April 22nd, 2012, by

Image: Eric Smith-Gunn via Flickr

The music world has been abuzz this week following the surprise appearance of Tupac Shakur at the recent Coachella music festival in Indio, CA. Or rather, a hologram facsimile thereof. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the “Tupac Lives” rumors began to circulate once more, but I never imagined Suge Knight would be the source of them.

Knight, the co-founder of Death Row Records, who was riding in the car with Shakur that fateful night in Vegas, suggested this week in a radio interview that the rapper was still alive, saying “Maybe the question is…Pac’s not really dead…Pac’s somewhere else,” adding that no one ever saw Shakur’s body.

Most of us will dismiss this as hokum, which it likely is. And regardless, Suge Knight is hardly a credible source of information. Still, though, the murder–unsolved to this day–was and is shrouded by so much mystery that it’s easy to get caught up in conspiracy theories like this.

There’s also the question of Tupac’s posthumously-released songs, which as Dave Chappelle famously noted, are uncannily predictive.

April 22nd, 2012, by

One of the best videos I saw online this week was Carrie Manolakos’ haunting cover of the classic Radiohead song “Creep,” recorded earlier this month at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village. According to Gawker’s Neetzan Zimmerman, who posted the video, Menolakos is a former Broadway actress who you may recognize from a turn as Sophie Sheridan in Mamma Mia! (although admittedly, I did not), and she is promoting a debut album by the name of “Echo.”

The cover is amazing (listen for yourself) and really allows Manolakos to show off her prodigious vocal ability. I also find it really cool how well Radiohead’s songs lend themselves to interpretation. Another classic example of this is Gnarls Barkley’s cover of the song “Reckoner” from Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” album, a cover I regularly return to for Cee-Lo Green’s singular vocals. Digging around the YouTubes, I was also able to turn up some more noteworthy Radiohead covers: most notably, Weezer doing “Paranoid Android” and Regina Spektor trying her hand at “No Surprises.”

Of course, Radiohead is known to do a cover every now and then as well–to fantastic effect. Their cover of The Smiths’ “The Headmaster Ritual” is on par with the original, as far as I’m concerned, and watching the band rock out in the studio only makes it better.

April 18th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Friday, April 20, 2012

Hometown | Bayonne, NJ

Parents | Angelina and Frank A. Langella, Sr.

Why He’s Buzzing | Rather than utilizing the traditional autobiographical structure, his new memoir, Dropped Names, chronicles his memories and experiences with over 60 famous friends who have passed away. “I think my life story is more interesting told that way and…it’s only a piece of my life. I’m a supporting player. When I tried to do a biography of my own life, I fell asleep over the pen…I was disinterested in it,” Langella tells Tavis.


Frank Langella Trivia

  • Langella juggled the theater, film and television in his career. His first Tony Award was for his performance in Seascape. He appeared on Broadway in The Father, and won a Drama Desk Award, in Match, earning a Tony nomination, and won a Tony Award for his performance in Fortune’s Fool. He won his third Tony for playing Richard Nixon in Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon.
  • According to his IMDB profile, he is one of the few actors who were cast to play both Dracula and Sherlock Holmes. Other actors who fall in this category include Christopher Lee and Richard Roxburgh.
  • Langella attended Syracuse University, where he studied acting. He was also a brother of the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity, Phi Epsilon Chapter, at the university.
  • He requested to go uncredited for his work on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Minister Jaro Essa. He is reported to have said that he did the series for his children, rather than for exposure or to reap the financial benefits.
  • His IMDB profile also states that he has nystagmus, a condition that causes one’s eyes to move involuntarily.

Selection of projects and awards


1970 Diary of a Mad Housewife – Nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Male Newcomer
1970 The Twelve Chairs
1971 The Deadly Trap
1972 The Wrath of God
1974 The Mark of Zorro
1979 Dracula – Nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Actor
1980 Those Lips, Those Eyes
1981 Sherlock Holmes
1981 Sphinx
1987 Masters of the Universe
1988 And God Created Woman
1994 Junior
1995 Bad Company
1997 Lolita
2001 Sweet November
2005 Good Night, and Good Luck – Nominated for SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
2006 Superman Returns
2007 Starting Out in the Evening – Won Boston Society Film Critics Award for Best Actor. Nominated for Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, Independent Spirit Award for Best Lead Male, Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor and Satellite Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama
2008 Frost/Nixon – Won African American Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor, Sant Jordi Award for Best Foreign Actor, San Diego Film Critics  Society Award for Best Cast. Also nominated for Academy Award for Best Actor, BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama, London Film Critics’ Circle Award for Actor of the Year, Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor, Satellite Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama, SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
2009 The Box – Nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
2011 Unknown

Frank Langella in New York Times Magazine’s 6th Annual Great Performers

Tavis tells a story about Langella’s image in the NYT Magazine feature. Watch the conversation to see what’s so special about this picture.

Photo by New York Times Magazine, 2009



Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.



April 17th, 2012, by

The last two weeks’ guests have a variety of backgrounds. From the arts and motion pictures to politics and sports, recent guests, who were born in places as far away as Latvia or as close as Sacramento, CA, had the studio (as always) buzzing with thought-provoking and lively discussion on sports, business, politics, scandal, arts and entertainment.

Check out images of and quotes from entrepreneur and NBA legend Magic Johnson, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Iraq War veteran-turned-peace advocate Paul K. Chappell, filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan, Olympic gold medalist Janet Evans, dancer-actor Mikhail Baryshnikov, California Congressman Xavier Becerra and Emmy-winning actor Guy Pearce.

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

April 10th, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hometown | Leech Lake Reservation, MN (but was born in Washington, DC)

Parents | Robert Treuer, an Austrian Jew and Holocaust survivor, and Margaret Seelye Treuer, an Ojibwe tribal court judge

Why He’s Buzzing | Rez Life, Treuer’s first full-length nonfiction work, offers a candid examination of what life is like on a Native American reservation and shines light on issues of sovereignty, treaty rights, natural resource conservation and the historical relationship between the U.S. government and the Native American population.

David Treuer Trivia

  • He’s the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment of Humanities, the Bush Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation.
  • His essays and stories have been published in Esquire, TriQuarterly, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post.
  • Treuer attended Princeton University and wrote two senior theses, one each in the subjects of anthropology and creative writing. He also earned his PhD in anthropology. According to his 2006 bio on The New York Times, Treuer and his brothers were inspired to apply to Princeton after watching the movie Risky Business.
  • He’s an English professor at the University of Southern California.
  • His novels (see bibliography below) have been translated into Norwegian, Finnish, Greek and French.
  • According to the NYT article, he spent a year and a half recording, transcribing and translating Ojibwe speech with the goal of preserving the language. Only 15% of the tribe speak the language. (Watch a video on his embarrassing experience speaking Ojibwe.)


  • Pushcart Prize
  • Minnesota Book Award (1996)
  • The Translation of Dr. Apelles: A Love Story was named Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, Time Out and City Pages, according to his bio on


1995 Little
1999 The Hiawatha
2006 The Translation of Dr. Apelles
2006 Native American Fiction: A User’s Manual
2012 Rez Life

Video: David Treuer Recalls an Embarrassing Moment Speaking Ojibwe


April 10th, 2012, by


The “Made Visible” panel discussion allows those on and outside the panel to air their views on the term “poverty” with regard to women and children. There are conflicts in the perception of the term in the discussion of women and children from a multicultural, color, race and religious standpoint for the federal government of America. Because of this wider scope, it creates a very big burden on the panelists on how to speak about the victims and the prevailing situation while trying to offer solutions.

Perhaps, while constructing a solution, it would have been better to divide the victims into their individual race, color or other aspects of originality to be able to speak on particular problems that have created poverty for them. By grouping the victims together, a cloud of understanding can be attained for each specific demographic, since Blacks, whites, Latinos, Arabs, Asians and so forth are not facing the same uphill battle in navigating themselves from “poverty to prosperity.”

For example, take a situation of a single Black parent, a graduate who has been looking for job and is unable to get one because of the color of her skin. Again, look at the same Black, who has been forced to drop out of school early. Lacking education and formal training, she has no money to pay for child care or even public transportation to look for jobs. This type of woman is bound to remain in poverty. On the other hand, in certain isolated cases in the white community,eternal profile (by nationality—Jewish, Irish, etc.) or adaptive criminal record may deter the chance of getting employment, and the chance of poverty may be close.

The reason the topic of poverty is extensive is because some of the panelists talk about “all” women’s poverty, lacking specific focus. For example, “more than half of the 46.2 million Americans living in poverty are women, and 29% of adult women are more likely to be poor than adult men.” In America, you can’t talk about the issue of poverty in all different communities of women, such as Black, white, Hispanic, Asian and so forth.

Because of this lack of specificity, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis failed to present actual focus on how to reduce women and children’s poverty. She did not address specific issues  regarding how to remove poverty within different ethnic circles. Different communities of race and color face different obstacles. Therefore, training is not a solution that is applicable in all these circles.

In trying to do an analysis of the poverty of women and children, Cecilia FireThunder and Nely Galan specifically addressed their own communities’ problems that women and children face. They offered solutions and how to design a workable policy and practice. These speakers gave a direct outlook in solving the problems of women and children, rather than discuss women and children as a whole in the United States.


Isabelle Ofume is the pop culture contributor at Greedmont Park. She’s an intern and interviewer currently working side-by-side with EpiCenter of Change and LIMPT, inc., in their work of supplying change.

April 9th, 2012, by

Photo by Annie Leibovitz

Airdates | Tuesday, April 10 and Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hometown | Riga, Latvia

Parents | Alexandra and Nicholai Baryshnikov

Why You (Should) Know Him

  • Often cited as one of the greatest ballet dancers in history
  • Partnered with Gelsey Kirkland, a well-known American ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre, he was the principal dancer from 1974 – 1978
  • His performance in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker was broadcast by CBS in 1977. It is arguably one of the most popular and most shown television productions of the ballet and is often broadcast on PBS stations.
  • Appeared in print ads for Robert Mondavi Wines, Movado timepieces and Louis Vuitton (see below)

Why He’s Buzzing | From April 11-21, 2012, he will star in Dmitry Krymov’s new play In Paris. The production will be presented in the Santa Monica Performing Arts Center.

Mikhail Baryshnikov Trivia

  • When he joined the Kirov Ballet of Leningrad (which is now St. Petersburg) his level of technique and ballet abilities were so great that he was immediately placed in a soloist position, according to his IMDB profile.
  • Although he was successful in Russia, in 1974 Misha defected to Canada in search of more opportunities in western dance.
  • According to his IMDB profile, Gelsey Kirkland’s first impression of him was not agreeable. She was disappointed by his 5’7″ frame. But when she saw him dance, she reportedly said he was “like a literal moving picture” and “was the greatest male dancer on earth.”
  • In 1999, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000.
  • He holds three Honorary Degrees—one each from New York University, Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University and Montclair State University
  • From 1980-1990, he was the artistic director of the famed American Ballet Theatre.
  • By 2005, he opened the Baryshnikov Arts Center.
  • He has his own clothing line, Baryshnikov, and his own perfume brand, Misha, as noted in his IMDB profile.

Selection of performances and projects


1975 Awakening – American Ballet Theatre’s Broadway production
1975 Romeo and Juliet – Royal Ballet production at the Royal Opera House in Convent Garden in London, England
1975 Swan Lake – Royal Ballet production at the Royal Opera House in London, England
1989 Metamorphosis – Broadway production (nominated for a Tony and a Drama Critics Award)


1977 The Turning Point – Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and also nominated for a Golden Globe
1985 White Nights
1987 Dancers
1991 Company Business
1991 The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez


1977 The Nutcracker (TV movie)
1979 Great Performances: Dance in America (Episode “Choreography by Balanchine: Part IV”)
1984 Don Quixote (Kitri’s Wedding), a Ballet in Three Acts (TV movie)
1987 Great Performances: Dance in America (Episode “David Gordon’s ‘Made in U.S.A.'”)
2004 Sex and the City (as Aleksandr Petrovsky)
2006 Iconoclasts (as Himself)
2007 News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS (as Himself)
2008 Imagine (Episode “Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens”)

Photo by Annie Leibovitz for Louis Vuitton (2010)


April 7th, 2012, by

As a longtime fan of the action and crime genres, I have a distinct appreciation for well executed on-screen violence–from The Dirty Dozen to The Sopranos to my latest obsession, HBO’s Game of Thrones. The second season of Game of Thrones started earlier this month, and, having set the bar fairly high in terms of blood and nudity in its first season (which ended following the graphic beheading of one of its most likeable characters), raised it substantially in no time. Not only do sex, death and incest remain the show’s central means of ratcheting up tension and driving its many plot lines, they have been joined by gruesome torture, infanticide and still more incest.

The above description may not make you want to watch Game of Thrones, a nd, if such is the case, I can hardly blame you. Indeed, I’ve found my own fanboyism tempered by the new season’s impossible ante of unpleasantness. It’s given me cause to consider the purpose of cinematic violence and at what point onscreen gore becomes its own justification.

Looking at two of my favorite movies–Scarface and Goodfellas–sheds some light on this. The former, a classic cautionary tale of a gangster’s meteoric rise and equally dramatic fall from power, is famously one of the most profane films ever. It also features a man being hacked to death with a chainsaw in a Miami motel room and another hanged from a hovering helicopter. In the case of that film, the violence and the foul language serve to create a realistic (or so I imagine) depiction of the world from which protagonist Tony Montana emerged–and eventually conquered. It raises the stakes while giving some insight into just what kind of person he was. Was it necessary to splatter Montana with his friend’s blood in that infamous chainsaw scene? Probably not, but I don’t object. It makes a very memorable (and historically realistic) point about the lengths people were willing to go to protect their interest in the 1980s Miami drug trade and the kind of person you’d need to be to go toe-to-toe with them as Montana did.

Goodfellas, one of Martin Scorsese’s finest films, has its share of graphic violence, but in true fashion, it is done with grace, dark humor and the added benefit of one of the best film soundtracks of all time. You need look no further than the murder montage to Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla (Piano Exit)”, in which the camera slowly pans and zooms across the corpses of half a dozen murdered mobsters while Ray Liotta’s laconic voiceover explains why they had to go. Like Scarface, this serves the narrative, as well as character development and exposition. Unlike Scarface, Scorsese uses music brilliantly–contrasting the easy tone of the song with the gruesome nature of the visuals–to show just how senseless these murders were and also how much they were a part of normal life for the film’s characters.

Game of Thrones feels different. While much of the new season’s violence occurs at the command of the evil young king Joffrey, it seems as though the same point could have been made just as well with half as much brutality. We get it–he’s a bloodthirsty psychopath. Do we need to see a boy’s mouth fill with blood after being run through with a sword? Or hear a young man’s screams as his body is broken on a torturer’s rack? These things certainly give us insights into the world of the series and what its baser characters are prepared to do to each other to protect their interests, but this is only true to a point. Then there’s the argument that these things really did happen in human history–and far worse. But is that something we really need to see on primetime television? I suppose the only fair way to evaluate this violence is in the context of the entire series, which has several seasons yet to go. Still, with the bar for graphic violence constantly edging higher, one wonders when it will reach its limit and what kind of awfulness that could possibly be.


April 7th, 2012, by

I recently mentioned my excitement at the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, and the accompanying hoopla. Indeed, part of the celebration is the release of a new documentary on the making of the album entitled, Under African Skies (the film takes its title from the name of one of the album’s many great tracks). I was fortunate to catch an early screening of the film and can say with confidence that it lived up to most of my overly-hyped expectations. In addition to great behind-the-scenes footage of Simon in the studio with his incredible crew of South African session players, as well as the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Hugh Masekela, the film delves deep into the album’s creative process.

Among the biggest challenges Simon faced in making the album was the cultural boycott on South Africa at the time, upheld by the U.N. and the African National Congress in protest of the deeply divisive and racist apartheid system. Indeed, to this day, his trip to South Africa at the invite of some of that country’s musicians still ruffles feathers among those who fought to end apartheid, and a good portion of the film is devoted to presenting both sides of the argument. While I came away from Under African Skies with a new understanding of the political landscape from which “Graceland” emerged, it was Simon’s ruminations on the role of the artist in our society that hit me hardest.

While the boycott forbade all relations with apartheid-era South Africa (from trade to sports to music), effectively isolating the country from the world as a protest against its leadership, Simon’s view of the situation went in the face of this strategy. The role of the artist, he maintained then (and still does today), should not be subject to the will of politicians. The artist, he says, is separate and above politics and nations and deserves free passage anywhere to create. This is a paraphrasing of Simon’s actual words, which are far more eloquent. And, combined with the sounds from the record, the stories of the musicians whose lives were forever changed by the making of “Graceland” and the world which embraced its music, the film has a powerful and profound impact. Obviously, I was a fan going in, but I have a far deeper respect for Paul Simon now.

April 3rd, 2012, by

Photo courtesy: Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

Airdate | Friday, April 6, 2012

Hometown | Miami, FL

Parents | Sylvia Landau and Clarence Kasdan

Notable Accomplishments | Contribution to pop culture by writing Star Wars installments The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. He also wrote, directed and executive-produced 1983’s The Big Chill.

Why He’s Buzzing | After nearly a decade-long hiatus from the movie business, Kasdan is making a comeback with Darling Companion. Starring Diane Keaton and one of his favorite stars, Kevin Kline, the film is based on Kasdan’s experience of adopting a dog with his wife and losing the dog while they were away at a wedding. Kasdan says Darling Companion was inspired not by the search for their dog, but the emotions they underwent and how people can come to care for animals in an intense way. (They found their dog, by the way.)

Lawrence Kasdan Trivia

  • His first screenplay was The Bodyguard. For a time, the film was categorized as one of the “best un-made films in Hollywood” due to being in the development phase for an extended period of time. The screenplay was originally intended for Steve McQueen and Diana Ross to co-star. Ultimately starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, it was the second-highest grossing film worldwide in 1992. The film celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
  • The Bodyguard was rejected 37 times before it was purchased, giving Kasdan his big break in Hollywood.
  • One of his biggest contributions to pop culture and Star Wars fandom is the famously misquoted line spoken by Darth Vader, “Luke, I am your father.” The real line is, “No, I am your father.” (See clip below.)
  • His brother, Mark, is also a writer-producer. He co-wrote and produced Silverado, co-wrote Criminal Law and produced Dreamcatcher.
  • Meg Kasdan, Lawrence’s wife, co-wrote and co-produced Grand Canyon and Dreamcatcher.
  • Kasdan’s original career route was to become an English teacher. He earned a Master’s in education from the University of Michigan.
  • A Clio Award recipient, he worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency. He arguably did not enjoy that profession.
  • To date, he has never recorded or contributed audio commentary to his work on DVD, according to his IMDB profile.
  • According to the same profile, his work reflects his respect for Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Kasdan’s The Bodyguard is reportedly named after Kurosawa’s 1961 film, Yojimbo (“yojimbo” loosely means “bodyguard” or “security person”). Scenes from Yojimbo are also seen in The Bodyguard. Furthermore, Star Wars characters that brought comic relief, R2-D2 and C-3P0, were based on two farmers, Tahei and Matashichi, from Kurosawa’s 1958 film, The Hidden Fortress.

Selection of projects

1980 Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, Writer
1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark, Writer
1981 Body Heat, Writer and director
1981 Continental Divide, Writer
1983 Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, Writer
1983 The Big Chill, Writer, director and executive producer
1985 Silverado, Writer, director and producer
1988 The Accidental Tourist, Writer, director and producer
1991 Grand Canyon, Writer, director and producer
1992 The Bodyguard, Writer and producer
1994 Wyatt Earp, Writer, director and producer
1995 French Kiss, Director
1999 Mumford, Writer, director and producer
2003 Dreamcatcher, Writer, director and producer
2007 In the Land of Women, Executive producer
2012 Darling Companion, Writer, director and executive producer

(Clip) Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Watch one of the most popular, misquoted movie lines of the Star Wars franchise (at approximately 1:42).


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