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PERFORMANCE REVIEW/PREVIEW

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A federal judge determined a law banning hundreds of books, from "The Color Purple" to "1984," from classrooms and libraries did not pass constitutional muster.

Judge dumps ‘wildly overbroad’ Iowa LGBTQ book ban

By ANDY MONSERUD, Contributing Writer

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN)—A federal judge in Des Moines halted enforcement of a ban on books referencing LGBTQ people or depicting sex acts in public schools Dec. 29, but left intact a provision that requires school districts to inform parents if their child requests gender-identity accommodations like a change in pronouns.

 

“The law is incredibly broad and has resulted in the removal of hundreds of books from school libraries, including, among others, nonfiction history books, classic works of fiction, Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary novels, books that regularly appear on Advanced Placement exams, and even books designed to help students avoid being victimized by sexual assault,” US District Judge Stephen Locher wrote in his order. “The court has been unable to locate a single case upholding the constitutionality of a school library restriction even remotely similar.”

 

He also noted that “on its face, the law forbids any programs, promotion, or instruction recognizing that anyone is male or female or in a relationship of any sort (gay or straight). The statute is therefore content-neutral but so wildly overbroad that every school district and elementary school teacher in the state has likely been violating it since the day the school year started.”

The legislation, Senate File 496, was signed into law by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds this past May. Among other things, it requires public school districts to ban books and materials containing descriptions or depictions of “sex acts” from all Iowa school libraries except for certain religious texts, such as the Bible, and forbids mention of sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through the sixth grade, in or outside of the classroom.

It also requires teachers, counselors, and other school staff to report to parents if a student asks to be referred to by names or pronouns that differ from those they are registered under.

 

The plaintiffs in the Lambda Legal/ACLU-Iowa lawsuit filed in federal court Nov. 28 include eight public school students ages nine to 17 who identify as LGBTQ+ and their parents. They claim Iowa’s new law violates the students’ rights of free speech and expression under the First Amendment and equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

Separately, Penguin Random House, a parent, teachers and school librarians sued Iowa state education officials in federal court in Des Moines on Nov. 30, claiming the statute violates the plaintiffs’ First and 14th Amendment rights. The complaint names as defendants state education officials and two Iowa school districts.

Penguin was joined in its complaint by authors Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Malinda Lo and Jodi Picoult, whose books have been targeted for removal or removed from Iowa school libraries and classroom collections as a result of Senate File 496.

Penguin Random House, which calls itself the world’s largest trade publisher with more than 300 independent publishing imprints globally, claims books it published have been targeted for removal by Iowa school districts. Among them: “Beloved” by Toni Morrison; “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo; “Ulysses” by James Joyce; “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner; “Push: A Novel” by Sapphire; and “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.

Locher found that while all plaintiffs had standing to challenge the book restrictions, none could challenge the disclosure requirement, which the Legislature titled “Parental rights in education.”

“All GLBT youth student plaintiffs report that they are already 'out' to their parents, families, and/or schools, and thus none of them are directly affected by this feature of the law,” Locher, a Joe Biden appointee, wrote.

 

“Instead, at most, they simply allege that the parental notification requirement contributes to the overall perception that the law targets the LGBTQ+ student community. This is not the type of concrete injury that confers standing.”

Standing was also an issue for the plaintiffs’ challenge of a rule restricting “programs, promotion, and instruction” relating to gender identity or sexual orientation for grades six and under. Only one of the students, a fourth grader, could be deprived of any such programs by the law, Locher wrote. Even so, he noted, the law requires the fourth grader to engage in self-censorship and deprives her of opportunities to discuss her transgender identity without the fear of discipline, and her challenge was therefore likely to succeed.

With standing covered, Locher moved on to address the law’s constitutional bona fides. He found that the law was likely to fall afoul of two 1982 cases: Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico and Pratt v. Independent School District No. 831, from the US Supreme Court and 8th Circuit, respectively. In Pico, Locher wrote, a fractured Supreme Court was largely able to agree that school boards’ decisions to remove books can, in some cases, violate the Constitution but have authority to remove “vulgar” books.

Pratt, Locher continued, provided additional guidance. “Pratt held that ‘to avoid a finding that it acted unconstitutionally, the board must establish that a substantial and reasonable government interest exists for interfering with the students’ right to receive information,’” Locher quoted. “’At the very least, the First Amendment precludes local authorities from imposing a “pall of orthodoxy” on classroom instruction which implicates the state in the propagation of a particular religious or ideological viewpoint.’”

Senate File 496, Locher wrote, threatened just such a “pall of orthodoxy.” “The problem here… is that Senate File 496 makes no attempt to target [vulgar] books in any reasonable way,” he wrote. “instead, it requires the wholesale removal of every book containing a description or visual depiction of a ‘sex act,’ regardless of context. The underlying message is that there is no redeeming value to any such book even if it is a work of history, self-help guide, award-winning novel, or other piece of serious literature.”

Senior attorney Nathan Maxwell of LGBT rights organization Lambda Legal celebrated the decision. “We are glad our clients, Iowa families, and students will be able to continue the school year free from the harms caused by these parts of this unconstitutional law,” Maxwell said in a statement. “This decision sends a strong message to the state that efforts to ban books based on LGBTQ+ content, or target speech that sends a message of inclusion to Iowa LGBTQ+ students cannot stand.”

“Instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation has no place in kindergarten through sixth grade class-rooms,” Reynolds said in a statement. “There should be no question that books containing sexually explicit content — as clearly defined in Iowa law — do not belong in a school library for children. The fact that we’re even arguing these issues is ridiculous. The real debate should be about why society is so intent on over-sexualizing our young children. It’s wrong, and I will continue to do my part to protect their innocence.”

ACLU of Iowa executive director Mark Stringer called Reynolds’ statement inaccurate. “This lawsuit has nothing to do with access to obscene or pornographic material,” Stringer wrote on Facebook. “To the contrary, it is about protecting students to have a safe and affirming school environment and accurate learning materials. Moreover, Iowa law already bans obscene material from youth.”

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`"Avatar: The Way of Water'" has taken in more than $421 million in theaters in the US and Canada. 

'Avatar: The Way of Water' still leads box office with $63.4M
 

LOS ANGELES (CNS)—"Avatar: The Way of Water'" has taken the box office crown for a third consecutive week, grossing another $63.4 million over the New Year's weekend, according to industry estimates.


Director James Cameron's follow-up to his 2009 special effects blockbuster has taken in more than $421 million in theaters in the United States and Canada. It was far ahead of "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish," a
"Shrek" spinoff that took second place for the second consecutive weekend with $16.3 million Friday through Sunday, Comscore reported.


"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" was third with $4.8 million in its eighth week of release.


The Whitney Houston biopic "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" was fourth with $4.2 million in its second week, followed by "Babylon"— also in its second week—with $2.7 million.


Rounding out the top 10 domestic releases, as estimated by Comscore, were "Violent Night" ($2.1 million), "The Whale" ($1.3 million), "The Fabelmans" ($1.1 million), "The Menu" ($1 million) and "Strange World."
($538,000).

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Vincent Washington and Mary Pumper in the theatrical production, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Amelia Mulkey photo

'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner'

By VICTORIA GRIMMETT RABB, Contributing Writer

 

HOLLYWOODThe premier of the play, "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner," opened Friday, June 3 at the Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica.

 

It is always a gamble to carry the weight of relevance when recreating a 50-year-old movie about race relations in today’s volatile climate, especially when the topic is about a racially-mixed marriage, and it must be done in the typical language of theatre; Short-hand. But it worked.


Featured performers were Brad Greenquist and Lee Garlington as parents Matt and Christina Drayton, Mary
Pumper as Joanna Drayton, their daughter; and Vincent Washington as Dr. John Prentiss. The standout in this top-tier of the cast was Vickilyn Reynolds as Matilda "Tilly" Banks, the housekeeper, present in nearly every scene, who, while not in charge of anything outside of her domestic domain, made her opinion on everything known with great fervor.


Supporting roles included Dan Martin as John Prentiss Sr., who saw their structured world crumbling with no possible good to be derived from it; Renn Woods as Mary Prentiss, who could only see an opportunity for their son to be happy again; colorful Hilary St. George, skillfully played by Mouchette van Gelsdingen with a British accent and a "Karen-like" dose of bigoted White privilege; and Monsignor Ryan, played by Paul Denk, whose interjections were dampened slightly by too many trips to the mini bar.


The Academy Award-winning movie, directed by Stanley Kramer, focused on the lead actors’ roles. The film version was helmed by legendary actors Spencer Tracy and Kathryn Hepburn, as wealthy parents of their liberal White daughter, who had brought home a Black fiancé, whom she’d met and fallen in love with while away at school. The story revolves around how the Tracy-Hepburn characters process the news over approximately 10 hours of ever-increasing confusion.


The play, adapted by Todd Kreidler and directed by Letha Gaither Owens, however, lends more character-developed insight and motivation to all of the players’ mindsets. We learn about loss of a child, a sibling, a wife and son, through death. We learn about how anticipation induces fear in both parents of the two engaged young adults, who also clearly anticipate that they will be better off by leaving America as soon as possible, preferring parts of Europe’s and Africa’s open tolerance of their love.


Owens added it was important that she help each actor become fully engaged with their character. She succeeded amiably.

"Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner" opens at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays through July 17 at the Ruskin Group Theatre. Call for reservations: (310) 397-3244. Seating is limited. Free parking available on site.

Victoria Grimmett Rabb is a fine arts reviewer living in Los Angeles.

LeVar Burton host of Grammy pre-show

LOS ANGELES (CNS)LeVar Burton will host the 64th Grammy Awards
Premiere Ceremony at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, it was announced March 25.


Burton, a Grammy Award winner, is nominated this year in the Best Spoken Word Album category for "Aftermath."


"I'm excited to host this celebration of the best performers across genres and art forms," Burton said in a statement. "I am incredibly honored in particular to be represented in the Best Spoken Word category this historic year, with a cohort of five other outstandingly talented Black men, along with the words of the late great Congressman John Lewis."


Jimmie Allen, Ledisi, Mon Laferte, Allison Russell and Curtis Stewart are also expected to perform at the Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony at the Con- ference Marquee Ballroom at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. The bulk of the Grammy Awards are presented during the event, with the top categories reserved for the main telecast that follows.


The Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony will stream live from Las Vegas
beginning at 12:30 p.m. April 3 on YouTube and live.grammy.com.

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LeVar Burton is best-known for his break-out role as Kunta Kinte in the 1970s TV series, Roots.

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The tandem Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak, along with an eclectic band have formulated dynamic synergy on stage.

A 'Perfect' Evening With Silk Sonic

By JASLYN FELLOWS, Music Editor

LAS VEGAS — What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That’s the oft-used phrase and how the iconic group Silk Sonic chose to kick-off the first show of their Las Vegas residency on Feb. 25, which runs through May 29, 2022, and is surely going to be one of Las Vegas’ most talked about residencies.

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Jaslyn Fellows'

SIGNATURE

No posting, recording or tagging inside Dolby Live’s psychedelic venue that was bathed in red and pink light and accented with the all too familiar disco ball. This reporter had to do her best to take every detail and moment of the show because there was no other way to docu- ment or take note of this spectacle. That’s right, no phones or cameras. Word of mouth will be the only way to share the electrifying performance that is Silk Sonic because as they sang, “we locked your phones up.” 

 

Never before has this reporter wanted to document something for a record, than this stellar

performance. No videos, no posts, no way of proving that an entire arena of thousands of people of all colors, creeds, ages and backgrounds got together to sing, dance and enjoy themselves. You had to be there because once again what happened in Vegas had to stay in Vegas.

 

Now, both musicians Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak, along with their incredible band are no strangers to thousands of fans wanting to record every detail. However, this time around phones and cameras were put away in Yondr pouches, enhancing the live concert experience.

As stated before in interviews promoting the album, the result of not being able to perform during the pan- demic meant the duo wanted to “put an album together that sounds like a show and feels like a show.” [Bruno Mars, Apple Music]. They wanted to create a “Setlist of Doom,” where no other artist would want to perform before or after them. Furthermore, after listening to the album, “An Evening With Silk Sonic,” and being able

to witness the show, there was no question that they had achieved what they set out to do.

The show began before the curtains even opened, with its audience singing and dancing along to the music being played. A round of applause was given to a group of five friends singing along to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” A louder and fervent applause erupted as the velvet curtains opened and a video recording of the
host, 70’s funk master Bootsy Collins introduced the group.


Before the first song, the show already was a spectacle for the eyes. An amalgamation of red and pink light was infused with green and blue lasers. Mars opened on the congas introducing the first song “777,” a tribute to the Las Vegas gambling culture and the feeling of being on top of the world when you hit the jackpot. The jackpot was surely tapped this night when the Setlist of Doom materialized. Silk Sonic performed all of their songs from the album, including, “Silk Sonic Intro,” “777,“ Skate,” “Love’s Train” (cover), “Fly As Me,” “Smoking Out The Window,” “Put On A Smile,” “After Last Night” (with Thundercat and Bootsy Collins), “Blast Off,” and “Leave the Door Open.”


The vocal talents of both Paak and Mars were astounding — both artists hitting some impressive high notes and flexing vocal muscles with improvised additions to songs from the album. The setlist included remixed songs from the combined discography of both stars. Mars’ “Treasure,” “When I Was Your Man,” and “Runaway Baby” was smoothly integrated with Paak’s “ Come Down” and “Make It Better.” Masterful camera work and life effects highlighted the 70’s style outfits, dance moves, and overall instrumentation of the band.

 

Both Mars and Paak showcased their skills on the drums, while Mars also played the electric guitar and congas throughout the show. The selection of R&B, soul, funk, pop, psychedelic rock and psychedelic funk was wrapped up nicely with an ornament of brass instruments. Members of the band also had their own time to shine with a jazzy trumpet solo and an electric guitar solo of Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination.” 

 

You could hear and see the inspiration from acts like The Trammps, Earth, Wind & Fire, Ohio Players, the Funk Brothers, and Prince. The very same groups and musical players that the duo consistently gives credit to. The inspiration didn’t just stop at the music. The entire band was adorned with iconic 70’s style leisure suits and long-collared shirts in red, burgundy and black, finished white disco loafers—the perfect attire to perform many dance breaks and rehearsed numbers.


One final component that brought the entire show together was the chemistry between Paak and Mars along with the comfortability and charisma they share on stage. They made sure the audience felt included in the performance, of course, constantly appealing to the ladies. No one remained seated the entire two hours. The entire crowd was singing and dancing along to the music the entire night and left concert-goers satisfied. 

 

The performance was completely worth it. I had a wonderful evening, even getting my seats upgraded to the very first section behind the floor seats. Like many other Silk Sonic fans that night, I wish I could go back and live it all again. Since I can’t, I look forward to what these gentlemen produce in the future. This was the Perfect Evening With Silk Sonic.

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