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SOME BLACKS CRITICAL OF SPIELBERG’S ‘PURPLE’

Times Staff Writer

Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple” put more black actors on the film-industry payroll than perhaps any other movie since Martin Ritt’s “Sounder.” But unlike Ritt’s movie, which was also about poor blacks in the rural South in the early part of the century, “The Color Purple” is opening to harsh criticism from members of the black community.

“There is absolutely no balance in the movie,” says Kwazi Geiggar of the Coalition Against Black Exploitation, a 20-member group of black professionals and lay persons that monitors black-theme films and TV shows. “It portrays blacks in an extremely negative light. It degrades the black man, it degrades black children, it degrades the black family.”

Geiggar, one of several coalition members who protested a special “Color Purple” screening Tuesday for the Black Women’s Forum, accused Spielberg of attempting to win awards at the expense of blacks.

“There is not one single black person with positive features in the movie,” Geiggar said. “There is only one scene in which a black man kisses a black woman . . . Men without exception are absolute savages and suffer no consequences for their actions.”

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Willis Edwards, president of the Hollywood/Beverly Hills branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said he found “Color Purple” “very powerful” and also “very stereotypical.”

“We’re happy that a lot of actors who happen to be black got to work and they did a fantastic job,” Edwards said. “They should all be nominated for awards. But for the black male, the movie is very degrading.”

Attempts to reach Spielberg for a reaction were referred to Warner Bros. publicity.

“All I can say is that Alice Walker (author of the book upon which the film is based) loved it, and that every major black leader I have talked to loved it,” said Rob Friedman, vice president of worldwide publicity at Warner Bros. “I don’t believe the people protesting the movie have seen it.”

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Geiggar and Edwards both said they have seen the movie, but Geiggar acknowledged that only two other members of the coalition had seen it when they protested outside the motion picture academy theater Tuesday.

State Assemblywoman Maxine Waters, who helped coordinate the screening for the Black Women’s Forum, said she doesn’t want to discourage the protesters from being diligent about potential exploitation of blacks, but she thinks they’re wrong about this film.

“It was one of the most beautiful and most powerful films I have ever seen,” Waters said. “I was overwhelmed with the central theme of how one gains strength and comes into being. I don’t find ‘Color Purple’ degrading or dehumanizing. That movie could have been about any color.”

Geiggar said he was upset with the studio and Spielberg for refusing to consult with black sociologists before going into production on the movie earlier this year.

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“Since March we have been contacting them,” Geiggar said. “They sent us a letter telling us to trust them. But based on the history of the media, we’d have to be insane to trust them. And with this film they’ve produced trash. It’s the ‘Gone With the Wind’ of 1985.”

Legrand Clegg, chairman of the Coalition Against Black Exploitation, said the temporary employment boom for black actors doesn’t neutralize the potential damage the film will cause.

“The black family is the foundation of the black race, and the fact that certain people would be out of work is little loss compared to the devastation this may visit on black youth . . . . That someone receives an award is little comfort.”

YOU FIRST. NO, YOU FIRST: It was speculated in a recent Film Clips column that Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran” had been snubbed by Japan’s Oscar-selection committee because Kurosawa had refused to appear with “Ran” at the inaugural Tokyo International Film Festival.

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Not true, says Tac Watanabe, Kurosawa’s representative in the United States.

Watanabe says Kurosawa didn’t show up for the festival because of the recent deaths of his wife and of two close friends, and because he was physically exhausted.

So, how did the epic “Ran,” which has won the best foreign film awards from the Los Angeles and New York film critics groups, get overlooked for “Hana Ichimonme,” a movie dealing with Alzheimer’s disease?

Watanabe says it was a simple misunderstanding. “Ran’s” French producer Serge Silberman assumed the Japanese committee would enter the film from Japan, Watanabe said. The Japanese assumed that Silberman would try to get it entered from France.

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When he learned that both France and Japan had selected other movies, Silberman tried to get the motion picture Academy to accept “Ran” as a French-Japanese co-production. The academy said one film per country.

Watanabe said that Kurosawa’s long-running feud with the Japanese film industry is over, and that he apologized to the festival organizers for not being able to attend. In fact, said Watanabe, Kurosawa volunteered to participate in the next one.

“Akira is not interested in awards,” Watanabe said. “He just wants the public to enjoy his work.”

“Ran” opens Christmas Day at Laemmle’s Royal in West Los Angeles and at the Balboa Cinema in Newport Beach.

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DEADLINE A&M;: Dale Pollock, a former Times film reporter, is leaving his post as a production executive at the Geffen Co. to head up development for A&M; Films, a subsidiary of A&M; Records.

A&M; Films has produced four movies since forming nearly two years ago, including the critical hit “Birdie” and the box-office hit “The Breakfast Club.”

Pollock signed a two-year contract with A&M; where he reports Jan. 20 as vice president of production.

PLAY OR PAY: State Labor Commissioner Lloyd W. Aubry Jr. issued an open letter to the entertainment industry Thursday announcing an investigation into complaints of labor law violations. He also warned production companies of the state’s intention to fine and prosecute violators.

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Most of the offenses, Aubry said, involve the use of non-union extras on location productions. The common offenses are failure to pay minimum wage or workmen’s compensation insurance, paying in cash without proper deductions, and not providing proper meal and rest breaks.

“We know these types of violations have been going on for decades,” Aubry said, in a telephone interview. “Lately, the complaints have been increasing and we decided to engage in a concentrated enforcement program.”

One production company has already been cited and fined $1,600 for violations, and citations on two other cases may be issued soon, according to a spokesman in the Los Angeles regional industrial relations office.

“The problem is that a lot of people want to be in movies,” Aubry said. “They don’t care whether they get paid or not.”

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So why should the rest of us care?

“We find that when employers violate one law, they seem to violate more than one,” Aubry said. “It’s part of this whole notion of an underground economy and cash pay . . . We have a duty to enforce the law.”

MIDNIGHT MADNESS: Walt Disney’s Touchstone Films division will host New Year’s Eve “sneak preview parties” for “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” the first of two Bette Midler movies commissioned by the studio’s new administration.

“Down and Out,” the first R-rated movie associated with Disney, stars Midler and Richard Dreyfuss as a Beverly Hills couple whose lives are suddenly disrupted when they save a bum (Nick Nolte) from drowning himself in their swimming pool.

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The film is not scheduled to open commercially until Jan. 31, but studio heads are said to be confident enough about the movie to give word-of-mouth a month’s jump.

“We’re obviously very happy with it, or we wouldn’t do a screening this early,” said Disney distribution head Dick Cook. “The film has a festive, holiday party mood to it. New Year’s Eve seems perfect.”

“Down and Out” will be sneaked in 36 cities, including Los Angeles, Cook said, with pre-screening parties hosted by radio personalities in each city.

Rachel Donohue, of KIIS-AM and FM, will host the Los Angeles party at a theater yet to be announced.

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Times intern Steven Smith contributed to this column.


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