Day: August 14, 2018

Welcome to the Resistance, Omarosa

Omarosa Manigault Newman, the reality show villain who campaigned for Donald Trump and followed him into the White House, is an amoral, dishonest, mercenary grifter. This makes her just like most people in Trump’s orbit. What separates her from them is that she might be capable of a sliver of shame.

Naturally, Manigault Newman’s new book, “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” is self-serving, a way to avenge her 2017 firing and make money telling us what we already know about this wretched administration. Nevertheless, she had other options for cashing in. She has revealed that she was offered a $15,000-a-month position on the Trump re-election campaign in exchange for keeping her mouth shut. She could have had a career in right-wing media; an African-American celebrity willing to say that the Republican Party isn’t racist will always find patrons.

Instead, she chose to speak out against the man who made her a star, and repent for her complicity in electing him. She may be a manipulative narcissist, but she’s behaving more honorably than any other former Trump appointee.

That’s not a high bar, and I wouldn’t take most of the claims of “Unhinged” at face value. But we don’t have to, because Manigault Newman has receipts. When I got a prepublication copy of the book on Friday, I wasn’t sure what to think of the scene in which Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, fires her, making thuggish threats to destroy her reputation if she doesn’t go quietly. On Sunday, “Meet the Press” played her recording of the exchange, which unfolds exactly as she described.

Similarly, I didn’t quite trust her account of the post-firing phone call she received from Trump, in which the president expressed surprise and dismay that she has been let go. “No one even told me,” she quotes him saying, adding, “I don’t love you leaving at all.” But on Monday, the “Today” show played Manigault Newman’s recording of this exchange. And that $15,000-a-month contract? You can read it yourself in The Washington Post.

Of course, just because Manigault Newman is telling the truth about some things doesn’t prove that she’s telling the truth about everything, including the alleged existence of outtakes from “The Apprentice” in which Trump uses racial slurs. “Unhinged” has lots of evidence-free gossip, including speculation that Trump was sleeping with Paula White, the pretty blond prosperity-gospel preacher who gave the invocation at his inauguration. My opinion of Trump could scarcely be lower, but I won’t be convinced that he floated the idea of being sworn in on “The Art of the Deal” instead of the Bible, as Manigault Newman claims, until I hear it myself. (Lordy, I hope there are tapes.)

Still, there’s no question she has useful knowledge of our ruling clique. Perhaps the most interesting thing about “Unhinged” is its insights into how Manigault Newman, a former Democrat who’d worked in Bill Clinton’s White House, rationalized being part of Trump’s white nationalist campaign. I’ve always been mystified by how the president’s enablers, who understand his venality and incompetence, justify their behavior to themselves. (Even most bad people want to believe that they’re good.) Manigault Newman is an unreliable narrator, but her book is still the best account we have of how the Trump cult — a term she uses repeatedly — looks from the inside.

Her version of her own motivations is probably sugarcoated, but it still isn’t pretty. She’d been part of a pro-Hillary Clinton “super PAC” and was bitter that she didn’t get a job on Clinton’s campaign. Meanwhile, Manigault Newman, who grew up in poverty, knew she owed her cherished celebrity to Trump. (As she points out, he likes to surround himself with fame-worshiping people whose fortunes depend on him.) “The Trump team, unlike HRC, was true to its word and had officially brought me on board as a senior adviser and director,” she writes. “Regardless of whether Mr. Trump was being taken seriously, I was.”

She suppressed whatever unease she felt about selling out by trying to convince herself that she was representing African-American interests in the campaign and administration. Manigault Newman did graduate work at Howard, the revered historically black university. She had roots in African-American Democratic politics. When she switched sides to back Trump, the disgust of old friends and colleagues hurt. Throughout “Unhinged,” you sense her trying to explain herself to them.

Studies have shown that the people who are most likely to leave cults are those who maintain intimate links to people outside them. Manigault Newman, who last year married a pastor who campaigned for Hillary Clinton, could never fully sever ties with Trump critics.

In the end, you don’t have to trust her sincerity to see “Unhinged” as a serious indictment of Trump. Either she is telling the truth when she calls Trump “a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist” in serious mental decline, or the Trump campaign’s former director of African-American outreach, a woman frequently called upon to testify to Trump’s lack of racism, is a lying con artist. No matter how little credibility Manigault Newman has, the man who gave her a top-ranking job in his administration has less.

SOURCE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/13/opinion/columnists/omarosa-unhinged-book-trump

Dissecting ‘BlacKkKlansman’ and Its Startling Conclusion

Spike Lee uses real-life detective Ron Stallworth’s story as a cracked mirror to examine Trump’s America in 2018.

The following is part of a monthly conversation series between The Hollywood Reporter contributors Simon Abrams and Steven Boone. This month, they tackled BlacKkKlansman, director Spike Lee’s fictionalized account of African-American undercover cop Ron Stallworth’s investigation of the Ku Klux Klan. In the film, Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrates the Klan with the help of Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a Caucasian Jewish-American police officer, and Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), a student activist that Stallworth meets while attending a Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture lecture. There are spoilers ahead. 

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Simon Abrams, Getting Off the BusBlacKkKlansman has been praised as one of co-writer/director Spike Lee’s best films. It received the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, and has been hailed by friends and colleagues as his best in years. Our friend Odie Henderson, over at RogerEbert.com, gave the film four stars and said that it is “not only one of the year’s best films but one of Lee’s best as well.” Rembert Browne, writing for Time Magazine, echoes that sentiment by saying that BlacKkKlansman is “Lee’s most critically heralded and accessible effort in over a decade.” Search your review aggregator of choice — Twitter, for me — and you’ll soon see that some variation of this sentiments is fairly popular.

BlacKkKlansman feels like, among other things, Lee’s way of rejecting institutionally revered, but fundamentally (and apparently) racist American movies like Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind. He pointedly opens his film with footage from the latter movie, and quotes the former pic soon in two key scenes, one of which is a comically delivered but deadly serious address from Alec Baldwin as a sock puppet white supremacist named Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard. Documentary footage washes over Baldwin’s face as he speaks and erases his skin color; he is, in other words, white enough to become part of the screen. It’s a visually powerful shot across the bow, one that speaks to Lee’s skill as both a social commentator and an image-maker.

That said, I have mixed feelings about the film, as you and I discussed once our screening ended. My reservations mostly have to do with Lee and his co-writers’ fuzzy articulation of a theme that Henderson eloquently gave voice to in his review, namely how Adam Driver’s character Flip Zimmerman suggests (in one scene, through a Sam Fuller-worthy bit of declamatory dialogue) that like Ron Stallworth, he — a secular Jewish-American — must also pass among WASPy Caucasians. In that sense, my hesitations about Zimmerman have a lot to do with how I see BlacKkKlansman as the work of both Spike Lee the showman and Spike Lee the social commentator (I’d say “provocateur,” but that’s a loaded term, especially when applied to a black filmmaker). So, to start: How well does this film work as a fictional representation of history that’s a political statement, a feel-good entertainment and an effective piece of agitprop?