A few years ago, a dear friend left us too soon after succumbing to cancer. I resisted articulating my love and admiration to her as I witnessed an unseemly parade of tearful remembrances at her bedside. I know now that it was a mistake not to have found a way to convey to her how her art and being had influenced and inspired me. Recent news of your diagnosis, Mr. President, has reminded me of those regrets, so now I want to send my good wishes for your health, and tell you how much you have inspired and guided me. I cannot possibly convey the entire story in a thousand words, but here is one tiny thread.

A young girl whose family had fled post-war Vietnam was placed in my class in middle school. We called her "Grace" and she did not speak any English at first and kept to herself. For years I had seen the pictures of war and bloodshed behind the glass windows of newspaper vending machines on my walk to school, and my teachers discussed the conflict with us in class. I had a vague intellectual sense of war...

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AuthorAngela Garcia Combs

There is much hoopla over Ava DuVernay's buzzed-about film Selma regarding historical "inaccuracies" in the portrayal of President Johnson. In a TIME magazine article, David Kaiser takes us through a narrative presupposing the president's intentions, while admitting, "LBJ never let anyone know what he planned to do until it was absolutely necessary." This seems an admission that the dramatized conversations in Selma that have become the subject of this debate are not out of place and are therefore free territory for the imaginations of a gifted filmmaker like DuVernay.

Let's contrast Spielberg's Lincoln to DuVernay's Selma. Many articles were written about Lincoln, asserting that "the dramatic core is accurate", despite some fictionalization. Spielberg himself stated, "one of the jobs of art is to go to the impossible places that history must avoid." And that it is the job of the filmmaker to use "imagination" to recover the lost essence of history and that "this resurrection is a fantasy ... a dream."

Perhaps DuVernay has her own "dream" as the first black female filmmaker to be nominated for a Golden Globe (and dare we hope, an Oscar?). 

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AuthorAngela Garcia Combs

Karen Black died last week and she was my unlikely friend.

I say so because all the conventional markers could not have predicted it. I am an atheist, a feminist and a film director and Karen was none of those things. I plan fastidiously with storyboards and shotlists in pursuit of the dramatic truth. Karen sought the same truth, but through jarringly different means. She was not one for labels (though she was given many). Her unique ability to create character came so honestly from her refusal to define herself in the past or the future. It gave her a kind of freedom in her work and life that allowed her to connect so deeply and give herself so completely to every performance, and to every one of her friends. A freedom so many of us long for but never quite achieve.

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AuthorAngela Garcia Combs

The Plexiglas awning gathered the heat underneath; Momon held a large brown grocery sack between sturdy legs, as she waited for her bus. She looked forward to the sight of her little daughter, holding the hand of her nine-year-old son. This was their ritual; the express bus always arriving within minutes of her children’s school shuttle and Momon seeing the children through the window as the bus drew to a stop. Today she was early, as if waiting would bring her joy closer. It was her only daughter’s sixth birthday and Momon was bursting with excitement. She looked up to the gray sky, and saw a summer storm gathering and hoped to make it home before the first rainfall. The paper bag might not survive the drizzle but she pushed her concern aside, resting in the knowledge that only God controlled the rain.

Momon planned a birthday feast of leftovers from the company potluck, and was savoring the moment her little one’s eyes would sparkle as the frosted doughnuts were unwrapped (squirreled away from the morning coffee room)...

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AuthorAngela Garcia Combs

I sound like some old man on a little front porch, springing back and forth in a creaky old rocking chair, pontificating between bull’s-eyes in a spittoon when I begin a sentence with “When I was a kid...” In truth I’m disturbed by my feelings and observations, since I am still a relatively young mother of three, and the world is indeed in a precarious state. I am not blind to the rolling back eyes of my cheeky teenagers who try to escape the room when I begin to express my disgust with what I witness on the evening “news.” However, things being what they are, I find myself in allegiance with that decidedly homespun American image of wisdom on a porch.  And much to my children’s chagrin, I begin many a sentence these days with – “When I was a kid...”

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AuthorAngela Garcia Combs