Monday, March 27, 2017

HOLLYWOOD, HALAL FOOD AND OSCARS (AND TRUMP’S AMERICA) AND THE REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS THAT HELPED TO CREATE THEM.

By Mansor Puteh


Hollywood is getting ready to lay the red carpet for the 89th Academy Awards which will be held in its permanent venue, the Dolby Theatre, formerly the Kodak Theater, in barely two days’ time, 26 February.


As of this time, nothing unusual is happening outside of the Theatre; but inside, the stage is being completed. And tomorrow the tent will be erected outside of it, to shield those attending it from rain; and later the red carpet laid from the road all the way up the stairs to the hall.

And scores of new Oscar statuettes have been minted to be given away and taken with pride by those who win for the categories they were nominated in.

Even though officially the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Science (AMPAS) that organizes the shows consider each of them to be worth no more than US$5 (Yes, five American dollars or around RM 22 only!), and this is what the winners are paid should they decide to sell them back to the Academy. 

I have just arrived in Los Angeles few hours earlier from Kuala Lumpur, via an overnight stay in GuangzhouChina, after an absence of barely three months.

And after resting a while, I took two buses from Inglewood in Los Angeles, to get here and got off at the junction of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine (Avenue), from where I could see the famous Capitol Records building and looking at the old and new generation of ‘stars’ of Hollywood and the entertainment industry at my feet with the Dolby Theatre at the far end.  

It is a sight I have been familiar with, having been here few times earlier, standing on the sidewalks along Hollywood Boulevard and walking on the names of the stars in the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ and trying to avoid stepping on some names I am familiar with; and looking at the many people milling about in Hollywood, especially outside of the Dolby Theatre and Mann’s Chinese Theatre, but they are mostly tourists from Europe, with a few from Asia.

However, there are many did not bother to not step on those names. And it seems that only one such ‘star’ is not laid on the sidewalk like the others; the ‘star’ belongs to legendary world heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali.

He had declined to accept the ‘star’ if it was placed on the ground and insisted that it be placed on the wall of the Dolby Theatre, because he did not like it that his name who bore the name of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was not trampled upon by all and sundry.

I had not bumped into Malaysian tourists the few times I am here.

But that did not stop me from being greeted with ‘Terima kasih’ (Thank you) – from a man from Myanmar who operates a store selling souvenirs including plastic replica Oscar statuettes. He had lived in Malaysia a while.

I was trying to find the other store selling similar things where I had gone two years ago, so I could see and speak again with the store clerk, who is from Bangladesh. But I ended up at a restaurant which to my surprise offers ‘Halal’ food. So I ordered a slice of Halal pizza for lunch.

Of course, looking at Hollywood using the current and unpopular political postulations, one could feel that Hollywood is being swarmed by refugees or immigrants, especially from Arab and Muslim and other countries.

And what is Aziz Ansari doing here in Hollywood with his name splashed on huge billboards that I had seen two years ago? It turned out that Aziz is a Tamil-Muslim and American-born, who is a standup comedian here in America.

Aziz liked to crack jokes about his ethnicity and mostly religious backgrounds, as did earlier comedians, Bob Hope who like to joke about how Sammy Davis, Jr. ‘had more chains on him than his ancestors’.

Bob Hope was British who came to Hollywood to develop his talents (as did Elizabeth Taylor, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin and a host of others); and Sammy Davis, Jr., whose ancestors were from Africa, although he would later admit to being ‘a one-eyed Jew who is Black.’ 

But there are some who are the temporary immigrants or refugees who are welcomed because they have lots of cash. They are mostly referred to as ‘tourists’, those who had come from all over the world, who are willing to spend time buying things including souvenirs and other things here and wherever they go in America, although most are made in China and Mexico and sometimes, Indonesia and also Malaysia.  

But again, if one were to look at Hollywood and its history which did not go too far back, since the early Twentieth Century, one can say that it was this group of people who had come from all over the world to help create it to be what it is today.

There were film directors, writers, actors, singers and others from Europe and Turkey who had all contributed to its success especially Elia Kazan who directed ‘On the waterfront’, ‘A streetcar named Desire’ and ‘East of Eden’ staring James Dean.

Even our own midget actor who went with the name of Ibrahim Pendek, from the Shaw Brothers’ Malay Film Production Studios in Jalan Ampas in Singapore, too, had been brought over in the early 1962, to act beside popular Hollywood actor, Rock Hudson, in ‘The Spiral Road’.

Other notable Hollywood actors especially, Bob Hope had done the reverse, by coming to Southeast Asia to act in his ‘road films’ including ‘Road to Bali’ trying to connect with people from distant lands. Hollywood wanted connections…

Douglas Melford had gone much further; he produced ‘The Sheik’ which is set in an Arab country, during the ‘Silent Era’ of Hollywood which starred Italian-American actor, Rudolf Valentino as an Arab sheikh, and who would be later described as the most enduring ‘romantic hero’ of Hollywood.

Many of the popular Hollywood actors and actresses during the ‘Silent Era’ could not make it to the ‘Sound Era’ because they spoke English in their peculiar European and other accents, that gave the strong indication as to the massive contributions those refugees and immigrants had contributed to the development of early Hollywood to make what it is today, for which many have taken for granted.

The German sound technicians could not pronounce words in English so they said ‘Mittout Soun’ for ‘Without Sound’ which was later initialized as MOS for film takes that were recorded without sound. President Donald J Trump is of German ancestry…

* * * * * * *

The Academy Awards or Oscar Night offers a lot of glamour and a heightened sense of belonging, camaraderie and friendly competition amongst the film fraternity in Hollywood and frightened sense of excitement from the hundreds of millions of fans of films that Hollywood produces.

But for me, the night of jubilation to some that to me could turn out to be a sad affair as it had turned out a few times in the past when someone I knew, who had taught me at the Film Division of Columbia University in New York City, appeared in the ‘Memoriam’ section.

Samson Raphaelson, wrote screenplays during the ‘Silent Era’ of Hollywood for Billy Wilder died many years ago. And not so long ago, an instructor for the History of Motion Pictures course I had taken, Andrew Sarris, died. He was also a famous film critic of the Village Voice newspaper.

I was a student of the School of Mass Communications of the Mara Institute of Technology (ITM) now known as the Mara University of Technology majoring in Advertising when the students and I were invited to watch a film in a special screening of ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ at the then Cathay Cinema in Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur.

Hollywood then seemed like a million miles away from Shahalam…

It was directed by Milos Forman, a Polish who had left his country as a refugee to work in HollywoodMilos won Best Director for this film.

Little did I realize that Milos was also the co-chairman of the Film Division of Columbia University in New York City, where I would later enroll at in the Fall of 1978 to major in film with the other chairman, Frantisek (Frank) Daniels, a fellow Polish.

Milos made a film when I was at Columbia called, ‘Ragtime’ and invited some students to join the crew. And later he directed ‘Amadeus’ on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, after I had left the university, for which he won Best Director.

I have only known one former classmate at Columbia who won an Oscar nomination, Ron Nyswaner who won a nomination for best screenplay in 1994 for ‘Philadelphia’ for which Tom Hanks won an Oscar for Best Actor.

And an instructor for post-production methods won and Emmy for best editing for a documentary called ‘Pumping Iron’, which I saw while watching on television.

Few days later he came to class but there was no jubilation or even celebration and nobody came to congratulate him for his win; what he had won was the past.  

Final note: I am staying in Inglewood, Los Angeles, with some recent refugees from Rohingya, who I had known for many years and helped them out whenever I could, even recording videos of their weddings, when they were living in Malaysia, and have been resettled by UNHCR to Los Angeles. There are others who preferred to go to Salt Lake CityUtah and San AntonioTexas and other cities in America.




Ends 

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