With CHARLIE HARPER
So far, 2020 is providing ample evidence that real and perceived discrimination in the United States on the basis of gender and race remains a big issue.
Let’s take race. The black heavyweights have already left the Democratic presidential nomination sweepstakes. Senators Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey pulled out after promising starts that did not portend fundraising success nor sufficient traction in the early (overwhelmingly white) primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Joe Biden now looks like a runaway winner in the upcoming South Carolina primary contest, where African Americans represent a majority of Democratic voters.
In football, after the 2019 NFL regular season ended, unsuccessful teams scrambled as usual to jettison their losing coaches and rush to sign hopeful replacements. Five head coaching jobs were available, and no black coach was chosen for any of them. Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy got several interviews, but some observers complained Bieniemy’s interviews were only arranged to satisfy the league’s largely ineffective Rooney Rule that aims to ensure owners and general managers would at least be exposed to black head coaching candidates.
Of the league’s 32 teams, only three (Pittsburgh, the Dolphins and the Los Angeles Chargers) are led by black head coaches. In front offices around the league, Miami’s Chris Grier is currently the only black general manager. This is in a league where roughly 70 percent of the players are black.
In ostensibly ultra-liberal Hollywood, we are in the midst of another awards season featuring very, very few black nominees in the major categories, either in front of the camera or behind it. The Oscars awards show is coming up on Sunday, February 9.
The Hollywood Reporter has been covering this story closely. Activist April Reign, who created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, told that newspaper that “in the past, the excuse (for so few black nominees) was: ‘There just weren’t enough performances to nominate.’
“Well, that’s not the case this year,” she said. “There is a wealth of talent — and not just of black performers but of various marginalized communities — that was overlooked,” Reign said. “And it’s really unfortunate. I’m interested in what Hollywood and the Academy are going to do to make the entertainment industry reflect those that support it.”
Women have also felt overlooked since moviemaking began in Hollywood. While prominent and successful actresses were gaining increased artistic and financial clout even before MeToo shook the industry and took down alpha producer Harvey Weinstein, control behind the cameras has proven more elusive. No women made this year’s list of Best Director nominees.
“It’s disturbing but not surprising that women directors still don’t get the respect and awards that male directors do,” said Melissa Silverstein, founder of the advocacy website Women and Hollywood and director of the Athena Film Festival. “The fact that they are constantly overlooked is why we all keep doing the work to change the system and the culture.”
That brings us back to women in politics, an issue thrust back onto front pages with Bernie Sanders’ alleged 2018 remark to Elizabeth Warren that a woman could not beat Donald Trump.
Perspective on this issue comes from a perhaps surprising source: Kellyanne Conway. This sharp-tongued counsellor to and outspoken advocate for US President Donald Trump is best known for haranguing reporters from the White House driveway, and for her marriage to influential conservative attorney and sharp Trump critic, George Conway. The couple have four children.
Conway is the granddaughter of a reputed New Jersey crime boss, a former high school cheerleader and the 1983 winner of the Blueberry Princess beauty pageant. She also graduated with honours from college and holds a law degree. An early supporter of Texas Senator Ted Cruz in 2016, she later shifted nimbly to Trump and became his campaign manager for the last weeks of his successful run for president. No other woman has ever managed a successful American presidential campaign.
Entering politics 20 years ago, she joined fellow blondes and Fox TV fixtures Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter as the “pundettes”, offering glamorous conservative commentary on TV and elsewhere. She also co-authored a 2005 book entitled “What women really want: How women are quietly erasing political, class and religious lines to change the way we live.”
Conway told The Washington Post recently that “politics has traditionally been a man’s game. Men wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and see the next US senator. Women are more likely to run for office only if asked.
“So much has changed, yet so much has not changed. For all the economic, educational and ownership gains women have enjoyed in the US, parity in politics remains a lagging indicator.”
Conway said she agreed with Sanders that Warren couldn’t beat Trump this year. “But it’s not because she’s a woman. It’s because her radical ideas are out of step with the American voter.” Time will tell if Conway is right.
NBA is poised for its most competitive finish in years
It’s an indication of the degree to which the NFL dominates American sports that this week, when the league has essentially suspended activity on the field to allow Super Bowl frenzy to build, most water cooler sports conversations still concern the upcoming clash of the titans (not Titans) in Miami a week from Sunday.
But meanwhile, while we await the Super Bowl fiesta, the other American global league has moved into the second half of its 2019-2020 season and there are plenty of fascinating story lines. The NBA seems poised for its most competitive finish in years.
Perhaps the biggest NBA story concerns partnerships. Several teams have cobbled together a superstar pairing in hopes of emulating the success of previous world championship pairings in places like Chicago (Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen), Los Angeles (Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal), and Miami (LeBron James and Dwayne Wade).
The Los Angeles Clippers snagged last off-season’s biggest free agent, defending league champion Kawai Leonard, and matched him with Paul George and a scrappy outfit that outperformed expectations last season. The Clippers, led by veteran coach Doc Rivers, are playing .700 basketball and are running just behind their cross-town rivals.
That would be the Los Angeles Lakers, who built on their spectacular recruitment of LeBron James in 2018 by adding superstar Anthony Davis by trade from New Orleans. The Lakers trail only Milwaukee for the best record in the league so far, and may be heading for more postseason glory.
Then there are the Houston Rockets, who managed to reunite two of the fantastic talents from the Oklahoma City Thunder of a decade ago. Having traded for perennial scoring leader James Harden in 2012, the Rockets have added Russell Westbrook to challenge for the Western Conference title. The Rockets are presently among five teams vying for the second playoff seed position behind the Lakers.
No matter how that tussle shakes out, seven of the eight playoff spots in the West seem already settled, with the three teams listed above likely to be joined by Dallas, Denver, Utah and Oklahoma City. Recent multiple champion Golden State, crippled by injuries and defections, is not competing for the playoffs this year.
In the East, the Brooklyn Nets signed recent NBA champions Kyrie Irving away from the Boston Celtics and Kevin Durant from the Warriors. Durant is out for the season, and Irving just returned to regular action. The Nets look like a disappointing lottery team this season after a very surprising and encouraging 2018-19 campaign.
The Milwaukee Bucks have the NBA’s best record and in Giannis Antetokounmpo they may have its best player. His supporting cast has a lot of veteran leadership and experience, and coach Mike Budenholzer has a strong track record. If the Bucks don’t get distracted and relax too early, they seem ticketed for the NBA finals in June.
The Miami Heat signed Jimmy Butler away from Philadelphia, and still have Hall of Famer Pat Riley leading the front office and NBA championship coach Eric Spoelstra on the bench. Riley is on the way to join legends Jerry West and Bill Russell as superstar players who were able to transition to team management and continue to earn championship rings. The Heat should win their division and make some serious playoff noise.
Elsewhere in the East, as in the West, seven of the eight postseason spots seem already locked up. The Heat and Bucks should be joined by the defending champion and still dangerous Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers from the Atlantic Division, plus Orlando and Indiana.
The NBA trade deadline is approaching in a couple of weeks, and most league headlines figure until then to speculate about who’s moving where. But the playoff picture is already clear.