Monday, August 02, 2021

TV: Xenophobia and racism alive and thriving thanks to PBS and Norman Lear

Rita Moreno is a legend and one we applaud.  Sadly, we have no real applause for RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT.  The documentary is in wide release and available for rental and purchase on AMAZON.







Despite having a wealth of information and material to cover, Mariem PĂ©rez Riera turns out a film that would barely pass for interesting as an episode of A&E's BIOGRAPHY.  Or one of PBS' laughable offerings on AMERICAN MASTERS (see here for our rebuttal to the garbage AMERICAN MASTERS did on -- and to -- Sammy Davis Jr.).  That might not be so surprising when you grasp that this film was produced by AMERICAN MASTERS PICTURES.  It also wouldn't pass for accurate anymore than the soundtrack in NETFLIX's FEAR STREET PART1: 1994 (no, "It Only Happens When It Rains" was not known in 1994, the Garbage track would be released in 1995 and become a hit in the US in 1996, to cite only one example).  It's why we get garbage like including Barack Obama prattling on for a few seconds in his racist and xenophobic way -- a reality that escapes the director and the producers of this film -- possibly because producer Norman Lear makes the same racist and xenophobic comments.

This racism and xenophobia, not sloppy editing, is what accounts for the documentary giving the impression that she's from Humacao in Puetro Rico.  That is not accurate and it's been something Rita has spent her adult life correcting.  She was born there, she did not live there.  As soon as she was released from the hospital.  She is from Juncos.  She has spent her entire career, whenever this is raised in an interview and someone wrongly says she hails from Humacao, correcting them and noting that, yes, Humacao does claim her as one of their own but, in fact, she is from Juncos.  (Before someone mentions her Tony acceptance speech -- that was delivered in character and she's corrected the record every other time -- including when she wrote her memoir -- it's one of the first thing she corrects in the book.)  If Juncos had a hospital, she would have been born there.  To know Rita, is to know she still love Juncos, she speaks of the "ice cream houses," as she described them, the colors and the vegetation, rice with gandules and sofrito, funche, the most wonderful roasted pig and how it's "Juncos pork" -- a taste you can get no where else.  But those realities don't matter in this US film and this is the sort of racism and xenophobia that thinks, "Oh, it's somewhere 'different' and 'strange' to me so the fact doesn't matter.  Who cares?"

That's racism and it's xenophobia and that's true of Barack and Norman's hailing of "the American Dream" nonsense with no real insight into Rita's life or history -- or whether or not she believes in the lie of a single American Dream or the myth of the American Dream. (By the age of 12, Rita had already learned the costs of trying to pass as "the All-American girl" -- another subject that the documentary ignores.)  She's also someone who's spoken often of the reality of the 'American movie star dream' and not kindly of it as she generally references Marilyn Monroe.


This fact-free documentary rushes to inject partisan politics at the expense of actually covering Rita's life.  Early on, we go from her mother washing clothes in the creek to Rita traveling on a ship to America with the only transition between the two being "when my mother got her divorce, we moved in with grandfather."  Huh?


Why the divorce in the 30s?   Did the divorce impact her?  Why did the divorce take place?  (Never addressed in the film, Rita's mother divorced her father because he had one affair after another while they were briefly married.)


The documentary shows no interest or awareness in this reality.  It was a time when less than 3% of marriages ended in divorce.  She was living in a village where she mainly went barefoot and so did the other kids, a village where you went down to a creek to do laundry.  And her mother divorces her father?  That wasn't a source of talk?  A source of scandal?    We never hear about her father again though he seems to loom over her life, not just from the early look at his penis, but in one bad relationship after another.  


We also don't really hear why a young woman with baby Rita decides to move to NYC from Puerto Rico.  We certainly don't hear about the threats she grew up with due to Grandfather Justino Marcano Rivera, how her mother would tell Rita and her brother to hide while they would insist to armed men that Justino was not at home.  This happened repeatedly in Rita's childhood.  It's not noted once in the documentary.  A young girl forced to hide while her mother has to confront angry, armed men at the front door repeatedly and it's not included in the documentary about Rita?


Another glaring omission -- one of both facts and perspective -- is how she becomes an entertainer.

"I made my professional debut when I was  six at a Greenwich night club," Rita explains in the film.  We are told about her singing.  And Rita offers, "I dropped out of school when I was 15 -- something like that and I started to work right away in night clubs."  Then her friend,Tony Taccone appears, declaring over footage of women dancing,  "Entertaining for her was a form of surviving some very tough experiences."  Rita follows immediately after insisting, "I wanted t be in movies from the time I could say movies.  That was my goal.  That eventually, somehow or other, I would get into movies and, when a talent scout did spot me at a dance recital and he was from MGM, I was crazy with joy and happiness."

First off, where's the "very tough experiences" that Tony refers to in this documentary?  They exist and anyone who knows Rita can cite many -- starting with her ending up in the infectious disease ward of a NYC hospital at the age of five, scared and not conversant in English with what she later would learn was chicken pox. Many scary incidents in her young life but the documentary never notes them and, other than Tony's single sentence, never even alludes to them.

Time and again, this documentary goes for the easy way and never penetrates, never offers depth, offers fluff from people saying, basically, Rita transformed the world for Latinas -- never offering any real examples or specific praise, but just generic and empty (and empty headed) statements.  

You're making a documentary out of Rita's life.  The tough experiences -- which no doubt includes the divorce -- that's the heart of any story.  Without those experiences, you're left with fluff and gloss.

Then there's the actual reality.  Long before her MGM contract, Rita was already in movies.  She was dubbing English language movies into Spanish starting at the age of 11 (not for foreign markets, but for showings in the US). She also began acting on radio (first with THE AVE MARIA HOUR). The documentary not only fails to note that, it also fails to note that she made her Broadway debut at the age of 13 in SKYDRIFT which ran for seven performances and starred Eli Wallach.  She had also starred in her first film, SO YOUNG, SO BAD, before she signed the contract with MGM and went on to make her first MGM film THE TOAST OF NEW ORLEANS.

These are facts and they're completely absent from the documentary.


Because this is not meant to be a documentary about Rita's life.  This isn't even about Rita.  It's Norman Lear propaganda for PBS -- meaning it's Democratic Party hogwash.

Don't confuse it with the left, Norman's not a leftist.  He's a lazy liberal -- a limousine liberal -- the kind Phil Ochs' sent up in his classic "Love Me I'm A Liberal."

Norman Lear is that song personified.  Shame on him and everyone else behind the camera of this film.

What's the point of the so-called documentary?  To tar and stain Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.  Kavanaugh's on the Court.  He's not coming off until he dies.  But smear him and keep smearing him and maybe you can turn out the vote for a Democratic Party that refuses, in Congress, to keep kids out of cages -- despite lamenting this while Donald Trump was president.  Smear Kavanaguh and distract from the fact that we're still in the midst of a pandemic, have no UBI and no one's talking about another stimulus for the people and Congress went on vacation at the end of last week without doing a thing to stop evictions -- evictions in the midst of a pandemic.


When the party refuses to serve the people, the whores like Norman Lear work overtime to drum up votes for the do-nothing political party.

For those who were spared the drama, during the hearings on Kavanaugh's nomination, Christine Blasey-Ford came forward to assert that she was assaulted -- some day, some where -- by Kavanaugh.  Her crowd even attempted to blackmail a woman into claiming she witnessed the assault.  That's one of the many reasons we don't believe Blasey-Ford.  We don't believe her  Others may.  (Rita does.)  That's their business. And we could certainly be wrong about Blasey-Ford. 

But what we do know is that this documentary is about party politics pure and simple.  It's garbage.  We believe Anita Hill told the truth and have defended her repeatedly over the years.  But, we wonder . . . If we'd know that Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer were partisan whores, would we have defended Anita so loudly?

We don't know.

We believe Anita 100%.  But the reality of Jane and Jill leaves a really sour taste in our mouths.

They're whores.  Cheap lying whores.

Now when they wrote their expose on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (whom Anita Hill accused of harassment), we knew Jill and Jane were of the left.  And that was fine with us.  We're of the left.  But of the left to us doesn't mean "liar."

That's because being of the left, to us, means that we support truth, we support feminism, we support equality, we support acceptance (while sneering at the limited notion of 'tolerance' as its used by liberals).  It means, most of all, that we can -- and do -- call out nonsense on our side.

Jane and Jill are partisan whores.  That means everything is reduced to "How can we use this to advance the Democratic Party?"  They're whores serving the Democratic Party.

We're not whores.

Jill, when in charge at THE NEW YORK TIMES, actively buried stories that she felt would harm Barack Obama when he was president.  For example?  In the lead up to the 2012 election, it was discovered that Barack -- campaigning on I-got-the-troops-out-of-Iraq -- had just sent a troop of special-ops back into Iraq.

This was a contradiction to his campaign platform.  But Jill refused to let the story run.  She killed it.  She gave multiple excuses for killing it and refusing to let it run before she finally admitted that it would hurt Barack Obama's re-election chances.

As September 2012 wound down, Tim Arango got the news into the paper -- buried in the middle of a long story about Syria:

Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.

And Mayer?  Jane Mayer was a 'hard hitting' reporter for THE NEW YORKER when Bully Boy Bush occupied the White House.  When Barack was president?  Jane's interest turned to exposes not on torture carried out by the US government (torture that continued and continues) but instead upon . . . 'fools' who believe in the story of creation from the Bible.  (See this 2012 piece where we call out Jane and her whorish ways and note that a friend says if he still did sitcoms, he'd do one about her called DUMB BITCH.)

We value truth.  

We value free speech.

We do not admire whores.  

Last week, the great truth teller Glen Ford died.  It was a huge loss, the entire Thursday "Iraq snapshot" was devoted to Glen Ford because he mattered so much.  And, honestly, also because if he were a White person -- say a so-so White woman playwright -- he'd get tons of attention from the press the way that hack did when she died at the same time as Coretta Scott King and THE NEW YORK TIMES chose to run multiple pieces on the so-so playwright while refusing every submission on the passing of Coretta for their op-ed pages and also relegating Coretta's death to one -- and only one -- report.  Or, for that matter, the non-stop saturation YOUTUBE coverage of the death of Michael Brooks.

Hate to break it to those who seal themselves off in White America, but we didn't know who Michael Brooks was until after he died and, when the news first started popping up, for about a week, we thought they were saying radio personality Michael Baisden had passed away.  We honestly don't consider that lack of awareness of Brooks to be a liability.  We do know who Glen Ford was.  

Of the two, we'd argue Glen Ford mattered much more.  But he's African-American and so, to 'liberal' America -- a largely White and self-contained bubble -- he's not really known at all and, if he is, well his death isn't as important as yacker Michael Brooks. 


You can see that with a simple YOUTUBE search.  Hundreds of videos when JACOBIN's Michael Brooks dies.  Handful -- a small handful -- when Glen Ford passes.

Here's BLACK AGENDA REPORT's THE LEFT LENS with two shows acknowledging Glen Ford's importance.

Glen's colleague and friend Danny Haiphong is in both videos.  But what stood out to us was when Danny Haiphong had a cringe moment on Twitter:


I get the compulsion to critique our dead comrades. We are all flawed. We all have issues. None of us are perfect. But Glen Ford's achievements+impact should be highlighted right now. That I even have to say this DISGUSTS ME.

Who was he talking about?

We don't know Danny but we're told he was speaking of Jared Bell.  Jared did the below commentary on Glen Ford.

It's not universal praise.  Did that upset Danny?

If so, we say, "Danny, you're a good friend to the late Glen Ford."  We also say, "Danny, you're a lousy journalist with that Tweet."

Don't speak ill of the dead?  Drop the tone policing.  We don't support it and we never have.  We certainly don't support it when some criminal dies and we better not hear one word of it when one of the biggest living criminals in the world, Henry Kissinger, finally and thankfully dies.  There better be no talk of not speaking ill of the dead then.

We oppose everything in that Tweet by Danny.  And we do for many reasons.

Mainly, we do so because truth is truth.

Equally true, Jared is allowed to share his portrayal of Glen as he knew Glen.  We didn't hate Glen for anything Jared said.  We agreed Glen, as told by Jared (and others have privately told similar stories -- Jared's experience wasn't an isolated case), was not Jesus, Buddha or Mother Teresa.  He was a flawed human being -- and we can recognize that.  We're fully aware that when we die, our closest friends, if they're honest, will have some very good things to say and some not so good things to say about us.  Because we're human and that means we're flawed too.

This society shouldn't be able to determine who speaks and we're far more appalled at Danny insisting a person of color must close their mouth than anything Jared might ever say.  We're fully aware, for example, of how celebrity White daughter Dylan Farrow is considered honest -- despite repeatedly changing her story over the years and, yes, despite two investigative boards finding her story to be untruthful while Moses Farrow and Soon-Yi Previn -- two non-White adults -- are not believed at all.  That they're both Asian, we're supposed to understand, has nothing to do with discrediting their tales of abuse at the hands of Mia Farrow -- abuse, please note, that is documented in court records -- including by Mama Mia herself.  The US press rushes to embrace White Dylan while collectively silencing Moses and Soon-Yi.

So, Danny, we are offended that you're using your platform to dismiss a person of color for. telling their story.  

Then there's the other detail: Glen Ford matters.

A friend of ours had a mini-meltdown a few years back.  A book was coming out about her.  Her own family -- one member -- had helped the author with various details that our friend never wanted made public.  She was having a fit about this book.

We told her to calm the f**k down.

First off, the book would largely be ignored. 

And it was.  A book about a woman will never receive as much attention as a book about a man.  The book largely came and went.  Even the woman's own fans are largely unaware of its existence (and the affair she had and the abortion she had and . . .).  

Second, the book is about her.  That means one more title about her.  That's how you build a legend.  It doesn't matter if it's a good book or a bad book or book that portrays you nicely, that's how you have a legend, that's how you live on beyond your death.  And those who don't read the book or books about you will still see the attention that you got.

In terms of Glen Ford's passing, it needed as much attention as possible because Glen mattered.

Let Jared Bell's take on Glen stand or challenge it but don't say he shouldn't have posted it.  Let is create controversy so we can debate Glen's merits and, as we do, spend more time noting an important passing, an important person.

Hate to break it to Danny, but most outlets haven't bothered to note Glen Ford's death.  We wish they had noted it.  Maybe if enough people point to their silence (and one Tweet, yes, qualifies as silence, one Tweet only), they'll get off their lazy rears and note Glen's passing.  


Probably not.  As RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT, truth is in such short supply.


If they wanted to make a Kavanaugh movie, the producers and director should have made that.  And if they wanted to make a movie about harassment and rape, they could have done so -- even centering around Rita, they could have done so.  


Rita talks, in the film, about Harry Cohn, head of COLUMBIA PICTURES, saying she was 'f**kable.' Not really assault, but whatever.  (Rita was signed to 20TH CENTURY FOX at the time, having left MGM.  Harry's COLUMBIA was only slightly above Poverty Row studios.  Harry was infamous for forcing women under contract to sleep with him.  Rita, however, was not under contract to COLUMBIA and could, and did, walk away.)  It's interesting that the only real story of assault or rape the film offers is Rita being raped by her agent -- a man who goes unnamed -- so much for the film's 'concern' for women survivors.

If the film was really concerned about assault and rape, they could have had Rita talk about her first film SO YOUNG, SO BAD.  She could talk, specifically, about how she's hanging (her character's dead) and, as he takes her down, Paul Henreid repeatedly gropes her breasts -- in take after take.  It's a story Rita's shared before.

Instead, the documentary is overly concerned with Rita's former lover Marlon Brando.  Marlon and Rita had a longterm affair.  (One of us knew Marlon very well and consulted her journals for entries about Marlon and letters from Marlon for the writing of this piece.)  

It's an interesting take on Marlon that the film offers.  Not our take.  Not really Rita's either.  But he's a villain in the film and that's a result of the editing -- of what gets included from Rita's comments and what doesn't.  His image is probably also not helped by the fact that Rita's not fully honest in the documentary.

For example?  At one point she begins, "When I tried to do away with myself . . ."

Which time, Rita?



She tried to kill herself while she was with Marlon two -- some would say (Marlon did say) three -- times.  


She finished the statement with "and I took the pills."  Oh, that time.



That's April 19, 1961, at Marlon's home.

To hear her tell it in the documentary, is not to hear reality. She tells the camera that after that, she went into therapy and stayed in therapy for about another month" before saying she was done and that she had ''exorcised this man from my life.''


So Rita was done in May of 1961 with Marlon, was she?

Not really true and it doesn't allow for her second suicide attempt that took place after that -- where she slit her wrists in Marlon's bathroom.  Or the action between the two which Marlon was very clear about seeing as a suicide (and murder) attempt, when she demanded Marlon join her for a car ride so they could discuss their relationship and (her version) she lost control of the car or (his version) she tried to kill them both. He ended up without a scratch but her face got smashed and she ended up being taken to a hospital. 


Equally true, per Marlon, he and Rita had a relationship while filming 1969's THE NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY.  Rita says differently but that is what Marlon said.  And since the film's so quick to indict Marlon -- largely through inference (assault, "darkness" and other segments pop up before , during and after the Brando sequence -- that needs to be noted).


It also needs to be noted that while Rita has kind things to say about Marlon (outside of the film), she should be able to grasp that the film featuring her name and supposedly about her is anti-Brando.


That's a sentiment these days.  Hate Brando.  Some feel it started with the canonization of Maria Schneider -- a very troubled person who struggled in acting due to drugs, an addiction to attention and other issues.   Maria was treated so unfairly on the set of THE LAST TANGO IN PARIS, we are supposed to moan, because a scene was added with simulated sex.  Prior to her death and all the 'sisters' feeling her 'pain,' Maria was considered rather trashy -- we're remembering right now Lily Tomlin's public remarks about Maria in the early 70s.   Idiots like Australian actress Jessica Tovey have come to Maria's defense insisting that no director would have withheld information from a man the way it was held from Maria on the set of THE LAST TANGO IN PARIS.  Really, you idiot?  Really?  Someone inform Jessica it happens to men and woman on sets every day.  And if that confuses her, why doesn't she research what Elia Kazan withheld from Paul Newman in rehearsals for SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH -- what he did to keep Paul off balance.  Marie was never a great actress and the temptation to try to get a performance out of an amateur will always lead directors to try to pull tricks.  (Equally true, some power tripping directors need no excuses to act on their desire to manipulate performers.) 

The Hate Brando sentiment bothers us.  We're bothered when, for example, cultural hitchhikers like Jane Fonda start attacking him.  Jane even attacked him while praising another man -- a man know to beat his wives, a man known to assault women.  But hey, it was hip to trash Brando, right, Jane?  Long gone was the impression she'd done at many parties over the years, ever since she made THE CHASE with the actor back in 1966.  Not only did she always get laughs for that impression, she was rather proud of it.  These days, she acts as though it never existed and just trashes Brando.

Too many chase trends and jettison the truth to try to move towards fads faster.  Our position?  Closer to Lillian Helmman (whom Jane portrayed in JULIA), "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashion."  Like Jane, the director and the producers of the documentary are full of poses and pretenses.  They pretend, for instance, to care about the non-White world.  So they use a lengthy portion of Nina Simone's singing in the film.  They don't, however, please note, use any Puerto Rican liberation songs.  Did the White-Anglos behind this project just not grasp how insulting that was?  Or, if they're trying to be inclusive, when going on and on about Rita's first lead in a Broadway play, THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN'S WINDOW, they need to mention the playwright.  It was Lorraine  Hansberry -- the first African-American woman to have a play staged on Broadway (A RAISIN IN THE SUN).


All these White-Anglos involved in this bad documentary think they're so damn liberal -- and maybe they are.  In fact, maybe that's why we identify as feminists and leftists and not as liberals.

Maybe some day, a real documentary can be made about Rita Moreno?

It will either have to be made after she dies or require a brave director.

Rita's story is an interesting one and it's a story where men are always at fault.  A real documentary could explore that -- and how that judgment impacted her relationships.  It could ask, for example, why her 'aunt' in NYC took her mother and Rita in.  It might find, as most of us have always believed, that the aunt was a woman Rita's mother met in the two months she lived in NYC before she went back for Rita and that the aunt was willing to take in Rita because she was in love with Rita's mother.  That would also explain why, as long as the 'aunt' was in the picture, Rita's mother didn't date.  

A real documentary could explore Rita's rage at her father.  She never saw him after she left Puerto Rico except one time, when he showed up at an event she was doing for MGM.  He brought his new wife and children along.  Rita asked for his address and phone and then rushed off to the stage.  He was gone when she came back.  She used the address (he left her no phone number) to write him and tell him never to contact her again.  And he didn't.  She was mad, she often explains, because he never helped her mother in America.

But a real documentary would ask why he should have?  They were divorced.  Rita's mother remarried.  (Possibly remarried twice. Eduardo Moreno was either her mother's third husband or the man, Enrique, that Rita considers her real father was a guy Rita's mother shacked up with for a few years.) Why was it Rita's biological father's job to provide anything for Rita and her mother?

Because he was Rita's father?  Okay, true.  But he was also Francisco's father -- Francisco being  Rita's brother that her mother always  told Rita they would go back for. They never did.  Rita never saw her younger brother after her mother took her out of Puerto Rico.  So if her mother's taking care of Rita, chances are her father was taking care of Francisco?   

Certainly, Rita's mother wasn't taking care of Francisco in any manner.  But Rita's rage was directed at her father.  Rita's mother would dump another brother, Rita's half-brother Dennis Moreno, when he was eight with another family and then, when he was 12, he'd be sent off to boarding school.  She has commented -- in private and in public -- that her mother tended to find males disposable.  How did that impact Rita's life?

Or it could look at how sex has figured into Rita's career.  Not only is she an actress who has been -- and is still -- considered sexy and attractive, she's also an actress who has played prostitutes and an exotic dancer (CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, THE ROCKFORD FILES, MARLOWE) and an actress who has repeatedly been ahead of her times with roles in projects that portrayed gay men in a positive light (THE RITZ -- both on stage and in film  -- HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEMINI, SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS and OZ among them --ANGUS would belong on this list if certain scenes had not been deleted).

 Either choice would make for a more interesting documentary than RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT --  a more interesting documentary and one that might actually be about Rita Moreno and her accomplishments.

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