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"One Person Can Make a Difference": Ava DuVernay Remembers Film Critic Roger Ebert's Early Support

Democracy Now - Tue 07 55 AM

As Ava DuVernay considers her next steps after "Selma," her first big budget feature film, she offers advice to aspiring filmmakers. "We have to work without permission. Especially as women in this industry. Who are we asking for permission to do what we want to do? That should be eradicated. You need to set a path and start walking." DuVernay discusses her next feature film, which will be a love story and murder mystery set in New Orleans amidst the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and recalls the impact acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert had on her life, who raved about one of her first projects, "I Will Follow." "He lifted that film from nowhere, and lifted me up with it," she says.

"Selma" Director Defends Film's Portrayal of LBJ-MLK Dispute on Voting Rights Legislation

Democracy Now - Tue 07 43 AM

As we continue our interview with "Selma" director Ava DuVernay, she responds to the controversy around her film’s portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson and his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film depicts him as a reluctant, and even obstructionist, politician who had the FBI monitor and harass King. "I’m not here to rehabilitate anyone’s image or be a custodian of anyone’s legacy," DuVernay says. She expresses dismay that the debate has shifted attention from the film’s focus on protest and resistance that continues today over police brutality. DuVernay also describes how she screened "Selma" at the White House for President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama 100 years after D.W. Griffith was there to screen the notoriously racist film "Birth of a Nation" for President Woodrow Wilson.

"The Power of the People": Selma Director Ava DuVernay on Fight for Civil Rights, Voting Equality

Democracy Now - Tue 07 28 AM

In our extended interview with "Selma" director Ava DuVernay, we broadcast excerpts from her Oscar-nominated film, which highlights both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership in Selma, as well as the grassroots civil rights movement’s role in pushing President Lyndon Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act, and Coretta Scott King’s secret meeting with Malcolm X while King was in jail. DuVernay also explains her approach to showing police and vigilante aggression used against activists in the movement for civil and voting rights. "There is so much violence in this era that we’re talking about, but I wanted the violence to be something that was reverential to the lives lost … these black lives that mattered," DuVernay says.

Selma Director Ava DuVernay on Hollywood's Lack of Diversity, Oscar Snub and #OscarsSoWhite Hashtag

Democracy Now - Tue 07 16 AM

Today we spend the hour with Ava DuVernay, the director of the acclaimed new civil rights film "Selma," which tells the story of the campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to draw the nation’s attention to the struggle for equal voting rights by marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March of 1965. While the film has been nominated for an Oscar for best picture, to the shock of many, DuVernay was not nominated. She would have made history as the first African-American woman nominated for best director. At the Sundance Film Festival, DuVernay joins us to discuss the making of the film and the Academy Award nominations. "The question is why was 'Selma' the only film that was in the running with people of color for the award?" she asks.

Black Lives Matter: New Film on Jordan Davis Captures Family’s Struggle to Convict White Vigilante

Democracy Now - Mon 07 15 AM

We are broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where a new film takes on the subject of the growing nationwide protests over the killing of unarmed African Americans by examining one of the cases to make national headlines in recent years: the killing of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The film, "3 1/2 Minutes," tells the story of what happened on Nov. 23, 2012, when four teenagers pulled into a Florida gas station to buy gum and cigarettes. They were soon confronted by Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man who pulled in next to them in the parking lot. Dunn demanded the boys turn down the music they were playing, and became angry when they refused. He pulled his gun from his glove box and shot at their car 10 times, even as they tried to drive away from the danger. The shots rang out three-and-a-half minutes after Dunn had arrived. In the hail of bullets, Jordan Davis was killed. After the shooting, Dunn fled the scene, went to a hotel with his girlfriend and ordered pizza. He never called the police. In the murder trial that followed, Davis’ parents attended every day, knowing that the prior year, George Zimmerman — the killer of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, also in Florida — had successfully avoided being convicted. Both cases highlighted the state’s problematic Stand Your Ground law. We spend the hour with Davis’ mother, Lucia McBath, and father, Ron Davis, who have continued to fight for justice. We are also joined by the film’s director, Marc Silver.

In Victory for Gov't Whistleblowers, Supreme Court Sides with Fired TSA Air Marshal Who Spoke Out

Democracy Now - Fri 07 45 AM

A major U.S. Supreme Court decision has upheld the right of federal employees to become whistleblowers. The case centers on former Transportation Security Administration Federal Air Marshal Robert MacLean. In July 2003, MacLean revealed to an MSNBC reporter that the Department of Homeland Security had decided to stop assigning air marshals to certain long-distance flights in order to save money, despite warnings of a potential plot to hijack U.S. airplanes. MSNBC’s report on the story sparked outcry, and the policy was quickly reversed. MacLean was fired three years later after admitting to being the story’s source. He filed a lawsuit over his dismissal, sparking a multi-year legal battle that ended earlier this week when the Supreme Court ruled on his behalf in a 7-to-2 decision. At issue was whether MacLean’s actions could be protected by the U.S. Whistleblower Protection Act, a law that protects employees if a disclosure exposes unlawful conduct, gross mismanagement or threats to public safety. We speak to Robert MacLean and attorney Neal Katyal, who argued MacLean’s case before the Supreme Court. Katyal is the former acting solicitor general of the United States.

Barrett Brown Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison After Reporting on Hacked Private Intelligence Firms

Democracy Now - Fri 07 35 AM

A journalist and activist accused of working with Anonymous has been given a five-year prison term and ordered to pay nearly $900,000 in restitution and fines. Barrett Brown was sentenced on Thursday after pleading guilty last year to charges of transmitting threats, accessory to a cyber-attack, and obstruction of justice. Supporters say Brown has been unfairly targeted for investigating the highly secretive world of private intelligence and military contractors. After his sentencing on Thursday, Brown released a satirical statement that read in part: "Good news! — The U.S. government decided today that because I did such a good job investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex." We discuss Brown’s case with Kevin Gallagher, a writer, activist and systems administrator who heads the Free Barrett Brown support network. He says that the public should not believe what the government says about Brown.

"A Systemic Failure": New Calls for Reform as Feds Rule Out Civil Rights Charges for Darren Wilson

Democracy Now - Fri 07 29 AM

The Justice Department has reportedly concluded it will not bring civil rights charges against police officer Darren Wilson for shooting unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported Attorney General Eric Holder will have the final say, but will almost certainly side with investigators who are recommending no charges. A wider Justice Department probe into Ferguson police over reports of racial profiling in traffic stops and use of excessive force remains underway. Meanwhile, a judge has rejected an NAACP Legal Defense Fund request for a new grand jury to consider criminal charges against Wilson. The group raised concerns over the actions of prosecutor Bob McCulloch, including his decision to let a witness provide false testimony. All this comes as President Obama made just one mention of Ferguson in his State of the Union address Tuesday, prompting activists to release their own video on the State of the Black Union. We are joined by Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Remembering Saudi's King Abdullah: "He Was Not a Benevolent Dictator, He Was a Dictator"

Democracy Now - Fri 07 17 AM

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia has died at the age of 90. Abdullah was one of the world’s most powerful men and a key U.S. ally in the region, controlling a fifth of the known global petroleum reserves. In a statement, President Obama praised Abdullah "as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond." Many analysts accused Abdullah of turning the uprising in Syria into a proxy war with Iran. In 2010, WikiLeaks published U.S. diplomatic cables which identified Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups. Abdullah also sent tanks to help squash pro-democracy uprisings in neighboring Bahrain. Saudi Arabia recently came under criticism for its treatment of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes to be carried out at a rate of 50 per week for charges including insulting Islam. Abdullah’s half-brother, Crown Prince Salman, has now assumed the throne. We are joined by Toby Jones, director of Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers University and the author of "Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia."

Hailed as U.S. Counterterrorism Model in Middle East, Yemen Teeters on the Brink of Collapse

Democracy Now - Fri 07 07 AM

Yemen is facing political collapse following the mass resignations of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his prime minister and entire cabinet. Thursday’s exodus came just hours after Shia Houthi rebels stormed the presidential compound in the capital city of Sana’a. Hadi said he could not continue in office after Houthis allegedly broke a peace deal to retreat from key positions in return for increased political power. The Houthis appear to have major backing from longtime former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011. The Obama administration had praised the Yemeni government as being a model for "successful" counterterrorism partnerships, but on Thursday the United States announced it was pulling more staff out of its embassy in Yemen. Some experts warn the developments in Yemen could result in civil war and help al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) gain more power. Meanwhile, Oxfam is warning more than half of Yemen’s population needs aid, and a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions is at risk of unfolding in the country if instability continues. We are joined by Iona Craig, a journalist who was based in Sana’a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London.

"Guantánamo of the Pacific": Australian Asylum Seekers Wage Hunger Strike at Offshore Detention Site

Democracy Now - Thu 07 52 AM

A massive hunger strike is underway at what some are calling "the Guantánamo Bay of the Pacific." The Manus Island detention center is paid for by the Australian government and run by an Australian contractor, Transfield Services, but located offshore on Papua New Guinea’s soil. The inmates are not accused of any crimes — they are asylum seekers from war-ravaged countries who are waiting indefinitely for their refugee status determinations. They are asking the United Nations to intervene against the Australian federal government’s plan to resettle them in Papua New Guinea, where they say they could face persecution. Some have barricaded themselves behind the detention center’s high wire fences; others have resorted to increasingly drastic measures such as drinking washing detergent, swallowing razor blades, and even sewing their mouths shut to protest their confinement. We speak with Australian human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson and Alex Kelly, a social justice filmmaker who organized a New York City vigil in solidarity with the Manus Island detainees.

Inside the U.S. Torture Chambers: Prisoner's Guantánamo Diary Details 12 Years of Abuse, Terror

Democracy Now - Thu 07 09 AM

After a seven-year legal battle, the diary of a prisoner held at Guantánamo Bay has just been published and has become a surprise best-seller. Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s diary details his experience with rendition, torture and being imprisoned without charge. Slahi has been held at the prison for more than 12 years. He was ordered released in 2010 but is still being held. "The cell — better, the box — was cooled down so that I was shaking most of the time," he writes. "I was forbidden from seeing the light of the day. Every once in a while they gave me a rec time in the night to keep me from seeing or interacting with any detainees. I was living literally in terror. I don’t remember having slept one night quietly; for the next 70 days to come I wouldn’t know the sweetness of sleeping. Interrogation for 24 hours, three and sometimes four shifts a day. I rarely got a day off." We air a clip of a Guardian video about Slahi’s case, which features actors Colin Firth and Dominic West reading from his diary. We speak with three guests: Slahi’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander; book editor, Larry Siems; and Col. Morris Davis, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay, who says Slahi is "no more a terrorist than Forrest Gump."

On 5th Anniversary of Citizens United, GOP Taps Koch Brothers-Backed Senator to Give SOTU Response

Democracy Now - Wed 07 51 AM

It was five years ago today that the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Citizens United decision, allowing unlimited political spending by corporations and unions. Some of the biggest spenders since have been the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. On Tuesday night, newly elected Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, who was strongly backed by the Koch brothers, gave the GOP response to President Obama. Meanwhile this weekend, four leading Republican presidential prospects — Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — are set to appear at an exclusive gathering of rich conservatives organized by the Koch brothers. We speak to longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which published an article Tuesday headlined "Koch Party Delivers SOTU Response."

David Cay Johnston: Class War Is Being Waged by the Rich Against the Poor

Democracy Now - Wed 07 36 AM

Republicans have accused President Obama of waging class warfare for using his State of the Union to push for an increase in taxes and closing loopholes that benefit the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter David Cay Johnston says there is indeed a class war going on in Washington — but by the rich against the poor. Johnston’s latest book is "Divided. The Perils of Our Growing Inequality."

Ralph Nader on What was Missing in President Obama's State of the Union Address

Democracy Now - Wed 07 29 AM

Much of President Obama’s State of the Union address focused on the economy and efforts to bolster the middle class with a push for education, child care and tax breaks. But did he go far enough? We speak to Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate. His latest book is called "Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State."

Rep. Keith Ellison on Obama's Push to Sign TPP & Seek Authority to Expand War in Iraq & Syria

Democracy Now - Wed 07 15 AM

We get reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union address from Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the first Muslim elected to Congress. He discusses Obama’s policies on war, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed Robin Hood tax, and growing economic inequality.