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Why Diverse Films Matter

The Academy of Arts and Sciences clearly heard the critique of #OscarsSoWhite. This year’s Oscar nominations, announced on Tuesday, offered a welcome contrast to 2016, when no people of color were tapped for top categories. This year, every acting category included a person of color, along with welcome nods for directing, producing and writing.

This new openness to under-represented people and themes means that studios have a chance to make an impact far beyond award season, says Martine McDonald, the director of programs for Journeys in Film. “When we are working with film studios we like to convey the value of extending the life of their film in a way that isn’t just about the bottom line, but really is the amplification of connection,” McDonald says.

Journeys in Film is a unique nonprofit that selects inspiring or provocative films from the global marketplace, and with support from filmmakers and studios, creates discussion guides and curriculum for classroom teachers, all for free. (Their materials are great for families, faith, and youth groups, too.) Says McDonald: “The curriculum meets all of a teacher’s standards—English, social studies, and math—in a way that’s fun for the students.” But it’s the bigger themes—social justice, uplift, history, conflict resolution, etc—that are the real attraction.

The organization is staffed by educators from a wide variety of backgrounds. Founder Joanne Ashe is a social worker and a tireless activist, has a master’s degree in education, and is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Education director Eileen Mattingly, spent a large portion of her career developing curriculum for the PeaceCorp. McDonald has a degree in peace and conflict studies and came to the organization from the education department at Los Angeles’s Museum of Tolerance. And they all relish the chance to share important films with audiences who could benefit from the often overlooked stories they tell. “We want to make the world a better place through film,” says McDonald.

Media giant 20th Century Fox recently hired the organization to create a discussion guide and a full STEM interdisciplinary curriculum of social studies, math, civil rights and science lessons for its film, Hidden Figures. Another project, a collaboration with National Geographic, focusses on their “Gender Revolution” magazine issue and accompanying video. Other materials from their growing catalog include Disney’s Queen of Katwe, 20th Century Fox’s Bridge of Spies, and Fox Searchlight’s He Named Me Malala.

A new collaboration with USC’s Rossier School of Education should expand their reach and has already provided a lot of excitement. Last week, working with the LA Promise Fund for Public Schools, USC treated 10,000 middle school girls from public schools around the city to a screening of Hidden Figures, with Janelle Monae and Pharrell, and some NASA notables, in attendance. The girls screamed with delight at all the science parts, said McDonald. “It made me cry knowing that there was a film where they could see themselves.”

The close-knit team continues to build their catalog by pitching their skills to studios, foundations, and indie filmmakers when they find just the right film. Again, it’s bigger than ticket sales and awards.“They’re developing a relationship with a group of students and educators who see a value in seeing other lives,” McDonald says to studio execs. “They might sell more DVDs, but they also might become the brand that’s associated with open-mindedness and creativity and compassion.” She pauses, then laughs. “I don’t know if that’s what I say outright, but I know it’s what I’m thinking.”

On Point

Facebook finally tackles fake newsFacebook has taken some heat for blindly amplifying false news and information; many have said the site helped tip Donald Trump over the edge to victory in November. Though CEO Mark Zuckerberg has waved off such claims, he’s recently taken a more serious look at the issue. First up is a change to the site’s “Trending Topics” section, with new efforts to keep bad information appearing from on the leaderboard. Instead of a ranking by number of likes or shares, Facebook will now look at whether the topics are being covered by a range of other publishers and news sites.  Fortune

How Uber and Lyft are failing black customers and what to do about it
Chris Knittel, professor of applied economics at MIT Sloan, has been making inroads with his research on bias in the sharing economy. So you’ll want to bookmark this: He’ll be presenting his latest findings in a public webcast and live conversation on Feb, 15, from noon to 12:30 EST. The Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition will also appear on the program to discuss how Uber and Lyft can work toward mitigating discrimination.
MIT Sloan

Google has banned 200 publishers as it continues its fight against fake news
Although Google already weeds out false ads and propaganda, fake news sites, which proliferated during election season, are a relatively new addition to their screens. Google’s steps to combat the spread of false information goes straight to the pocketbook—the publishers were kicked off the AdSense network, which serves up display and text ads on their sites. Click through for additional updates on Google’s changing policies, but here’s one that caught my eye: In mid-2016, Google added a provision banning predatory payday loan ads.

White nationalist group denied Yosemite conference venue, gets mad
Tenaya Lodge, which is located outside of Yosemite National Park had originally accepted the March conference booking for an outfit called VDare, described as a white nationalist extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. After a small public outcry reached the attention of Delaware North, the global, privately-held parent company of the lodge, they rescinded the booking, with a strong statement of their commitment to diversity. VDare says the lodge knew the group skewed “controversial” and claims that the property’s association with a government asset should compel them to “honor freedom of speech and assembly.” 
SF Gate

Mississippi is spending millions of dollars holding onto prisoners who are eligible for release
T. Greg Doucette is a fascinating presence on Twitter. He’s a criminal defense attorney who occasionally pulls back the curtain on how courts, sentencing, and city bureaucracy actually works. He’s written an opinion piece expanding on a recent report that reveals how Mississippi, the poorest state in the country, wastes millions of taxpayer dollars detaining prisoners who are eligible for release. Both are worth your time, but Doucette has a way of making numbers come to life. “With such an impoverished citizenry, it would be rational to think policymakers would be prudent in how they spend the money taxed away from their already-poor constituents,” he writes. “It turns out your rationality would be misplaced.”
Mimesis Law

The Woke Leader

Marvel’s latest gift to a diverse superhero universe gets in formation
America Chavez, a lesbian Latina superhero, has been part of the Young Avengers and the Ultimates ensembles since 2011, but has earned her own solo series this year. She comes from a parallel utopian dimension, she’s also bulletproof, can fly and doesn’t take a lot of crap from people, which is nice. And now, on the upcoming cover of the second issue of her comic, artist Joe Quinones has adapted her costume and expression in tribute to Beyonce and her “Formation” video. It’s a great look. “Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation,” Quinones tweeted.

The long and racist history of how the government studied the effects of nuclear radiation
While the mushroom cloud may be the most enduring symbol of nuclear danger, Heidi Hong thinks the real symbols are pigs, bees, and people. She’s written a disturbing account of the secret and haphazard nuclear testing and research that took place in the Pacific Ocean—and on indigenous people—in the 1940’s and ‘50s. “Operation Crossroads was only the beginning of an era of nuclear weapon testing that also led to unprecedented biological experiments on human and animal bodies coming into contact with radioactivity,” she writes. The “afterlife” of those government tests lingers today, found in our bees and in our bones.
Pacific Standard

Asian American kids tell their parents they love them and it’s as lovely as you might expect
I started tearing up before I even clicked play, and the video did not disappoint: Startled and bemused parents being filmed by their awkward adult kids, receiving affirmations of love. NBC Asian America had asked for viewer submissions after releasing a similar video last December. The conceit, that viewers get to see into cultures that may not be known for expressiveness, is erased by the universality of the responses. “You will always be Mommy’s precious girl.”
NBC Asian America


The persecution of Jews in occupied Poland meant that we could see horror emerging gradually in many ways. In 1939, they were forced to wear Jewish stars, and people were herded and shut up into ghettos. Then, in the years ’41 and ’42 there was plenty of public evidence of pure sadism. With people behaving like pigs, I felt the Jews were being destroyed. I had to help them. There was no choice.
—Oskar Schindler