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‘Selma’ Is Powerful, Relevant and Moving

By Julie Walker, The Root

As one watches Selma—which opens in limited release Christmas Day and nationwide Jan. 9—it’s hard not to reflect on the protests going on around the country over the shooting deaths of unarmed black men by white police officers. It’s a topic that comes up often when Selma director Ava DuVernay discusses her film. She and some of her cast even posted a picture on social media in which they wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts at the movie’s New York City premiere to show solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter protesters.

At 42, DuVernay is too young to have lived through the events depicted in Selma. But her film reminds those in her generation, and mine, what our parents and grandparents fought and, in some cases, died for.

She tells the story of three months in Selma, Ala., in 1965 when Martin Luther King Jr. was mobilizing his movement in the fight for voting rights. As history shows, the effort paved the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act through Congress later that year. And while the film is not a history lesson, it offers an intimate portrait of a man and a time in history that should never be underestimated, overlooked or forgotten. In the end, the film is bigger than King—it’s about the bloody civil rights campaign in Selma and the outcome it yielded. It’s about the politics and the personal battles that shaped part of King’s life and the movement at that time.

Selma is an emotionally wrought film, told vividly through the eyes of not just King but also many of the other African-American icons who shaped the movement. The protest scenes in which police officers beat peaceful demonstrators with billy clubs push all the buttons that DuVernay hopes to—we feel the pain, injustice and moral outrage. At one point we even see Annie Lee Cooper, played by Oprah Winfrey, knocked to the ground and set upon by police with batons.

Winfrey is extremely impactful as Cooper, the proud and courageous Selma resident who tried several times to register to vote, only to be turned away. Cooper is most famously known for punching Selma Sheriff James Clark (Stan Houston). Upon first seeing Winfrey on-screen, I had to blink to make sure it was her, costumed in cat-eye glasses and a frumpy outfit. Winfrey and Brad Pitt (who does not appear in the film) are part of the producing team that helped make the picture happen after years of delays. Lee Daniels was slated to direct Selma before the film’s original deal fell apart, and it’s clear that if he had, we would have seen a very different film.

DuVernay told The Root in September that she wanted to portray King the man, and not the myth. She achieves this admirably by mixing his private moments of doubt with widely known public speeches that illustrate why he succeeded as a leader. Even his infidelities are shown through the eyes of his wife, played by Scottish-Nigerian actress Carmen Ejogo, who reprises her role as Coretta Scott King in HBO’s Boycott.

Ejogo’s performance is nuanced and moving as the wife who seems to want just a little more love and respect. In the film, Mrs. King is shown listening to recordings of her husband making love to other women—part of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s (Dylan Baker) campaign to tear down King. We see how King’s private battles spilled over to his very public battles.

David Oyelowo’s pitch-perfect performance as MLK deserves an Oscar nomination, as does the film itself. The British actor, who was also in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere, embodies King. He transforms himself into the leader, from his shaved hairline to his deliberate speech patterns. The actor has said that the role took an emotional toll on him, and it’s clear why: When you see and hear Oyelowo speak with his native British accent and contrast that with him speaking on-screen as King, it’s breathtaking.

DuVernay uses music from the B sides of several popular records from 1965 on the soundtrack. Although several of the songs aren’t well-known, they work well for a film that wants to feel—and succeeds at feeling—fresh, even as it examines a moment in history that feels familiar.

Julie Walker is a New York-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.

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CPTV to Air Bala Brothers Live

HARTFORD – Connecticut Public Television will host the U.S. broadcast premiere of Bala Brothers Jan. 12, live at 9 p.m.

Bala Brothers, who will be live in the CPTV studios, grew up poor in a South African township and rose to become national singing stars while breaking through apartheid barriers.

During the concert special, viewers will hear a mix of South African traditional music and contemporary songs from Elton John, Paul Simon and Billy Joel. During the live breaks, Bala Brothers will be interviewed in the studio.

This program features the amazing musicianship of the three gifted brothers, who are already stars in their own country; they grew up in a home with dirt floors and no electricity, but were able to lift themselves out of poverty through their sheer talent.

Brothers Zwai, Loyiso and Phelo come from a musical family, and all three possess remarkable innate musical abilities and singing voices. They remain influenced by their membership in South Africa’s famous Drakensberg Boys’ Choir. In fact, older brother Zwai broke barriers by becoming the choir’s first black member.

They are drawn to a number of musical genres, from pop to gospel to opera. Their talents will be displayed in full-force in their first-ever PBS concert special, which was recorded live at the Lyric Theatre in Gold Reef City in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the participation of a 24-piece orchestra and the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir – the very choir that played such an important role in the brothers’ lives, and for which Phelo went on to hold the positions of head chorister and music leader.

“CPTV is proud to be the station selected by PBS to premiere Bala Brothers. This group represents a triumph in human nature. The Connecticut audience is sure to be touched by the music and their story,” said Laura Savini, CPTV National Productions executive.

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CONCORA to Present its First Finalist for Director Position

NEW BRITAIN —  Connecticut’s The acclaimed professional choir will present its first finalist for the Artistic Director position to succeed Richard Coffey, who stepped down after 40 years at the end of the 2013-14 season.

CONCORA selected David Hodgkins, who is scheduled to conduct on Oct. 26 at 4:00 PM at First Church of Christ, 830 Corbin Ave., New Britain. in New Britain, in a program titled “Tradition Re-Imagined.” The program will include works by Vivaldi, Pärt, Poulenc, and others, plus the Bach motet Komm, Jesu, Komm.

Hodgkins’ concept of the program is one of taking the old and re-forming it, or re-imagining it, into the contemporary. Thus he presents four versions of Ave Maria, from the original plainsong chant, through a Renaissance version, to Bruckner, to 21stcentury Kevin Memley.

Similarly, he offers the Magnificat, a beautiful text taken from Luke’s Gospel, in arrangements from Vivaldi, with a chamber orchestra of Hartford Symphony musicians, and Arvo Pärt, an a cappella arrangement that is perhaps best described as ‘ethereal.’

The second half offers Francis Poulenc’s Huit Chansons Françaises (Eight French Songs), which. Poulenc wrote in a burst of nationalistic pride. They are all settings of old French folk rhymes, and while most of the melodies are Poulenc’s, a few of the movements are also loosely based on traditional folk songs.

The concert closes with a selection of spirituals and gospel songs, to glorify an American tradition that was passed down aurally from generation to generation.

Tickets are $50 for preferred seating, $30 for general seating, $25 for seniors, and $10 for students. 2-for-1 general seating tickets are available with Let*s Go! Arts card.  Order online at, or by phone at 860-293-0567.

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Get Ready for Gyllenhall’s Night Crawlers to Hit Movie Theaters

By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

You don’t have to be a journalist or a Jake Gyllenhall fan to anticipate this upcoming film to the big screen in October.
The film, NIGHTCRAWLER, is in the selected pool for the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and will be released nationwide on Oct. 31.
Critics say it is a“pulse-pounding thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles.”


Open Road Films produce the much-talked about film, and it’s written and directed by Dan Gilroy.

NIGHTCRAWLER stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work. He then discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling — where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents.

Other fan faves might also draw you to this film. Gyllenhall character is aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.

Also starring in NIGHTCRAWLER are Bill Paxton and Riz Ahmed.


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Hartford Library ArtWalk Seeks Submissions

HARTFORD — Hartford Public Library is now accepting submissions for its 2015 ArtWalk program that features artists and their art work.

Library officials say that ArtWalk at the downtown branch on Main Street offers “the largest and most stunning exhibition spaces in the city.

Local artists can have their art work displayed on the third floor of the impressively renovated library with it’s spacious gallery with glass windows that gives the art pieces unique visibility and exposure.

The program is to add to the “increasing vibrancy of Downtown Hartford.

Artists from the Greater Hartford area and beyond are invited to apply through Oct. 1. For more information, visit,


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Hartford Puerto Rican ParadeSet for June 1

HARTFORD — Get ready for the 2014 Greater Hartford Puerto Rican Day Parade.

The annual event will begin at noon on June 1, starting on Warwarme Avenue in Hartford and continues with a festival that is scheduled to end at 8 p.m. at the Bushnell Pavilion.

Festival attendees will have  a wide variety of food, music and entertainment, including performers such as Frankie Negron. Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra is expected to attend.

For more information, please call 860-978-7412

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Finch: City’s Festivities Free and Open to All

BRIDGEPORT — Mayor Bill Finch and Bridgeport’s Downtown Special Services District on Wednesday announced the musical lineup for the fifth installment of the city’s Free Concert Series on Thursdays.

This announcement comes with a new format for the concert series, which includes at least two musical performances that will extend each event from 5:30-9:00 p.m.

 “Bridgeport is becoming an arts and culture powerhouse in the Northeastern U.S.,” Finch said. “And, that’s happening because of events like Downtown Thursdays. I’m looking forward to seeing large crowds gathering for live music in our revitalized downtown, which is home to many great restaurants and bars for concert goers to enjoy.”

 The first event will take place on June 19 at 5:30 p.m. at McLevy Green, which is just a few short blocks away from the Bridgeport Metro Rail Station and Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority.

These events are open to people of all, and the festivities are free to the public.

Downtown Thursdays Schedule:

Ø  Thursday, June 19Vinny and Ray Afro-Cuban Latin JazzOrquesta Afinke

Ø  Thursday, June 26Funky Dawgz Brass BandJen Durkin and the Business

Ø  Thursday, July 3: N/A – Break for Independence Day weekend

Ø  Thursday, July 10: The Elements of Hip Hop with DJ Billy Busch, DJ Grand Wizard Stevie, DJ Kool Keith, DJ White Flash

Ø  Thursday, July 17Alpaca GnomesBeach AvenueLiza Colby Sound

Ø  Thursday, July 24Mikata, Son 7

Ø  Thursday, July 31SoulshotMystic Bowie

Ø  Thursday, August 7Girls on Bikes (opening for CT Free Shakespeare, 8pm performances August 6-10)

Ø  Thursday, August 14Pocket Hotties, karaoke talent night

Ø  Thursday, August 21The ZambonisMates of States

Ø  Thursday, August 28SuperheroThat ‘80s Band, Soul Synergy

“We’re thrilled about this year’s line-up and new format,” said Kim Morque, Chairman of the Bridgeport DSSD. “With genres spanning from Latin to indie, rock to reggae, and funk & soul to old school hip-hop, our Downtown Thursdays have you covered, regardless of your musical preference.”

Sponsors for Downtown Thursdays include: City of Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch; Bridgeport Downtown Special Services District; Bridgeport Bluefish; Webster Bank Arena; Harbor Yard Sports and Entertainment; Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, LLC; Forstone Capital Holdings; Main State Ventures; Bridgeport Regional Business Council; The United Illuminating Company; Aquarion Water Company; Barnum Publick House; Bistro B; Carlson Corporation; Fairfield University; Ginsburg Development Corporation; POKO Partners LLC; ServPro; Cohen and Wolf; Narragansett Brewing Company; Greater Bridgeport Transit; Connoisseur Media, Star 99.9, 99.1 PLR, 95.9 FOX and; BOMBA 97.1 FM; Radio Cumbre 1450 AM; and WPKN 89.5 FM.

For more information, and to follow the Downtown Thursdays summer line-up, please visit:


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Greater Hartford Chabad to Host Sassy Reuven

HARTFORD — This May Chabad of Greater Hartford will be hosting Sassy Reuvena veteran of the Israel Defense Special Operation Forces.

During the terror-filled years of 1973-1976 Sassy served in the IDF’s elite “Red Beret” paratrooper unit. He participated in several covert operations in Israel’s mighty struggle against Arab terrorism.

In July of 1976, Sassy participated in the famed Entebbe counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission code named “Operation Thunderbolt”, flying thousands of miles over enemy territory to rescue Jewish hostages being held by terrorists in Uganda.

A week earlier, on 27 June, an Air France plane was hijacked, by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the German Revolutionary Cells, and flown to Entebbe, the main airport of Uganda. More than 100 Israeli and Jewish passengers remained as hostages and were threatened with death.

Sassy will share his personal experience, step-by-step from the moment he was called to duty, including the preparation for the mission, landing in Uganda & completing the mission behind enemy lines.

His story is Israel’s story: of courage, endurance, defiance and a willingness to sacrifice it all for the right to live in your homeland in freedom.

The event will be on Wednesday, May 21, 7:00pm at the Chabad House, 2352 Albany Avenue in West Hartford. To register log on to, call 860-232-1116 or email:


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What Americans Can Learn From Gabriel García Márquez About Immigration

 Raymond L. Williams, New America Media News Analysis

With Congress stalled on immigration reform and the Obama administration reconsidering its priorities, Americans might be surprised to learn that recently deceased global citizen Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014) offers some well-informed insights into immigration issues.

The 1982 Nobel Laureate in Literature lived most of his adult life as an immigrant, and was once an undocumented worker — in Venezuela, from late 1957 to early 1959. His first immigration experience was in France, where he lived in the mid-1950s with full documentation, working as a journalist for the liberal Colombian newspaper, El Espectador. Soon after arriving, however, he was left unemployed when Colombian dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla ordered the closing of all liberal media. During the remainder of his stay in France, García Márquez dedicated his time to writing the foundational Macondo stories that would eventually lead him to the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, and literary fame. The remainder of his time in Paris, however, involved basic survival—sometimes even collecting bottles on the streets to earn money for food, and negotiating his residency at a small Parisian hotel, on credit, with promises to pay later.

The next stage of his life took him to Venezuela, where he was employed as a journalist writing articles, mostly on political topics. In the 1950s, Colombia’s relationship with Venezuela was in some ways comparable to the relationship today between Mexico and the United States: many Colombians were fleeing to Venezuela to escape violence and seek employment in a nation enjoying a petroleum boom. The Venezuelan government was systematically inviting gallegos(Spaniards from Galicia) and Italian guest workers in order to avoid the potential unionization of workers from Venezuela and Colombia.  In a magazine article published in 1959 under the title,Adiós, Venezuela, García Márquez questioned the government’s manipulation of the workforce. He argued, among other things, for better wages—the equivalent of a “living wage”—for the visiting workers from Galicia and Italy.

In France, García Márquez lived the experience of the impoverished immigrant, and in Venezuela he lived the life of the undocumented worker whom he attempted to defend with his writing. The presence of gallegos in the latter contributed to his identification with the workers, for some of his own relatives had originally come from Galicia. In Venezuela, then, García Márquez was acutely aware that the story of immigrant workers was indeed his own story. No doubt drawing on his own experience, he proclaimed Latina America to be “a land of second generations” in his 1959 article, later republished in 1971 as a book titled, Cuando era feliz e indocumentado (When I was happy and undocumented).

After Venezuela, García Márquez became a global citizen, spending most of his adult life in Mexico as well as being a frequent visitor to his own personal residences in Spain and France.

As the immigration debate becomes increasingly intense and perhaps excessively polarized in the United States, the lessons we can learn from the most widely read public intellectual in Latin America are twofold: On the one hand, he reminds us that human movement across borders has historically been a regular and healthy occurrence in the Americas, for those nations that have embraced and not rejected their immigrants. In this sense, the current situation in the U.S. might not be as exceptional (or complex) as it may seem. On the other hand, the supposed dichotomy between documented citizens and undocumented residents is not as black-and-white as some political sectors attempt to portray it — the undocumented not only provide a labor force, but they are also the parents of future graduate students, future scientists and future Nobel Laureates in literature, as was the case for that grandchild of gallegos, the once undocumented writer, Gabriel García Márquez.

Raymond L. Williams teaches Latin American literature at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of several books, including two on García Márquez, and holds the titled of Distinguished Professor.

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The Legacy of Gabriel García Márquez

New America Media, Raymond L. Williams

Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, the inventor of the mythical town he called “Macondo,” has passed away at the age of 87.

Journalists loved him for his ability to spontaneously produce catchy one-liners in interviews. The general reading public adored him for his entertaining and engaging stories so related to their own real experience. Academics have been fascinated to speculate on the meaning of such oddities as abundant yellow butterflies, old men with inexplicably long wings, or the very best definition of his trademark “magic realism.” As an academic who decided in the 1970s to launch a career researching the unlikely and then relatively obscure subject called “Colombian literature,” I always benefited from the anchor of at least one accomplished Colombian writer widely recognized beyond that nation’s borders.

Who was this man whose “Macondo” seems so exotic yet at the same time so close to so many lives?

My first image of the writer dates back to when the then 48-year old emerged from the elevator in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Bogotá, October of 1975. Already rich and famous from the 1967 publication of the best-selling novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, he had just arrived from Barcelona a few months after publishing the novel The Autumn of the Patriarch. A mutual friend (the Colombian critic from Barranquilla Néstor Madrid-Malo) had arranged for me to meet the writer in the hotel lobby, where I was immediately struck by the stark contrast between everyone else in that lobby—wearing elegant dark suits and ties—and the visibly informal García Márquez, who was wearing blue jeans and a colorful shirt. The straight-forward, no-nonsense and absolute clarity of the conversation in his room, centering on this complex novel The Autumn of the Patriarch, left a lifetime impression on me. I’ve met other accomplished creative writers in my career, but few others have approximated García Márquez in the simplicity and clarity of what was his genius: finding the magic in the things of everyday life.

r_williams_marquez_500x279Eventually, as a specialist in what was this still academically dubious field called Colombian literature, I found myself writing a book on the work of García Márquez, starting in early 1982 and then–with a stroke of serendipity—found myself finishing it on a writer now awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in late 1982. Suddenly, my book had far more relevance than might have been the case otherwise. For me, however, reading García Márquez has always been a much more satisfactory experience than writing about his work. With this writer, I tend to resist interpretation for he seems to be so over-interpreted: why not let those yellow butterflies just inhabit Macondo rather than insist on dissecting them? Struggling through that first book on the Colombian writer and reading of his work in the process, however, clarified a lot, including the following: the writing of García Márquez is really about how the common people—the pueblo of the impoverished Caribbean coast of Colombia—not only survive but find ways to live with dignity.

I do not want to simplify this writer’s complex work too much by claiming it was only about survival and dignity. This was, however, a constant theme in much of his work, and this was the feature that made the Colombian so appealing world-wide. That down-to-earth 48-year-old pre-Nobel García Márquez was a man of total integrity: he not only talked-the-talk, but he walked and wrote the talk of the supreme value of common lives and everyday things.

Over the course of an increasingly viable academic career centered on “Colombian literature,” I spoke with the post-Nobel García Márquez at the ages of 58 (in Cartagena) and 60 (in Mexico City). Now even more of a celebrity public intellectual, he was still alarmingly simple in his genius. He was one of the few writers, for example, whose speech patterns are similar to his writing style.

In a dinner conversation among writer friends in Cartagena in 1993 (age 66) he stated that the one book that he wished had written himself was Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo. Years before, he had claimed to a journalist that his best book was No One Writes to the Colonel. What these two brief novels have in common is both their brevity and the simplicity of the language.

In a complex technological, globalized and postmodern 21st century, García Márquez invited all his readers to appreciate the special qualities (or magic) of the commonplace, to revere simplicity, and to celebrate the human spirit. This attitude toward the world placed not only his work on the world map, but the entirety of a nation and its literature in the consciousness of the world community. His attitude, as well as his spoken and written words, represented a life and a writing practice of admirable integrity.

Raymond L. Williams has published books and articles on Colombian and Latin American literature.His most recent book is A Companion to Gabriel Garcia Márquez (Tamesis, 2010). He holds the title of Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Riverside. 

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