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Anita Hill To Receive the PEN Courage Award


Deborah K. Wilson, Chief Development Officer, PEN America

PEN announced professor, lawyer, equal rights advocate and chair of The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality Anita Hill will receive this year’s PEN Courage Award. The award will be conferred in recognition of her singular role in challenging sexual harassment in the workplace and the attendant abuse of power, and a career spent combating the silencing force of sexism. The award, which honors dauntless exercises of free expression, will be presented May 21 at the 2019 PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Deborah Wilson is the Chief Development Officer at PEN America.

By Deborah K. Wilson, Chief Development Officer, PEN America

“Anita Hill stepped alone into the glare of the public spotlight to call out abuses that others insisted be forgotten or overlooked. She has devoted her life since then to teaching, writing and speaking out — in the process, helping to catalyze a global movement that is essential to the achievement of equality,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America.

“The award will be conferred in recognition of her singular role in challenging sexual harassment in the workplace and the attendant abuse of power, and a career spent combating the silencing force of sexism.” Deborah K Wilson

Deborah Wilson is the Chief Development Officer at PEN America.
Deborah Wilson is the Chief Development Officer at PEN America.

In her career as a university professor and scholar, Hill has been a steadfast champion of women’s rights. She is the author of two books (1997’s Speaking Truth to Power and 2011’s Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home) and numerous opinion pieces (including a New York Times piece entitled How to Get the Kavanaugh Hearings Right.) In December 2017, Hill was appointed Chair of The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, where she is leading an industry-wide effort to identify and establish best practices and solve problems related to harassment, bias, equality, and diversity in the entertainment community. Find out more about Anita Hill’s advocacy here »

At our May Gala, we are also honoring women’s rights champions and Saudi writer-activists Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan, imprisoned for opposing the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia and the female driving ban in the region, with the 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. We are recognizing peerless investigative journalist Bob Woodward with the Literary Service Award and Scholastic Chairman and CEO Richard Robinson for his outstanding leadership in publishing. Comedian and political commentator John Oliver will host this year’s event. Find out more about the 2019 PEN America Literary Gala here »

In 1991, Hill served as a witness during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She gave her testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee of 14 white men and a global television audience. She described numerous instances of sexual harassment while working for the soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Other women who had made similar allegations against Thomas were not called to testify. 

In her career as a university professor and scholar, Hill has been a steadfast champion of women’ rights. She joined the faculty of Brandeis University in 1998 and in 2015 was named University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s Studies. She is the author of two books (1997’s Speaking Truth to Power and 2011’s Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home) and numerous opinion pieces (including a New York Times piece entitled “How to Get the Kavanaugh Hearings Right,” published during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh). In December 2017, Hill was appointed Chair of The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, which was established by a coalition of Hollywood studios, television networks, streaming services, music companies, talent agencies, trade associations, and unions. In this role, she is leading an industry-wide effort to identify and establish best practices and solve problems related to harassment, bias, equality, and diversity in the entertainment community.

In addition to Hill, PEN America will honor other women’s rights champions at its May Gala: Saudi writer-activists Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan, imprisoned for opposing the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia and the female driving ban in the region, will receive the 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. Additionally, PEN America will recognize peerless investigative journalist Bob Woodward with the Literary Service Award and Scholastic Chairman and CEO Richard Robinson for his outstanding leadership in publishing. Past Courage Award honorees include student activists against gun violence (2018) and organizers of the Women’s March (2017). The Gala raises essential funds that fuel PEN America’s free expression advocacy efforts. Comedian and political commentator John Oliver will host this year’s event.

We hope you’ll join us on Tuesday, May 21 at the PEN America Literary Gala, and consider supporting our dynamic cultural programming and critical free expression advocacy work. If you are unable to attend in person, please consider making a donation to support this inspiring event and our salient work.

ON THE WEB:

https://pen.org


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Leslie Zemeckis Continues Filling In History with Feuding Fan Dancers


Special To Topanga Journal

Viewing the “fan dance” in the year 2018 is a quaint, cutesy activity on par with listening to an old radio play or riding a horse.

From the comfort of your own home, in front of the glow of your laptop computer, you can search for the dance online and get its general gist. The dance will involve a lady, maybe nude, maybe merely scantily clad, and she’ll be holding two large ostrich feathers in her hands. She’ll use the dual objects to cover herself, and now and then—purposefully or otherwise—she’ll allow a brief glimpse of skin to the audience’s prying eyes. That’s what the crowd—men, mostly—has been waiting for, and they’ll hoot and holler their approval at the sight. 

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

It’s fun, in an outdated, mostly innocent, sort of way. It’s a hobby for the privileged or curious, largely unnecessary for the general public to know or understand, certainly with no role in pushing the world’s culture forward. It’s time has come and went, sort of like that old form of the English language with its awkward misspellings and phrasings. Interesting to see, but in an era when you can see literally anything from one’s smartphone, we’re well past the allure that the fan dance originally created. For better or worse, we’ve moved onto more outrageous forms of self-expression.

“When it was first introduced, the fan dance was notorious and titillating. It was the inevitable next iteration of the showgirl spectacle, and like any innovation, that meant there was a large profit in it. This meant, like every other invention throughout history’s long game of leapfrog, there was a fight over who started it, and therefore, who owned the right to perform it.” Rick Paulas

But of course, this wasn’t always the case. When it was first introduced, the fan dance was notorious and titillating. It was the inevitable next iteration of the showgirl spectacle, and like any innovation, that meant there was a large profit in it. This meant, like every other invention throughout history’s long game of leapfrog, there was a fight over who started it, and therefore, who owned the right to perform it. 

For the fan dance, this culminated in a battle between Faith Bacon, “the world’s most beautiful woman,” and Sally Rand, one of the world’s most famous showgirls of all time.

This fight is the driving force throughout Feuding Fan Dancers, Leslie Zemeckis’ fascinating and page-turning dive into the lives of Bacon and Rand. But the book isn’t so much a stodgy legal thriller satisfied with merely picking the nits of creative ownership, but rather widens its scope to become a meticulous, behind-the-scenes analysis into the intersection of show-business and femininity in post-Depression America. 


I won’t spoil the ending, or announce who prevails, other than to say, it doesn’t really matter all that much. What matters is that here, finally, is the story of these two largely forgotten women. Part of that is because of the lack of media affordances that didn’t yet allow the ease of recording, but largely it’s been due to publishing gateways frankly not really caring all that much about the stories of women. The book’s ultimate goal—and increasingly the goal of Zemeckis’ work—is correcting those wrongs by filling in history’s blanks.


Leslie Zemeckis has been on a hell of a roll. Her 2015 book, Goddess of Love Incarnate, told the story of Lili St. Cyr, the so-called “highest paid stripteaser in America,” while her recent documentary Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer highlighted Mabel Stark, the world’s first female tiger trainer. With Feuding Fan Dancers, it’s become even more clear how Zemeckis sees her role in the cultural discourse.

History, it is said, is the story of the winners, but really, it’s the story of those who storytellers consider powerful. Historical analysis has long been dominated with the stories of men, for the obvious reason men have largely held positions of what’s been considered power. But contrary to the inherent narrow framework of storytelling, power is not a top-down hierarchy. Kings get dethroned, managers retire or are ostracized, congressional officials retire or get impeached. Actual, real power comes from those changing society at its base. And one arena for that shift—the one that Zemeckis has chosen to focus on—is the world of popular entertainment. When it’s at its most potent, that is the true nexus of democracy and organizing, of creating and spreading propaganda strong enough to change the world.

It’s this lens that makes Zemeckis’ work important and vital, particularly in today’s post-Trump era, when the world’s most powerful positions are held by overtly feckless buffoons. The emperor has no clothes, but never really did, and there was never really a true emperor at all, just someone who happened to be sitting in a big chair. Now, like always, true power resides in the largely nameless figures who push the cultural football further down the field. They don’t campaign to get elected, or own billion-dollar businesses, or live in castles. They take what once was, and make it what it will be. Quite often, contrary to high school history classes, these figures are female. And now and then, they may even wear nothing but enormous ostrich feathers.

ON THE WEB:

http://lesliezemeckis.com


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Revealing The Fringes Of Paris: Benoît Fougeirol’s Award Winning Book Zus


Special To Topanga Journal

The photographer of the award winning book Zus is Benoît Fougeirol. He is based in and around Paris. Zus was published by X Artists’ Books. The publishing company is a collaboration between actor and writer Keanu Reeves, Los Angeles-based artist and writer Alexandra Grant, designer Jessica Fleischmann and editor Florence Grant. X Artists’ Books is an independent publisher, versus a self publisher, or vanity press. The books coming out of this little press are of value and on engaging subjects.

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

Zus documents, via a sociological photographic essay, sensitive suburban zones, or ZUS, a French acronym for Les Zone urbaine sensible. These forgotten pockets are located on the peripheries of the major metropolis of Paris, France. The ZUS are documented on the book’s cover by what appear to be mere confetti dots. These fringe districts were defined by administrative boundaries brought about by the “emergence of a social problem,” reports X Artists’ Books.

Fougeirol’s. “realistic approach allowed the viewer to explore these territories…through his photographs without a judgmental, hierarchical or authoritarian point of view.”   ADAGP Jury

With the help of security, Fougeirol photographed these marginalized areas sometimes in wide aerial shots showing what appear to be successful housing zones and in other shots close details depicting the decay and frailty of the projects’ failures. The honest and shocking photos are of walled in housing units that seem to be of buildings that were previously architecturally beautiful. Once beyond the walls, we see doors with faded paint that appear permanently jarred open. Tastefully designed staircases are fenced in with wired gates. In another disconcerting visual, the ZUS are laid out like war zone maps inside the book. The photos portray an innate sadness, a sense society is tearing a certain segment of people apart from the main group and setting them into a fringe society. Zus is a photojournalistic investigation into these areas that makes the viewer wince, if you care at all about people.

According to writer and professor Jean-Christophe Bailly, whose essay accompanies Fougeirol’s images: “We [were] not expecting so much immobility, or such ruins. Strangely, and as if by a flourish of tragic irony, this emptiness of space brings to mind the Ideal City in Urbino. There, too, the anonymous painter omitted all human figures. But where the imaginary scene from the Quattrocento was offered as the theatre of an existence yet to come, the images of the real city, the images of the ZUS, come across as decaying segments of a bygone existence: ‘people lived here.'”

Zus was nominated for the 2018 Les Prix du Livre at Arles. Zus recently won the Third Edition of the 2018 ADAGP Revelation Artists Book Award. This was part of MAD (Multiple Art Days), France’s national association of graphic and fine artists (Société des Auteurs dans les Arts graphiques et plastiques). June marked the month where 20 artists’ books were selected for consideration for the ADAGP Revelation Artists’ Book Award, which would also be exhibited during the fair. It was announced September 13 that Fougeirol had won the ADAGP Revelation Artists Book Award. 

The ADAGP jury stated Zus had, “renewed the approach to how the [Parisian] banlieues are represented.” The jury also stated Fougeirol’s. “realistic approach allowed the viewer to explore these territories…through his photographs without a judgmental, hierarchical or authoritarian point of view. The open configuration of the edition itself is free to be explored and leads to a sense of discovery of places so radically determined by their architecture they are almost impossible to access in real life. (Zus) is an edition to read, to leaf through, to unfold, to display, in short, to discover even while it captures the volatility of the ZUS.” 

The limited edition of Zus is in the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Centre Georges Pompidou and the Bibliothèque d’Art et d’Archéologie, Genève. The limited edition sold for $900 each, and as of the writing of this article is sold out. 

The paperback edition of Zus is 9 ½ × 12 inches and 375 pages. It can be purchased from X Artist’ Books for $60.

ON THE WEB:

https://www.xartistsbooks.com/books/zus

http://www.multipleartdays.fr


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Nelly: A Fascinating Portrait of A Sex Worker Turned Superstar


Special To Topanga Journal

Halfway through Anne Émond’s film Nelly, there’s a scene with a group of sex workers hanging around a hotel room suite. Wine glasses in hand, they huddle around the white glow of a laptop, and log onto some unnamed “escort review” website. They then begin to read each other’s reviews out loud. 

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

The site isn’t named or shown; it could be one of many, as sex work has been reviewed and critiqued on the internet since the internet was a place where words could go. These reviews are written by “johns,” ostensibly to warn other people if the worker isn’t on the level, but in reality just a bunch of horny dudes writing erotica for strangers online. In the scene, the workers rightfully mock the reviewers, but there is still a clear sense of being affected by the reviews. After all, someone is publicly judging every single part of their body.

While it’s only a glimpse, it’s a fascinating insight into what goes on behind-the-scenes in the profession, and the various power machinations that develop when sex is exchanged for money. An unprotected-by-law industry, sex workers are vulnerable in ways that so many other professions aren’t — dangerous clients can act with impunity when workers can’t safely contact law enforcement — but there’s also the society veil of silence over the work itself. “It’s illegal, and it’s immoral, so we shouldn’t be talking about it,” is the sentiment.

“While it’s only a glimpse, it’s a fascinating insight into what goes on behind-the-scenes in the profession, and the various power machinations that develop when sex is exchanged for money.” Rick Paulas

Yet these are the kinds of glimpses that makes Nelly, and the book it was inspired by, such important documents. Without them, the work continues to occur — as it always has, as it always will — under the cover of darkness. 

The movie tells the story of Nelly Arcan, born Isabelle Fortier, a sex worker based in Quebec who rose to international fame after the publication of her 2001 autobiographical novel Putain (Whore), a fictionalized story narrated by a sex worker named Cynthia. She would go on to write four more books, each one a semi-autobiographical examination of her life — really: what book isn’t? Each book tried to pry open how society treats women. In 2009, after years of depression, she died via suicide.

While Arcan wasn’t as popular a figure in the U.S. as elsewhere — which certainly says something about the insidious reach of Protestantism that still haunts this country — viewers don’t need to know her backstory to be intrigued by it. 

Unlike standard biopics, this one’s told in a sort of foggy, nonlinear way, with Émond seemingly sampling from a few different characters that make up the entirety of who “Nelly” was. In all, there are five versions on display: An adolescent Fortier being introduced to sexual connections for the first time; a drug-addicted frail woman in a codependent relationship; a confident and fully refined sex worker; a fretful author trying to manage the pressures of publications; a glowing media superstar. The last four are all played by Mylène Mackay, in a series of dynamic performances that see her shifting moods scene-by-scene. I’m unfamiliar with Mackay’s previous work, and it took me about half of the movie to realize she was playing four characters, both a testament to her ability and a criticism of my own attention span.

Despite all being part of the same individual, each is presented dramatically different. One may even be fictionalized. It’s unclear. Reality and performance and truth all seem to blur in this portrait, like one of those 3D posters where, if you cross your eyes just the right way, you’ll see a sharpened vision of a boat or some mountain jutting out toward you. But every moment before and after is just a hazy blur.

If the movie comes off as disjointed, that’s probably part of the point. Life is messy, and trying to tell anyone’s story in such a compressed lens as a film is an act of blinding hubris and logistical chaos. The narrative should be from the moment the person’s born until they die, but as soon as you remove a single moment, you’ve introduced an editorial lens that has to justify itself. Émond pulls off the feat by using the chaos to her advantage. Moments occur, personalities change, other personalities emerge. If it’s unclear which is the “true” version, that’s because there isn’t one.

Toward the end, Arcan admits that she “invented Nelly to protect Isabelle, but I think the opposite happened. I did things to write about them.” In today’s age of social media, where everyone with a smartphone and ego live in a way where they’re constantly thinking if an experience is worth publishing to the world, there are fewer sentiments more relatable.

ON THE WEB:

http://cinemalibrestudio.com/nelly/


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The Brooklyn Crime Scene by Alix Lambert

35. lecture - Walker in orange jumpsuit
Kriss Perras, Publisher & Editor Malibu Arts Journal

By Kriss Perras

Known partly for her works The Mark of Cain and The Silencing, both published by Viggo Mortensen’s Perceval Press, and her work on the social justice theme of non-fiction crime, Alix Lambert is now hard at work on a graphic novel on the Brooklyn crime scene, a book title of the same name. Through this effort she’s bringing back the art of the courtroom sketch artist. In this Q&A we find out what daily life is like within the criminal justice system.

“I think the courtroom is a fascinating portrait of our community.”

Q&A

TJ: These are scenes from criminal courtroom trials. Why did you decide to complete such a dark graphic novel?

LAMBERT: I’ve done a lot of work around the world of non-fiction crime. My background is in the fine arts, theater and interdisciplinary arts. I think the courtroom is a fascinating portrait of our community. They’re open to our community. They don’t allow cameras, and so we have a situation where you have politics and theater and law and writing and everything that interests me is all in this one room. You can come and sit and listen to what’s going on that you’re probably not paying attention to. I’m actually surprised that more people don’t do it, because it is this resource and this transparency that we have that I think is important that we’re seeing corroded. When you just kind of wander in there everyday, it’s not about one specific case. It’s more about a pastiche portrait of crime in the Supreme Court criminal system. I think in that way you’re sitting in on cases that aren’t getting any attention. It’s not like it’s the Michael Jackson case or something. This is the guy who lives two blocks away from you who stabbed somebody during a pool game that you never read about, but the details of that are very illuminating. I’m somebody who likes to listen to people’s stories.

TJ: What happens when you go in a courtroom to do this? Take us through a typical day of sketching.

LAMBERT: The Brooklyn Criminal Supreme Court is on Jay Street in Brooklyn. It’s within walking distance of where I live. You can go in and go up to the clerk and say what cases are available and open? Then they have a calendar, a list. You can actually go online and see what court cases are available, see the docket. Then you need the judge’s permission. I’ve never had a judge turn me down. They just want to know why you’re in their courtroom. Then you draw. I think they start at 8 or 9 in the morning. They take a lunch break like everybody else. I often talk to the judge. The other people who are there are the family members of the defendant or the prosecuting side, so they’re all talking freely.

TJ: While you’re there, do they get emotional?

LAMBERT: Yeah, they have opinions. Jury selection is fascination to me. You’re paying attention to a lot of different personalities. You see how complicated it is. Also what kinds of things are influencing. The abilities of a lawyer. It’s everything. The person who tells the best story wins that case. It has very little to do with the facts, necessarily. It’s often like this lawyer is really falling down. The most recent one I was sitting in, the judge was clearly annoyed by the prosecuting lawyer and kept criticizing. The judge was asking him if he was going to submit a video tape into consideration as evidence. The lawyer kept talking about “my client wants me to.” The judge was saying “well you’re a lawyer, you’re supposed to be representing the best interests of your client and not just doing exactly what they’re telling you to do, because he may not know whether it is good to submit the video or not.” The lawyer kept doubling down. By the end of this back and forth, they had sent the jury out of the room. The judge was now annoyed with the prosecuting team. I wasn’t there for the ruling on the case but just that irritability, you could see it was going to influence the jury, it was going to influence the judge, it was going to influence everybody. I don’t know what happened in the case, but the lawyer himself was annoying the judge. Also all the surrounding details that you’re not going to find in books or movies. While you’re on the elevator, the button to close the doors is disabled on all of those elevators, because defendants or criminals trying to run out of there and get out of the building and shut the door while people are chasing them. All of the garbage cans are bolted to the floor. All of this stuff that you don’t even see is in the service of impending chaos at any moment in this building. That’s interesting to me. You’re on the elevator and everybody else on the elevator is a judge or a lawyer or a defendant. They’re all talking. They’re talking pretty freely because for some reason I think in elevators and cars you think you’re in some kind of privacy, but you’re not. All of that is very interesting to me, all of the aspects of the social, what it says about our criminal justice system which is in my mind a reflection of our society at large.

TJ: Does the criminal ever watch you when you’re sketching that person?

LAMBERT: Usually the people who asks me about the sketches are the legal teams. What’s are you doing? We’d like to see it. They’re very sweet. They’re interested in the drawings. They want to see what they look like. I think the defendant is usually in more of a controlled situation. They’re not free to go around and talk to you the way a judge or lawyer or officer of the court has come up and said, “Can I see what you’re drawing?”

TJ: Do they ever threaten you?

LAMBERT: No, no, no. It is a dying art, but there are still courtroom artists who do it for a living depending on the state and whether they admit cameras or not. It’s not a secret subterfuge or something. I tell them exactly what I’m doing. I say I‘m working on a graphic novel. I’m not being dishonest about what I’m doing in there. They seem very excited about it. Actually the last judge I talked to has a collection of courtroom drawings. He said next time you come I’ll show you the drawings. They’re from a famous artist. I have one drawing from Honore Daumier who is a great French courtroom sketch artist. That tradition is interesting to me. Also the standpoint of drawing from a utilitarian artistic expression, that it’s actually still used in this way, that it has a utility, that it’s not decorative.

TJ: Is it a dying off art or is it…?

LAMBERT: It’s dying off because as you’ve seen from recent famous criminal cases, it’s up to the judge. Are we going to admit cameras into the courtroom? The minute cameras are in there, you don’t really need the sketch artist. It’s dying off in that way. It’s rare. It’s certainly rare that anyone would make a living off of it anymore. People still do it. You still see them in the papers.

TJ: How do you choose which crimes to sketch?

LAMBERT: I really don’t. I really go to the courthouse, and I sit in on whatever case is open. That’s important to me that I’m not actually selecting. I want to see what is happening. You’re in one day a domestic violence case another day you know. That way you really see what is showing up as opposed to intentionally trying to preselect a case that may or may not be the most reflective of everything around you.

TJ: How is the book going to be published?

LAMBERT: There will be a limited edition that’s all lithographic prints. That will be a shorter but a finer production of maybe 24 pages. That will be put out by World House Editions this October. There will be an unlimited edition which will have much more information in it. It will be a regular book. That will be put out by Hat and Beard Press a few months later.

ON THE WEB:

World House Editions: https://www.worldhouseeditions.com/node/603/1

Hat And Beard Press: http://www.hatandbeard.com

Alix Lambert: @lixilamb

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