PRIMER
January 17th, 2012, by Staff

Photo by: Seher Sikander for Rehes Creative, WikiMedia Commons

Airdate(s) | January 19-20, 2012

Hometown | Santa Monica, California

Parents | Actress Eileen Ryan, Director Leo Penn

Awards and honors | The two-time Academy Award-winning actor (Mystic River and Milk) and critically acclaimed director (Into the Wild) was named ambassador at large to Haiti by Laurent Lamothe, the Haitian Minister of Foreign and Religious Affairs, in January 2012.

Political and social activism | The veteran actor is a dogged political activist, who was critical of the Bush administration and drew criticism for meetings with Cuban and Venezuelan leaders. Penn co-founded the J/P Haitian Relief Organization after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

The mission of J/P Haitian Relief Organization:

[P]roviding emergency medical and primary care services, delivering badly needed medical equipment and medicine, rubble removal facilitating community regeneration, management of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, distributing food and water purification systems, improving communication systems, and developing housing and education facilities.

Penn also used his Academy Award acceptance speech for Milk – the 2008 film in which he portrayed slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk – to speak out about gay rights:

I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.

Selection of performances and projects

Actor
1981 Taps
1982 Fast Times at Ridgemont High
1983 Bad Boys
1984 Racing With the Moon
1985 The Falcon and the Snowman
1986 At Close Range
1988 Colors
1989 Casualties of War
1990 State of Grace
1993 Carlito’s Way
1995 Dead Man Walking (Academy Award nomination for Best Actor)
1997 The Game
1997 She’s So Lovely
1997 U-Turn
1998 Hurlyburly
1998 The Thin Red Line
1999 Sweet and Lowdown (Academy Award nomination for Best Actor)
2000 Up in the Villa
2000 Before Night Falls
2000 The Weight of Water
2001 I Am Sam (Academy Award nomination for Best Actor)
2003 Mystic River (Academy Award for Best Actor)
2003 21 Grams
2004 The Assassination of Richard Nixon
2005 The Interpreter
2006 All the King’s Men
2008 Milk (Academy Award for Best Actor)
2010 Fair Game
2011 The Tree of Life

Director
1991 The Indian Runner
1995 The Crossing Guard
2001 The Pledge
2007 Into the Wild

What is your favorite Sean Penn film or television performance? Share your thoughts below.

PRIMER
January 17th, 2012, by Staff

Welcome to Season 9 of Tavis Smiley on PBS. Each week, we will use the “Primer” to highlight the works of one or more of our upcoming guests, including their films, books, albums and television projects.

We intend for the lists to be collaborative, so please add your favorites if we do not include them, or tell us why one or more of the works on our list has captured your heart or mind.

First up, Sean Penn.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 21st, 2011, by Guest Blogger

BY TOM FIELDS-MEYER

How should parents react when they discover that a child faces significant challenges? When mothers and fathers learn that a young son or daughter suffers from a developmental disorder or serious illness, they find themselves in an unanticipated moment of crisis—one for which they can hardly prepare.

My wife Shawn and I faced that very predicament when our son Ezra was a toddler and began to show signs of what turned out to be autism, the neurological disorder that afflicts one in 110 U.S. children. Not yet three at the time, the second of our three sons displayed odd behaviors: he lined up toy dinosaurs in elaborate symmetrical patterns; he cocooned himself in blankets on scorching days; he avoided eye contact, and barely conversed.

In time, I came to realize that Ezra had a different kind of mind. The rules that made sense with other children simply didn’t work with him.

That was 12 years ago. Now, I’ve told the story of the remarkable lessons I learned in a decade raising my son in a new memoir—Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son. Rather than chronicling a battle against a disease, I aimed to describe my decision to celebrate what makes my son unique. Instead of trying to “fix” Ezra, I learned to appreciate and applaud his distinctive qualities: his passion for animated movies; his powerful attraction to animals; and his unique and refreshing ways of interacting with other people.

People expect a book about autism to be depressing, but ours is anything but a sob story. Life with Ezra is endlessly entertaining, and in our family we love to laugh, so the book recounts many of the hilarious episodes I have experienced because I’m Ezra’s dad. (One reader favorite: the time Ezra, then eight, innocently asked an obese neighbor how he got so fat. It got worse—and then better—from there.) Early on, though, it was difficult to see the humor. This excerpt from the book’s second chapter recalls my son’s early isolation and a transformative moment in the office of a family therapist we had consulted for help just before Ezra turned three.

He does not appear to be forming any friendships in his preschool class. The children are young enough that “parallel play” is typical, but Ezra still stands out for his lack of connection. Baffled about how to plan his third birthday party, Shawn invites the entire class and hires a young actress to entertain the kids with parachute games and balloon animals. But when the woman gathers the children in our living room and pulls out her guitar to begin singing, Ezra is . . . gone. I run upstairs and discover him alone in his bedroom, jumping up and down and talking to himself. As the sound of toddlers singing “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain” wafts up the stairs, I watch my son pretending to be Tigger, whom he has watched over and over on a favorite video.

“Ezra, come on down. It’s your party!” I plead.

“Hellooo! Hellooo!” he calls, not to me, but to nobody—to himself, or perhaps to the Winnie the Pooh in his head—as he keeps bouncing, seeming not to hear me. “Hellooo!”

It is difficult to know how to respond. This is the party we had planned for him, yet suddenly it seems entirely inappropriate for him. In fact, the whole life we had planned for him is seeming more and more inappropriate.

We discuss that one afternoon back at Ruth’s office, as Shawn and I once again try sitting on the floor, making vain efforts to engage our son in play. The harder we try to engage him, the more Ezra resists, and the more isolated he becomes. He isn’t defiant, just detached—his voice distant, his gaze diffuse.

On a maroon loveseat, I hold Shawn’s hand, silently listening to my wife, exasperated, wonder tearfully how she will ever get through to Ezra.

Ruth listens and nods with understanding.

“You have to allow yourself to grieve,” she says.

I speak up: “For what?”

“You have to let yourself grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.”

I let that echo in my mind.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

I have not spent much time with therapists. I was lucky enough to grow up in relative happiness. My parents’ marriage was strong. My family of five (like Ezra, I was the second of three sons) has always been close and nurturing. The toughest moments of my life were minor rites of passage: the deaths of my grandparents, and occasional girlfriend problems. I went from college to a successful career as a writer for newspapers and national magazines. At the right time I ran into Shawn, an old childhood friend, and we fell in love and into a strong, supportive marriage. None of that has prepared me for this.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

That night, I can’t sleep. Not because of Ezra. Because of Ruth. As I lie awake, I keep hearing her voice, her quiet tone, her calm delivery.

Grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.

And I realize something: I am not grieving. In fact, I feel no instinct to grieve. When I thought about becoming a father, when Shawn and I dreamed together and planned together and decided to start raising a family, I carried no particular notion of who our children would become. I have seen plenty of my friends over the years damaged by their own parents’ expectations and disappointments—that a girl wasn’t a boy; that a younger child didn’t measure up to an older one; that a child didn’t want to be a doctor after all. Perhaps because of that, or perhaps because of some glitch in my own wiring, I didn’t carry any conscious notion of what my children would be like—whether they would be girls or boys, tall or short, conventional or a little bit odd.

I planned only to love them.

The next week, when we visit Ruth, I tell her that.

“I don’t feel that way,” I say. “I’m not going to grieve.”

I am sure she thinks that I am deluding myself. I know the truth. That one statement has done more good for me than all of the play therapy, than all of the listening, all of the advice. It has forced me to find and bring out something within myself. I feel full of love—for the boy who lines up the dinosaurs on the porch, for the child pretending to be Tigger in his bedroom, for the little one I carried and sang to in the first minutes of his life. My answer will never be to mourn. It will be to pour love on my son, to celebrate him, to understand, to support him, and to follow his lead.

Joanna Wilson Photography

 

Tom Fields-Meyer is a Los Angeles writer and journalist who blogs at www.followingezra.com. This passage is excerpted from Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son.

 

 

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
October 7th, 2011, by Staff

“Anger is like liquid. It’s fluid. It’s like water. You put it in a container and it takes the shape of that container,” says Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee on our show this week. “We took our anger and put it into a peaceful container…That anger, in that peaceful container, propelled us.”

Today, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Gbowee, Yemeni women’s rights activist Tawakkul Karma and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – the first woman to win a free election in Africa.

The Nobel committee chose these women “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Both Gbowee and President Johnson Sirleaf have appeared on our show. Be sure to watch our conversations with them below and share your thoughts.

(View full post to see video)

(View full post to see video)

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
September 21st, 2011, by Staff

This companion e-book to the Tavis Smiley Reports primetime special—which examines the staggering dropout rate among young Black males—picks up where the broadcast leaves off, with expanded discussion and resources needed to harness concern into collective and effective action. The volume is available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
August 13th, 2011, by Jeremy Freed

If you’ve heard of Barbara Ehrenreich, the National Magazine Award-winning American journalist, human rights activist and renowned muckraker, it’s probably related to her 2001 book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. To expose the terrible living and working conditions of America’s legions of working poor, Ehrenreich spent months traversing the country, working as a hotel maid, waitress, nursing home aide, housecleaner and Wal-Mart salesperson, while trying (with varying degrees of success) to live on the money these minimum-wage jobs brought in.

The book was a huge hit, becoming a New York Times best seller and garnering praise from across the nation. Ehrenreich has been busy since, writing books about the polarization of American politics and the surprisingly negative effect of positive thinking on our culture, but now, ten years after Nickel and Dimed, she returns to the subject once again, discovering that things are largely much worse for America lowest wage earners.

In a recent essay on Salon, How America turned poverty into a crime, Ehrenreich turns a hard gaze on the laws and institutions that are, effectively, making it a crime to be poor during one of the worst recessions in American history. Indeed, while the people in her book struggled to feed and house themselves and their families ten years ago, it was during a time of great prosperity for the rest of America. Now, things have gotten much, much worse.

According to Ehrenriech, as many as 29% of American families could be living in poverty, and thanks to laws that treat these mostly hard-working people like criminals, it has become an even more difficult cycle to escape. Check out the piece on Salon. Ehrenreich is one of the best voices on the side of the working poor in American journalism, and she needs to be heard.

 

 

 

 

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
July 27th, 2011, by Staff

This week, production for Tavis Smiley on PBS began its annual hiatus. Tavis will use the month-long break to not only get some much-needed rest and continue his Foundation’s annual Leadership Institute in Los Angeles, but also to kick off a 15-city national Poverty Tour to raise awareness about the plight of the poor.

Did somebody say something about Tavis getting some much-needed rest?

Our Web site staff did manage to track him down for a few summer reading recommendations. Because Tavis has conversations with so many authors on his television and radio shows, we were curious to know which books he thought we should add to our summer reading lists.

Check out his recommendations below, and be sure to watch his conversation with each author. Tell us what you’re reading this summer as well!

1) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
This literary phenomenon and New York Times best seller is the story of a poor Black woman whose cancerous cells were used for science without her permission.

“I think that the story had been told over and over in little magazine articles and newspaper articles, and it was always the same little nugget of the story – this one woman’s cells taken without her knowledge – became this important thing in medicine,” says Skloot. “Nobody really saw much; what the story’s about is her family. That moment in history, it’s ethically complicated, but it was really common to take cells without people’s knowledge in the ’50s.”
Watch the full conversation

2) Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, by Annie Jacobsen
Jacobsen’s New York Times best seller addresses what is happening at the Nevada air force base and attempts to explain what could be so secretive that U.S. presidents are denied entrance.

According to Jacobsen, “You’ve got all kinds of government presence in the desert, none of which the government will talk about what’s going on there. They still, to this day, will not officially say that Area 51 exists.”
Watch the full conversation

3) Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, by John Farrell
Focusing on iconic American, Clarence Darrow, Farrell brings to life one of this country’s grandest defense lawyers.

“He had this amazing sense of empathy and compassion,” Farrell says. “When given the choice between taking one route, making a lot of money and joining corporate America or doing something like defending an indigent person who was really stuck, Darrow would come, time and time again, on behalf of … the damned in American life.”
Watch the full conversation

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
May 26th, 2011, by Jeremy Freed

Remember in 2003, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for governor, how a bunch of women came forward saying he’d groped them and otherwise behaved in a matter unbecoming of a public figure (or a decent human being)? Turns out they may not have been Democrat shills after all. Hunh.

I was living in California at the time and remember being quite surprised that the allegations were so easily and effectively swept under the rug. Even if half of the claims were true, what kind of behavior was that for the leader of America’s most populous state? I wondered why it didn’t bother the people voting for him.

In any case, as we all know, he won. Twice. And most of those women were never heard from again… until now. It seems that the whole secret-lovechild-with-the-housekeeper thing did more than ruin the Governator’s marriage. As a recent post on Jezebel reminds us, the affair with his domestic helper may have been consensual, but that appears to be the exception.

Meanwhile, California Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman is calling for an investigation into whether Schwarzenegger used government funds to pay off his maid/lover. “During Arnold’s campaign when women came forward and raised issues about his sexual advances and activities he and his minions denied them vociferously and actually accused the women who came forward of being liars and manipulators,” said Bauman, “What a shock that it was we Californians who were lied to and manipulated by Arnold.”

And while this may seem like a nice bit of publicity for one Democratic Chair, it seems to have the ring of truth to it, at least according to this statement from a hotel security officer, who claims to have repeatedly seen Schwarzenegger using government vehicles to transport his mistresses to and from his hotel suite.

It’s hard to know if this scandal will quietly disappear as these things tend to do, but at least those of us who suspected this guy wasn’t on the level can feel slightly vindicated. Even so, it’s not a very satisfying feeling.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
May 24th, 2011, by Staff
TS_readingcoolidge

When Tom Selleck came to the set recently, he brought a gift in honor of Tavis’ new book, FAIL UP: 20 Lessons On Building Success From Failure.

The gift was a quote from Calvin Coolidge about persistence.

Tavis read the quote during the conversation, and a couple of viewers asked that we share the quote with them again online (h/t Tondra and Melany A.).

So here it is. It certainly is powerful.

 

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ~Calvin Coolidge

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
May 15th, 2011, by Jeremy Freed

Erik Prince, the embattled founder of Blackwater — the American private military contractor accused of various shady dealings in the Iraq war — has a new army. After selling Blackwater (since renamed Xe Services), he’s continued his work as a private military consultant, assembling mercenaries for whomever has the cash.

Most recently, according to a lengthy report by The New York Times, Prince has been tasked with assembling an 800-member battalion of a private army for the leaders of Abu Dhabi, whose main function would be counter-terrorism and putting down internal revolts. To this end, Prince and a group of advisers composed of American and British retired combat officers, recently assembled a group of Colombian mercenaries at a desert compound in the Emirate.

According to the Times, while the Colombian soldiers were expected to be ready for deployment within a few weeks of their arrival, it soon became clear that they were far from prepared, some of them having never fired weapons before. Notable, however, was the reason for assembling an army of Spanish-speaking mercenaries (as well as South Africans, British and Americans) in an Arab country. Says the Times, “Former employees said that in recruiting the Colombians and others from halfway around the world, Mr. Prince’s subordinates were following his strict rule: hire no Muslims. Muslim soldiers, Mr. Prince warned, could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims.”

Of course, mercenary armies are nothing new–from medieval times to the most recent war in Iraq–but this latest revelation sets a disturbing precedent for the area. Like prisons and schools, outsourcing military tasks to the private sector raises a lot of issues of whose best interests are at stake. In Abu Dhabi, the mercenaries would be commanded by that emirate’s ruler, but they would be motivated strictly by a paycheck (and a modest one, according to the Times). No one should be allowed to profit from war, least of all those, like Erik Prince, whose ethics have been repeatedly cast into doubt.

 

 

Page 11 of 27« First...91011121320...Last »