – The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
  • Robert Irvine – Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
  • Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
  • Phil Rosenthal – Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
  • RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • Stanley Tucci – Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy (CNN)

FEMALE STAR OF THE YEAR

  • Samantha Bee – Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)
  • Kelly Clarkson – The Kelly Clarkson Show (Syndicated); The Voice (NBC); American Song Contest (NBC)
  • Joanna Gaines – Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia); Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
  • Selena Gomez – Selena + Chef (HBO Max)
  • Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
  • Sandra Lee – Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION PROGRAMMING BY A NETWORK OR STREAMING PLATFORM

  • Discovery+
  • HBO Max
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • TLC

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION PRODUCTION

  • Bunim/Murray Productions
  • The Intellectual Property Corporation (IPC)
  • Kinetic Content
  • Raw TV
  • Sharp Entertainment
  • World of Wonder
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