Hollywood, offensive speech and why ‘The Interview’ actually matters

Posted on 18 Dec 2014 at 10:02am

TheIntSome neocons like to argue that the protections afforded by the First Amendment really only apply to political speech — that artistic speech of a non-political nature simply isn’t subject to the same rigorous scrutiny. (Even political speech to them doesn’t include, apparently, blocking traffic or wearing T-shirts on the field at sporting events) And while no one has probably ever referred to what Seth Rogen does as art, the free expression issues raised in the controversy over his new film, The Interview, reach the level of serious discussion.

If you haven’t heard, the comedy — which was supposed to screen for local critics tonight and open in Dallas on Christmas Day — is a about the comical attempts of a talk show host and his producer to assassinate Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s dictator. Last month, pro-North Korean factions hacked the private servers of Sony (the parent company of Columbia Pictures, which is releasing the film), and disclosed all sorts of embarrassing details about the company, and threatened to blow up movie theaters who dared screen the film which dares parody the leader of the most oppressive regime in the world. In other words, to these guys, there is no such this as protection for free expression of ideas, even stupid ones. (I suppose they have that in common with a lot of folks at FoxNews — ironic, since FoxNews specializes in stupid ideas.)

Yesterday, Sony caved to pressure, and yanked the film from distribution, not even planning  for a video-on-demand or DVD release at a later date. The ironic thing was, many hours after the decision had been announced, commercials for The Interview we’re still appearing on cable TV shows, promising a movie viewers would never see.

Without defending the specifics of The Interview (which I have not seen), keep in mind what this says about society: The Interview is a fantastical comedy, albeit about one real person (highly fictionalized). Comedy is key to this. But what other films actually opening on Christmas Day? A story about another real person, only it’s a true story: Louis Zamperini was brutally tortured by the Japanese during World War II (Unbroken); astonishingly, Japan has not required that the film be censored, nor have Japanese-American groups threatened terrorism for portraying their people in a negative light. Another true story is about a gay man, who also happens to be the greatest mathematician of the 20th century, who was unjustly treated by the horrific homophobia of the British system in the 1950s (The Imitation Game). To date, Queen Elizabeth has not demanded an apology. And in the Dec. 25 release American Sniper, real marksman Chris Kyle methodically uses a long-range rifle to kill a prepubescent boy in Afghanistan, then immediately turns his site on the boy’s mother and takes her out as well. (They were wielding grenades at U.S. troops.) The Islamic community so far has not declared a jihad on the studio.

Then there’s a movie in which a key plot point is a young African-American orphan is kidnapped (Annie) … a movie where a witch practicing dark arts casts spells to keep a couple barren, and people die as a result of their bad behavior — no happy endings in Into the Woods … even in The Gambler, African-Americans and Koreans are portrayed as thuggish gangsters (I guess impugning South Koreans is OK)  All in all, this season at the movies is rife with controversy, downbeat themes, violence, injustice, and brutality — often at the hands of people who might otherwise be offended at the characterization. But only the comedy about a country that doesn’t even know the Internet exists is being pulled from theater.

To be fair, Sony didn’t have many options. Major theater chains had refused to show the film, citing safety concerns. But think about what this statement says on the same day the U.S. announced efforts to normalize relations with another oppressive dictatorship, Cuba. It’s a message that tyranny wins, and self-expression isn’t an absolute. The loudest voices can drown out the sensible ones. It’s sad that all this time, we were worried about North Korea having nuclear capabilities, when all they really needed was wifi.

It would appear that the neocons have been proven right: Freedom of expression may very well be dead … and not just in North Korea.

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Ben Whishaw: The gay interview

Posted on 18 Dec 2014 at 8:53am

Ben Whishaw, right, in ‘Lilting’

As our final lead-up to The Hollywood Issue on Friday, we offer up an interview with the notoriously private Ben Whishaw, who — aside from his work in films like Skyfall and Cloud Atlas — will be appearing soon in Paddington and the supernatural drama LiltingLawrence Ferber tracked down Whishaw and Lilting’s writer/director Hong Khaou.

Lost in translation

Language isn’t the only barrier that stands between a gay man and the non-English-speaking mother of his dead, closeted boyfriend in Lilting.

The feature debut of Cambodian-British writer/director Hong Khaou, this elegant chamber drama stars acclaimed British actor Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, Cloud Atlas) as Richard, who enlists a translator and attempts to forge a bond with Cambodian-Chinese Junn (Hong Kong actress Cheng Pei Pei of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), the retirement home-bound, prickly mother of his recently deceased partner, Kai (Andrew Leung). Although Junn and Richard mourn the same person, Kai never came out or divulged the nature of his “friendship” to mom, and the jaded, sourpuss Junn disliked Richard from the get-go .…

Khaou previously worked for London-based LGBT film distributor, Peccadillo Pictures, and directed a pair of acclaimed short films, Spring and Summer. Thanks to his experience watching and distributing queer-themed films, he learned a few important lessons to apply to his own delve into feature filmmaking. “I wanted to make sure the kissing was correct,” he shares. “I remember having a conversation about that with the actors. It’s such a difficult detail to get right. I understand certain actors, if not gay, they have that trepidation, but if you’re an actor and take on kissing, you want to make sure to convey it correctly. I was very aware the kissing was right!”

Khaou shot the indie film over a tightly scheduled 17 days. Specifically citing John Sayles’ 1996 Texas-set feature Lone Star and 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene as cinematic influences on Lilting, Khaou also drew heavily from his own family life when writing the script. Born in Cambodia, his family fled to England during the 80s while he was a child. His mother struggled to learn English upon arrival, and even now has trouble with the language. One thing she does understand, however, is that her son is gay. “Her reaction [to my coming out] was fine,” Khaou says. “The build up was agonizing. I was shaking and petrified, but having told her she was fine.”

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WATCH: Naked athletes frolicking. Yeah, that (NSFW)

Posted on 17 Dec 2014 at 4:22pm

The rowers for the Warwick crew team original made a naked calendar as a fundraiser. Now they do it, in part, to support gays in sports. Bully for them!

Watch the NSFW video below.

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Socially conscious shopping tips for the Dallas holiday shopper

Posted on 17 Dec 2014 at 2:18pm
Armani

While Neiman’s gets a miserable score, gay Giorgio Armani scores a shameful zero

If you’re still holiday shopping and want to make sure your LGBT dollars are going to companies with the best policies for its employees, one place to look is Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

It’s been out for awhile, but for the holiday shopping season, I’ve pulled out some highlights for local Dallas shoppers.

Department stores

Let’s say you’re looking for something from a local department store. That’s a no brainer, because what’s more gay than Neiman Marcus?

Well, local and gay friendly? J.C. Penney for one. Plano-based J.C. Penney gets a 95. Neiman’s scores a miserable 15. In the 1950s, Jack Evans was once fired from the store because he was gay. They couldn’t do that now or they wouldn’t have a staff, but they also offer few protections and no benefits to their LGBT employees.

So if you’re counting out Neiman’s, what about the rest of NorthPark’s anchors? Macy’s and Nordstrom get 100 percent. Dillards? Not so much. 30.

If you’re shopping at the Galleria, the new Belk gets a failing 15.

Elsewhere in NorthPark

Abercrombie, American Eagle, Gap, Nike and Tiffany rate 100

Kenneth Cole, Ralph Lauren: 90

Aeropostale: 85

H&M: 70

J. Crew: 30

Foot Locker, Donna Karan, Burberry, Guess, Urban Outfitters: 15

Ann Taylor, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Versace, Express, Skechers: These are the ExxonMobils of the mall that offer no protection and no benefits to their LGBT employees. And Versace was gay and so is Armani. I guess just because you’re gay (or built your retail empire on the reputation of someone who was) doesn’t mean you don’t say fuck you to those who work for you or your LGBT customers. If Armani just had a no-cost nondiscrimination statement that included sexual orientation and gender identity, he’d get a 15. Shame on him for not saying, “Of course we won’t fire our gay, lesbian and transgender employees.”

Local chains

What about other local chains? Pier 1 and Radio Shack are both based in Fort Worth. Radio Shack: 30. Pier 1: 15.

Do the Dallas-based The Container Store or Michaels do better? Both rate a pitiful 15.

Strip centers:

Shopping for the lesbian on your list may be easy this year. Home Depot gets a 90, but, across the street, Lowe’s only gets a 30.

Target: 100

Office Depot and Staples: 100 (Office Max: not rated)

Ross: 70

Bed, Bath and Beyond go below: 30.

Big Lots: 15

Dollar stores

Dollar stores aren’t all the same. Family Dollar and Dollar Tree rate just 30, while Dollar General gets a more respectable 70.

Drug stores

Both CVS and Walgreens rank 100.

Groceries

Safeway (which owns Tom Thumb) gets 100.

Kroger rates 85.

Whole Foods could do better with a 75.

Central Market: 40.

Trader Joe’s: 30.

Aldi, Fiesta and my favorite local supermarket Rio Grande: not rated.

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Legislators file joint adoption bills for LGBT parents

Posted on 17 Dec 2014 at 11:10am

Anchia.RafaelRep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, filed companion bills today (Wednesday, Dec. 17) that would allow adopted children in Texas to have the names of both parents listed on their supplemental birth certificates, regardless of the parents’ gender.

HB 537 and SB 250 would amend the Texas Health and Safety Code, which requires the supplemental birth certificate of an adopted child be in the names of the adoptive parents, one female and the other male.

“Texas families come in all shapes and sizes, including those formed by adoption. An adopted child needs to have a birth certificate that accurately reflects the child’s family,“  said Anchia.  “Texas laws should protect and support the rights of children and families — not hinder them.”

Under the current law, adopted children of same-gender couples are denied accurate birth certificates, which can cause difficulty in obtaining a passport or Social Security card or in registering for school.

“This bill removes an unreasonable obstacle to some children getting the important legal documentation they need,“  Garcia said.  “A birth certificate is vital and should accurately reflect both parents.  Neither these children nor their parents should be burdened with an incomplete birth certificate that omits a loving parent.”

As it stands, the requirement compels same-gender parents to carry and present documentation proving their legal parentage for medical care, school enrollment and international travel. Without a birth certificate, the child is left in legal limbo and can never have the same recognition of family status that is afforded other adopted children.

This will be the fourth consecutive legislative session that Anchia has filed this legislation. This is the first time the bill has been filed in the Senate.

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Kiesza: The gay interview

Posted on 17 Dec 2014 at 8:17am

Kiesza

Continuing our lead-up to The Hollywood Issue this week, we chat with “Hideaway” singer Kiesza, who’s long be an ally to the gay community. But is she more an Mariah or Whitney fan?  — Chris Azzopardi

Even before making the streets of New York City her own private dance floor for “Hideaway,” Kiesza was courting the queers. The lead single off the 25-year-old’s major-label debut, Sound of a Woman, has certainly boosted her appeal within the community — who could resist the sports bra and suspenders look? — but the gays and this former sniper-in-training for the Canadian Army actually go way back.

On her way to the airport, Kiesza called to chat about pretend-marrying her gay best friend, how Barbra Streisand taught her to sing and her request for the drag queens.

Dallas Voice: Have you been feeling the gay love yet?  Kiesza: I’ve been feeling it before any other love, actually. Even before “Hideaway,” when I was doing other projects, the gay community was always the community that supported me as a brand new artist. I always felt supported by the gay community before anyone else, so it’s a really special community to me.

When did you know the gay community was in love with you?  I would actually meet the people who were coming to my shows and it showed me who my audience was, and I had a very strong gay following, which is amazing. They’re so enthusiastic, and they come dressed in clothes that emulate my own style. They’re always going the extra mile.

You know you’ve made it when guys are doing you in drag.  Yeah, I saw some people doing “Hideaway” in drag, which is amazing. I wanna go to a drag show and see someone performing “Hideaway” live!

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BREAKING: Senate confirms first openly gay man as federal district judge in Texas

Posted on 16 Dec 2014 at 11:58pm
Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 11.39.24 PM

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Robert Pitman to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, making him the first openly gay federal district court judge in Texas, according to reports by LGBTQNation.com.

The Western District court had been vacant for six years. The vote to confirm Pitman came late Tuesday evening, Dec. 16.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who has never been a friend of the LGBT community, is getting credit for Pitman being confirmed — but not because Cruz suddenly had a change of heart on LGBT issues.

In an effort to force a vote on what he called President Obama’s “illegal executive amnesty” for immigrants, Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on Friday, Dec. 12,  scuttled a bipartisan agreement that would have prevented weekend votes in the Senate. The ban on weekend votes would have meant the Senate would have run out of time before being able to vote on confirming more than a dozen of the president’s judicial and executive nominees, including Pitman, who likely would not have been confirmed if they had been forced to wait until next year when the GOP will control the Senate.

But when Cruz and Lee sidelined the agreement, that opened the door for current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to call the Senate back into session on Saturday and get those votes through.

Pitman, a former magistrate judge in Austin, had led the San Antonio-based federal prosecuting office since 2011 when he became the first openly gay U.S. attorney in Texas. He had also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the same district from 1990 to 2003.

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Beware the ID thieves’ new scam

Posted on 16 Dec 2014 at 4:49pm

The Texas Attorney General’s Office today issued a warning about a new scam through which thieves are not only scamming money from their marks but stealing their identities as well.Screen shot 2014-12-16 at 4.37.57 PM

The OAG has opened a criminal investigation into the identity theft ring that rattles its victims by claiming to be either a governmental or debt collection agency and threatening the victims with arrest if they don’t pay up.

(Yeah, yeah, I know. This is not a specifically LGBT thing. But LGBT people are targeted by scammers like this, just like anybody else.  So pay attention.)

According to the OAG press released, “dozens of Texas residents” in recent months have reported getting phone calls from someone claiming to be collecting overdue payments — often overdue child support payments — on behalf of the Texas OAG. The scammers tell the victims they owe funds to the OAG and warn that an arrest warrant has been issued because of the past-due payments.

Naturally, the victims become alarmed at the prospect of pending arrest, and once that happens, the thieves move to the next step: asking the victim to “confirm” their Social Security number and other vital personal information.

Once the victim offers up the personal information, the thieves say the victim can fix the problem by “paying the debt” through a bank draft: The scammers instruct their victims to go to a nearby convenience story, buy a pre-paid debit card, load it with cash and then call the number they are given to relay the number on the back of the card.

Once the scammers have the number off the back of the prepaid debit card, they can drain off the cash the victim has loaded onto it AND they already have the personal data they need to steal the victim’s identity.

Over the past couple of years, while working at the Cleburne Times-Review, I heard numerous reports from folks who were targeted in a scams that used the pre-paid debit card model. In many of those, however, the scammers tended to target older individuals, often calling up and claiming to be a grandchild, telling Grammy or Grampy they had been arrested in Mexico because of something someone else did. They would beg the grandparents, “Don’t tell anybody, like my parents or sibling, because I am embarrassed for them to find out.”

As the OAH noted, the “we’ve issued a warrant for your arrest” ploy is especially effective because it encourages victims to act quickly out of fear, without stopping to question the flimsy premise (just like a grandparent would jump to help a stranded grandchild). Remember, OAG officials said, “The OAG typically only pursues arrest warrants against individuals who are wanted for contempt of court because of their failure to make regular child support payments.”

The lesson here, really, is DON’T GIVE YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION OUT TO SOMEONE YOU DON’T KNOW — not over the phone, not in an email, not ever.

The OAG offered this advice:

• Stop to verify the request. Do that by directly contacting the governmental agency allegedly seeking to collect the funds through a telephone number you find on your own, not by calling the phone number the called has provided.

• Take proactive steps to prevent ID theft. If you believe you have been a victim of this scam — or any scam — file a consumer complaint with the OAH online at TexasAttorneyGeneral.gov. If you believe you are at risk for identity theft because you have been targeted by scammers, visit TexasFightsIDTheft.gov to get a copy of the OAG’s Identity Theft Kit AND file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commision.

• Pay attention to the red flags. Pre-paid debit cards are the scammers payment form of choice because they are more convenient than a wire transfer and just as untraceable.

You can go to the FBI website for information on other common fraud schemes and more information on identity theft.

And above all else people, USE SOME COMMON SENSE, dammit! I mean, your mother probably didn’t got to Madrid without telling you, so that email from her claiming someone stole her wallet while she was there probably isn’t authentic. And as much as you want it to be true, you don’t have some long-lost relative in Nigeria who just died and left you millions, if you will just send their “lawyer” $1,500 to send the millions to you.

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First Circuit denies gender reassignment surgery to transgender inmate

Posted on 16 Dec 2014 at 3:17pm

michelle-kosilek1The full First Circuit Court of Appeals today (Tuesday, Dec. 16) reversed an earlier ruling that Massachusetts must provide Michelle Kosilek, an incarcerated transgender woman, medically-necessary gender reassignment surgery.

Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said, “I am appalled by this decision, which means that Michelle Kosilek will continue to be denied the life-saving medical care she needs and has been seeking for years.  It is difficult or impossible to imagine a decision like this one – that second-guesses every factual determination made by the trial court – in the context of any other prisoner health care case.  This decision is a testament to how much work remains to be done to get transgender people’s health care needs on par with others in the general public. ”

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals issued an initial ruling Jan. 17, upholding the finding of District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf that the Massachusetts Department of Corrections engaged in a pattern of “pretense, pretext and prevarication” to deny Kosilek treatment, in violation of her 8th Amendment right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. The commonwealth requested and was granted a rehearing of the case before the full bench. Oral arguments took place on May 8.

Kosilek was denied gender reassignment surgery by the department against the recommendations of multiple doctors.

“There is no scientific or medical basis for denying transgender people their health care needs,” Levi said. “The consensus position of the medical community is that surgery may sometimes be essential treatment.”

Kosilek is serving a lifetime sentence for the 1990 murder of her wife, Cheryl McCaul.

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Jeb Bush considering presidential run because the world needs more shrubs in office

Posted on 16 Dec 2014 at 11:52am

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, son of a former president, brother to a war criminal who lied about torturing people another and father to my neighbor who never welcomed me to the neighborhood Land Commissioner-elect George P. Bush of Fort Worth, announced this morning (Tuesday, Dec. 16) he’s exploring a run for president on the Republican ticket.

He announced his plans in a Facebook post.

Here are my feelings (h/t BuzzFeed):

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