• Karl Thunemann

Now Batting for MLK Jr.

If I hadn’t done a faceplant in the corridor this morning (January 12) while walking to my chair exercise class, I wouldn’t be writing this epistle. I would have gone on to the class and frittered away much of the remaining day.


But I did fall, spurting much blood from my nose and a big knot on my forehead, and spurring my friends and neighbors to bail me out with disinfectant, cool wet towels, a ride back to my apartment in a wheelchair, and much more. When I got home and my wife settled me in, I said I would like to watch a movie on Netflix. She handed me the requisite remotes and soon I was watching This Changes Everything, a 2018 documentary about the perfidious discrimination against women in the movie and TV industry.


The documentary devotes a considerable segment to efforts by six women directors who had all made significant films, and then had been systematically denied new assignments, thanks to the Directors Guild of America. They raised a stink. Maybe their efforts can bring change.

Why did I choose this? Already, I had been feeling chagrined because—when I set up a new schedule for adding posts to this blog—I inadvertently made it impossible to write something timely about Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will be a few days past by the time this is circulated.


I should pause here to say that I am a Christmas curmudgeon. When people wish me a Merry Christmas, I thank them, and sometimes try to explain that my winter holidays are Beethoven’s birthday (he was born on Dec. 16, 1770), the winter solstice, and the MLK Jr. holiday (third Monday in January—Jan. 17 this year). I also mark New Year’s, but it stands in the shadow of the solstice.



Joelle Dobrow, left, Nell Cox, Susan Nimoy, Dolores Ferraro, Lynne Littman, and Vicki Hochberg, known as the “Original Six,” were a groundbreaking group of women in Hollywood and are included in “This Changes Everything.” (Good Deed Entertainment)


If I correctly heard and saw so many encomiums to MLK this past fortnight, this is a fitting time to think about social and economic justice for women. So many people lauded MLK for his call for people to love one another. As our society tends to regard women as the custodians of love, they should be rewarded.


I doubt that much has changed in the past three years, but …


For all its virtue and passion, this film has two failings that often-beset earnest documentaries that call for social change. It is too long, for one. This results largely from trying to include segments about everyone of significance who has addressed this issue. If I could beg one thing of documentarians, it would be this: Don’t be afraid to leave someone out, even your best friend.


I wouldn’t cut out any of the material featuring Geena Davis or Meryl Streep. Davis, best known as a co-star of Thelma and Louise, is more than an actor. Call her a researcher, too, for the non-profit she founded that has delved into the rampant sexism that pervades media aimed at children. I cannot quote all this here. I was watching a film and nursing my wounds. Go watch this documentary on Netflix. It will be good for you. And Streep has been paying attention all along, not just making memorable films.


What struck me most was a report by Sharon Stone involving a famous director who demanded that she sit on his lap while he told her what he wanted from her in the day’s film. She refused, with this rejoinder: “Does Tom Hanks sit in your lap?”


The documentary devotes a considerable segment to efforts by six women directors who had all made significant films, and then had been systematically denied new assignments, thanks to the Directors Guild of America. They raised a stink. Maybe their efforts can bring change. I found a picture of these six, which is reproduced here. They don’t look like the typical celebrants of MLK’s birthday, but perhaps we should expand our categories.


As the day wound down, I decided to watch a real movie on Netflix, and chose Awakenings. It’s based on a book by the late Dr. Oliver Sacks. I’m a fan and have read many of his works. How had this fine movie never drawn me in? I felt deeply moved, especially by the stars of the show, Robin Williams and Robert de Niro. But as the credits ran and revealed the name of the director, my day came to a fitting end: The director was Penny Marshall.