Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games (movie)

I couldn't get Sweetie to go with me to see The Hunger Games. He hated the last two movies I took him to, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Even a sci-fi post-apocalyptic young adult story couldn't lure him.

I am one of many adults who loved reading the Hunger Games trilogy. I attended the 11:45 AM showing at a suburban theater. The public schools in the area are on a year-round schedule so that some students are tracked out, when others are tracked in. There were enough young people 12 - 18 years old, along with a good number of retirees like me to fill the theater.

The movie is 2 hours and 22 minutes long. Even with that length much of the action from the book was abridged. The backstory of Katniss' mother and father was only briefly implied, and the Katniss/Galen relationship was condensed. Otherwise I found the movie was true to the book. The point of view of the book was all in Katniss' head, not something that would work well in this kind of movie. The movie gave us more of a global view, so we could see the actions of the game makers at the Capital, and their cool technology.

I wasn't expecting any of the main characters to be black, except I had seen enough previews of Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. I didn't remember any references to ethnicity in the book, so I expected a white author to portray white people. After I saw there were two of the tributes played by black actors, I went home and searched the book (thanks to the Kindle "search this book" function). I really missed the references to brown-skinned people. That was a pleasant surprise.

I loved this movie. Some of the "Team Galen" girls were probably disappointed, but Galen is likely to get more action in part two.

I give it four stars.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gathering of Waters

I grew up in the Jim Crow South. While Petersburg, Virginia was light-years away from Money, Mississippi, there were also lynchings in Virginia. Black Mothers of sons in Petersburg (and my mother had four sons) had reason to fear for their sons. Petersburg was an Army town as well as a college town with an HBCU which my four brothers attended. There was enough progressive activity in Petersburg that we might have been allowed some uppityness. Still there were lynchings.

I was old enough to remember Emmett Till. News about injustice in the black community traveled slowly. Jet Magazine was hand-delivered by the same young carriers who brought the black newspapers like the Journal & Guide. The news was months-old by the time we saw the horrific photos of Emmett Tills battered corpse.

I have followed Bernice McFadden's work for years, and her blogs for many months. When I read her early blurbs about this book, which would involve Emmett Till, I feared it would dredge up the old sadness and rage. But it didn't.

This is a magical book which weaves a tale told by the town of Money, Mississippi through generations starting in 1900. McFadden's prose is always so stunningly smooth, and packed with a powerful punch. The story reminds me of 2 Peter 3:8 "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." And that God will make it right "by and by." God and the river.

I give it five stars.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Author Rebecca Skloot first heard about HeLa cells in an introduction to biology class she took at a community college as a makeup for a failed high school class. The lecture about HeLa cells and Henrietta Lacks ended with, "She was a black woman." That statement launched the author's interest in biology and piqued her curiosity into the life of Henrietta Lacks. By the time she earned a degree in biology, Skloot had decided to write a book about the woman whose cells survived long after her death.

I almost didn't read this book. It was at first a need to read rather than a desire to read. Then my daughter (an Ob/Gyn) told me it was a must read, and my own Gyno said I must read. I asked my doc if a layperson would be able to understand all the biological/medical language and she assured me the book is historical and biographical as well. I was convinced to start reading. It didn't take long before I was reading into the night about the life of Henrietta Lacks.

The author wisely alternates between chapters about Henrietta's genealogy, life, treatment, death; and the clinical studies, distribution of the cells grown from the biopsy taken from Henrietta's cervical cancer. The author chronicles her knowledge of unethical experimentation on human patients ranging from Nazi experiments on concentration camp inmates to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. The outrage recorded during the Nuremberg trials never resulted in changes in medical practice or ethics, so that no requirement for informed consent was written into law.

Ms. Skloot traces Henrietta's family back to a slave plantation in Virginia, through the Jim Crow era when there was little access to medical treatment for poor blacks. Henrietta was part of the Great Migration, moving to Baltimore where Johns Hopkins Hospital provided medical treatment for blacks often in exchange for uninformed participation in clinical studies.

It became painful to read of Henrietta's lack of access to a peaceful and pain-free transition though a horrendously painful death, especially when juxtaposed against the multi-million dollar industry which grew out of the cancerous cells taken from her.

Ms Skloot spent years tracing Henrietta's children, who were babies at the time of her death in 1951. As Skloot learns about the life of Henrietta, her children have a glimpse into the mother they never knew, as well.

This is a true story you must read. I give it five stars.