Archive for the ‘Communicator of the Month’ Category
Jacques-Yves Cousteau: Conservation Captain
“The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”
— Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Born June 11, 1910, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau is considered the most influential environmental filmmaker of all time. His work is credited with launching the modern environmental movement.
Cousteau believed that informed citizens make the best choices to maintain a healthy environment, and he helped increase this knowledge through more than 110 environmental films and 50 books. In 1956, he produced the first color film of the underwater environment in “The Silent World” with Louis Malle.
In the 1970s, Cousteau brought the undersea into American living rooms in the television series “The Underwater Odyssey of Commander Cousteau.” Throughout the show’s 9-year run, his ship, a former Royal Navy minesweeper built by the United States named Calypso, served as a secondary character and became a household name. Through documenting Calypso’s adventures, Cousteau called attention to the environmental dangers of human ignorance and negligence.
Despite his numerous films, television shows, achievements and accolades, Cousteau recognized that more was necessary to protect the planet. In 1973, he founded the Cousteau Society, which “continues the unique explorations and observations of ecosystems throughout the world that have helped millions of people understand and appreciate the fragility of life on our Water Planet.”
Cousteau died in 1997 at age 87.
Loni Ding: Stereotype Shatterer
“When you talk about the history of people of color in this country, there’s always the possibility that you could fall into victim history, telling lament after lament. I think it’s necessary to present what those things are, whether hardships or obstacles. But it’s an incomplete story until you get to what they did about it. You have to get to the resistance, the strategies of survival.”
— Loni Ding
Born to parents who emigrated to San Francisco from China, Isadora Quanehia Ding Welsh, known as Loni Ding, was an Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker and activist responsible for more than 250 programs for broadcast, including the groundbreaking PBS documentaries “Ancestors in the Americas,” “The Color of Honor” and “Nisei Soldier: Standard Bearer for an Exiled People.”
“Ancestors in the Americas” covered the experiences of Asians in the New World from the 1400s to 1800s, while “Nisei Soldier” and “The Color of Honor” looked at issues faced by Japanese World War I soldiers. The latter two films were considered so influential and moving that they were submitted to Congress in 1987 and 1988 during hearings on reparations to Japanese Americans.
Ding was also a strong advocate for increased funding for independent and minority productions in public broadcasting. Not only did she testify before Congress in 1984 and 1987 on this issue, but she also created the Independent Television Service to fund and distribute films for public television.
Ding earned both her master’s degree and doctoral degree at the University of California, Berkeley. She became a professor of sociology, Asian-American history, media analysis and media production at the same school.
She died in 2010 at age 78.
Jamaa Fanaka: Rights Rebel
“I exposed the Achilles’ heel of Hollywood.”
— Jamaa Fanaka
Jamaa Fanaka was part of a small group of African-American filmmakers, dubbed the L.A. Rebellion, who studied at the UCLA Film School in the late 1970s and helped create a new “Black Cinema.”
Born in 1942, Fanaka made his mark in the film industry with what would become 1979’s most successful independent film, “Penitentiary.” Critics say the film represents a pivotal point between blaxploitation films and the beginning of independent African-American filmmaking.
Fanaka was a strong advocate for equal opportunity in filmmaking, and spoke out against discriminatory practices in the industry, including bringing several lawsuits claiming widespread discrimination against women and ethnic minorities.
Fanaka died in 2012. At the time of his death he was working on his eighth film, a documentary about hip-hop culture.
Kathleen Collins: Intellectual Image-Maker
“I have a sense of going my own way, and I don’t really think much about whether it’s going against the grain.”
— Kathleen Collins
Born in 1942, Kathleen Collins was the first African-American woman to write, direct and produce a full-length feature film. Her work is described as postmodern and experimental, and she is credited with helping to change black womanist film, a form of feminism focused especially on the conditions and concerns of black women.
In her films, Collins explored the impact of male dominance, finding meaning and purpose in life, and the plight of the African-American middle class. Collins refused to portray African-Americans in traditional roles of resigned victims, and instead addressed issues related to the impact of racism and sexism. In addition to film, Collins wrote and produced theatrical plays, including “In the Midnight Hour” and “The Brothers.”
Collins married Alfred Prettyman in 1987. One week after marrying, Collins discovered that she had cancer. She died a year later in 1988, leaving behind her images of female characters who embraced independence and self-expression.
Oscar Micheaux: Race Relator
“It is only by presenting those portions of the race portrayed in my pictures, in the light and background of their true state, that we can raise our people to greater heights.”
Born in 1884, Oscar Micheaux was the first African American to produce a feature-length film with “The Homesteader” in 1920. He wrote, produced and directed more than 40 feature-length films between 1919 and 1948.
Recognizing that there were no opportunities for African Americans to create films, Micheaux established his own movie production company in 1919. He used his films to rebut racism and took on controversial topics such as sexuality, racial crime, corruption and intra-racial discrimination. He also confronted the dominant mainstream discrimination of his day, as his film “Within Our Gates” was a direct response to the racism depicted in the film “Birth of a Nation.”
Before making films, Micheaux wrote seven novels, one of which was a national bestseller, and started his own publishing company to produce and distribute his work. He turned to the new industry of filmmaking to make his stories come to life. He died in 1951.
Joan Root: Wildlife Warrior
“Some people just see a few animals in a bit of bush, but I’ve developed this place into a sort of Masai Mara, preserving the environment through animals that would be together in the wild.”
— Joan Root
Born in Kenya in 1936 to British settlers, Joan Root is celebrated as a pioneering wildlife documentary filmmaker and conservationist.
While working as a safari guide, Root met her husband, Alan, with whom she would film some of her greatest work. The detailed focus her films placed on her subjects called attention to the fact that no wildlife is insignificant or inconsequential, whether it be plant, animal or insect.
Her most celebrated film, “The Year of the Wildebeest,” covered the mass migration of these animals through Tanzania. The Roots earned an Oscar nomination for their 1978 film “Mysterious Castles of Clay,” a study of African giant termite mounds.
In the 1980s, Root’s focus shifted away from filmmaking and toward conservation as she fought to defend the natural habitat around Naivasha, Kenya. Protecting the lakeshore from poachers, Root made enemies within local African communities in the process, which led to multiple threats and acts of violence on her home. Root was killed in her home in 2006.
John James Audubon: Fauna Phenom
“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.”
— John James Audubon
John James Audubon was one of the most influential artists in American history. Although not the first to illustrate all of the birds in the U.S., his seminal work, The Birds of America, is the standard by which bird artists are measured to this day.
Born in 1785, Audubon grew up in France and was sent to America at age 18 to escape conscription to Napoleon’s army. While there, he set out to document all of the birds in North America. In 1826, he sailed to England with a partly finished collection, which was an immediate success. Five years later, Audubon attempted to create a similar work for all of the mammals in North America, but due to his failing health, the work had to be completed by his sons and family friends.
Audubon died in 1851, but his tremendous environmental legacy lives on. Inspired by Audubon and named in his honor, the National Audubon Society was established in 1905 with the mission to protect and restore the natural ecosystems and habitats of birds in the U.S. and across the Americas.
Angel De Cora: Indigenous Illustrator
Born in Nebraska in 1869, Angel De Cora was a Winnebago artist who made significant contributions to the Arts and Crafts movement and avidly promoted Native American art. De Cora lived on a reservation until she turned 12, but was then separated from her culture and sent to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute for schooling.
De Cora was the first Winnebago woman to graduate from college and the first Native American graduate of Smith College, where she was enrolled in the School of Art. Her work blended Western techniques, such as tonalism and realistic illustration, with Native themes and points of view. Her art expressed her personal desire and determination to retain her Native American identity despite institutionalized efforts to eliminate it.
De Cora later taught art at the Carlisle School, a Native American boarding school in Pennsylvania. While there, she established the first Native American Art department.
De Cora also was a founding and active member of the Society of American Indians, created to address the civil rights, health, education and local government needs of Native Americans. She designed the organization’s emblem and presented at their first conference in 1911.
Angel De Cora died in 1919.
Dorothea Lange: Migrant Mother
“The good photograph is not the object; the consequences of the photograph are the objects.”
— Dorothea Lange
An influential American documentary photographer and photojournalist, Dorothea Lange’s photography humanized the reality of two tragic periods in American history: the Great Depression and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
The social upheaval brought on by the Great Depression led Lange to take her camera into the streets where she documented the sufferings of the dispossessed. Her photographs brought public attention to the plight of farm families and migrant workers and became icons of the era.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Lange turned her camera to the forced roundup and evacuation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps. Her images of Japanese-American children pledging allegiance to the American flag before being sent to internment camps were impounded by the Army for being critical of the internment.
Lange died in 1965.
Carlos Almaraz: Chicano Champion
“Art is a record, a document that you leave behind showing what you saw and felt when you were alive.”
— Carlos Almaraz
Raised in Chicago and Los Angeles, painter and Chicano activist Carlos Almaraz frequently returned to his place of birth, Mexico City, where he recalled first understanding that art could be “both horrifying and absolutely magical.”
Almaraz struggled as a painter throughout the 1960s in New York City, where he also wrote poetry and philosophy. In 1971, after nearly dying himself, his brother died suddenly. He felt that by surviving, he had been offered a new beginning and used his murals to become involved with social issues and honor his brother’s life.
He was one of the organizers of Los Four, an artist collective that sought to bring the Chicano Art Movement to the attention of mainstream critics and painters. The movement used street art to challenge the social constructions of race, ethnicity, gender and nationality to create change. Almaraz also worked for fellow Chicano and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, painting murals and banners for Chavez’s United Farm Workers.
Almaraz died in 1989. His colorful artwork remains a strong influence for young Latino artists.