The Power of Facebook

February 28, 2016 — Leave a comment

 

At the NPR recording studio in Hartford, Connecticut

 @ the NPR recording studio in Hartford, Connecticut 

I am constantly astonished by the power of Facebook. It’s not always a deadpool of useless information about what we eat and where we go to get haircuts,  sometimes Facebook is a living organism of opinion, updates, and productive information.

I retired from public life seven years ago after the embarrassing  failure of a bricks-and-mortar studio enterprise  I developed  in Massachusetts.  Since then, I have been speaking and writing fiction and living in quietude in a “house next to a duck pond”.

I don’t actually live next to a duck pond. My  younger brother does. But since “duck” is considered one of the funniest words in the American vernacular, I use it as I am aware of the irony. I was once a studio boss at both Paramount and Walt Disney. I was constantly interviewed by various news outlets. But now I live next to a duck pond.

While I may live three thousand miles from Hollywood,  I remain an active member of the Academy Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. But recently, the Academy   hastily called for sweeping changes in the membership, including getting rid the older membership. I didn’t agree as I am one of those older members so I took to my pen and wrote a letter. I published it on this blog and decided to post it on my Facebook wall as well.

Within 24 hours, the post on Facebook had 430 “likes” and 102 “shares”. Within that same period, I received a request by Scott Feinberg at the Hollywood Reporter to reprint  the letter.  Within days, I was interviewed via phone by Catherine Shoard of the Guardian in the UK, specifically about Charlotte Rampling comments about the new academy rulings. On Friday, February 26th, I was taped in Hartford, Connecticut by NPR regarding the #Oscarssowhite controversy , and interviewed by Rachel Martin in Washington DC for the NPR Weekend Edition.

None of this would have ever happened had I not posted in Facebook. I have had my time in the sun with both fame and  material glory. I don’t put much stock in either today. But I do believe that ageism is going to become a more prominent issue in the next ten years. It’s important to increase our culture’s awareness and vigilance against it.

I have always loved what Martin Luther King  Jr. said. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  So much progress has been made, but there is much yet to be done, especially in a campaign year where we are experiencing the demonization and scapegoatism of  so many people groups.

David_Paul_Kirkpatrick_Academy_ Membership_Certificate

This Letter was reprinted by the Hollywood Reporter with my permission:

Dear Academy  Board Of Governors,

I have been a member of the Executive Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1984. Academy President Robert Wise signed my life long Academy membership certificate. Interestingly, there is no date on it – as if membership was a timeless commodity.

Robert Wise directed the motion pictures of my youth – West Side Story and The Sound of Music. He made entertainments which carried a social justice theme. His beautifully executed film-stories fought against prejudice, bigotry, and even genocide. That was a proud day for me –  receiving that certificate from a childhood hero. To this day, the framed certificate hangs in my library.

In my time in motion pictures, I held positions as President of Weintraub Entertainment Group, President of Production of Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures, and President of the Motion Picture Group of Paramount Pictures. But, I have not made a film since 2002 which would mean I am no longer a voting Academy member under the new ­­ proposed rules of the Academy.

During much of my life in California, I lived on the same street as Gene Kelly. For those in the Board of Governors who may not know who Gene Kelly was, he was  a pathfinder in the American film  musical. He was an actor, dancer, director, choreographer and the star of such celebrated American movies as An American in Paris and Singing in the Rain. In 1952, he received an Honorary Academy Award “in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.”

When his house burned down in 1983 after a Christmas tree caught on fire, Gene Kelly built an exact replica of the house on the property “with some updates in the kitchen and bathrooms,” he told me. I asked him why he built the same house. Wasn’t he tired of it? “It’s foundations were good, and I liked the lay out” he replied. The original layout of the Academy of Motion Pictures of Arts and Sciences was to elevate film from being a business to an art form and “to improve the artistic quality of the film medium”.

In his last days, before he took to his bed, Gene, in his early 80s, and I   would take walks around the neighborhood with his two annoying schnauzers. We even attended a few garage sales together. He negotiated hard over every dime. At that time, the great motion picture star, known for his athletic choreography, walked with a cane.  His eyes were failing. He wore a  driver’s cap to hide his balding pate. “I am not exactly hirable as a dancer or a director these days. My legs are shot,” he said, with his legendary twinkle in his eye, “but I am still a voting member of the Academy.”

Many of us in the Academy  may have retired from working on motion pictures – age discrimination is a real factor in our industry – but we are devoted to choosing the best when it comes time to nominating films. Our legs may be shot, but we may know a thing or two about film language and its artistry.  We did  spend twenty, thirty, or forty years devoted to the form.

This year, the Academy has nominated Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu for best director and best picture with his effort, The Revenant. Last year Iñárritu won the Academy prize for his direction of Birdman. Is that not diverse?

Over the last decades I have seen wonderful and diverse actors win the actor Oscar, in lead role or supporting,  including Javier Bardem, Whoopee Goldberg, Penélope Cruz, Jean Dujardin, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, Benico Del Toro, Cuba Gooding Jr., Hain S. Ngor, Lou Gosset Jr, Lupita Nyong’o, Octavia Spencer, Mo’Nique, Marlee Matlin, and Halle Berry, among others.

This year there were no “diverse” actors nominated, nor where there last year.  Suddenly, the media has turned the Academy into a illusionary burning house. We must be careful of the tyranny of the media. They are looking for eyeballs for their headlines. They love a good fight. They have declared this a crisis and they are pressuring the current President of the Academy, a woman of color, a good and noble person, as if she is responsible for this.

The Academy needs its updates as any house of long-standing does. By all means, the Academy needs to be more assertive and mindful in recruiting a young, diverse membership. We must be careful, however, of making hasty decisions driven by desperation. We don’t change the world by exchanging purported racism with ageism. We create an even larger crisis. We divide a house that was never burning in the first place – and by our own hands, erode the foundation and layout of the esteemed Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

David Kirkpatrick