John Ashcroft faces nomination hearings while protests continue
by Kaizaad Kotwal
Columbus�Twenty-three groups sent representatives to the State House on January 16 to oppose George W. Bush�s nomination of vehemently anti-gay, arch-conservative and former Missouri senator John Ashcroft, to the post of attorney general.
The groups represented included National Stonewall Democrats and their local chapters, the Sierra Club, National Organization for Women, and the AFL-CIO, along with Stonewall community service centers in Columbus and Cincinnati.
The "Stop Ashcroft!" campaign, as it is called, held similar
protests in cities across the
Jeff Redfield, executive director of Stonewall Columbus said, "We find it disturbing that [Ashcroft] has been asked to enact and enforce laws given his views on minorities."
Redfield recalled that "Ashcroft opposed and distorted James Hormell�s bid for ambassador simply because of his sexual orientation," and categorized Ashcroft as "someone who continues to oppose the [medical and psychological organizations] AMA and APA�s findings that being gay is not a disorder."
Gloria McCauley of the Buckeye Regional Anti-Violence Organization said, "Ashcroft has voted twice against hate crimes legislation." She added, "His actions and language makes it questionable at best if he is in a position to enforce those few laws that we do have protecting GLBT folk from harassment and violence."
McCauley also believes that Ashcroft�s confirmation would "send a message to police departments all across the country that they need not take crimes against us seriously."
Brian Shinn, president of Stonewall Democrats of Columbus, agreed. "Ashcroft�s extremist, right wing views disqualify him and prevent him from fairly and impartially enforcing the civil rights laws of the land," he said.
Shinn proclaimed, "George Bush�s appointment of Ashcroft is the equivalent of putting the fox in charge of the hen house."
Shinn also warned that as attorney general, Ashcroft would have a large say in appointing federal judges and that this should be of great concern to minorities and moderates alike.
State Senator C. J. Prentiss attended the protest and called Ashcroft�s nomination "an atrocity." She added, "George W. Bush can�t be a uniter and celebrate diversity as he has claimed and at the same time appoint Ashcroft."
The protests were held on the eve of the confirmation hearings for the embattled nominee, who faced a grilling before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ashcroft told senators they could "pummel me with questions."
Not since the Clarence Thomas hearings a decade ago has the committee heard such an onslaught of criticism against a nominee, this time from groups supporting civil rights, abortion rights, women�s rights, advocates of gun control and environmentalists, among numerous other groups.
In the first day of hearings, Ashcroft was mostly taken at his word by his fellow Republicans, a common practice in confirmation hearings. However, Democrats on the committee held him more accountable, expressing skepticism of Ashcroft�s promise that he would ignore his personal beliefs if he were confirmed as attorney general, a role that would call for him to enforce many laws he fought against for years.
Historically, as a senator, Ashcroft scored perfectly on conservative scorecards, including those of the notoriously anti-gay Christian Coalition, American Family Association and Focus on the Family. He has been described as one of the most ultra-conservative members of the Senate.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York reminded Ashcroft, "Now that your record has been more closely reviewed, the burden of proof has shifted to you," he told him.
"When you have been such a zealous and impassioned advocate for so long, how do you just turn it off?" Schumer asked, referring specifically to Ashcroft�s stand against abortion rights. The question, however, was also relevant to Ashcroft�s fight against the ambassadorship of James Hormel.
In the case of Hormel, Ashcroft argued vehemently that Hormel�s homosexuality would adversely affect his ability to be an ambassador to Luxembourg, a non-strategic country with minimal diplomatic risk. Now, however, Ashcroft is arguing almost the exact opposite: that his own long-standing opposition to certain laws won�t affect his ability to enforce them, a claim many find hard to swallow.
It is impossible for any attorney general to administer the law "like a robot, as if the law is not subject to feelings or strong convictions," said Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin.
The toughest questions came over civil rights, when Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee�s highest-ranked Democrat, brought up Ashcroft�s opposition to the Clinton administration appointment of Bill Lann Lee as head of the Justice Department�s civil rights division.
Giving Lee high marks professionally, Ashcroft said during the confirmation hearings at the time that Lee�s beliefs as a defender of civil rights including those of LGBT people "limit his capacity to have the balanced view of making judgments that will be necessary for the person who runs the division."
Set to testify against Ashcroft�s nomination is Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White, an African American whose own appointment Ashcroft had tried to block, as well as a number of representatives from civil rights, abortion rights, and gun control groups.
However, perhaps the most striking argument against Ashcroft�s ascension to the office of attorney general comes from Ashcroft�s own mouth, by way of the Stop Ashcroft Now website.
"There are voices in the Republican Party today who preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation, who counsel compromise. I stand here today to reject those deceptions. If ever there was a time to unfurl the banner of unabashed conservatism, it is now," Ashcroft wrote in 1998.
by Eric Resnick
Akron � 73 supporters and guests gathered January 14 to celebrate the second anniversary of the Akron Area Pride Collective, which operates the Pride Center for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The all-volunteer organization honored outgoing board chair Tom Beck of Akron for his leadership and service. Under Beck, the Center became a reality and membership grew.
Currently, many Akron area LGBT organizations including Stonewall Akron, Trans-Pride, Youth-Pride, Bi-Pride, and LGBT recovery groups meet at the Center.
The Center has been the site of many programs and meetings since it opened two years ago. It has also served as a model organization for LGBT communities in Youngstown.
Incoming board chair Susie Davis of Cuyahoga Falls is most proud of the organization�s diversity of membership and visibility in the community.
Davis�s goals for AAPC include continued growth in membership and resources with more of the day-to-day operation of the Center to be turned over to committees.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday was celebrated in Columbus on Monday, January 15 starting with a march from the City Hall to the Veteran�s Memorial Auditorium where an evening of entertainment and information ensued.
Several hundred people braved the cold weather to assemble in the tunnel beneath City Hall before stepping off to march in honor of the slain civil rights leader.
As the march crossed the bridge on the way to the Veteran�s Memorial,
marchers sang songs including "We Shall Overcome." Columbus�s
Mayor Mike Coleman was in front leading the march and later personally
greeted marchers as they made their way into the auditorium for the evening�s
Stonewall Columbus, a human rights organizations serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community throughout central Ohio, was among one of the many groups that marched to honor King. Jeff Redfield, the group�s executive director, said that it was important to have Stonewall�s presence at the march because the struggle for "civil rights is about everyone being guaranteed basic human rights and if any one person is left behind then no one has true equality."
While most of the participants were marching in unity, some were protesting
the fact that this holiday was not being used to do more towards ensuring
greater civil liberties for all people. Sherri Smith with the Ebony Sisters
for Equality said that she was "really upset that the King Breakfast
was not being used to get out more information and awareness particularly
about AIDS." Smith went on to say that this work was important "not
just for African Americans but also for other
The evening of entertainment, titled "Where Do We Go From Here . . . Chaos or Community," included song, dance, readings and speeches about the past, present and future of civil rights and community building.
by Anthony Glassman
Phoenix, Ariz.-The saga of Steve May, the Arizona legislator fighting the Army�s decision to discharge him after learning of his sexual orientation, came to an end January 15 as the military announced that it would allow May to serve out his term, which ends May 11.
The battle over May�s discharge began last year, when Army attorneys attempted to get May a general discharge. A tribunal of three colonels, however, decided that May should be given an honorable discharge, a higher category.
May and his attorney, Christopher Wolf, fought the Army at each stage of the proceedings. Wolf had recently contacted Pentagon officials and the White House chief of staff, John Podesta.
The Army learned of May�s sexual orientation because of a televised debate in the Arizona legislature in February 1999, when May was an honorably discharged civilian reservist. May was before the state�s house of representatives, arguing in favor of extending health benefits to domestic partners of state employees, and in the course of the debate, he said that he is gay.
A few weeks later, he was called back into the active reserves during the fighting in Kosovo, training soldiers to combat chemical weapons.
"It is gratifying that the Army decided to drop the case," May said. "I have always served my country with honor, integrity, and loyalty, and it hurt me deeply that the Army would try to fire me-not for anything I did in the Army, but for who I am and for doing my legislator�s job."
"My sexual orientation and my statements about my sexual orientation have never interfered with my performance as an officer in the United States Army," he continued.
His statement is reflected both in his evaluations by his superiors, and in military court testimony from his fellow soldiers. His evaluations, even after his sexual orientation was known, described him as having "unlimited potential," and members of his unit testified at his administrative discharge hearing that his removal would damage his unit�s cohesion and morale. Damage to cohesion and morale is a term often used to argue against allowing openly gay men and lesbians to serve in the military.
"The Army has tacitly recognized it never should have pursued May," said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and organization for lesbian,gay, bisexual and transgender members of the armed forces.
"The current law does not contemplate discharging elected officials for statements they have made as elected officials," Osburn continued. "Nor does current law contemplate punishing soldiers for statements made as civilians or while in the inactive reserves."
"I think it�s vindication that we were right from the beginning," May said.
The Army, however, claims that the end to their efforts to discharge May, who was recently re-elected and made chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the Arizona House of Representatives, were simply logical once May told them he had no desire to re-enlist.
"Time was going to run out in the next four months to get this man out," Lt. Col. Bill Wheelehan, an Army spokesman, said. "You can�t [dismiss] an officer that rapidly when the officer is using everything at his disposal" to appeal.
May said he never intended to serve another term.
by Eric Resnick
Dayton, Ohio-Openly lesbian Dayton city commissioner Mary Wiseman has decided to call it quits after her current term expires December 31, 2001.
Wiseman says her decision not to seek re-election is based primarily on her need to spend more time with her family and her law practice, and a little bit due to the city commission�s failure to pass her civil rights ordinance broadening the city�s non-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender.
"It was a small piece of a bigger puzzle," said Wiseman.
"I wish I could have batted a thousand for all I wanted to do while I was here."
The ordinance has been blocked by an effort led by Dayton Mayor Mike Turner and some religious leaders.
Wiseman says the effort to pass her ordinance will continue. "There will continue to be a grassroots effort to build the bridges needed to pass it after I leave," she said.
"The effort is being driven by people all over the city."
Since her election in 1997, Wiseman has taken a partner and two children, a 10-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter into her life. "A campaign means a year away from them," Wiseman stated, "and that�s not what I want to do."
Wiseman said she may seek election to a county judgeship some time in the future. "I want to preserve my perfect election record," she said.
Wiseman was elected as a first-time candidate. She and Toledo councilmember Louis Escobar, also elected in 1997, are the only openly gay officials serving in Ohio. Both are Democrats.|
by Eric Resnick
Washington, DC � Michelle Benecke has stepped down as co- executive director of the Washington-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
Benecke, with co-executive director C. Dixon Osburn, founded the watchdog
organization seven years ago to monitor the implementation of
Benecke, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Army captain had the idea for SLDN while she was in the military.
During her distinguished military career, Benecke was one of the first women to command a surface-to-air missile battery and serve in the Air Defense Artillery, a combat branch. She was noted for her work on behalf of military women.
As SLDN co-executive director, Benecke, with Osburn, saw the organization through the annual process of compiling the organization�s Conduct Unbecoming report on the military�s treatment of lesbian and gay servicemembers. It was from this report that the Department of Defense was held accountable for violations of "don�t ask, don�t tell, don�t pursue" by the media and members of congress.
SLDN is responsible for 30 reforms at the Pentagon, including directives issued for the purpose of stopping anti- gay harassment.
It was SLDN�s investigation that uncovered the fact that Pfc. Barry Winchell was beaten to death at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, because he was thought to be gay. The details of that incident brought the "don�t ask, don�t tell, don�t pursue" policy into the 2000 presidential race and caused President Clinton to declare the policy "out of whack" and continue to distance himself from the policy in interviews in both the Rolling Stone and the Advocate magazines.
For its work, SLDN was named Organization of the Year in 2000 by the D.C. Bar Association Young Lawyer Section.
Since its inception, SLDN has served nearly 2500 servicemembers.
Benecke said her January 12 departure was "good timing."
"I feel like I need to do something else and the organization is in a good place right now," she said.
Benecke concedes she came to the decision to leave reluctantly, "but after discussion with my family, I decided it was the right thing. There are other opportunities I want to pursue," Benecke added.
Benecke said she has no immediate career plans, but will find something after some time off. "I want to work on my golf swing," she said.
SLDN Board co-chairs Tom Carpenter and Teresa Verges said of Benecke, "Michelle�s vision, strategic planning, and tenacity were instrumental in SLDN�s growth and success."
Osburn will continue as SLDN�s
by Anthony Glassman
Toronto, Ontario-Canada has officially beaten Denmark out of the running in the "first legal gay marriage" race, with a lesbian couple and a gay male couple utilizing a legal loophole to become the first legally-married same-sex couples in the world.
The Netherlands recently passed full gay marriage, but the first ceremonies won�t be held for another couple of weeks.
The Toronto marriages were done using an ancient tradition called banns, predating Christianity but readily adopted by the religion. The tradition calls for announcing on three separate Sundays the intention of a couple to marry, and asking if there is anyone with a valid legal reason why the couple cannot wed.
Bann is a Germanic word meaning "proclaim to be under penalty," and the rite was used to uncover incestuous elements in proposed marriages, similar to the arguments nobility used in medieval times to get the church to annul their marriages.
The Ontario Marriage Act, the province�s marital law, allows the publishing of banns in lieu of a couple getting a marriage license from a municipal clerk. Municipal clerks across Canada have refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples. The OMA states, "Any person who is of the age of majority may obtain a license or be married under the authority of the publication of banns, provided no lawful cause exists to hinder the solemnization." Much of the law on the books in Canada refers to "person" or "persons" instead of specifying sex or stating "husband and wife."
The two couples were Joe Varnell and Kevin Bourassa, and Elaine and Anne Vautour. Anne Vautour had already legally assumed Elaine�s last name. Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto�s Rev. Brent Hawkes married them in a joyful ceremony.
The day was not without controversy, however. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson�s office sent a letter expressing her regret at not being able to attend the function, and her well-wishes for the couples. According to her office, it was a standard reply to any function the Governor General is unable to attend. Conservative politicians, primarily belonging to the rightist Canadian Alliance, immediately jumped on the letter, attacking Clarkson�s liberal activism.
The office of Governor General is largely ceremonial. As a part of the British Commonwealth, the monarch of England is still considered the head of state for Canada, and the Governor General serves as the ruler�s stand-in for a number of functions.
Ontario Consumer Minister Bob Runciman, whose department is responsible for registering marriages, stated that they will not register these two couples.
"The fact that I�m required by law to submit that documentation to the government to be registered doesn�t affect the marriages," Rev. Hawkes told the CBC. "There are even cases in law in the Marriage Act if, through negligence, the clergyperson fails to meet the requirement to submit the documentation within two days, it doesn�t affect the marriage of the couple. They�re still married."
Hawkes also said that he is willing to fight the provincial government to the Canada Supreme Court, if necessary.
In related news, the Supreme Court of British Columbia, another Canadian province, ruled on January 9 that the province�s attorney general could be a plaintiff in a suit filed by two gay couples. The suit alleges that Canada�s ban on gay marriages is unconstitutional after last year�s Canada Supreme Court ruling that declared antigay discrimination unconstitutional.|
Brandon Teena appeal continues in State Supreme Court
Lincoln, Neb.-The State Supreme Court began hearing arguments January 12 in Brandon v. Richardson County, the suit brought by Brandon Teena�s mother against the county for the death of her child.
Teena�s story was turned into the movie Boys Don�t Cry, winning Hilary Swank the Best Actress Oscar for portraying the transgendered youth. Chloe Sevigny garnered herself a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in the film.
Brandon Teena was killed in 1993 after filing a complaint with Richardson County Sheriff Charles Laux that he had been raped by John Lotter and Marvin Nissen after the two youths discovered Teena�s biological gender.
Joann Brandon sued the county and Laux, contending that Laux should have arrested Lotter and Nissen after Brandon Teena filed the complaint. Instead, Laux notified the two young men of the charges, and they killed Teena and two other people who witnessed the murder.
District Judge Orville Coady ruled that the county should have put Teena in protective custody, but dropped damages from $350,000, what Joann Brandon was asking, to $17,360, and put most of the liability for that amount on Lotter and Nissen, who have no ability to pay. Laux was ordered to apologize to Teena�s family, but was found not personally liable for any of the damages.
Lotter received three death sentences and is awaiting execution. Nissen, who testified against Lotter, was sentenced to life in prison.
Thirty-one civil rights and victims� advocacy groups have filed briefs in support of Joann Brandon�s lawsuit.
No date has been set on when the court will render a judgement.
Tomlin finally comes out
New York City, N.Y.-After years of speculation and not-quite-denial, Lily Tomlin shocked no-one when she told an interviewer from US Weekly that she is, indeed, a lesbian.
Tomlin has been involved in both professional and personal relationships with the writer of her one-woman show, Jane Wagner, for thirty years.
"I don�t like to talk about my private life in any detail, but I don�t disavow my private life," she said in the January 12 issue of the magazine.
"I also don�t want to become someone�s poster girl, either. And, you know that�s been somewhat difficult in terms of the movement. I�ve tried to be as simple and direct as I can without being exploited or tabloidized."
Tomlin and Wagner, who wrote The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, now enjoying a hit revival on Broadway, met when Tomlin was recording a comedy album. Wagner had written a television movie that Tomlin liked, so she wrote to Wagner and the two hit it off. They have been living and working together ever since.
Final Big 10 school gets an A+
West Lafayette, Ind.-Purdue University, the last holdout among the Big 10 conference schools, added sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policy on January 9.
According to university president Martin C. Jischke, it was just a matter of clarification.
"Some people have suggested erroneously that failing to include these groups [they also added marital and parental status] in our policy statement means Purdue permits or condones discrimination against them," Jischke told the Lafayette Journal and Courier. "Such is not the case."
"It shows that Purdue won�t stand for discrimination against gays and lesbians, and that now we have recourse in case of problems," said anthropology professor Evelyn Blackwood, faculty advisor to the Purdue Equality Alliance, who had been fighting for the change.
PEA and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender campus organizations unsuccessfully lobbied former university president Steven Beering for a decade to get him to change the school�s policies. Jischke replaced Beering last July, and a petition was submitted to him in September with 1,300 signatures and the unanimous support of student government. The PEA also solicited letters from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.
Missing man found in gay church
Dallas, Texas-A youth minister who had been missing and presumed dead for 16 years was recently discovered living under an assumed name when a former congregant recognized him preaching at a Texas gay church.
James Simmons, formerly known as Wesley Barrett "Barre" Cox, told family members that he suffered a beating in 1984 and awoke from a coma with no memory of his wife, his 6-month old daughter or his job as a youth minister in San Antonio.
Authorities have been unable to confirm Simmons� story. Police and the FBI said they are investigating but have found no records of the case.
Simmons will begin working later this month at White Rock Community Church, a gay congregation in Dallas, said Fred Ward, a church spokesman.
Simmons did not immediately return a call for comment left with relatives.
"Barre remembers nothing from before he was beaten, and we may never know exactly what happened all those years ago," said Beth Cox, whose marriage to Simmons was dissolved during his absence. "It doesn�t really matter now. But I know God has been with him and with us. He brought Barre back to the ministry, and he watched over him."
Simmons� brother, George Cox of Frankston, Texas, said his brother was auditioning last month at White Rock when a former congregant recognized him and put him in touch with his family.
Wesley Cox was last seen in July 1984. According to his brother, Cox was traveling between Lubbock and Abilene. His car was later found ransacked on a farm road near Abilene.
George Cox said his brother told him he was found beaten and bloody later that month in the trunk of a car in a Memphis, Tenn., junkyard.
Simmons awoke in a hospital and was told that he had been in a coma two weeks, George Cox said.
Gov. denies hate crime fight
Austin, Texas-Gov. Rick Perry, President-elect George W. Bush�s hand-picked successor, denied allegations over the past week that he intends to fight the inclusion of sexual orientation in hate crime laws.
The Houston Chronicle released a story quoting the governor on January 11 as saying he preferred legislation that would enhance punishments over laws that would divide Texans further.
A number of legislators supporting the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which was just reintroduced into the Texas legislature, met with the governor shortly after the article was published.
"It was a very friendly meeting," said Perry spokesperson Kathy Walt in the Austin American-Statesman. "The governor simply expressed to them that his comments had been misinterpreted."
When the proposed legislation was first introduced over two years ago, it nearly brought the State Senate to a standstill. Perry was praised for brokering talks on the bill, which later died in committee.
The bill is named after the black man in Jasper, Texas, who was attacked, tied to the back of a truck, and dragged to death by three white men.
Texas� current hate crimes law was recently struck down by a U.S. Supreme Court decision finding that New Jersey�s law, similar to Texas�, was unconstitutional in requiring a judge to determine a bias motive based on a preponderance of evidence. The new law would call for the motive to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a tougher standard. The new bill also would require counties to report hate crime prosecution statistics to the state.
Compiled from wire reports by Anthony Glassman, Brian DeWitt and Patti Harris.
by Kaizaad Kotwal
Openly gay director Gus Van Sant is probably one of the most interesting auteurs of the modern American cinema. Starting off with such indie masterpieces as My Own Private Idaho and To Die For, to the blockbuster brilliance of Good Will Hunting, Van Sant has created cinematic images and celluloid characters that remain long after the projector or VCR turns off.
In My Own Private Idaho, one of his best and most daring films to date, Van Sant created a story of love and longing amongst two friends and hustlers played to pitch perfect precision by the late River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves. This is one of the best films, gay or otherwise, to have emerged in the past two decades and will go down as one of the classics of independent film making. The chemistry between Phoenix and Reeves was disarming and unrequited love and lost opportunities were never so painfully depicted. One could argue that Van Sant is the only director ever to have elicited a great performance out of the usually monosyllabic Reeves. Phoenix should have been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar that year but his performance and the film were far too edgy for the Academy�s conservative and sentimental tastes.
Gus Van Sant would have to wait approximately a decade before the Academy would give him the recognition he deserves. Directing Good Will Hunting brought Van Sant into the mainstream and took Hollywood films into the edgier and more independent vein of film making. Matt Damon cemented his status as a bona fide actor, Robin Williams finally won an acting Oscar and the film made a legend of Damon and Ben Affleck�s screenwriting Oscar.
It seems that only three years later Oscars may be shining on Van Sant again, this time for his work on Finding Forrester, which just opened nationwide.
In Finding Forrester, Van Sant echoes many of the themes found in Good Will Hunting, adding to that mix the element of race.
In Finding Forrester, Sean Connery plays William Forrester, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who, after his first masterpiece, disappeared leaving the world wondering what had become of such great literary promise. We meet Forrester in his advanced years, now a recluse and extremely eccentric, much like the literary genius J.D. Salinger.
Forrester�s years of safety in his hideout and of writing but never publishing are invaded by Jamal Wallace, a brash 16-year old with writing aspirations of his own. The two eventually forge a friendship that forces both characters to dig deep to find their real selves. This is one of the oddest couplings in cinema, a cranky reclusive, yet incredibly scared older white man who collides with a young, wise-beyond-his-years, brilliant and fearless black teenager.
While it is obvious that Forrester becomes Jamal�s mentor, Jamal is also mentoring the author in how to face the world outside of his dark, musty and decrepit apartment. In this relationship, both are forced to quickly abandon each other�s misgivings and misperceptions about the other. This is ultimately a story about mutual awakenings as both the old and young journey towards a better sense of self and a bigger understanding of their place in the cosmos.
Connery is perfect as Forrester and there is already a lot of Oscar buzz for a best actor nod. Connery balances the wry humor and the author�s gravitas with finesse. He is funny and poignant all at once, never quite stepping into the mawkish sentimentality into which such a role could easily degenerate. Connery always brings an elegant dignity to his performances and Forrester is the best example of that in recent memory.
F. Murray Abraham, who will always be remembered for his brilliantly evil portrayal of Salieri in Amadeus, plays another angry, misanthropic teacher, Professor Crawford. Crawford (who teaches English at the prep school where Jamal is sent because of his incredible dexterity with the English language) becomes the thorn in the young man�s side, making Jamal�s life miserable. Abraham is as good as always, letting the evil ooze slowly, trying to pollute Jamal�s self-confidence, his talent and his future with a vengeance. Crawford isn�t so much a villain as he is a very tragic and broken man whose personal failures and self-loathing cause him to lash out at those better than himself.
Anna Paquin, who has lived up to the promise of her Oscar winning turn in The Piano, plays the rich white girl who forms a deep friendship with Jamal.
Paquin is one of the most self-assured young actresses out there and she doesn�t miss a step here either.
But the real gold in the movie is newcomer Rob Brown who plays Jamal with sheer brilliance. Brown�s performance is highly understated and he fills the screen with a freshness and magnetism that is hard to turn away from. Van Sant has found a young talent who is going to do great things if he continues to get more roles like Jamal. Brown is the perfect foil for Connery�s recluse and the two generate so much warmth, humor and deep love on the screen that this becomes as much a story about friendship as it is about race, urban living and the lost promises of literary genius.
Van Sant�s directing is well paced and sure-footed, allowing plenty of room for the friendship between Jamal and Forrester to develop organically and naturally. Van Sant avoids many of the cliches that this movie could have degenerated into in a lesser director�s hands. The climactic scene, a showdown between Jamal, Forrester and Crawford is a bit too Hollywood for Van Sant�s edgier style but it is a minor flaw.
Finding Forrester, while similar in many ways to Good Will Hunting, doesn�t have the edge that Damon and Affleck�s script was able to sustain.
Nevertheless, Van Sant�s films have more often than not focused on the status of the outsider, those that are marginalized and those who live, voluntarily or forcibly on the fringes of society. For all its deep issues, Forrester sometimes comes across as knowing all the answers a bit too easily. Nevertheless, this is a film that is worth watching because it has Sean Connery back in full form and it boasts one of the best debuts by a young actor in the past few years.
Van Sant has always been an exciting director and given his ability to blend the edgy with the mainstream it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next. It�s good to know that unlike Forrester, Van Sant, after his first masterpiece, My Own Private Idaho, didn�t go into hiding and rob us of some of the greater films of the past decade.|
Kaizaad Kotwal is a Chronicle contributing writer in Columbus.
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