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Get Ready for Downton Abbey’s First Black Character

Get Ready for Downton Abbey's First Black Character

The British period drama television series “Downtown Abbey” is introducing its first black character as part of a storyline about race relations in the 1920s, according to the UK’s leading tabloid, The Sun.

(Continue reading at your own risk because there may or may not be spoilers below.)

The Sun has more details about the new black character:

The award-winning stately home drama is seeking an actor to play musician Jack Ross.

Casting notes were sent out to actors’ agents earlier this month. They describe Ross as “Male, 25-30. A musician (singer) at an exclusive club in the 20s.

“He’s black and very handsome. A real man (not a boy) with charm and charisma.”

Whoever lands the role should “ideally be able to sing brilliantly”. The notes add: “Overall he should be a very attractive man with a certain wow factor.” Jack Ross will play a key part in the fourth series of the hit TV saga alongside a string of other fresh faces.

The Season 2 finale of “Downton Abbey” earned PBS its highest overnight ratings since 2009’s “Ken Burns National Parks.” The series’ ratings were up 25 percent from its first season, doubling the average PBS viewership.

Academy Adds Lupe Ontiveros to ‘In Memoriam’ Slideshow

Academy Adds Lupe Ontiveros to 'In Memoriam' Slideshow

On Wednesday the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences added actress Lupe Ontiveros to the 2012 ‘In Memoriam’ slideshow on the Oscars’ website). The addition came came four days after the Academy left Ontiveros out of the ‘In Memoriam’ reel that aired during the Oscar broadcast.

“Lupe Ontiveros is among the many worthy artists we were unfortunately not able to feature in the In Memoriam segment of this year’s Oscar show. She is, however, included in our In Memoriam gallery on Oscar.com,” read statement from the Academy sent to the LA Times.

Fox News Latino reports the Academy added Ontiveros to the slideshow after the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts sent a letter requesting the actress be included in the online gallery.

Ontiveros had a 35-year career in the film and television industry. Her first television appearances came in 1976 when she played a maid on the series “Charlie’s Angels.”

Her television and film career went on for another 35-years until she passed away on July 26, 2012 at the age of 69.

Ontiveros estimated she played a maid at least 150 times on screen, or 300 if you count stage performances too.

“I’ve given every maid I’ve portrayed soul and heart,” Ontiveros told the New York Times in 2002.

Chinese Farmers Battle for Wages Amid Glamour of Silicon Valley

Chinese Farmers Battle for Wages Amid Glamour of Silicon Valley

When most people think about Silicon Valley, they don’t think about farmers. Agricultural work seems almost like the antithesis of the Googles and Apples of the world. But a new piece published by Hyphen Magazine exposes the hardships faced by Chinese laborers in and around the world’s biggest tech hub.

Li Lovett writes at New America Media, in partnership with Hyphen:

Of the roughly 130 Asian growers documented in this county, the majority are Chinese, and most of the Chinese growers here own land in or on the fringes of urban zones. In areas zoned for agriculture, land can be purchased at $100,000 an acre, according to Aziz Baameur, a University of California farm adviser based in Santa Clara County. However, land in the bedroom communities of Silicon Valley, such as Gilroy and Morgan Hill, could easily fetch between $300,000 and $500,000 per acre. New farmers have few prospects of buying land “unless it’s someone from Silicon Valley who is cottage farming on the weekends,” Baameur says.

Read the full story here.

TAGS: Farmers

Let These Adorable Kids Inspire You to Celebrate Black History Every Month

Let These Adorable Kids Inspire You to Celebrate Black History Every Month

Today is the official end of Black History Month, a time that doesn’t exactly lend itself to easygoing celebrations. There’s a good portion of folks who argue that black history shouldn’t be limited to a month-long celebration, and still others who see it as a unique time to highlight black America’s contributions to this country. Regardless of where you fall along that spectrum, here’s one thing that everyone can agree on: adorable and hilarious kids.

Throughout the month of February, Maryland-based photographer Eunique Jones has been doing a series called “Because Of Them, We Can” that pays tribute to black leaders whose sacrifices paved the way for younger generations to realize their dreams. According to Jones’s website, the intention was pretty straightforward:

As a motivational speaker and a photographer, I recently realized that my lens can also be my microphone. For Black History Month, I wanted to create a campaign that would empower and excite young people about their history and their future in a creative and yet relatable way. I thought about my two sons and how they were both born during President Barack Obama’s election and re-election. How awesome is that?! From there, I began to think about all of the individuals, past and current, who have and/or continue to blaze new trails and pave the way for the future. Because of Them, We Can.

Each day of February, Jones released an new photograph that linked the present to the past. The photos each feature kids-lookalikes to some of the most notable names in black film, activism, and sports.

You can see — and share — the photos on Jones’s website and on Facebook. A quick sampling is after the jump.

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NFL Teams Are Asking if Manti Te’o Is Gay, Homophobia in Football Alive and Well

NFL Teams Are Asking if Manti Te'o Is Gay, Homophobia in Football Alive and Well

Apparently so, because the federal protections that apply to most of the rest of us don’t extend to the guys we root for every fall. Here’s more from Martin Rogers at Yahoo! Sports:

A quirk in the American legal system means that NFL teams are governed by differing laws on the level of intrusive questioning they can impose on potential draft picks such as Manti Te’o.

Te’o’s sexuality has been the subject of much debate following the fallout of the Notre Dame defensive star’s hoax girlfriend saga that thrust him into a storm of media attention and, unfortunately, public ridicule.

One NFL insider, NBC Sports’ Mike Florio, said Monday that several NFL organizations would like to know whether the powerful Hawaiian linebacker is gay, describing the matter as the “elephant in the room.”

…While federal law protects certain characteristics from discrimination, such as race, gender, religion or belief and disability, it “has been slow to catch up on aspects like sexuality,” according to Professor Dylan Malagrino, a sports law expert from Western State University College of Law, in Fullerton, Calif.

In total, 13 of the NFL’s 32 teams are legally allowed to ask Te’o about his sexuality based on what’s legally permissible in each team’s home state.

There was much hubbub around the varying stances NFL players took in the weeks leading up the Super Bowl. In short, the league really wants you to believe that it’s a forward-thinking space, but the culture of sports has long been filled with both overt and covert homophobia. This news about Manti Te’o seems like one more entrenched, systemic reason why we shouldn’t expect homophobia to go away in professional football any time soon, because a players’ presumptive sexuality is still seen as a huge off-field liability.

Lupe Ontiveros’ Family Speaks Out: Oscars Snub Was a ‘Glaring Omission’

Lupe Ontiveros' Family Speaks Out: Oscars Snub Was a 'Glaring Omission'

Lupe Ontiveros’ conspicuous absence from the Oscars’ “In Memoriam” montage this year was but one disappointment in an especially offensive year for the Academy Awards. The Latina actress’ family noticed, too. In a statement issued on behalf of his family, Ontiveros’ youngest son Elias Ontiveros said the show’s producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron made a “poor decision” when they left his mother out of their memorial montage this year.

Ontiveros called the omission a missed opportunity to reach out to Latino audiences, for whom his mother was a beloved star. But more, by failing to recognize Lupe Ontiveros’ lifetime of work in Hollywood, the Academy showed its true colors, which are, well, extremely white. It was exactly the kind of erasure that Ontiveros fought against during her career.

In life, and after her passing, Lupe Ontiveros was a highly regarded actress, a Hollywood mainstay who played by her own estimation at least 150 maids during her decades-long career. She imbued her characters with dignity, and yet chafed against the confines of an entertainment industry with so little imagination about the kinds of characters a Latina actress could portray.

“You’ve got maids and you’ve got maids,” she told NPR in 2009. In auditions she often knew exactly what to expect: “‘You want an accent?’ And they’d say, ‘Yes, we prefer for you to have an accent.’ And the thicker and more waddly it is, the more they like it. This is what I’m against, really, truly.”

“I long to play a judge. I long to play a lesbian woman. I long to play a councilman, someone with some chutzpah,” Ontiveros said. Chutzpah she certainly had. She also took pride in her career. “I’m proud to represent those hands that labor in this country,” she told The New York Times.

The Ontiveros family’s statement is included in full after the jump.

Student Protest Forces School to Talk Stadium Deal With Prison Giant

Student Protest Forces School to Talk Stadium Deal With Prison Giant

It’s been a hectic week for students at Florida Atlantic University. Recently, the school announced that it had sold its football stadium naming rights to GEO Group, the nation’s largest operator of private prisons. The school’s board of trustees approved the deal earlier this month, and it’s estimated that the school will receive $6 million over the next twelve years. It’s reportedly the largest one-time gift that the school’s athletic department has ever received.

That money is of little comfort to students at the school who oppose the move. This week, they’ve staged a number of protests, including a sit-in at University President Jane Saunders’ office.

Here’s more from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Hundreds Released From Immigration Detention to Save Government Money

Hundreds Released From Immigration Detention to Save Government Money

The Obama Administration announced yesterday that it would release hundreds of immigrants from federal detention facilities to save money in anticipation of the coming sequestration. Federal immigration authorities said the government could not afford to lock up so many immigrants.

It’s not clear how many were released but reports have emerged from around the country that detainees were released from lockup in New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, New York, Arizona, Alabama and Georgia.

Authorities were quick to note that none of those released posed a threat. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Gillian Christianson said in a statement that ICE’s “[p]riority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.”

But immigrant rights groups immediately asked why these detainees were held in the first place. Advocates have long said that the detention system is expensive and unfair, and add that community-based alternatives to detention are far cheaper.


Chuck D. On CNN: ‘Since Reagan And Bush, There’s Been Nothing But Guns And Drugs In The Black Community’

Chuck D. On CNN: 'Since Reagan And Bush, There's Been Nothing But Guns And Drugs In The Black Community'

Hip hop artist Chuck D. was a guest on CNN with Carol Costello earlier today to discuss the impact that the slaying of Trayvon Martin had on the nation one year later.

“The bottom line is this: back when I was growing up, you couldn’t find a gun on anybody,” Chuck D. told Costello. “Since 1980, the beginning of R&B, Reagan and Bush, there’s been nothing but guns and drugs in the black community for the last 30-some-odd years.”

“Race is America’s folly,” Chuck D. went on to say.

Florida’s Welfare Drug Testing Law Struck Down by Federal Appeals Court

Florida's Welfare Drug Testing Law Struck Down by Federal Appeals Court

A federal appeals court today struck a blow to a 2011 Florida law requiring drug tests for all applicants to the state’s welfare program. The unanimous decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals also applies to a nearly identical bill signed last year by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. The decision cuts to the heart of a Republican-led efforts to conflate poverty and unemployment with drug abuse and sends a message to other states that the suspicionless testing laws will not stand.

In the years since 2010, conservative state legislators introduced a rash of bills to require applicants to state welfare, unemployment insurance and food stamp programs to submit to drug tests. Advocates of the bills argued that the laws were necessary to protect children from the harms of drug addicted parents and to interrupt a pattern of drug use among poor and unemployed people.

But the appeals court ruled today to uphold a 2011 decision by an Orlando district court to enjoin the Florida law on the grounds that it violates the 4th amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

“The simple fact of seeking public assistance does not deprive a TANF applicant of the same constitutional protection from unreasonable searches that all other citizens enjoy,” the court wrote in its ruling today.

The case was brought by the ACLU on behalf of Luis Lebron, a Navy veteran and college student who is raising his children alone while also caring for his aging mother. He applied for welfare assistance from the state of Florida but was barred from help when he refused to take the drug test.

The Florida drug testing law had a short life. But in the few months it was in effect before a court blocked it, nearly 98 percent of welfare applicants passed the test. Today’s Eleventh Circuit decision leaves the injunction in place and sends the Florida law back to the district court to rule on the law.

Georgia, for its part, waited until today’s ruling to determine whether to implement it’s own testing program, which was modeled on Florida’s. The Eleventh Circuit court has jurisdiction over Florida, Georgia and Alabama, and the decision today sends a clear message that the Georgia law would not survive legal challenge.

“We are grateful to the Court for their ruling today that essentially renders Georgia’s law dead in the water,” said Gerry Weber, an attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, which planned to challenge the Georgia law if it went into effect.

Despite repeated court decisions finding bills like the ones in Florida and Georgia unconstitutional, other states continue to consider their own versions. At least 8 states have already considered welfare drug testing requirements this year.

Just One More (Authentic) Harlem Shake Video

Just One More (Authentic) Harlem Shake Video

We’re well aware you’ve seen enough Harlem Shake videos but we had to share one more. The folks at Power 105 tapped some young people to show how it really goes down.

TAGS: Harlem Shake

George Zimmerman Cites Massive Weight Gain in Reason to Postpone Trial

George Zimmerman Cites Massive Weight Gain in Reason to Postpone Trial

George Zimmerman has gained 105 pounds in the year since he shot Trayvon Martin. His lawyers are citing his weight gain as a sign of his emotional distress and mental state in their effort to postpone his criminal trial, which is set to start in June.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Zimmerman is currently free on $1 million bail, awaiting trial on a charge of second-degree murder. He has said he killed the teenager in self-defense after Trayvon knocked him to the ground with a punch that broke his nose then began pounding his head on the sidewalk.

Before his arrest, according to the website, Zimmerman lived out of state in a mobile home, but a judge ordered his return to Seminole County, and that has been more expensive. For a time, Zimmerman and his wife lived in series of hotels. In September, they found a home with more reasonable rent, the website said.

Neither Zimmerman nor his wife has jobs, O’Mara said. George Zimmerman spends all day thinking about the second-degree murder case against him and has gained 105 pounds, the attorney said.

Zimmerman has raised more than $300,000 in private donations in the year since Trayvon Martin’s death, but he apparently only has $5,000 left. He and his wife have had to move frequently and pay for a private security detail.

The Fight for Accountability Continues for Trayvon Martin’s Family

The Fight for Accountability Continues for Trayvon Martin's Family

There are two important court dates to keep in mind in the Trayvon Martin case. The first is April 22, when an important hearing is scheduled to determine whether George Zimmerman is immune to prosecution due to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. At the hearing, Zimmerman’s legal team will have to convince the judge of three things:

  • Zimmerman was not engaged in unlawful activity.
  • Zimmerman was attacked in a place where he had a right to be.
  • Zimmerman had the reasonable belief that his life and safety were in danger as a result of an overt act or perceived threat committed by Martin.

If Zimmerman’s attorneys successfully make their case in front of a judge, he can walk free. But if they don’t, he’ll have to stand trial on second degree murder charges.

The trial date has been set for June 10. Zimmerman’s attorneys are pushing for a delay, mostly because they’re in dire need of cash. Zimmerman has raised — and spent — over $300,000 in donations over the past year. But his lawyer recently filed court documents asking that his client be declared indigent and thus eligible for the public to foot his legal bills.

Black Churches Condemn Obama’s Drone Policy as Murder and Evil

Black Churches Condemn Obama's Drone Policy as Murder and Evil

An association of 34,000 churches has come out strongly against drones.

The National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), a faith-based coalition of 34,000 churches comprised of 15 denominations and 15.7 million African Americans say President Obama’s drone policy “constitutes evil in the Christian tradition.”

NBCI says “there can never be a legal rationale that gives a government the right to destroy a human being that God created.”

“I do not know what to say after the pronouncement of this evil policy. This policy has led me to a life of prayer for the soul of this administration and for this President. Anyone who has had anything to do with formulating a policy like this either in the Bush or Obama administration will have to answer before God one day. May God have mercy on their souls,” Rev. Anthony Evans, president of NBCI said in a statement.

Oscars ‘In Memoriam’ Snubs Lupe Ontiveros, Twice

Oscars 'In Memoriam' Snubs Lupe Ontiveros, Twice

Last night’s Oscars ‘In Memoriam’ reel left out actress Lupe Ontiveros. The Mexican-American actress passed away on July 26, 2012. 

Ontiveros worked steadily throughout her 35 year career and her credits include films like “Selena,” “Real Women Have Curves,” and “El Norte.” 

The Academy posted a supplementary ‘In Memorium’ online gallery on it’s website to cover its bases with a slideshow honoring those who didn’t make the telecast but Ontiveros was left out the online slideshow too.

Ontiveros was typecasted as a Latina maid early in her career, which she figured she had played more than 150 times in television and films, like James L. Brooks’s “As Good as It Gets” and Steven Spielberg’s “Goonies.”

“They don’t know we’re very much a part of this country and that we make up every part of this country,” she told The New York Times in 2002. “When I go in there and speak perfect English, I don’t get the part.”

But she did not regret playing so many maids, she said, because it allowed for steady work and for portraying working people with dignity.

“I’m proud to represent those hands that labor in this country,” she told The Times.

“I’ve given every maid I’ve portrayed soul and heart,” Ontiveros said.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group that votes for the Oscars, is nearly 94 percent white and 77 percent male, according to a 2012 Los Angeles Times investigation. Blacks make up about 2 percent of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2 percent.

UPDATE 2/28/13 2:15pm EST: 

On Wednesday evening the Academy added Ontiveros to the online ‘In Memoriam’ slideshow

UPDATE 2/25/13 5:08pm EST:

A commenter below also notes Native American actor Russell Means was also left out of the ‘In Memoriam’ reel and The Academy’s online slideshow. In the 1990s Means appeared in films such as “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Natural Born Killers” and was the voice of Powhatan in Disney’s “Pocahontas.” .

Formerly Undocumented Teen Inocente Recognized On Oscar Stage

Formerly Undocumented Teen Inocente Recognized On Oscar Stage

On Sunday night a film about a 15-year-old homeless girl from San Diego won the “best short documentary” Oscar. “Inocente” follows a young woman named Inocente Izucar who refuses to give up her dream of being an artist.

The film was directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix who set out to make a film about homeless youth. But the 40-minute film is about a lot more because Izucar and her mother are undocumented.

Izucar says she was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when she was five or six. (Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want any spoilers.) Her father was deported to Mexico for domestic abuse. She once stood on a bridge and convinced her mother not to jump. Her mother battles alcoholism and the constant struggle to keep her family afloat. I’ll stop there so you can watch the film on your own below.

In August 2012 Inocente told Teen Vogue she is no longer undocumented.

“I got a visa, so I’m in the United States legally now. In a few years, I can apply for my green card. I want to put a face to all the issues going on and be a voice for people who don’t have one. I want to inspire people and show them that life does get better,” Inocente told Teen Vogue.

At a screening of the film in Los Angeles on Saturday Inocente said she now lives in her own studio apartment and is supporting herself by selling her artwork.

She said she’ll be traveling for the next year and doing advocacy work and hosting screenings of the film. She went on to say she’s considering college or art school when she’s done promoting the film.

The Oscar-winning film was produced by the nonprofit Shine Global. “Inocente” is also the first film to be backed by Kickstarter supporters to win an Oscar, 294 backers donated a total of $52,000 to support the film last year.

For more information on Inocente’s art visit INOCENTEART.COM.

Watch the entire film below:

Michelle Obama Wears Indian-American Designer Naeem Khan’s Dress to Oscars

Michelle Obama Wears Indian-American Designer Naeem Khan's Dress to Oscars

First Lady Michelle Obama made a surprise appearance via video at last night’s Academy Awards ceremony.

“I am so honored to help introduce this year’s nominees for best picture and to help celebrate the movies that lift our spirits, broaden our minds and transport us to places we have never imagined,” Mrs. Obama said.

“They reminded us that we can overcome any obstacle if we dig deep enough and fight hard enough and find the courage within ourselves,” the First Lady went on to say.

The dress was designed Indian-born, American fashion designer Naeem Khan.

The First Lady wore the gray and silver Art Deco-esque design to host the Governor’s Dinner in Washington earlier in the evening, and thus needed no costume change for the Oscars, Womens Wear Daily reports. This was the second year in a row that she had worn a dress designed by Khan to the dinner.

Quvenzhané Wallis Hits the Oscar Red Carpet in Style

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Quvenzhané Wallis walked the Oscar red carpet in style on Sunday afternoon.

Wallis could become the second African-American ever to win an Oscar in the best actress in a leading role category. (Halle Berry made Academy Award history in 2002 as the first African-American woman to win the best-actress award.)

Just two-hours before Wallis hit the red carpet, Sony Pictures confirmed she will star as Annie in the new film based on the “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip.

“With the recent Academy Award nomination and critical acclaim, Quvenzhané Wallis is a true star and we believe her portrayal as Annie will make her a true worldwide star,” Hannah Minghella, president of production for Columbia, said in a statement. “She is an extraordinary young talent with an amazing range, not only as an actress but as a singer and dancer, and we can’t wait for audiences to further discover her.”

James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith and Shawn “Jay Z” Carter are signed on as producers, according to Deadline.com.

Just in Time for Oscars, Street Artist Gets Hollywood to Think About Its Workers

Just in Time for Oscars, Street Artist Gets Hollywood to Think About Its Workers

On Friday evening artist Ramiro Gomez placed an installation right in the Beverly Hills-West Hollywood border to get those heading to the Oscars to consider who was taking care of their families and homes while they were out making movies.  

“As hollywood prepares for their annual self-congratulatory party, I wanted to make this piece to honor those who will not be thanked during the award’s acceptance speeches,” Gomez told Colorlines.com in an email.

Gomez’s installation includes cardboard cutouts of the Oscar statue, a housekeeper and gardener. 

Gomez went on to say the installation is called “And the award goes to…” because “the reality is that the many people working in this area will never receive one.”

The Latest Online Education Craze Could Very Well Worsen the Achievement Gap

Online education is just about the hottest new trend in education these days. In 2007, more than a million K-12 students took an online course; that number was itself a 47 percent increase over the previous two years. And the numbers are increasing rapidly as legislators tout online learning plans as a cost-effective answers to budget woes. But while the jury’s still out on the academic efficacy of online education programs, new research suggests that these trendy education programs may well be exacerbating very old racial inequities in education.

In a working paper by Columbia University’s Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggers, they lay out findings from their study of half a million online courses taken by more than 40,000 community and technical-college students in the state of Washington. What they found is that students who have a harder time in traditional offline higher education are no better served by online courses. Xu and Jaggers, who is the assistant director of the Community College Research Center, found that all students, no matter their race, age or gender, who took online courses were actually less likely to finish their degree. But males and black students and those who came to their courses with less academic preparation than their classmates were less able to adapt to online course formats.

“We found that the gap is stronger in the underrepresented and under-prepared students,” Jaggers told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “They’re falling farther behind than if they were taking face-to-face courses.”

“If this pattern holds true across other states and educational sectors, it would imply that the continued expansion of online learning could strengthen, rather than ameliorate, educational inequity,” Jaggers and Xu wrote in their paper.

The news is troubling because online education is sweeping across the country, and not just in community and technical colleges. New York and Chicago have their own pilot initiatives centered around online education. Last month in California, the state college system rolled out a pilot online education partnership. Starting in 2011, Florida made it mandatory for every ninth grader to take an online course. And just last month in Idaho, less than three months after voters rejected a bill requiring high school students to take four online courses, the state legislature revived it.

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