Art has a special power to connect us to other people–and that’s especially important in a time where empathy and connection can seem in short supply–yet most galleries and museums remain closed due to the pandemic. Looking to bring a little art into all our lives in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the teams at Art of Elysium, the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Hyundai, and the Hollywood Palladium got together and developed a plan for something special. Driven: A Latinx Artist Celebration, will be a drive-thru, outdoor art exhibit highlighting the work of local artists who identify as Latinx, complete with an audio narration that will help viewers really understand the work, rather than just cruise by.
In advance of the installation, which will open to the public on October 1, we spoke with the Museum of Latin American Art’s chief curator, Gabriela Urtiaga, about what went in to putting on such an unusual show.
Can you tell us a bit about Driven: A Latinx Artist Celebration, and the collaboration between all the organizations involved?
This is a special and innovative experience between Hyundai, MOLAA, and the Art of Elysium, a drive-thru art exhibit celebrating Latinx art during this Hispanic Heritage Month. All of us are very excited, we´re going to show some of today´s groundbreaking Latinx artists in an immersive environment celebrating its huge cultural legacy and its influence especially in the City of Los Angeles.
It’s a great opportunity to see something different, something inspirational, during this complicated and uncertain time when we are trying to find new ways to connect with people. So the idea to do it in a drive-thru experience at the historic Hollywood Palladium is really fabulous.
What is the process of creating a drive-through art exhibition like? Are you as the curator looking for anything specific in the works that might be different than the needs of a traditional, indoor presentation?
Absolutely, we are living in an unprecedented time, so we have to think about everything differently. Driven is not only a show when you see art, it’s more than this. It’s a whole new experience. As a curator, I tried to tell a brief story about this Latinx legacy with powerful artworks, but not only from their aesthetic perspective but also from their meaningful message and ideas. Art can be something entertaining and exciting of course, but we don’t have to forget that art is also something that can change the way you see and think about everything.
Tell us a bit about how the experience will work for those that come to visit, and what they might be able to expect?
Driven is an immersive and interactive journey where people can experience contact with art, part physical and part virtual, without getting out of the car, in a socially distant way. It is a cultural event for the whole family, with art and music, a multi-cultural landscape throughout the work by prominent Latinx artists you can enjoy while you listen to a beautiful musical playlist, especially curated for the show. All from the comfort of your car!
Can you share an artist that you’re particularly excited for viewers to see and what makes their work so exciting?
All of them are really amazing but I would say the work of Judithe Hernández is one of the highlights of the show. She is a L.A. based artist and muralist; she was a pioneer in the Chicano Movement advocating for a critical feminist understanding. For Driven, I selected a very powerful work where she linked the women’s power with the Latinx roots in a quite sensual atmosphere. All of the artworks we present in the show are part of the MOLAA Permanent Collection.
Obviously, as just the existence of a drive-through exhibition indicates, we’re living through difficult, challenging times. What is the power of the arts to help us understand the world around us right now?
Art is always necessary, today maybe more than ever. I truly believe art can change people’s lives. In times where things are tense, uncertain and complicated all around, art has the extraordinary ability to bring us some inspiration, ideas, knowledge and beauty. All human things that really matter. Art is so necessary today in order to build a diverse society. We’re so excited to engage and share with the people the power of the art.
Driven: A Latinx Artist Celebration runs October 1-4 at the Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood. Attendance is free; advance reservations are recommended and can be booked online.
During his life, Kobe Bryant created a sports-fantasy book series for young adults in collaboration with author and athlete Ivy Claire. On Friday, Vanessa Bryant and publisher Granity Studios announced there will be one more book in the best-selling series. Epoca: The River of Sand, set to release on December 15, will be the final chapter in the story of magical sports academy Ecrof.
In Epoca: The River of Sand, readers reunite with Pretia, the princess of Epoca, as she prepares for the Junior Epic Games. But, she discovers, there is civil unrest in the place where the Junior Epic Games will be played, with poor children being blamed for inciting trouble. She is challenged to decide what matters most to her as an athlete and a person of power and privilege within the society.
“The Epoca books take readers on a journey of discovery that allows them to understand the power and positive force that can be found in times of adversity,” a statement from the publisher notes. “At a time when the power of protest has proven as critical as ever, Bryant’s popular fantasy novel takes readers through the complexities of belonging, relationships and identity, while empowering youth to follow their dreams and hearts to discover and serve a larger purpose.”
Claire recalls being caught off guard by Bryant reaching out to her. “I got an email one evening from a woman who said ‘Kobe Bryant wants to call you tomorrow about a book. Can I have your phone number?'”
She would learn that Bryant had done his research on her, seeking out a collaborator for the project who was both a former professional athlete and a published author–but who could also bring a specific bit of expertise he felt the project demanded. He wanted someone with a degree in classical studies, specifically an expertise in the literature of ancient Greece.
“I guess there was only one person in the whole world and I got lucky,” she laughed. “All these weird things I’ve done in my life and the only person who’s interested in their unity is Kobe Bryant.”
“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” So said Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future, and so agrees Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose office just wrapped a nine month collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF) developing a framework for the implementation of urban air mobility, better known in non-aviation parlance as flying cars.
“Urban air mobility may seem far away today, but really the timescale is probably five to seven years before we see actual expansion of this type of technology,” WEF Aerospace and Drones Project Lead Harrison Wolf told Los Angeles.
Wolf, who worked with the city on the roadmap, says urban air mobility vehicles will more likely resemble “high scale drones” that are powered by electric propulsion and multi-rotor technology, employ vertical takeoff and landing, and hum as quietly as Teslas over the city at a low altitude. Over time, the drones will use automated systems, Wolf predicts, taking weather into account, and connecting to other modes of transportation.
“We’re at the beginning of a twenty year story,” Wolf says. “This is like the Model T.”
The logistics have yet to be determined, but Wolf can envision future Angelenos scheduling a flight on their smart phone, taking an elevator to a “vertiport” at the top of a nearby high-rise or parking lot, and flying off to their destination.
Technology is developing so rapidly, says Wolf, civic leaders worldwide worry the speed of innovation may well outpace policymaking. A similar problem occurred with electric scooters. When the sharable scooters landed in L.A. in late 2017, city officials weren’t prepared, and had to rush to regulate the new vehicles. To avoid the same mistake, Mayor Garcetti’s office wants to have a plan in place before looking up and finding drones (or humans in jetpacks) littering the sky.
To design the plan, the Mayor’s office formed a working group of more than 50 government planners, community organizations, manufacturers, service providers, academics and other stakeholders, including the WEF, Los Angeles Department of Transportation, FAA, and NASA. Industry partners included Uber Elevate, which is developing aircraft to enable “aerial ridesharing” as well as tech giants Amazon and Google, which are working on drone programs to improve the speed of package deliveries.
The working group’s end product was a sci-fi sounding set of “Principles of the Urban Sky” to guide policymakers in Los Angeles and elsewhere as they implement urban air mobility: environmental sustainability, safety, low noise, job creation, equity of access, connectivity to existing transport options, and data-sharing that allows providers to respond to demand.
Wolf predicts L.A. will likely be one of the first cities to implement urban air mobility on a commercial scale, which is fitting, he says, given the region’s rich history of aerospace pioneers like John Northrop, Amelia Earhart, and Howard Hughes.
In light of the global pandemic, many cities’ urban air mobility efforts are on the back-burner, but Mayor Garcetti believes it still deserves a place on the agenda. “Even in the face of COVID-19 today,” he said in a statement, “our eyes are fixed on the horizon of a reimagined tomorrow, where Urban Air Mobility is a central part of a safe, sustainable, equitable future.”
Starting this season, more Black animated characters–including beloved fixtures on Family Guy and The Simpsons–will be voiced by Black actors. On Friday, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and showrunners Rich Appel and Alec Sulkin announced on Twitter that voice actor and YouTube star Arif Zahir will be replacing Mike Henry as Cleveland Brown on the Fox show starting with the 2021-2022 season.
Henry, who’s played Cleveland for two decades on Family Guy and for four seasons on its spinoff The Cleveland Show, announced in June that he would be stepping away from the role as calls for greater diversity in entertainment began to surge along with the mounting protests of police violence against Black people.
“It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years,” Henry wrote at the time. “I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role.”
It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years. I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role. pic.twitter.com/FmKasWITKT
Zahir will take over the role for Season 19, scheduled to air starting in 2021. The actor, known to his more than 6 million YouTube followers as Azerzz, has previously posted videos of himself imitating Cleveland playing Call of Duty:Modern Warfare, and singing Lil’ Mosey’s “Blueberry Faygo.” The likeness of the impression inspired pages of comments from fans calling on Family Guy producers to consider Zahir for the role.
“Firstly, I’m eternally grateful to have received this once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “When I heard that Mike Henry was stepping down from the role of Cleveland Brown—my favorite cartoon character of all time—I was shocked and saddened, assuming we’d never see him again. When I learned I would get to take over the role? Overabundant gratitude. To Mike, you created something truly special and I promise I will do my absolute best to honor your legacy. To Rich Appel, Alec Sulkin and Seth MacFarlane, thank you for this incredible gift. And to the millions of fans who love this show, I promise not to let you down.”
Elsewhere on Fox, Hank Azaria is stepping down as Homer Simpson’s pal Carl Carlson after playing the part almost since the series’ beginning. He will be replaced by The Flash actor Alex Désert on Sunday’s Season 32 premiere, although it’s unclear if he’ll be playing the part after that.
A statement from the show read only, “We are very pleased to welcome Alex Désert, playing Carl in the Simpsons season premiere,” with reps for The Simpsons declining to comment further. The show’s producers announced earlier this year that, “moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.”
The movement to highlight voice actors of color extends beyond the Fox network. Jenny Slate announced in June that she was quitting her role as half-Black, half-Jewish Missy Foreman-Greenwald on Netflix’s Big Mouth. Last month, Slate was replaced by Ayo Edebiri.
The end of the Pacific Dining Car came with a few mouse clicks this week as the final bids were entered on the leather booths, fine china, and crystal goblets inside the landmark restaurant. Ninety nine years ago, Fred and Grace “Lovey” Cook started serving up meals just outside of downtown in a replica railroad car. Over four generations, the food got better, the wines got fancier, and the Dining Car expanded into a dim and sprawling, elegant oasis that never closed. It was a refuge for movie stars and politicians looking for a comfortable night out in a place where old-fashioned rules of decorum still applied. Los Angeles magazine raved about the restaurant for decades, and once named it one of the 101 Greatest Things About L.A. Our former food critic Jonathan Gold wrote that at the Dining Car, he “feasted on a prime dry-aged New York strip steak with the magnificent sour ripeness of a runny French St. Nectaire.”
While much of the kitchen equipment and plush décor (including the contents of a sister restaurant in Santa Monica) have been sold at auction, Cook’s great-grandson Wes Idol III does a good job convincing us that the restaurant is simply taking a nap during the pandemic and will return someday. “I have zero interest in having my family’s legacy go away,” Idol told us from his home in Calabasas this week. “There’s something very productive in a pause.”
The last crate of Dining Car relish and jam sold for $535, A wooden plaque for the “Club Car” sold for $5,025, and the restaurant’s curbside sign, two life-size steers that stood over 6th Street and Witmer Avenue for decades, fetched $7,250. “The whole physical space is on hold,” he says. “There’s going to be a large redecoration and renovation anyway, It’s really not as dramatic as it seems.” Idol removed photos and artifacts of personal or historical interest before the sale and insists that everything in the auction needed to be replaced anyway.
Whatever the interior looks like, it may involve more room for aging beef. Idol plans to use the restaurant building, which his family owns, for a new venture at the original location. Starting sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Pacific Dining Car will be selling frozen steaks online. Idol speculates on a whole line of future food products. If things go well, macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach, and potato souffle could also come back, in to-go form. “This is not the end of anything,” he says. “This is the beginning of something.” The restaurant needs to work out new supply chains and age the prime beef for up to two months (Idol claims his great grandfather introduced dry aged beef to Los Angeles) before offering a kit with easy-to-follow cooking instructions that Idol says “a college student with a hotplate” could follow.
The fourth-generation owner remembers a visit to a museum with his father, who passed away last year, where he spotted the Remington logo on an antique bicycle. The curator explained how the famous rifle company got their start manufacturing bikes. “How’s that for adapting?” his father said at the time. “This is personal. This is my family,” Idol says. “One of my main drivers is keeping Pacific Dining Car alive and going into the future. This is the pivot we’re going to do.”
Idol has worked every job in the restaurant, from busboy, to IT, to maître d’. Having spent decades seating warring politicians away from each other has taught him diplomacy, so he won’t take sides, but you can tell he’s not a fan of the regulations that closed his business. “Much of the state has been gutted,” he says. “Many of my peers would like to see our mayor and governor hung out to dry. They both have my sympathy, but the industry feels far more cantankerous.”
While I can’t imagine the Dining Car’s coddled customers finding the same pleasure grilling their own steaks and mixing their own martinis, perhaps some inhabit their own cozy labyrinth with overstuffed chairs and tuxedoed staff around every corner. Sure, the food at the Dining Car was great, but the experience was all about the service and the environment. Idol remembered “My dad used to say, ‘People may not remember what you do or say, but they’ll never forget how you make them feel.’”
You’re not supposed to worry about your agent. That’s the most appealing thing about the relationship. All you talk about is your career, your money, your opinions of studio executives.
But when lockdown started, I worried about Richard Weitz, co-head of WME’s scripted television department. Weitz is a blast of staccato, fast-talking, gravelly voiced, optimistic confidence that’s sometimes hard to contain long enough to follow what he’s talking about. He goes out every night, to such cool places and with such cool people that you could piece together a history of 21st century Los Angeles solely from his Instagram: Floorside at the Lakers game with Josh Groban, seeing Star Wars with LL Cool J, posing with Jennifer Hudson at the Saban Community Clinic gala, accepting the Bernie Brillstein Legacy Award from Rob Lowe at the Wilshire Country Club. He’s friends with Craig Sussed at Craig’s and also Gloria Leon, the 69-year-old waitress at Nate ‘n Al’s. He once, without explanation, handed me a Richard Weitz Funko Pop! figurine.
“Sometimes it was really really frustrating,” says Richard’s 17-year-old daughter Demi about her dad’s schedule. “He was home when he wanted to be home. But I was like, ‘No. Be home the other times when I want to hang out.’” Richard’s wife, Candie and son, Aiden, had struggled with his peripatetic ways as well. The Richard Weitz 2018-2019 Tour shirt, created by WME partner Ari Greenburg, lists 100 events around the world he went to.
I knew that if Richard had to spend two nights in a row in his own house, he was going to lose it. What I didn’t know about was Zoom. If he couldn’t go into the world, he was going to talk the world into coming to his house.
It was less plan than instinct. Like most parents back in the early days of the pandemic, he felt badly that his daughter’s birthday’s plans were ruined. So on March 27, he threw a virtual surprise party for Demi’s 17th birthday. Richard invited a friend who plays covers at a piano bar in Chicago to sing for her and 40 of her friends and family. When the teens quickly tired of 1980s cover tunes, Richard logged off and came up with a new, Richard-ier plan. He called John Mayer, Debbie Gibson, and Rick Astley, and got them to sing happy birthday. This went over much better. The teens eventually signed off, but Richard stayed on with his famous friends, getting his social fix.
Jonesing again, he invited some more musicians to perform for his friends the following weekend. Soon, Richard had more than 500 people at his weekend Zooms—dubbed “Quarantunes”—to hear songs by Groban, Astley, Thomas Rhett, Billy Ray Cyrus, Boy George, Rick Springfield, and Rev Run.
Demi, who is shy and never completely comfortable with her high school friends, finally found her own platform. She went from binge watching How I Met Your Mother to avoid her loneliness, to talking to powerful people and somehow making jokes around them, and being impressed with her dad’s skill as an agent, seeing him connect people who trusted his advice. “I thought his job was going out and was all fun and games. I’m seeing the hard work and dedication he puts into it,” she says. “I thought he did nothing.”
By April 4, Demi started to feel guilty for having the best pandemic ever. “I felt a little over privileged to be doing this with what is going on now. It wasn’t a good feeling,” Demi says. So she suggested asking guests to donate to the Saban Community Clinic, which was likely to be overwhelmed with virus patients. Richard, who is president of their board, was into it. Demi’s initial goal was to raise $10,000, which they accomplished in an hour. By the end of the night, they’d raised $100,000.
The Wietzses put on a show nearly every week, often twice on weekends, supporting a new charity each time—Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Heart of Los Angeles, United Way of Greater L.A., the L.A. Food Bank. So far, over the course of 25 Quarantunes Zooms, they’ve collectively raised over $11.5 million. Billboard created an award—the Heroes of the Pandemic Award—just to give it to them. Girls Inc. had Tina Fey present Demi with the Champion for Girls Award, and celebrated her with appearances from the stars of her favorite shows: The Big Bang Theory, New Girl, and How I Met Your Mother. “You really saved your dad’s life,” Fey said on the Zoom, referring to Richard’s “extreme extroversion.” Earlier this month, Bob Iger presented them with the Walt Disney Philanthropists of the Year Award at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles’ during its The Big Night In virtual gala.
As Demi felt empowered by raising money, Richard felt empowered by throwing events. He’d always been a huge music fan, and now he got to live out his dream of hosting Live Aid every week. He turned his Zoom call into a new type of entertainment, a combination music awards shows, variety program, and Hollywood party.
Which was a role Hollywood needed filled. People I’d never met, or hadn’t talked to in a long time, privately messaged in the chat room. I got at least one meeting out of it. Others got more. After playing a song, Jack Antonoff said that the quarantine made him realize he needs animals in his life and talked to songwriter Diane Warren about advice on getting some birds. Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda told Ashanti that she was the inspiration for one of the musical’s songs, and Broadway actress Emmy Raver-Lampman landed two gigs after covering a Lizzo song. When Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez gathered around a piano with their daughters to sing the Frozen songs they wrote, Bob Iger got made fun of in the chat box for typing, “Everyone can find it on Disney+ right now.” It was better than a Hollywood party, because it felt safe to mock Bob Iger.
Paging through Zoom screens, I regularly saw Sherry Lansing, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Tom Werner, Dana Walden, Tina Fey, Amy Adams, Courtney Cox, Rob Lowe, Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, and tennis star Pam Shriver. Nearly 300 performers have played their hits and told stories about writing them: Rod Stewart, Josh Groban, Elvis Costello, Earth Wind & Fire, Florida Georgia Line, Shawn Mendes, Smokey Robinson, and the Killers. At one point, I was convinced that people were coming back from the dead to be on the Zoom, when songwriter Mike Stoller of Leiber and Stoller (“Hound Dog,” “Yakkity Yak”) called in.
Richard plays the role of gushing, well-prepared interviewer. He’ll yell like a teenager at a Beatles concert. He’ll talk to his parents. He’ll cry. His favorite thing is declaring himself a “sniper,” demanding a performer sing something they didn’t prepare in the Zoom rehearsal.
“I sniper Melissa Etheridge to sing a Janis Joplin song. And she didn’t sing one but she sang two! She was going to sing ‘Come Through My Window’ and all of the sudden she’s singing ‘Me and Bobby McGee’!” Richard tells me in disbelief. He has made two producers his de facto cohosts, calling on them not only to book guests, but to ask them questions after they played: 88-year-old music executive Clive Davis, and songwriter and producer Jimmy Jam.
“I don’t think anybody turned us down,” says Davis, who wears a sweater and tie for every event. “Al Stewart was going to do ‘Year of the Cat’ and ‘Time Passages’ but the person coming to set up the Zoom got the virus. So we had to postpone it,” he says.
When Davis asked Barry Manilow to come on, he performed a particularly relevant song he recorded in 1989, ‘When the Good Times Come Again.’ I Facetimed my mom and held my phone up to the Zoom performance. I was not alone. Manilow sang it on The Late Late Show with James Corden and The Today Show and wound up at number 18 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. After Bryan Adams sang, he told Davis he had an unreleased solo version of Aretha Franklin singing ‘Never Gonna Break My Faith,’ a song he wrote for her and Mary J. Blige. A few weeks later, it was number one on Billboard’s gospel chart.
Jam, a calm, professorial presence, became friends with Richard a dozen years ago when he burst into Jam’s meeting at WME yelling, “How come Jimmy Jam is in the building and no one told me!” then naming the most obscure songs that he produced and running of the room. “He texted me about Demi’s party. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Jam remembers. “The next week he did another one and after the fact mentioned that John Mayer was going to be on. I thought that sounded kind of cool.” Soon, Richard was asking him to book guests and calling on him to deliver commentary after they played. When he’s not talking, he’s scrolling through pages of guests. “ I like watching people listening to music. Watching the emotions wash over them,” he says. “We’re all in the same place feeling the same thing.”
On May 23, instead of hosting from their kitchen—the room in their Beverly Hills house with the best WiFi reception—Richard and Demi popped up at the Hollywood Bowl with Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gustavo Dudamel, as they watched performances from Kenny Loggins, the trumpet section of the L.A. Philharmonic, and members of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. Billie Eilish zoomed in. The week before Hamilton premiered on Disney+, creator Miranda and the cast reunited to raise money for Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. A few weeks later John Legend cohosted to support his prison reform nonprofit FreeAmerica. Governor Gavin Newsom came on to talk about COVID. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms discussed how to cut hair during a pandemic. Weitz was set to host from Dodger Stadium to raise money for the team’s Dodgers RBI youth development program until Black Lives Matter protests led them to reschedule.
“Imagine a year ago. I had no clients. What was going on. A year later I’ve made the pivot from representing writers to taking my passion in connecting music artists. This is a dream for me. I’m taking to everyone I’ve ever been a fan of directly. From my kitchen,” Richard told me. A few months later, he went further: “This has been the best year of my life. I solidified a new relationship with my daughter, and a new reputation for me, well beyond being an agent.”
In fact, it’s hard for Richard to log off the Zooms. Really hard. They sometimes last more than seven hours – long after Demi gets exhausted and leaves. Once, she came down to her kitchen near midnight in her sleeping clothes, shocked Richard still is asking Amos Lee to play another song for former Comedy Central head Kent Alterman and 40 other die hards.
When the quarantine ends, Richard vows not to let Quarantunes end with it. He’s already figuring out a way to stage live events and Zoom holiday specials.
But Demi also knows that the quarantine has changed her dad as much as it’s changed her. “My dad is going to want to be home a lot more now,” she told her mom while we were on speakerphone. “I think he’s realizing the simplicity and beauty in life and what’s important.”
“Demi don’t get your hopes up. You’re going to be disappointed,” Candie added.
Hearing this, a newly wisened Richard gives it the millisecond of thought he gives everything. “I’m dying at home every day. I need to go out,” he says.
Aaron Sorkin has long been fascinated by the crackling combo of politics, media, and the law. Throughout his long, impressive career—which includes films like A Few Good Men and The Social Network, TV’s West Wing, and a Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird—the 59-year-old writer-director has dramatized some of the most topical subjects of the day.
His latest project, The Trial of the Chicago 7, might be his most pertinent yet. The film, which premieres October 16 on Netflix, is set in the summer of 1968, with protesters and police clashing violently outside the Democratic convention. With a high-wattage cast that includes Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, and Mark Rylance, it follows the six-month trial of the men accused of inciting the riot, among them Abbie Hoffman and Black Panthers cofounder Bobby Seale.
Sorkin recently talked to Los Angeles about the movie, the upcoming election, and whom he considers the best actor alive right now.
You first met with Steven Spielberg in 2006 about writing a film on the Chicago Seven that someone else would direct. What happened?
The one thing I remember distinctly about that 2006 meeting is that Steven thought it would be great to get this film out before the election. He was talking about 2008! At that point we had not heard of Barack Obama. The day after I turned in the second draft, the Writer’s Guild went on strike. When I did finally get back to it, Steven wanted to produce, but there were other directors he was interested in—Paul Greengrass, Ben Stiller . . . . Then two things happened: the election of 2016 and Molly’s Game, my directorial debut. Steven was pleased enough with Molly’s Game to say, “Now’s the time to do Chicago 7, and you should direct it.”
Working on the project in 2006 and more recently, you probably never could have imagined police brutality and violence in the streets all over again. It’s déjà vu.
It’s amazing, and very chilling. Someone asked me recently if I’d changed the script to mirror the times. The answer is no; the times changed to mirror the script—in the worst possible ways. Look, when we started on the final version of the script, we’d elected a president who waxed nostalgic to crowds about the good old days when we carried protesters out on stretchers—when you could beat the crap out of them. And then there was “Go back to where you came from!” And then I thought the movie was relevant when we were shooting it in late 2019. We didn’t need it to get more relevant, but it did. I watched this summer’s protests on television and thought how similar things looked to 1968.
And now you’ve got the president ordering soldiers to teargas American citizens who peacefully protest.
That’s right. At this performance, the role of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is being played by Donald Trump.
How much of what we hear in the film is what was really said, and how much is snappy Sorkin lingo?
There are a few moments in the courtroom scenes where what was in the trial transcript couldn’t be beat—like a lot of the Bobby Seale moments. Everything else is a writer’s imagination.
Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin is like nothing that guy has done. He always plays such a hard-ass. Honestly, right now, he is one of the best actors alive. I saw him for the first time in The Big Short and thought, “Wow, he’s great, but that’s probably the part he can play.” Then I cast him in Molly’s Game. When I saw him in Succession, I decided there’s no limit to what this actor can do. Jeremy is for real.
You wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for The Social Network. What do you think about what’s happening with Facebook now, with Zuckerberg refusing to
censor clearly false political propaganda?
I think Mark and Facebook are intentionally confusing unpopular opinions with incorrect facts. They make more money from unpopular opinions. I think we’ve all seen how dangerous it is, and it’s not stopping. That tells you a lot.
Do you think it’s just about money? Or could it be politically motivated?
Your guess is as good as mine. My knowledge about Facebook is Facebook in 2005. But I would say, follow the money.
What did you think of the Democratic National Convention?
Loved it. I was very nervous about it. I’m a big fan of oratory; I like convention speeches. I didn’t know how they were going to work without a crowd. And it turned out it worked great. With the Obamas, Kamala Harris, and Joe Biden, the effect was, “I’m not doing this because it’s an applause line. I’m not throwing red meat out to the crowd. I am talking to you.” So it actually had more weight. Now, do I hope big convention speeches with big crowds and balloons come back? I do. But for this very strange and frightening year, it was a great convention.
Since you’re Hollywood’s political sage, I must ask you, do you think Biden will win?
I don’t have any more knowledge than anyone else. But I’ve gotten The West Wing cast together, and we’re gonna do a benefit on HBO Max for an organization called When We All Vote. The cast will be doing a staged reading of an episode of the show that was kind of an ode to voting. [The special will be taped at L.A.’s Orpheum Theater in October and air later in the month.]
Did you see that Nicolle Wallace, after her MSNBC show was expanded, said she watched more episodes of The West Wing than she could ever admit to when she was working as the communications director for Bush?
Let me tell you that there’s no one I’d rather get a compliment like that from than Nicolle Wallace. Every four years there’s this opportunity in America for us to hear the best of two competing arguments, right? Health care, poverty, race relations, climate. And we never get to hear that argument because we’re gonna talk about dumb things like “The election is rigged.” That’s what the conversation has turned into. It’s too bad. I would love to hear people like Nicolle Wallace, Steve Schmidt, and a raft of others make strong counterarguments to things I believe. I’m definitely persuadable, so give me the best argument for your case. But I need to hear it from people who are not part of what I call “the silly season.”
So you’re a fan of the Lincoln Project?
Yeah, they’re strong. They can swing much harder, and they don’t have to say, “I’m Joe Biden and I approve this message.”
Which political commentators do you watch? Bill Maher? Colbert? John Oliver?
Yes to all three. Plus Seth Meyers—always love “A Closer Look.” Trevor Noah. Samantha Bee.
You’ve been compared to David Mamet, a staunch Republican, who, like you, is known for his fast, smart dialogue.
David Mamet is someone whom I disagree ideologically with, but I’d love to hear more from, politically. Because if Mamet cannot persuade me, I’m not persuadable! I think being compared to David Mamet as a writer is unfair to David.
On talk shows, actors from your projects always get asked, “How did you do all that language?” It seems very difficult.
You know, yes, from time to time when the actor will have a long speech—or a long list of names, dates, and places— sometimes that’s just me punishing them.
Did you plan for this film to come out before the November 2020 election?
Yes. Not because I think it can affect the results of the election but because right now—and this was before life began to imitate art in such a terrible way—is when we’re feeling these things and when it will have the most resonance.
I’ve read in several places that you’re the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood.
I have no idea if that’s true. If it is, then Tony Kushner has to have a serious talk with his agent.
In an incident captured on camera, a large pickup truck drove through a crowd of protesters who were marching in Hollywood on Thursday night in response to the Kentucky attorney general’s handling of the Breonna Taylor case.
According to the L.A. Times, the protesters were walking east down Sunset Boulevard when the truck, traveling west, accelerated through the crowd and, as video shows, strikes at least one protester who was flung backward by the impact. One person was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
The news that Kentucky would decline to charge two of the three officers participated in the no-knock raid during which 26-year-old paramedic Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her bed has ignited a fresh round of protests against police brutality across the country. Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, who both discharged their weapons inside Taylor’s apartment, will face no charges in the homicide; Brett Hankison, who’s since been terminated from the Louisville police force, will face three counts of wanton endangerment, none of them directly related to Taylor’s death.
No serious incidents were reported at protests Wednesday night in downtown L.A., while two incidents involving vehicles were reported last night. A freelance photo journalist who witnessed the incident involving the truck told the Times that while other vehicles had yielded to protesters, the truck appeared to have, in his opinion, “instigated the incident.”
LAPD officers stopped and questioned the driver but did not arrest them because, according to Captain Steve Lurie of the Hollywood Division, the driver claimed the protesters attacked his vehicle first.
In a second incident, a white Toyota Prius drove through a group of protesters. That driver was also stopped and questioned by police and also claimed to be the victim in the incident.
Lurie tells the Times that in both cases they’re trying to determine whether the drivers are “the suspect of a hit-and-run or the victim of an assault.”
» With another heat wave on the horizon, California could see another swell in wildfire activity. The state is entering the time of year historically considered the peak of fire season. [Los Angeles Times]
» UC Regent Richard Blum has been named as one of the individuals linked to the admission of unqualified but well-connected students. Blum, the husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein, denies any wrongdoing. [San Francisco Chronicle]
» A group of parents says they plan to file a lawsuit against the LAUSD, arguing the current distance learning plan “violates students’ rights to a basic public education.” The group says Black and Latino students, English as a second language learners, and children with disabilities have been disproportionately left behind by the district’s online learning systems. [KTLA]
» Mayor Garcetti is expressing concern about L.A.’s recent rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and transmission rate. “This virus is still here, and it’s still very dangerous,” he said at a briefing. [KTLA]
» Tory Lanez issued his first public statement since the shooting of Megan Thee Stallion. Lanez is accused of pulling the trigger in the July incident outside a Hollywood Hills party. [XXL]
It’s unlikely that California’s electoral votes will end up in Donald Trump’s column–and he’s losing the money race here too, currently falling more than $44 million behind Joe Biden on funds raised in the state. But, as a Los Angeles Times analysis finds, there is a cadre of dedicated Trump donors in SoCal that have handed over major cash to his campaign.
Trump’s most generous ally in California is Beverly Hills real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer. The billionaire has given far and away the largest sum, totaling up to $6,405,200. Known for the Da Vinci, Orsini, Medici, and other downtown apartment projects, Palmer has been a long-time money man for the president, and was an initial donor to a PAC co-founded by Paul Manafort, which came under investigation amid Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Another Beverly Hills developer, Robert Zarnegin, comes in at number four on the top California donors list, forking over $375,000. Zarnegin’s firm, Probity International, owns numerous hulking commercial and mixed-used projects across the region, including the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel and a Rodeo Drive shopping complex.
Also on the list are husband and wife Joel and Barbara Marcus, giving a combined $525,000. Joel Marcus is the founder of Alexandria Real Estate Equities and, in 2019, sued his own son.
Perhaps the most recognizable name on the list of local megadonors is Jamie McCourt. The 66-year-old former wife of Frank McCourt was an executive and part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to 2011. Now, she serves as the U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco. McCourt donated $360,600.
Also on the list: Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey of Newport Beach, Colony Capital CEO and Neverland Ranch co-owner Thomas Barrack of L.A., and Kohl’s department store heiress Jana Kohl of Beverly Hills.
With its heavy concentration of super-donors, Beverly Hills ranked as the California neighborhood that’s given the most to Trump. Brentwood, Malibu, and the Palos Verdes Peninsula also saw significant giving.
Want to know if your own neighborhood is giving more to Trump or Biden? A tool on the Times site allows you to check by ZIP code.
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