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'Pariah' Not The Usual 'Coming Out' Story

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By Kimberly Roberts, Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune –

As the world awaits the next George Lucas blockbuster or lines up for the next sure shot romantic comedy, “Pariah,” a small but engrossing film open in theaters today, is definitely worthy of attention.

Written and directed by Dee Rees and executive produced by Spike Lee, “Pariah,” originally a short film, was a finalist for the 2009 Sundance/NHK International Award. The expanded feature film had its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and was honored with the Festival’s (U.S. Dramatic Competition) Excellence in Cinematography Award (Bradford Young).

“Pariah” is the provocative coming of age story of 17-year-old Alike (pronounced ah-lee-kay), a sweet, sensitive girl who does well in school and writes insightful, heartfelt poetry. Alike lives with her parents, Audrey (Kim Wayans) and Arthur (Charles Parnell) and her younger sister, Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse), in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. While she adores her father, Alike’s mother, who calls her “Lee,” sees her older daughter as an incorrigible “tomboy,” and works overtime at turning her into a “girly-girl.”

Meanwhile, Alike is living a double life, having discovered and embraced her identity as a lesbian. While she dresses in men’s clothing (often changing clothes on the bus) and secretly frequents gay clubs with her best friend, “out” lesbian Laura (whom her mother can’t stand), Alike is still not quite comfortable in her own skin. The more she struggles to claim her identity, the more confused she becomes, and Audrey unwittingly complicates the issue even further when she encourages (forces) Alike’s friendship with Bina (Aasha Davis) the daughter of a co-worker. While Sharonda is aware of her big sister’s sexuality and is totally cool with it, Alike is constantly wrestling with the prospect of telling her parents — although on a certain level they are both aware that she is gay but are in denial about it.

“Pariah” is inspired by Rees’ personal experience, and she does an excellent job of handling this sensitive subject matter, particularly with a main character that is so young. This film could have become a pornographic spectacle, but in Rees’ hands it is the riveting personal journey of a girl who has made a life-changing discovery, but has no idea what to do with the information.

The talented Adepero Oduye delivers a brilliant portrayal of the confused Alike, who is sincerely looking for love, but simply doesn’t know whom to trust. Although Oduye is in her 30s, she is completely convincing as a 17-year-old high school student.

Kim Wayans, who is best known for her outrageous comedic escapades, was so deeply immersed in the role of angst-ridden Audrey that the film was almost at the half over before I recognized her.

While this fascinating film brings to light a sub-culture that may be unfamiliar to some, “Pariah” is basically a story of friendship, family and acceptance. (Rated “R”)

Johnson and Johnson Slammed with Lawsuits over Drug

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By Glenn Townes, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for New Jersey-based drug maker Johnson and Johnson (J&J), as the pharmaceutical giant quietly settled a multibillion-dollar lawsuit and is reportedly bracing for an onslaught of others from thousands of recipients of a popular antibiotic that may have caused irreparable nerve damage and other serious injuries to patients, according to a report from a California-based investment firm that owns shares in the company.

The firm, Harrington Investments, which, according to its website, is a socially responsible investing firm and shareholder advocate with a “fiduciary duty to screen companies that show a strong commitment to their communities and invest in companies that respond to shareholder concerns,” is about to file a proposal with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requesting the agency address concerns about the drug Levaquin with its maker, J&J.

According to various reports, shareholders contend that J&J was negligent in properly warning patients about the adverse and long-term side effects of the drug. However, the company said it has increased warnings about the dangers of the drug since the Food Drug and Administration first approved it in 1996. This was due, at least in part, to an ever-increasing number of complaints about the drug and dozens of lawsuits.

A spokesman for J&J told Newark’s Star-Ledger that the company has asked officials at the SEC to disqualify and dismiss the impending proposal from shareholders. Spokesman William Price said the company has repeatedly addressed the safety issues related to the drug, adding, “We’re very sensitive to the issues.” Levaquin was initially approved as a treatment for bacterial infections and belongs to a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. In 2010, the drug generated more than $1.5 billion in worldwide sales.

Lastly, in a related matter, J&J has agreed to pay more than $1 billion to the United States and many states, including New York and New Jersey, in order to resolve an investigation into questionable marketing strategies of Risperdal, a popular antipsychotic medication, according to various published reports. Risperdal was approved in 1993 for the treatment of schizophrenia. However, J&J eventually tried to market the drug as a cure-all for other mental illnesses, including dementia, depression and bipolar disorder.

At the time, the expanded marketing effort and supposed added benefits of the drug were unproven and in noncompliance with some state and federal regulations and lawsuits were filed. A final settlement date has not been formerly announced by the Justice Department.

Inaccurate Inscription on MLK Memorial to be Corrected

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

An inaccurate inscription etched into the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington D.C. will be changed to provide the correct context of a quote by the civil rights leader.

The Washington Post first reported Jan. 13 that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar had ordered the quote changed.

According to the Associated Press, the side of the granite memorial currently bears the inscription “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” taken from a February 1968 sermon known as the “Drum Major Instinct,” made just two months before King’s assassination.

However, King’s original words made him seem more modest: “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

The altered quote has drawn criticism since the memorial’s opening in October, including from poet Maya Angelou, who according to the AP said the inscribed version makes King sound like “an arrogant twit.”

Salazar said he has ordered the National Park Service to consult the memorial’s organizing foundation and the King family, and report back within 30 days with a plan to correct the memorial.

“This is important because Dr. King and his presence on the Mall is a forever presence for the United States of America, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” Salazar told the Post.

National Urban League’s Morial Charges with Racist Pandering

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Special to the NNPA for New York Amsterdam News –

NEW YORK — National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial today charged Presidential candidate Rick Santorum with pandering to racist elements within his party.

“Senator Santorum is perpetuating a thoroughly false and destructive racial stereotype in a desperate attempt to score political points,” Morial said. “He is appealing to the lowest common denominator within the electorate and quite frankly should be ashamed of himself.”

Morial called on the other candidates for the Republican nomination immediately to repudiate Santorum’s comments.

During a discussion of social assistance programs over the weekend in Iowa, Santorum claimed he doesn’t want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them someone else’s money.”

Morial said he was appalled by both the comment and the sentiment behind it.

“Social safety net programs serve families in dire circumstances from all walks of life,” Morial said. “Many of those who now find themselves in need, whatever their ethnic background, are the very people who have contributed into these programs throughout their entire working lives.”

In Iowa, about 84 percent of food stamps recipients in Iowa are white; nationally, about 70 percent of recipients are white.

“By falsely suggesting that people of color are a disproportionate drain on resources provided mainly by whites, Santorum deliberately fans the flames of racial divisiveness,” Morial said.

Morial said Santorum’s comment was particularly hypocritical when Santorum himself, while earning more than $162,000 as a U.S. Senator and living in a $643,361 home, admitted in 2005 that he could not make ends meet without financial help from his retired federal employee parents.

“Most people receiving assistance are not earning six-figure salaries and living in a lavish suburban mansion,” Morial said.

Morial noted that the National Urban League does not endorse political candidates, but will speak out against racist rhetoric from every point on the political spectrum.

Kappas and Omegas Form Super PAC to Back Obama

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By Herb Boyd, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

Kappas and Omegas on the same page?

Yes, and the two Black fraternities-Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi-have come together to forge 1911 United, a super PAC with the goal of raising more than $1 million to help President Barack Obama get reelected.

The PAC, taking its name from the fact that both fraternities were founded a century ago, will focus most of its resources on the campaign in Colorado, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, according to a recent news story on Politico.com.

Obama needs bolstering, said Sinclair Skinner, the committee’s treasurer. “And we want to use all the means possible to support him, including a super PAC. Black political participation is still evolving, and what we hope to do is get as many voters active in the process as early as possible,” he added.

Essential to this initiative, Skinner related, is to “organize and deploy” Black voters, especially first-time voters. Obviously, social networking and phone banking will be key targets given the habits of young potential Black voters.

“We’re really going to focus on working with people directly,” said Skinner, a mechanical engineer.

The presidential election of 2012 will be the first time super PACs or independent expenditure-only committees will go into effect. They came into existence by virtue of a Supreme Court decision in 2010 that ruled in favor of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission and SpeechNow.org v. the Federal Election Commission.

Super PACs can spend unlimited sums of money supporting or opposing political candidates as long as they are not involved in the campaigns.

To date, huge sums of money from the super PACs have been earmarked to promote and attack GOP candidates, including those run by former members of Obama’s staff.

1911 United will certainly assist Obama’s bid for office, and it joins with Priorities USA Action, run by two of Obama’s former White House aides, one of the largest of those backing the president. It was reported that nearly all of its funds, more than $300,000, have been used to attack Mitt Romney.

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BVN National News Wire