Feedback: Factchecking Desi and Lucy, plus the J.K. Rowling debate
Lucy, Desi and Communism
Thank you for Yvonne Villarreal’s [“How Accurate is ‘Being the Ricardos’?” Dec. 23] and reminding us of the stain on American history that was HUAC and the McCarthy era “red scare,” which seems to still fuel hysteria today.
There are important historical inaccuracies in the film, besides those mentioned in the article. The communist revolution in Cuba did not end until Jan 1, 1959. Lucille Ball was called into HUAC in 1953, six years earlier.
Having Desi Arnaz say, “I was kicked out of Cuba because of communism” is curious, as Cuba in the ‘50s was under the U.S.-backed, right-wing Batista government, not communism.
One irony is that infant and maternal mortality in Cuba today, because of 60-plus years of their government, is lower than in the U.S. Lucy would have supported such attention to pregnant women and their babies. That is one reason we loved Lucy.
Editor’s note: Although the Arnaz family lost its land and was forced to flee Cuba after the 1933 revolution that brought Fulgencio Batista into power, Desi Arnaz did say the line quoted in the movie to the “I Love Lucy” studio audience.
Yvonne Villarreal’s excellent reporting of the three major areas of the story where dramatic liberties were taken omits what is probably the single most obvious twisting from reality: The use of modern English words in a period piece set in the ‘50s with still-earlier flashbacks.
To hear the actors use the terms “showrunner” (said by the Jess Oppenheimer character) and “gaslighting” (said by the Lucy character) completely breaks the period authenticity that had been established in the film. Both terms are modern-day words and snapped me out of what had previously been a very consistent depiction of of the times.
Give this critic a promotion
Regarding “America, Teetering on the Brink” [Dec. 26]: We’ve indeed come to a new level of consciousness when the L.A. Times television critic Lorraine Ali writes the most prescient and compelling editorial of 2021.
Perhaps it took someone focused on visual/aural media to fully understand and convey the threats to democracy that seem so shallowly understood by so much of print media and its leaders. That, coupled with (as Ali points out) the deep-rooted principles of civility, integrity and distance that drive print media, make the Fourth Estate an ineffective champion of facts in the face of lies, misinformation, hatred and fear-mongering.
As a lifelong reader who considers the printed word — with its ability, unlike visual media, to analyze, interpret and integrate disparate and complex concepts and events — the last bastion of truth, I found Ali’s take on the state of our union the most incisive, the most discouraging and the most accurate piece outside of the editorial pages.
Perhaps a promotion is in order.
A well-crafted appreciation
This was an example, in my view, of how Miranda shares her insights with us in a thoughtful and interesting way. I have read several pieces on Didion and hers is one of my favorites for capturing the contributions of Didion, and pointing out what was important and interesting (while acknowledging the context and later contributions of other writers/artists).
Should we also cancel Shakespeare?
Regarding [“‘West Side Story’ is Out of Step” [Jan. 4]: Ashley Lee faults the new version of “West Side Story” for being an example of reductive, inauthentic cultural appropriation and stereotyping, writing that such things “should be called out.”
But conspicuously absent is any calling out of its Shakespearean prototype’s all-English depiction of Veronese culture. For Lee, it would seem that only Italian actors speaking Italian would suffice for “Romeo and Juliet.”
In addition to the racial commentary in this article, I must bring up a relevant question. The film has not been a commercial success, to put it kindly.
And there is what seems to be an obvious reason. For whom was this film made? Who is the audience? As a senior, almost 80 years old, I do not want to sit in a theater in this time of COVID. Younger people who are attending the movie theaters are the reason for what are the current money-making films. They are not interested in movie musicals, as one can see by which films are popular. And if I were to go to an actual venue to watch a movie, do I want to sit through any untitled dialogue in a foreign language?
The main purpose of a movie is to entertain. Any social significance the film can carry with it is of value, but that is not the purpose of a movie. The powers that be behind this current “West Side Story” seem to have forgotten why people go to the movies and who is the target audience.
Ashley Lee wants to cancel “West Side Story.” Why not also cancel “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and, when you start to think about it, most plays? We should probably cancel a bunch of movies, paintings and sculptures too.
How far back should we go? Aeschylus wrote some misogynous stuff; fortunately for Lee, most are lost. Let’s not forget Gilgamesh’s well-known sexual harassment of women.
We really can’t trust ourselves to discern reality from artistic expression so, when we’re done canceling all that, let’s move on to history. Lots to cancel there.
J.K. Rowling and the trans community
Regarding “Magic in the ‘Potter’ Reunion” by Christi Carras [Jan. 22]: The outcry over Rowling’s tweets is well known, but what is almost never covered in the media is that she is not at all universally believed to be transphobic by members of the trans community.
Those of us in the trans community who agree with her defense of biological sex find ourselves in a place of being silenced, bullied and worse. Sadly, this was made evident by Dave Chappelle, who highlighted the story of his friend, a trans woman who took her life after being cyberbullied from her own community. I for one was grateful he highlighted this tragedy. But my voice was never heard. Rather, he was treated to the same kind of hate as Rowling.
The media only seems to print the outcry, rather than support that Rowling and Chappelle have received from those of us in this community, who have large platforms and who don’t go along with the consensus view. And this is because we are often silenced.
The chilling effect has touched all conversation within our community. Rowling’s views are worth debating with an unbiased slant. She believes that biological sex is real and that biological women have unique experiences.
I do not believe her opinions cause direct physical harm to trans people. In fact, I believe the opposite. I believe that there will be a far greater backlash against trans people when we snuff out debate, treating people with such disrespect that they do in fact become transphobic.
The view from the train
Regarding “100 Years on, Watts Towers’ Spirit Still Soars” [Dec. 27]: While I always appreciate L.A. Times articles that shed light on the Towers, I was dismayed to see that Christopher Reynolds’ article (Dec. 24) failed to address the looming assault, once again, foisted upon the community and the artist’s original intention for his creation. As described in the quote, “The train traffic might have annoyed Rodia’s wife, but it gave him a daily audience while building the wonder we know now as Watts Towers.”
A significant portion of Simon Rodia’s audience, train riders such as himself, would be afforded an open vista to the Towers as a beacon of hope lifting spirits while on the way to or from their labors.
The Thomas Safran & Associates apartment developments will essentially form a five-story wall that encases the train tracks. It will block almost all train-level viewing for the entire currently open view but for a small opening between the buildings that will be heavily landscaped. It also absorbs the Historic Watts Train Station. And renders useless the long promised community-sponsored Cultural Crescent Plan specifically intended to connect two historic assets — the train station and the Towers.
This is the story that needs to be written through independent, objective investigative journalism. How did public lands intended for public good end up sold for private development. Why weren’t all stakeholders equally informed and involved in all processes? The press release from the Friends of the Watts Towers Art Center asks these questions and many more, and seems to have garnered little notice. You can do better.
Though I was pleased to see the Watts Towers receive the recognition it deserves as a cultural and artistic icon of Los Angeles, I was dismayed to see no mention of the ongoing struggle to save the Watts Cultural Crescent Park. Over the past 30-plus years, community members, including civil rights leader Lillian Mobley, have fought to have this park (now recognized as a Historic American Landscape) funded and developed according to the community vision. There are two master plans, the last one completed in 2014 with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the design process was led by two award-winning Black-owned architectural firms: Walter Hood & Associates (author of “Black Landscapes Matter”) and Mass Architecture.
The community vision is of a cultural park in the historic heart of Watts that connects the Historic Watts Train Station to the Watts Towers and Watts Towers Art Center. The community vision has never been funded and realized, however the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA closed in 2012) spent over $4 million on landscaping, paths and a cement amphitheater.
Most of the nearly 10 acres of city-owned land was transferred to the county and sold without notice to the community to a developer for a multi-story affordable housing that will destroy the visual connection between train station and tower that Rodia had intended. Most of the units would not be affordable to the majority of Watts residents.
The park is essential to the Watts Towers, the Watts Towers Art Center, and the health and well-being of the community. I have visited this park a number of times and enjoyed the hundreds of trees, the birdsong and the butterflies that go between the Markham Middle School garden and the park in this mini biodiversity haven. This landscape is the fabric that ties the cultural centers of Watts together, including the recently recognized Historic Landmark Mafundi Building and the original Main Street of Watts, 103rd Street.
I urge you to cover the story of this park. The city and county of Los Angeles put forth a vision of park equity and climate resilience, yet thoughtlessly sold this rare green space of cultural relevance away from the Watts community. Even as a former Westsider and a current resident of Santa Barbara, the Watts Cultural Crescent Park is of great importance to me as a potential celebration of over a century of culture that Watts has fostered.
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