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vendredi 4 septembre 2015

How Gregory Peck Fought Hollywood Bigotry

he recent publication of Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” has left many fans of her 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” disillusioned. Some who regarded “Mockingbird”’s central character Atticus Finch as a moral paragon fighting Southern racism have been deeply disappointed by “Watchman” (actually an earlier draft of “Mockingbird”), in which Atticus is rendered as a racist curmudgeon.
Readers unhappy about losing a fictional Atticus might, however, reclaim the “real” one. Gregory Peck, who so famously embodied Atticus in the film version of “Mockingbird,” passionately opposed racial prejudice. And now, unpublished documents in the Margaret Herrick Library (the Oscars archive) reveal Peck’s personal opposition to racism, long before Harper Lee even wrote “Mockingbird.” The young actor attacked bigotry against both blacks and Jews.
Peck expressed some of his earliest anti-racist views with regard to Haiti. The U.S. had occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, and Hollywood films from the era depicted the country as a land of bizarre “voodoo” rites and zombies. However, Peck had visited the country in the 1940s, and when Darryl Zanuck of Fox Studios sought to persuade him to star in “Lydia Bailey,” an adventure-romance set during the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), Peck asked to make a more serious film about Haiti.
He wanted to highlight the egalitarian ideals of Haiti’s revolution, in which African slaves had successfully revolted and made their country the first free black republic in the Americas. Peck likened Haitians’ fight for independence to the American Revolution. He spoke of how Haitian revolutionaries “carried on democratic ideals… against all the efforts of the French to retake the island and continue the exploitation of the people, their former slaves.” Peck compared the suffering of Haitians and “the poor negroes in the [American] South,” who he felt were even worse off.
Peck also denounced anti-Semitism, most notably through his role in the 1948 film “Gentleman’s Agreement.” It is easy today to forget the strength of anti-Semitism in the U.S. before the 1960s, where Jews faced widespread discrimination in housing and the workplace, as well as at prestigious universities and resorts. Anti-Semites such as Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi even used the word “kike” on the House floor. Though many Jewish studio executives were afraid to acknowledge the problem, for fear of a backlash, Daryl Zanuck, one of Hollywood’s few non-Jewish studio heads, decided to tackle the subject. He sought to turn Laura Hobson’s 1946 novel “Gentleman’s Agreement” into a film, personally entrusting the story to Peck. Peck’s stirring portrayal of Phil Green, a gentile journalist who goes undercover to expose everyday anti-Semitism, has become legendary. The role earned Peck an Oscar nomination.
Peck’s spirited defense of egalitarianism in the film was not merely an act. He took the role against the advice of his agent, who told him that challenging anti-Semitism could make him deeply unpopular. When asked by Coronet Magazine what the film meant to him, Peck responded, “To me ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ was a picture about Americanism.” As the House Un-American Activities Committee had begun targeting many of Peck’s liberal colleagues, Peck remarked pointedly that the best defense against communism was to live up to America’s noblest ideals: “We can best fight communism by practicing democracy.”
Though “Mockingbird” fans can safely reclaim Peck, it would oversimplify the history of racism and anti-Semitism in the U.S. to treat him as the uncomplicated paragon Atticus once appeared to be. It is perhaps a fool’s errand to search for unblemished heroes, given how deeply rooted prejudice can be even among those seeking to free themselves from it. Even before “Watchman”’s publication, scholars of race had noted that Atticus, despite defending an accused African American, did little to attack the larger structure of racism in his society.
In Peck’s case, his actions may not have always lived up to his pronouncements. For his proposed film about Haitian history, he wanted to occupy the starring role himself rather than hire an African-American actor — which would have meant his appearing in blackface. More notably, even as he crusaded on screen against “gentleman’s agreements” barring Jews, he may not have challenged them as forcefully in person. At the same time that he was filming “Gentleman’s Agreement,” he was founding the La Jolla Playhouse in his hometown of San Diego. Though Jews numbered among San Diego’s founders in the 19th century, the coastal area of La Jolla remained one of the city’s most fervent strongholds of prejudice. Mary Ellen Stratthaus has chronicled the restrictive covenants there, dating from the 1920s, that excluded anyone whose “blood was not entirely of the Caucasian race” from purchasing property. Real estate agents also used more subtle means to prevent Jews from moving to town, which residents feared would ruin the community and drive down property values. While conducting oral histories, Stratthaus was told that, when the Playhouse held cast parties at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, Jewish actors were not allowed to attend, something that Peck apparently did not protest (though Peck denied this to her in a 1996 letter).
Today, La Jolla is home to a thriving Jewish community — one of the most vibrant on the West Coast. However, it was not Peck who effected this sea change, but rather Roger Revelle, founder of the University of California, San Diego. Revelle insisted to town fathers in the 1950s that restrictive covenants must disappear if he were to build a world-class research institution that could attract Jewish faculty.
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to underestimate Peck’s influence in creating a new America in the postwar period, one in which anti-Semites found themselves on the wrong side of history. In “Antisemitism in America,” Leonard Dinnerstein has written of the explosive impact that “Gentleman’s Agreement” had in “unmask[ing] those who tried to hide their bigotry under the mask of gentility and conformity.” The film, Fox’s highest grossing of 1948, deeply affected those who saw it. Zanuck told Peck, “I have never received half as many telegrams or phone calls on any previous picture and many people believe it is the best picture they have ever seen.” Peck himself was deluged with letters from Jews who suffered from anti-Semitism in their daily lives, and who were overwhelmed with gratitude at seeing him denounce these practices openly. “Gentleman’s Agreement” went on to win Best Picture at the 1948 Oscars, beating “Crossfire” (an equally well-intentioned film on anti-Semitism that had a lesser impact).
It was Peck’s deep belief in the words he spoke in “Gentleman’s Agreement” that allowed him to deliver them so powerfully — and that inspired both Jews and blacks to imagine a world without prejudice. At a time when parallel films about blacks were not being made, one African-American teenager wrote Peck that “Gentleman’s Agreement” gave her the “courage to fight” to achieve her dreams. She noted that Peck should not feel bad about having lost the Best Actor award to another nominee, since “In Gentleman’s Agreement you weren’t acting. Your sincerity, honesty and belief in what you said rang as clear and true as a church bell.”
Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall is a professor of history at California State University, San Marcos.
Read more: http://forward.com/culture/320336/how-gregory-peck-fought-hollywood-racism/#ixzz3kn3mjYlk

The Clintons’ Haiti Screw-Up, As Told By Hillary’s Emails

It’s hard to find anyone these days who looks back on the U.S.-led response to the January 12, 2010, Haiti earthquake as a success, but it wasn’t always that way. Right after the disaster, even as neighborhoods lay in rubble, their people sweltering under tarps, the consensus—outside Haiti—was that America’s “compassionate invasion” (as TIME Magazine called it) had been “largely a success” (Los Angeles Times), offering further proof that “in critical moments of the history of mankind … the United States is, in fact, the indispensable nation” (Expresso, Portugal).150902_katz_clintons_gty.jpg
As the latest release of Hillary Clinton’s personal emails by the U.S. State Department Monday revealed, that perception was not an accident. “We waged a very successful campaign against the negative stories concerning our involvement in Haiti,” Judith McHale, the under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, wrote on February 26, 2010. A few weeks before, the public affairs chief had emailed newspaper quotations praising U.S. efforts in Haiti to Secretary Clinton with the note “Our Posts at work.” Clinton applauded. “That’s the result of your leadership and a new model of engagement w our own people,” she replied. “Onward!”
But one person even closer to the secretary of state was singing a different tune—very, very quietly. On February 22, after a four-day visit to the quake zone, Chelsea Clinton authored a seven-page memo which she addressed to “Dad, Mom,” and copied their chief aides. That informal report tells a continuing story of the unique brands of power and intelligence wielded by the Clinton family in Haiti and around the world—and of the uniquely Clinton ways they often undermine themselves.
First off, there was the secrecy. The memo—by a Clinton, with a master’s in public health from Columbia University, pursuing a doctorate in international relations from Oxford and with a prominent role at her family’s foundation—would have obliterated the public narrative of helpful outsiders saving grateful earthquake survivors that her mother’s State Department was working so hard to promote. Instead, like so much of the inner workings of the Clintons’ vast network, it was kept secret, released only in an ongoing dump of some 35,000 emails from Hillary’s private server, in response to a Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit wrapped up in the politics of the 2016 presidential election.
Chelsea Clinton was blunt in her report, confident the recipients would respect her request in the memo’s introduction to remain an “invisible soldier.” She had first come to the quake zone six days after the disaster with her father and then-fiancé, Mark Mezvinsky. Now she was returning with the medical aid group Partners in Health, whose co-founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, was her father’s deputy in his Office of the UN Special Envoy for Haiti. What she saw profoundly disturbed her.
Five weeks after the earthquake, international responders were still in relief mode: U.S. soldiers roamed Port-au-Prince streets on alert for signs of social breakdown, while aid groups held daily coordination meetings inside a heavily guarded UN compound ordinary Haitian couldn’t enter. But Haitians had long since moved on into their own recovery mode, many in displacement camps they had set up themselves, as responders who rarely even spoke the language, Kreyòl, worked around them, oblivious to their efforts.
“The incompetence is mind numbing,” she told her parents. “The UN people I encountered were frequently out of touch … anachronistic in their thinking at best and arrogant and incompetent at worst.” “There is NO accountability in the UN system or international humanitarian system.” The weak Haitian government, which had lost buildings and staff in the disaster, had something of a plan, she noted. Yet because it had failed to articulate its wishes quickly enough, foreigners rushed forward with a “proliferation of ad hoc efforts by the UN and INGOs [international nongovernmental organizations] to ‘help,’ some of which have helped … some of which have hurt … and some which have not happened at all.”
The former first daughter recognized something that scores of other foreigners had missed: that Haitians were not just sitting around waiting for others to do the work. “Haitians in the settlements are very much organizing themselves … Fairly nuanced settlement governance structures have already developed,” she wrote, giving the example of camp home to 40,000 displaced quake survivors who had established a governing committee and a series of sub-committees overseeing security, sanitation, women’s needs and other issues.
“They wanted to help themselves, and they wanted reliability and accountability from their partners,” Chelsea Clinton wrote. But that help was not coming. The aid groups had ignored requests for T-shirts, flashlights and pay for the security committee, and the U.S. military had apparently passed on the committee’s back-up plan that they provide security themselves. “The settlements’ governing bodies—as they shared with me—are beginning to experience UN/INGO fatigue given how often they articulate their needs, willingness to work—and how little is coming their way.”
That analysis went beyond what some observers have taken years to understand, and many others still haven’t: that disaster survivors are best positioned to take charge of their own recovery, yet often get pushed aside by outside authorities who think, wrongly, that they know better. Her report also had more than an echo of the philosophy of her Partners in Health tour guides. More than five years later, her candor and force of insight impress experts. “I am struck by the direct tone and the level of detail,” says Vijaya Ramachandran, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.
But then came the recommendations—and a second classic pitfall. Far from speaking uncomfortable truths to her parents’ power, Chelsea was largely agreeing with their own assessments. At a March UN donors’ conference for Haiti over which Bill and Hillary Clinton presided, the secretary of state would tell the assembled delegates that the global community had to start doing things differently. “It will be tempting to fall back on old habits—to work around the [Haitian] government rather than to work with them as partners, to fund a scattered array of well-meaning projects rather than making the deeper, long-term investments that Haiti needs now,” she said, nearly repeating her daughter’s dismissal of the “ad hoc efforts” that had defined the early response.
Bill Clinton had also long been scathing in his assessments of aid work there. As the Associated Press correspondent in Port-au-Prince before, during and after the quake, I’d followed him on his visits since becoming UN Special Envoy in mid-2009. In public, the former president called for better coordination between NGOs and donors. In private, after long, frustrating days in the Caribbean heat, he’d sometimes just go off, lighting into the nearest staffer about partners’ missed meetings and broken promises. The former president also loved to apologize for his own past actions—destructive food policies which flooded the Haitian market with cheap Arkansas rice, and ordering a crippling embargo that destroyed the Haitian economy during the reign of a 1990s military junta (some of whose members had been on the CIA payroll).
Yet those introspections rarely extend to the present. As anyone who’s covered the Clintons can tell you, they armor themselves with staffers who hit back against almost any hint of criticism—especially when an election is near. The one thing the Clintons never seem to question is the idea that they, personally, should remain in charge. And that is precisely what Chelsea recommended in her report: “The Office of Special Envoy—i.e., you Dad—needs authority over the UN and all its myriad parts—which I do believe would give you effective authority over [the NGOs].” Her father, the former president, should be a “single point of authority,” she said—overseeing a replacement for the organizational system of government agencies, militaries and NGOs.
The truth is that Bill Clinton was already by far the most powerful individual in this flawed system, with Hillary close behind. She was guiding the U.S. response as secretary of state. He was already UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Envoy for Haiti, head patron of the Clinton Foundation and co-leader of the newly formed Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund. Weeks later the couple would share the dais at the donors conference, where governments and aid groups pledged some $10 billion for Haiti’s recovery. Her father would soon accept the co-chairmanship of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the quasi-government body charged with allocating many of the funds. (“Finally,” chief of staff Cheryl Mills wrote to the secretary in a March 29, 2010, email, when news of the appointment leaked to the Haitian press.)
The irony is that, after pages of scathing analysis about the failure of international responders to understand and respect ordinary people in Haiti, Chelsea Clinton’s plan would have created an even more powerful foreigner operating at an even greater remove. She did call on this new Super Clinton-led structure to “support the Haitian government,” but noted that it could only build “local capacity and capabilities, where feasible”—a logical loophole the U.S. government would fall back on time and again as it kept to old habits after all, including refusing to provide Haiti’s government with direct budget support.
As it was, that personality-driven leadership style meant the response to the Haiti quake would focus on priorities set by those surrounding them, rather than those of majority of Haitians. The new email tranche shows how quickly the construction of low-wage garment factories and prioritizing exports to the U.S. market came to the center of the U.S.-led response in Haiti. That strategy, authored by economist Paul Collier, was what Bill Clinton had come to Haiti to promote as special envoy before the quake. Little more than two weeks after the disaster, Mills, a former Clinton White House counsel who became her point woman on Haiti, forwarded the secretary a New York Times op-ed by Collier and consultant Jean-Louis Warnholz rebranding the pre-quake strategy as a form of post-quake reconstruction. “He now works for us,” she noted for her boss, referring to Warnholz.
The new emails also show how Hillary’s staffers brought former Liz Claiborne Inc. executive Paul Charron into the fold to collaborate with Hillary Clinton and Warnholz on helping to make the garment factories a reality. “As I communicated to Jean-Louis, I am happy to be helpful to you and the State Department on this project,” Charron wrote Mills in August 2010. Around that time, Charron made a key phone call to a former Liz Claiborne colleague now working as an advisor for the South Korean garment giant Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd., to encourage that company to come up with an investment plan in Haiti, the New York Times reported two years later. In 2012, Bill and Hillary Clinton attended the opening of the brand-new, $300 million Caracol Industrial Park in northern Haiti, with Sae-A as the anchor tenant. Today, there has been little reconstruction in Port-au-Prince. Most quake survivors have moved back into precarious homes, hoping another disaster doesn’t strike. The country is still being ravaged by a cholera epidemic that began nine months after the earthquake and has killed nearly 9,000 people. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have publicly acknowledged this epidemic, unrelated to the quake, was caused by United Nations peacekeepers—who in turn, as Chelsea correctly foresaw, have been able to avoid any semblance of accountability. President Michel Martelly, who Hillary Clinton helped put in office as secretary of state, is struggling to hold the country’s first elections since he took power, with observers watching warily to see if he will leave office next spring.
As for Caracol, the northern industrial park has created just 5,479 out of a promised 60,000 jobs when I visited in the spring, as workers complain about the long hours and low pay. Farmers who once tended land on the property complain they were pushed off without proper compensation (a claim the park’s boosters deny). Many of those living around the park now see it as the embodiment of the powerful Clintons’ disconnect. “They go to the park, but they don’t come to our village, because they care more about the park,” said Cherline Pierre, a 33-year-old resident who signs up would-be laborers near her home, a few miles from the park’s high gates. All a reader plowing through the email tranche can do is wonder, what might have gone differently had Chelsea Clinton’s insights reached more people in real time, and if the Clintons had applied more of them to themselves. “I wish this had been made public when it was sent,” Ramachandran said of the report. “It might have helped.”
Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/09/hillary-clinton-email-213110#ixzz3klj7usxq Jonathan M. Katz won the James Foley/Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism for his coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and cholera epidemic, and the Overseas Press Club of America’s Cornelius Ryan Award for his book, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. He reported on the Clintons in Haiti for POLITICO on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth. Authors: Jonathan M. Katz Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/09/hillary-clinton-email-213110#ixzz3kkbqtaAl