“I was born to 2 tomato farmers” were the first words of a tale that would captivate me for the next 6 hours and change the course of my life when Sidney Poitier sat down to tell his life story.
In 2011 we produced Oprah’s Master Class, the flagship documentary series, which launched the network OWN. It was an autobiographical series in which people who Oprah considered “masters of their lives” recalled critical turning points in their lives and relayed their life lessons. This was an important show for Oprah, and she pulled out all the stops to book her favorite people for this inaugural season. Among the most important were Maya Angelou and Sidney Poitier, whom she considered family. Read More
Ballerinas Kennedy George and Ava Holloway at the base of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, VA. June 5, 2020. Julia Rendleman/Reuters
What a year we’ve had. And what a time we have in front of us. Covid-19 is a seismic event that revealed cracks in the foundation of American society: from massive income and wealth gap, to the failings of a healthcare system that is tied to employment. Equally significant is the momentum of the social justice movement Black Lives Matter that sparked nationwide protests against hundreds of years of racial inequity, brutality and injustice.
When our world opens up again, we should ask ourselves: what kind of society do we want to live in? And how do we give meaning to the crisis that we’ve survived and are still enduring?
I recently read an opinion piece by columnist Leonard Pitts Jr who spent last year reading works by women. He noted that “my bias deprived me of whole vistas of discovery.”
“This past year, has served as a reminder to never be too smug about one’s own enlightenment. Because enlightenment is not a place one reaches but a process always ongoing. And it requires not just a willingness to acknowledge that one harbors biases but also a recognition that they will not go away on their own. One has to make them go away. And then one has to get up the next day and do it again.” Leonard Pitts Jr
In an effort to confront my own bias, over the past few years I’ve made a conscious effort to read more authors from backgrounds that are different from mine, with an emphasis on black authors. And in doing so I rediscovered some old favorites and was shaken to the core by new authors and stories.
Here are some recent reads that really affected me: Read More
Corey Williams is the kind of person who makes you want to root for him. Sincere, honest and open, he’s a hard worker and a man of few words. And 20 years ago he was sent to death row after a house party ended in the murder of a pizza delivery man. Corey was a mere child of 16, a victim of poverty and intellectually disabled. He was living in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, notorious for its tough-on-crime approach to justice where African American teens were labeled “super predators.” In short, Corey never had a chance. And yet, details of the case didn’t add up. Read More
Amazing Grace, 2018.
Get thee to the movie theater now, gentle reader, to see Aretha Franklin’s concert film Amazing Grace. To see it on the big screen is to be transported back to 1972, to the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles where Franklin recorded her Grammy-winning gospel album. In search of authenticity that a studio recording could never achieve, Franklin brought the studio to church in every sense of the word with the support of the Southern California Community Choir, her band, and Rev. James Cleveland, one of the most renown gospel figures of the time. Read More
I Am Not Your Negro – Review
James Baldwin, Associated Press.
The Oscar-nominated “I Am Not Your Negro” is a piercing film about writer, poet, and social critic James Baldwin. He was one of our most critical advocates for equality, and his work holds an essential place in the canon of American literature. The film finds its structure from Baldwin’s own words. Read by Samuel Jackson in the most understated performance of his career, those words have a renewed relevance today. Back-to-back shows have run at the Film Forum this month. It’s one of the most important films you’ll see all year. Read More
“Try to live your life in a way that you will not regret years of useless virtue and inertia and timidity.
Take up the battle.
Take it up.
This is your life. This is your world.
I’ll be leaving it long before you under the ordinary set of circumstances. You make your own choices. You can decide life isn’t worth living, and that would be the worst thing you can do. How do you know, so far?
Try it. See.
So pick it up. Pick up the battle, and make it a better world.
Just where you are.
Yes, and it can be better, and it must be better, but it is up to us.”
–Thank you, Dr Angelou.
“Maya Angelou” Oprah Presents Master Class. OWN, 2011.
Several Tuskegee Airmen at Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945. Photo by Toni Frissell, Library of Congress.
On Memorial Day, it seems fitting to repost a piece about a job I did for AMC when Tom Brokaw hosted the AMC’s War Heroes Weekend Marathon. We filmed his interview on the aircraft carrier, Intrepid. He interviewed me as much as I did him. Included is a poignant clip about the African American servicemen of WWII.
Dr Maya Angelou and me in her home in Winston Salem, NC in 2010. Photo by Bob Richman.
On the eve of the memorial service for Dr Angelou, I’m reposting this essay about producing her autobiographical Master Class episode for OWN.
Though my heart is heavy and full, it was an honor to know her even for a moment. Rest in Peace, Phenomenal Woman.