Oscar-nominated shorts to play at Prytania Theatre (Jan. 29-Feb. 4)

World of Tomorrow

“World of Tomorrow” by Don Hertzfeldt

One of the annual viewing traditions leading up to the Academy Awards is the touring collection of Oscar-nominated short films in the animated, live-action and documentary categories. The Prytania Theatre will continue that tradition by hosting the screening of the films Jan. 29-Feb. 4, the theater announced Thursday (Jan. 14).

The announcement comes on the heals of the announcement of all of the Academy Award nominations, with the ceremony televised Feb. 28 by ABC.

(Read more: Check out the complete list of nominees here.)

Details of the Prytania screening series are sketchy and should be coming soon. Until then, here are the nominated films and their directors:

“Body Team 12,” David Darg and Bryn Mooser; “Chau, beyond the Lines,” Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck; “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah,” Adam Benzine; “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; “Last Day of Freedom,” Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman.

“Bear Story,” Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala; “Prologue,” Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton; “Sanjay’s Super Team,” Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle; “We Can’t Live without Cosmos,” Konstantin Bronzit; “World of Tomorrow,” Don Hertzfeldt.

“Ave Maria,” Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont; “Day One,” Henry Hughes; “Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut),” Patrick Vollrath; “Shok,” Jamie Donoughue; “Stutterer,” Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage

Check for updates here and on their Facebook event page. The tour is sponsored by Shorts International.



Sandra Bullock, adoption, race and the intersection of celebrity and parenthood

The email arrived from one of my editors as the mother of all coincidences, which wondered how I might approach a story about actress Sandra Bullock adopting a second child in New Orleans.” “Do you have any thoughts?” the email concluded.

At this point, my editor was one of the few New Orleanians who had yet to see one of the myriad photos I’ve taken of Elijah, my son, who four and a half years ago turned my world upside down in a (partly) trans-racial adoption by me and my wife, Faith. All it took was a confirmation that, yes, I know where to start, and yes, I had some thoughts, along with a photo of Eli to convince her I could handle this assignment.

(Here’s the New Orleans Advocate story.)

As it turns out, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans — the very kind of organization that could have handled Bullock’s first adoption, of an African-American infant boy, in 2009 — facilitated our adoption of Eli back in 2011. In fact, before reading any further, all you need to know about that can be found in Faith’s heartfelt and insightful essay report on the subject for her old publication, New Orleans magazine (“Faith Hope and Elijah,” May 2012) while we were still in Atlanta.

As for Sandra Bullock’s latest adoption — a foster-care adoption, of a 3 1/2-year-old named Laila, also from Louisiana — my article in the New Orleans Advocate suggests many reasons for joy as we enter into the holiday season. Catholic Charities’ Danna P. Cousins — a literally award-winning social worker who heads their adoption services — noted how Bullock’s second adoption (of an African-American girl) signals yet another example of how demystified trans-racial adoption has become over the past couple decades and not just adoption itself. Lori Arceneaux North of Volunteers of America New Orleans and others noted how a foster adoption can but shouldn’t be considered an entirely different experience, and that Bullock’s adoption of Laila can serve as a positive example for those thinking about taking the plunge.

One New Orleanian who I interviewed, Scharmaine Lawson Baker, said as much, and relayed how inspiring it was to see Sandra Bullock take this same step, and how she now felt connected to the actress.

It’s always a tricky thing to feel connected to celebrity, but in hindsight, it’s dawning on me how strangely connected we are to Bullock. Her adoption of her son came soon after the release of 2009’s “The Blind Side” and her Academy Award-winning portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy and her adoption of now-NFL offensive lineman Michael Oher, an African-American teenager at the time. (I should add her husband, Sean, is a New Orleans native and Isidore Newman School graduate.) It would have been unbelievably Hollywood to believe that Bullock was so inspired by the role that she decided to adopt her son, but in fact (as has been reported previously) she’d been planning the adoption before the role. But it was pretty cool to know that, at the time of her Oscar win, she knew the adoption was going to happen, and only vaguely hinted at it in her speech when she thanked “moms that take care of the babies and the children no matter where they come from.”

Faith and I were already thinking about adoption when we had our own encounter with Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy. It was early 2011, and an acquaintance of mine through my job (who worked for a major Atlanta foundation) knew of our situation, and he and his wife were considering adoption, and so they invited us to be guests at their table at a Families First event where the Tuohys were the guests of honor. It was there I was able to put together in my mind both Bullock’s performance and Leigh Anne Tuohy’s rather notorious persona. I could see both why Bullock could channel her inner strength (few Hollywood actresses have that ability) and why Tuohy might have been a problematic character for Bullock to portray. She’s obviously not just a devout Christian but also a staunch conservative, and made no bones about it. (Bullock, I believe, is a fairly conventional Hollywood liberal, though one who took her fair share of criticism by some on the left and in the African-American community for playing a character that might perpetuate Hollywood’s tired “Great White Father” trope but as a female. More on that later. Short version: I think Sandra Bullock defies easy labeling.)

But what in hindsight is undeniable is the fierce maternal instinct that both women possess, and while it had been awakened in Tuohy a long time ago, it took a little longer for Bullock. The same might be said for my wife, Faith, who fretted constantly about how, as a later-in-life mother, she’d be able to rise to the occasion with Eli and has spent the past four and a half years proving her fears unfounded. She is, above everything else, an amazing mother, even if she’ll never think so. She loves Eli, she works with Eli, she laughs with Eli, she educates Eli, she protects Eli, in ways some people might only dream of.

Though I’m a father, I can say with some confidence that that is what motherhood can do to some people. If I ever wondered if there’s such a think as the maternal gene kicking in, Faith’s mothering of Eli confirmed it. And so it was with a lot of joy I have watched from a very safe distance Sandra Bullock continue this same experience. Now, I don’t really know Sandra Bullock, and have no real clue as to whether she’s a great mother to her children. And I don’t know to what degree she, as a white woman of Hollywood privilege, will help her black children connect in some tangible way to their African-American roots. Naming her son after Louis Armstrong seemed a nod to both his New Orleans and African-American heritage, and both notions warm the heart of anyone who lives here. That she’s also become a huge supporter of Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans just adds to the love.

This is all to say that, celebrity or not, I admire Sandra Bullock, and feel a certain kinship to her. Not just as someone who loves New Orleans but as an outsider, but also as a white person adopting an African-American child who will be considered “the other” in more ways than other black kids. Eli is black, he’s adopted, he’ll probably be an only child, and he’ll be the son of a interracial couple. While I hope I’ve gained an appreciation of African-American life and culture as someone who spent years covering a historically black college as a sportswriter, and as someone who feels the embrace of my wife’s vast New Orleans family, and maybe as someone who at the very least has held a life-long curiosity about culture, I know that only adds up to so much, and that I’ll want to expose Eli to as much as I can about all of the worlds that should shape his life. I try to incorporate African-American culture into everything he experiences — in the books we read, the movies we watch, and the company we keep. It’s fairly safe to say that no matter what people do in a trans-racial adoption, there will be those who are skeptical about all things regarding assimilation. (Check out the reader comment in the Advocate piece, a gallery owner, who voices some cultural suspicions.)

And while I’m not the most religious person in the world, I, maybe like Sandra Bullock, can’t help but be awed by the Leigh Anne Tuohys of the world who dig deep into their spirituality and faith to extend their love and protection beyond their birth children. I know Faith does.

I have no clue what Sandra Bullock’s plan is for her two adopted children, and recognize it never pays dividends to invest in celebrity culture. Faith’s devotion to Eli offers some clue, though. And maybe mine. All day long, as I reported this story, and gathered the interviews, I couldn’t help but share with the interviewees my own personal experience with adopting Eli. And then there’s living with him every day. I look at him, with those wide curious eyes, that unselfconscious cackle, that mischievous mentality, and that caring soul, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world. For me, for Faith, for Eli, and hopefully, for Sandra, Louie, and Laila.


How would I explain racist elements of movies to my son?

Noble savage: African-American actor Noble Johnson as the

Noble savage: African-American actor Noble Johnson as the “Native Chief” in the 1933 version of “King Kong.” (YouTube)

It was a coin toss on whether to bring along my son, Elijah, for a Sunday morning screening at the Prytania Theatre of the 1933 classic, “King Kong,” along with a good friend of mine. Eli, all 4 years of him, is a coin toss in general when it comes to watching movies in a theater; depending on the movie, its length and his mood, he can be transfixed or restless. I loved the idea of him tagging along — I’m hoping movie moments are among our best father-son moments — but as my friend noted, the movie’s run time, and the long wind-up to the King Kong scenes suggested this might not be the best decision.

When we arrived inside the theater to the sight of other sons with their dads, I cringed. Had I made a mistake? I hate missing opportunities to do fun stuff with Eli, who’s such a gamer it warms my heart. But I rationalized it by reminding myself the juicier parts of the movie would take too long for Eli’s patience.

It wasn’t until later I was reminded of the “other” parts of the movie that makes watching “King Kong” such a problematic endeavor. It’s the jungle scenes, complete with tens of African-American actors in full-on jungle attire, that made me cringe, and wonder: How the hell would I explain this to my African-American son? The natives are indeed restless in these scenes on Skull Island — hopping up and down like madmen, bug-eyed to an extreme, speaking in a foreign gibberish, and serving as the butt of several racist comments by the white characters.

Some critics have suggested that the racism in “King Kong” transcends mere black stereotypes, and that the movie itself has racist allegories — that the taking of a dark creature from the jungle to America is an allusion to the slave trade, and that the relationship between Kong and the Fay Wray character underscored fears of the black male as sexual predator that were rampant in the 1930s (and in some ways persist even today). Check out this description from the website Atlanta Blackstar, which named “King Kong” one of the 11 most racist films of all time:

In “King Kong” movies, especially the 1933 version, Blacks are depicted as subhuman, or primate. In this film, Blacks didn’t even have a distinct way of communicating, only grunting and growling. There are also underlying racist comparisons between King Kong and Black men. King Kong was forcibly taken from his land and brought to the United States in chains. He breaks free then meets his demise due to his insatiable desire for a white woman.

(Also, check out this blog post about all three versions.)

Eli is as curious as the next 4-year-old, maybe more so. The kid is ALWAYS asking questions. I wondered what he might have thought about those jungle sequences, and what he thought about those “savages.” And, how I would have explained those images to him. One thing I did do, after checking out the credits, was look up Noble Johnson, the African-American actor cast as the “Native Chief.” Johnson led an impressive double life in Hollywood as an actor and producer for the company he oversaw: the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, which made “race” films of the era. (Johnson must have had Hollywood in his blood; he knew future silent film star Lon Chaney while growing up in Colorado.)

We’re constantly having to explain some of the edgier stuff that Eli sees on the screen — stuff that’s a little violent, stuff that’s a little scary, etc. And we almost always end it with the explanation, “It’s only make-believe. It’s not real.” Maybe the best thing I could say to Eli was this racist imagery depicted in “King Kong” isn’t real, but that the actor who played the “Native Chief” had a real, commendable and impressive impact on other artists of color. But regardless, it would prove a tough conversation.

So what would you say? How would you explain racist imagery to your young child? I’m all ears.