The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
MR. MacNeil: Good evening. Leading the news this Friday, President Bush said he would block a Democratic plan to extend jobless benefits. The nation's trade deficit shrank to an eight year low. Two top officers at one of Wall Street's leading firms offered to quit over a trading scandal. We'll have details in our News Summary in a moment. Roger Mudd's in Washington tonight. Roger.
MR. MUDD: After the News Summary, we have an update on the latest developments in Alzheimer's research, then a report on a debilitating illness that's either in the air or in the mind. Next, Charlayne Hunter-Gault talks with five black Hollywood directors who are suddenly in demand, and finally a Jim Fisher essay on drive-in movies. NEWS SUMMARY
MR. MacNeil: President Bush said today he would not authorize an emergency extension of unemployment benefits. Congress passed a bill two weeks ago to provide an additional 20 weeks of payments to people whose unemployment had run out. About 8.8 million Americans are currently out of work. Of them, 1.6 million have exhausted their benefits. The President said he intends to sign the bill but will not make the emergency declaration necessary to trigger disbursal of the extra money. He said the Democratic sponsored bill would bust the budget. Mr. Bush spoke at his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. House Speaker Tom Foley later reacted on Capitol Hill.
PRES. BUSH: As I say, it looks like the national economy is recovering. That's pretty hard to tell somebody that's out of work. It's pretty hard to say to someone that's out of work, hey, things are getting better, not necessarily getting better for their families, and when you have difficult economic times, you're faced with difficult economic choices. One way to guarantee a less bright future is to have the federal government keep doing what often in the past it's done, recklessly spend money.
REP. TOM FOLEY, Speaker of the House: I think the President has made a serious mistake. If he feels this is not an emergency, I think he's wrong. If he feels this is not a crisis, I think he is wrong. It's an issue of taking care of our own. We have taken great responsibility abroad to meet this crisis and difficulty with other peoples. I'm proud of that. I'm glad we have. But it's time for Americans to look to their own country, their own problems, and their own people and provide the same concern and compassion at home that we provide abroad.
MR. MacNeil: Foley said the Democrats would introduce new legislation to extend unemployment benefits when Congress reconvenes in the fall. Roger.
MR. MUDD: The nation's trade deficit shrank to its lowest level in almost eight years in June. It was down 16 percent to $4 billion. The Commerce Department said imports fell while exports put in the third best showing ever. There was also good news in the manufacturing sector. The government said higher automobile output pushed production of the nation's factories up 1/2 percent in July. It was the fourth consecutive monthly advance. Salomon Brothers said today its two top officers are preparing to resign because of the firm's illegal dealings in government securities. A spokesman for the investment firm said Chairman John Goodfriend and President Thomas Strauss are ready to submit their resignations at a special board meeting scheduled for Sunday. The company this week admitted it had waited months before reporting the fraudulent dealings. Numerous government agencies are investigating. The company's stock has lost a quarter of its value since it first admitted wrongdoing last week.
MR. MacNeil: Representatives of environmental groups, the oil industry and the government today signed an agreement to supply cleaner burning gasoline to cities with the worst air pollution. The reformulated fuel will be available in some cities by 1995. It'll cost motorists about 5 cents more a gallon and is expected to reduce smog by some 15 percent. Negotiators were seeking to implement the Clean Air Act and avoid the controversy in lawsuits which often result from new environmental laws. The parties signed the deal at the Washington headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency this morning.
WILLIAM ROSENBERG, EPA: We think that the agreement worked out between the industry groups and the environmental groups and the states and the EPA will provide flexibility to the companies to meet the objectives of the Clean Air Act in this area at the lowest cost and by our estimation at EPA, we expect that this agreement when fully implemented would reduce oil imports by about 300,000 barrels per day. Equally important to the substantive aspect of this agreement, it demonstrates what can be done when the parties around this table sit down together and negotiate for a four or five month period on an important environmental issue.
MR. MacNeil: The organizers of next year's International Conference on AIDS have announced the meetings will be moved to a location outside of the United States. The annual gathering of the world's leading experts on AIDS had been scheduled for next May in Boston. The organizers tried to get the U.S. government to reverse a law which excludes non-U.S. citizens from coming into this country if they test positive for the HIV virus. President Bush today defended the decision not to lift the ban, saying the U.S. had a good, sound policy on AIDS. He said the conference participants would find other ways to get together.
MR. MUDD: Sixty-nine people were killed in the crash of an Indian airlines jet today. News reports said the Boeing 737 caught fire before going down in the hilly jungle region in Eastern India. There were no survivors. Officials said they had no information on the cause of the crash. Here in Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration today ordered all U.S. airlines to deactivate engine thrust reversers on Boeing 767 planes. The reversers are used to slow a plane after landing, but FAA officials said they could reverse in flight. Such a malfunction may have contributed to the May 26th crash of the Lauda Airlines 767 in Thailand which killed 223 people. Investigators have not made a final decision on the cause of that accident but said one engine did reverse thrust prior to the crash.
MR. MacNeil: An estimated 40,000 South African political exiles will soon be free to return home. In Geneva, officials of the South African government initialed an agreement with the United Nations granting amnesty to political exiles. When it takes effect, the accord will allow them to return without fear of prosecution. The UN will coordinate their repatriation. The amnesty does not cover any political detainees held inside South Africa.
MR. MUDD: That's it for the News Summary. Now it's on to an update on Alzheimer's Disease, a medical mystery story, a conversation with five black film makers and a Jim Fisher essay. FOCUS - HIDDEN DANGER?
MR. MUDD: We turn now to the story of a debilitating illness, one that has divided the medical community, those who think it's a real disease, and those who don't. Correspondent Spencer Michels of public station KQED in San Francisco prepared this report on the controversy.
MR. MICHELS: Laurie Frank can't breathe without an oxygen tube. She can't have a newspaper or a television. She can't even walk outside and down the street for fear she'd collapse in convulsions. She's confined to a barren, three room apartment, because common everyday chemicals make her violently ill. Her door rarely opens on what for her is the threatening landscape of Berkeley, California.
LAURIE FRANK: I go outside here and I get sick from the car exhausts or maybe somebody's spraying a pesticide somewhere or someone's cleaning a house or someone's tarring a roof or someone walks by with perfume or someone's got a cigarette in their hand it's like -- it's like being in a chemical war zone. I mean, you go outside and you take your chances.
MR. MICHELS: Twenty years ago, Laurie Frank was anything but disabled. She was a Phi Beta Kappa at the University of California, where she majored in Asian dance. She taught and performed widely.
LAURIE FRANK: I had a body that was my pride and joy. You know, it wasn't just I was healthy but I was a dancer, so that the body was something very special and it moved very beautifully, you know. I could get it to do anything I wanted.
MR. MICHELS: When unexplained nausea and headaches progressed to disabling dizzy spells, she gradually withdrew from dancing and teaching and socializing. She linked her symptoms to common chemicals. She's been housebound for the past six years. Laurie Frank is imprisoned by an increasingly common syndrome called "Environmental Illness," or "Chemical Sensitivity." There are no official government statistics on this condition. Its cause and even its existence are hotly disputed. One of the many doctors who examined Laurie Frank is San Francisco allergist Robert Sinaiko. He first encountered cases like hers during his medical training.
DR. ROBERT SINAIKO, Allergist: The patients would be turned out. They would be left on their own. There was no one, really, who was giving these patients very much help. Often the recommendation of the attending would be, well, refer that patient to psychiatry, so I would do that. And the psychiatrist would call me up, after seeing the patient, and ask me a little bit angrily perhaps why did you send me this patient, this patient has no psychiatric problem.
SPOKESPERSON: [At Meeting] The speaker tonight is Dr.Sheila Bastian, who's standing right here.
MR. MICHELS: The lack of effective treatment has spawned a nationwide network of support groups which now claim tens of thousands of members, both patients and doctors.
SPOKESPERSON: I think you're chemically sensitive too.
DR. SHEILA BASTIAN: That's right.
SPOKESPERSON: Right. So she knows where she speaks.
MR. MICHELS: The rapid growth and strength of support organizations is aggravating an already rancorous quarrel in medical circles. San Francisco allergist Abba Terr.
DR. ABBA TERR, Allergist: Most of the patients, maybe 2/3 of them, have a history of just every symptom you can think of, and they constantly change, and they've been to a lot of doctors. They have nothing wrong with them that can show up in any kind of test or any physical examination. They're typically what most laypersons would call psychosomatic.
DR. JEFFREY ANDERSON: Hi. How are you?
PATIENT: Not so good today. How are you doing?
MR. MICHELS: Dr. Jeffrey Anderson is a practitioner of clinical ecology, an unorthodox medical specialty based on the theory that people with Environmental Illness have damaged immune systems.
DR. JEFFREY ANDERSON, Clinical Ecologist: What I would suggest doing perhaps is to, to do a T-cell proliferation study, and then do a natural killer cell function study.
DR. ABBA TERR: The clinical ecologists have done -- in some of these patients have done thousands of dollars' worth of tests, measuring T-cells, B-cells, antibodies, all kinds of things. And when you look at this whole group of patients, and when you look at all these tests, they're the same as anybody else walking down the street. There's nothing unusual about the immune system of these people, they're normal. They have normal immune systems.
MR. MICHELS: Dr. Anderson has studied the same test results but concludes the opposite.
DR. JEFFREY ANDERSON, Clinical Ecologist: There were many abnormalities that were documented and any laboratory clinical pathologist or research immunologist would have to say, yeah, that's an abnormal number. You can argue about what the cause of the abnormality is, but you can't stand on that -- that's just ludicrous -- and you would say that they're normal -- they're not normal.
MR. MICHELS: A diagnosis of Environmental Illness inevitably draws the patient into this contentious debate and forces employers, insurance companies, and government agencies to take sides. Retired police officer Lowell Bingham is retracing a flight he made on December 14, 1981. He and a fellow officer were flying over the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California. Down below a pipe ruptured, leaking the solvent phenol into a holding pond. For more than an hour, Bingham and his partner, Bill Witty, flew through an invisible cloud of corrosive acid. They were among 25 people hospitalized for dizziness, breathing difficulties, even convulsions.
LOWELL BINGHAM, Patient: As we left the hospital, the doctor told us that if we didn't feel good after our days off, consult our own physician. And that was all. He didn't go into anything as to symptoms or any, any potential problems that we may have. And I - - and I believe now that he couldn't because he really didn't know himself.
MR. MICHELS: Bingham was an active athlete and coach. After the phenol spill, he hardly noticed any change in his health. He'd always had mild allergies and follow-up medical tests showed nothing new. Yet his family complained that he'd become short- tempered, and whenever he and his partner flew their plane, they had problems.
MR. BINGHAM: We couldn't stay alert. We'd get in the airplane and on several occasions we, we both fell asleep. One of us in the back acting as an observer and the other one as a pilot, we'd both doze off. We'd be flying the airplane and we'd just doze off.
MR. MICHELS: The two policemen went to see a clinical ecologist.
MR. BINGHAM: The day that we went to his office it was quite an experience because there's an outer room and the nurse came out and gave us the sniff test. She sniffed behind our ears and under our arms and everything else. I mean, it was, it was kind of embarrassing at first and police officers being very skeptical and Bill and I are looking at each other like, you know, what is, what's going on here, but we didn't say much, we just kind of had eye to eye contact.
MR. MICHELS: The doctor determined that they had developed chemical sensitivities from the phenol exposure and that recovery could take seven or eight years. Despite efforts to decontaminate the police plane, the doctor urged them not to use it for fear of lingering traces of phenol. Bingham took the doctor's advice and started cutting chemicals out of his life. He avoided everything from scented soap and after shave to gas stations and department stores. He left work for six months, filed suit against Chevron, and pressed a worker's compensation case. But his partner, Bill Witty, took the advice of other doctors and went back to work. In July of 1984, Witty crashed the police plane. He and another officer were killed. The accident was attributed to pilot error. No one knows whether it was related to illness. Meanwhile, Bingham was immersed in a confusing legal battle. Lawyers on each side sent him to doctor after doctor for examination, from blood analyses to allergy skin tests like this one. Chevron sent Bingham to this San Francisco office where tests revealed only his longstanding allergies. The doctor Chevron had hired was Abba Terr.
DR. ABBA TERR: I felt that he did suffer from a temporary illness caused by going through the phenol, but he got over it. And he had been to a clinical ecologist who told him that that experience of going through the cloud of phenol had damaged his immune system and he was now sensitive to other chemicals. And with that belief and that knowledge, he then went on to have problems.
MR. MICHELS: At the time, Robert Sinaiko was working with Bingham's doctor, clinical ecologist Joseph McGovern. Sinaiko said Dr. Terr was wrong.
DR. ROBERT SINAIKO: In this particular case, it was my impression when I interviewed Lowell Bingham in the past -- and I remember him reasonably well -- that he was not a person who would be subject to that kind of influence, in other words, that he was a very level-headed individual. I don't see why he would suddenly take on this strange belief system. I believe that he was having genuine symptoms upon exposure.
MR. MICHELS: Bingham was also sent to immunologist Alan Levin, who treats many patients for Environmental Illness.
DR. ALAN LEVIN, Immunologist: A typical stigma and typical symptoms, straightforward right down the line -- Environmental Illness.
MR. BINGHAM: I'd be feeling good and everything else, I'd go see Dr. Abba Terr, he'd order me back to work. I'd go back to work, I'd get sick again. I'd go see Dr. McGovern, and then he got me to see Dr. Alan Levin in San Francisco, and they got me back off the job. Just about the time I got feeling good again I had to go back and see Dr. Abba Terr and back to work I'd go again and it was like a yo-yo, back and forth and back and forth.
MR. MICHELS: Abba Terr's rejection of Environmental Illness makes him a popular expert for employers. In worker's compensation cases, he's hired to test the patients, not to treat them.
DR. ABBA TERR: It's not a doctor-patient relationship. That's what makes it so tough and i think that's why many of the patients who have gotten into the work environment clinical ecology problem are suffering so much, because of the, the workman's compensation system which almost demands that they see doctors with opposite views, and that leaves them a totally confusing situation. It's not good.
CORRESPONDENT: Why do you take part in that?
DR. ABBA TERR: Well, for several reasons. First of all, I have a special interest in occupational allergy, which is my field, and also I have a fairly -- quite a strong feeling that clinical ecology is not doing these people any good.
MR. MICHELS: California health authorities agreed. In 1981, the State Medical Association held that diagnoses of Environmental Illness were not scientifically valid. A state health department consultant had condemned clinical ecologists as "quacks." In 1986, Lowell Bingham's doctor quit practicing medicine to end a series of run-ins with the state medical board. He declined to be interviewed for this program. Bingham's wife, Sharon.
SHARON BINGHAM: As far as I'm concerned, they can call Dr. McGovern a quack until hell freezes over. The man helped my husband.
MR. MICHELS: The political climate is changing. At a recent allergists convention, rowdy demonstrators accused doctors of misusing the psychosomatic diagnosis to shrug off Environmental Illness. The California Medical Association no longer takes a position on the syndrome and a few government agencies have begun to classify it as a disability. UPDATE - NEW HOPE?
MR. MacNeil: Next tonight a new development in understanding and possibly treating Alzheimer's Disease. Some 4 million Americans currently suffer from the disease, which progressively robs its victims of their memory. Every year a quarter of a million more people are diagnosed with Alzheimer's. This week the National Academy of Sciences released a study that offers new hope of finding a cure for the disease. Here to tell us about the study is Dr. Gene Cohen, the acting director of the National Institute on Aging, which funded the research. Dr. Cohen heads the Department of Health & Human Services Council on Alzheimer's Disease and is the author of the book "The Brain in Human Aging." He joins us from Los Angeles. Dr. Cohen, thank you for joining us.
DR. COHEN: Nice to be here, thank you.
MR. MacNeil: Tell us what -- in simple terms -- what is new in this study.
DR. COHEN: Well, Alzheimer's Disease has been one of the great mysteries in modern medicine and the big challenge has been to try to find out what's causing nerve cell damage and death in the disorder and ideally to come up with an intervention that can block that deterioration or that degeneration. In this study, what the focus was on, a particular protein, beta amyloid, which when injected into the brains of laboratory animals was found to induce very similar types of abnormal changes as is seen in Alzheimer's Disease, specifically nerve cell damage and degeneration.
MR. MacNeil: And that protein, beta amyloid, is one that is found in abnormally large quantities in the brains of victims of Alzheimer's, is that --
DR. COHEN: That's correct, so it's been a suspect for some time, and these new findings up the level of suspicion that beta amyloid is playing a significant part in the pathological process.
MR. MacNeil: In other words, that that may be the substance which actually causes the damage to the nerve cells and ultimately brain cells and kills them ultimately.
DR. COHEN: Yes. The suspicion of that has gone up. It isn't necessarily the case per se of the disorder in the sense that other factors could influence the role of beta amyloid, but beta amyloid, itself, in the study appears to have a toxic effect.
MR. MacNeil: Where does extra beta amyloid come from? Why do some people have more of it in their brains?
DR. COHEN: This is a still a matter of investigation, but where beta amyloid comes from is what's known as the amyloid precursor protein. It's a protein out of which amyloid is produced. Now the amyloid precursor protein, itself, is produced and influenced by a gene that regulates it. And one of the theories is there is a mutation in this gene that improperly instructs the amyloid precursor protein such that it abnormally produces the beta amyloid protein which in turn causes damage to, to nerve cells.
MR. MacNeil: Does that mean that a predisposition to Alzheimer's is inherited genetically, or that the gene mutates when people get older -- and produces it?
DR. COHEN: A genetic or hereditary pattern in Alzheimer's Disease is seen in a small subset of families with the disorder. It's not the predominant picture of the disorder. But there are families that do seem to have a stronger, more pronounced genetic picture and the studies that are going on now are further investigating whether this is, in fact, what's going on in those families, an abnormality, a mutation in that gene.
MR. MacNeil: Okay. So a heightened suspicion that a protein found in the brains of Alzheimer's victims may be the thing that causes it, that's one of your findings. Now there was another important finding, I believe.
DR. COHEN: Yes, the other finding is of equal importance, and further implicates the role of the beta amyloid. The second finding focused on a substance known as substance P, and what that is is a naturally occurring brain protein, a brain neuro peptide, which when injected into the same brains of the experimental animals, blocked the effect of beta amyloid. And so this was a very, very interesting, a very exciting development because of the potential of substance P or an analog or a derivative drug as possibly being therapeutic in the future.
MR. MacNeil: I see. Where does that substance P come from? Does it exist in everybody's brains, in the brains of healthy people?
DR. COHEN: Yes. It is a naturally occurring protein. Within Alzheimer's Disease brains it appears to be at a reduced level. But the fact that it is a naturally occurring protein lends again to the idea that it can be utilized in a potentially therapeutic way, but this, this remains -- is in need of further investigation. At this point this was a very exciting preliminary finding.
MR. MacNeil: So in other words, the research was really designed around the fact that one thing occurs more in the brains of Alzheimer's patients and another substance occurs less and, in effect, you put the two of them together really, is that -- and found that one may cause it and the other may prevent it.
DR. COHEN: Yes. And this will be part of the next series of investigations that goes on. In many disease states often what happens is apart from an excess or a deficiency of different chemicals or substances, it's often a matter of their balance, their levels relative to one another, and this may also be one of the dynamics that's going on in Alzheimer's Disease.
MR. MacNeil: So now what are the steps -- this is being done in laboratory rats, as I understand, and you're about to carry it to its higher stage with experimental monkeys -- what are the steps towards finding out whether -- what the effects are in human beings?
DR. COHEN: Yes, there are several steps. First of all, the present studies which, again, are extremely interesting and exciting will undergo replication, so people will want to see these results replicated. Then a next step might be performing these studies in higher animals, non-human primates, such as monkeys, which more closely resemble human brains. At the same time, one wants to see whether these brain tissue changes are accompanied by some of the same clinical manifestations that you see in Alzheimer's Disease where people experience memory difficulties, they have increased trouble negotiating their environment, so what one wants to see is these animals with these lesions, whether or not they too have trouble negotiating their environment, so that would be combining the clinical picture with the brain tissue picture.
MR. MacNeil: Yes. Zavin Kachachurian of your institute told the Washington Post that the institute is organization a network of 30 hospitals and clinics to quickly test promising anti-Alzheimer's agents, including substance P. Would you describe that experiment and how that's going to work.
DR. COHEN: Yes. Basically, we have a series of centers that are specializing in research on Alzheimer's Disease. These are Alzheimer's Disease research centers. And we're in the process of expanding that network to have a number of sites that could quickly be mobilized to conduct very quick experiments on promising new drugs, promising new medications. They're also a group that's involved with trying to identify potentially new and useful drugs.
MR. MacNeil: If this substance P occurs naturally in healthy brains and you have a suspicion that it may attack or destroy the protein that may cause Alzheimer's, why couldn't you immediately jump the stages and try it if it's harmless in itself on people with a large degree, a large amount of that potentially damaging protein in their systems?
DR. COHEN: Well, you addressed one key point, is that we don't know at this point whether it is -- it is harmless, and so that would be part of the focus of the next round of studies. Also, we have to see if the effect of substance P would have the same effect in higher animals as it does in the laboratory animals presently being studied, the rats.
MR. MacNeil: I see.
DR. COHEN: But the safety issue is always a very important one, but even before we get to the point of establishing the safety of something like substance P, we have to feel more confident that it is indeed as interesting and useful as it appears in these preliminary studies. So that needs to be repeated.
MR. MacNeil: With a quarter of a million more people getting the disease every year and the disease making a huge impact on health care delivery services in this country, how many years might it be before this research was applicable to either existing or future human patients would you think?
DR. COHEN: Our goal at the National Institute on Aging is to really push catalyzed research to the point that we hope to fundamentally alter the course of this disease ideally by the end of the century. Now we can make a big impact on the disease without curing or preventing it. You can identify different key steps in the disease process and we're hoping that the studies of beta amyloid and the role of substance P have helped us identify certain key steps. And you come in at those steps, you may be able to alter or delay the course of the disorder, and some of the calculations that we've done have determined that if we could delay the onset of Alzheimer's Disease by five years, just five years, we could cut the incidence of that disorder in half. That would have an absolutely incredible effect of this major public health problem.
MR. MacNeil: Well, Dr. Cohen, thank you very much for joining us this evening.
DR. COHEN: Thank you. CONVERSATION - NEW JACK CINEMA
MR. MUDD: Next tonight Charlayne Hunter-Gault has a conversation with some of the newest and hottest filmmakers on the scene. They're young, they're black, but they're making green.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: It's been the season of what's being called "New Jack Cinema," movies by black filmmakers exploring modern urban street life with a vengeance and with great success. The images span the spectrum from the violent life of a drug lord in Mario Van Peebles "New Jack City," to inter-racial love and family conflicts explored by Spike Lee in "Jungle Fever." They also include coming of age films turned out by movie makers just coming of age themselves, coming of age in South Central Los Angeles.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Coming of age in Brooklyn.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Or simply hanging with the home boys.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: The films and the filmmakers are being seen almost everywhere, with the promise of more to come. Nineteen films will be directed by blacks this year, more than were released commercially in all of the '80s. Not since the 1970s have audiences been exposed to so many black faces in front of and behind the cameras. In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles opened the door or kicked it in with "Sweet Sweetback's Bad Asssss Song." Although highly criticized for its violence and strong sexual themes, "Sweet Back" was a big box office success. Movies like "Shaft" and "Super Fly" and many others followed. Producer William Greaves said blacks wanted to make other kinds of films about blacks, but --
WILLIAM GREAVES, Filmmaker: These films were the only kinds of movies that one could get financing for. They pandered to the most base kinds of preoccupations of the population in order to simply make a profit when they could have made a profit just as easily giving a much more total picture, you know, than they did. But, you know, it was largely as a result of ignorance, I think, and a mixture of ignorance, racism, and, and a lack of understanding of, you know, the needs and interests of the African-American people and the people of America as a whole.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: There's still sex and there's still violence. But along with the same old sex and violence are some different messages.
ACTOR: [FILM SEGMENT] This whole -- thing, it's not a black thing, it's not a white thing, it's a death thing --
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: And these different messages are making some different money. Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" has raked in about $20 million since June and "New Jack City" has grossed some $47 million since its release in March. Michael Lynn is president of New Line Cinema, a movie production company that specializes in distributing small, independent films. He's had two big successes in the New Jack mode, "House Party," a comedy about young middle class blacks which earned New Line more than $26 million, ten times more than what it cost to make, and "Hanging with the Boys," another comedy which grossed over $9 million in just the first weekend of its release.
MICHAEL LYNN, New Line Cinema: I think it took a certain amount of time for the professionals in the business to acknowledge that there was an audience for this, for product dealing with this background, this kind of story to tell, and until that really was identified, it was very difficult for the people in the business to commit the kind of wherewithal that was necessary.
MR. GREAVES: Let's face it, the African-American community represents demographically while it's 12 percent or 13 percent of the total population of this country, in point of fact, I -- there are various statistics that say that we, you know, go to the movies, that 25, to 30 to 40 percent in some cities, we represent 40 percent of the, of the viewing, you know, audiences. As a matter of fact, the 50 major markets in the United States are largely I would say over 50 percent is made up of people of color, that is, the African-American, Latinos, you know, Asians, and so on, so that those numbers are very, very significant actually.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Whether this current success means that Hollywood and black filmmakers have turned a corner is still an open question. Not too long ago many of those who are now making the big bucks were passing the hat, albeit creatively, to finish their projects. 19 year old Matty Rich ran out of money making his feature "Straight Out of Brooklyn," but he appealed for funds on a New York radio program and that got him through. And some of them, especially black women, who have yet to get a foot in the door, are still at it, like Daresha Kyi, an award winning director who recently held a fund-raiser at a New York club to raise money to complete her film, "Land Where My Fathers Died."
DARESHA KYI: You know, desperate things call for desperate measures. I have everything done on the film, except the negative has to be cut and it has to be, umm, you know, finished at the lab, so, I mean, I'm so close, all I need is the money.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: The money, the fame, the attention are some of the things we talked about with a group of the young filmmakers recently in Hollywood. What do you make of all that? And what do you think of it? How do you feel about it?
WARRINGTON HUDLIN, "House Party": Well, I think the attention probably comes from the fact that Hollywood, itself, is an exhausted industry. They put out stories, which is why they rely on remakes, sequels, and even comic books. I think what we represent as a generation of filmmakers are people with new voices and new visions and people, of course, if you want to spend $7.50, you want to be entertained and informed in a way that's engaging, so I think if America's going to have worthwhile evenings at the movies, they got to come see our movies.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Why now and why you guys?
REGINALD HUDLIN, "House Party": I think it's just a unique set of circumstances. First of all, it took breakthrough efforts by people like Spike Lee and Robert Townsend who literally did the impossible. They took, you know, $200,000, they took credit cards, and made movies that were great movies by any measure, and from that, Hollywood realized there was a market that we're missing and there are filmmakers that we're ignoring that people want to hear about. So because they were interested in exploring that market, we got the opportunities to make these films. And it turns out we are all making movies that America wants to see.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Are you saying America meaning black and white, because the assumption is that the audiences are all black? I mean, are you feeling something different?
MARIO VAN PEEBLES, "New Jack City": No, you can't -- you can be on a certain budget. We're getting major crossover now. I know with, I mean, New Jack we're at 47 or 48.
MR. REGINALD HUDLIN: Can't get that --
MARIO VAN PEEBLES: But you just can't get that or what John's movie is doing, you don't get that just by black folks. You get that by people being interested and "New Jack" we said drugs is not a black thing or white thing, it's a death thing. I say about Hollywood, it is a white thing, it's not a black thing, but most of all it's a green thing, and these folks are thinking about the color of money. That's what I think.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: But, Neema, let me ask you, Bill Greaves, who's been --
MS. BARNETTE: One of my mentors.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: That's right.
NEEMA BARNETTE, Director: I think we've all worked for Bill Greaves.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Before any of you -- or some of you were born at least --
MS. BARNETTE: Almost.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: He said that the black exploitation films of the '70s were the result of ignorance, racism, a lack of understanding on the part of Hollywood. Do you think the success of these movies that you all are doing now indicate that something has changed, that those things have changed?
MS. BARNETTE: The majority of the other films in the '70s were done by white filmmakers, but I believe that also the true test will come when we change from kind of the urban home -- or home environment, street movie too, something like "Tucson Overture" and "Haitian Revolution." What will happen and what these filmmakers are breaking ground in now is trying to get a balance of images, you know, stories told.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: But does your generation of filmmakers, given the films that you've made, I mean, is there a conscious, have you made a conscious decision that there are certain messages that you want to send?
REGINALD HUDLIN: I think every filmmaker that I know of, certainly I know everyone on this panel went into film because they had a sense of social responsibility and in a country where the President is elected on television knowing that controlling images is crucial to how we define ourselves, everyone I know thinks about that, thinks about social responsibility, as you said, the idea of entertainment, "edutainment", and at the same time, we want to have fun and we also have artistic goals, you know, as filmmakers, because we're all students of the entire world of film.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Are you making enough money and do you have enough power to have a critical mass to make a difference?
WARRINGTON HUDLIN: In terms of box office, I mean "Boyz N The Hood" is really doing well. Last year, 1990, "Houseway" set a measure. Immediately, Merrow came out in February of this year, shattered it. Then Spike in June shatters it and then John in July shatters it. That's wonderful. And I think that that gives us -- if that's -- to go to sports analogy, it's a relay race, each person given a baton. So if I go in and argue for more, a bigger budget, for our next project, I can point to John and say, listen, "Boyz N The Hood" made all this money, have confidence in risking more money on my budget.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Are any of you making the decisions?
WARRINGTON HUDLIN: No.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Neema, what's your perspective on all of this, because black women have not gotten to the door --
MS. BARNETTE: No, we have not.
WARRINGTON HUDLIN: Yet.
MS. BARNETTE: Yet.
WARRINGTON HUDLIN: I think that's about to happen in a couple of cases.
MS. BARNETTE: I think that the African-American woman's story is yet to be told. I think that with the breakthrough of such phenomenal filmmakers, let's look just look at Uzan Paulsey for a minute. Her -- her "Sugarcane Alley" was a classic, I mean, first time out was just a fabulous film. "Drylike Season" was the first film about South Africa made from an African point of view, a black point of view, okay. Julie Dash, who has a fabulous film out called "Daughters of the Dusk" about a black woman at the turn of the century in the South Carolina Islands, which won I think best cinematography award, Sundance -- cannot find a distributor -- okay -- for her film -- it's completed.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Have you reached the point given your success that you can make films without being concerned about whether or not they would be palatable?
JOHN SINGLETON, "Boyz N The Hood": Steven Spielberg can't do that. All filmmakers go through that, you know. I mean, you have to think about exactly who your audience is and who's going to see the film first and foremost.
WARRINGTON HUDLIN: There's also a presumption I think as a movement. Black movies represent cheap labor. All these movies are done for relatively low budgets -- quarter the budgets of any normal feature. As a result, it's very low risk and in a case like "New Jack" and "Boyz N The Hood" big returns.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: So where does that take us then?
MARIO VAN PEEBLES, "New Jack City": That's the second film -- my next film has no crack, no guns, no knives, and that's going to be the key, when we get off into those other areas.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Is that going to sell?
MR. VAN PEEBLES: We're going to do it. It'll be very interesting but the studios, I mean, the studios keep telling me, well, I got a great idea, Mario, "New Jack City 2."
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: This is a question unrelated almost to any -- who were some of the people who you respected and influenced --
WARRINGTON HUDLIN: As a filmmaker. To my mind, Carica Asaur is the greatest filmmaker ever and he's the man.
REGINALD HUDLIN: With that program.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: What about you, John?
JOHN SINGLETON: There's a lot of people that have influenced me but primarily, I mean, the person that really gave me strength and got me through school as an inspiration was Spike because, umm, I mean, I mean, I met Spike when I was just starting film school about two or three weeks before I even started the film school, itself.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Did you watch movies as a kid?
MR. SINGLETON: Yes. I watched a lot of films as a kid. My father used to take me to the movies every weekend. That was the recreational thing for us.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: What directors or --
MR. SINGLETON: People like Steven Spielberg, Corpla, you know, Corsaze and stuff. I went through a period in which I used to like to go to like a lot of, you know, high concept stuff and then I started exploring stuff that was made in the late '60s and '70s right, films like "Mean Streets" and "Taxi Driver."
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Neema.
MS. BARNETTE: Well, someone like Shirlie Clark who did "Cool World." I mean, when I saw the "Cool World" it blew me away and somebody told me, you know, a black woman directed that. I said, you've got to be joking. That was very inspirational for me and people like Gordon Parks, Sr., and Bill Greaves, independent filmmakers -- Chris Sower -- I mean -- once I decided I wanted to cross from theater to film, but partially because a lot of the white filmmakers' story structure and everything I find limiting. You know, I'm not so much protagonist, antagonist, direct story. I like more surreal elements, you know, and black folks talk in a different kind of dialect, we have a different kind of rhythm.
WARRINGTON HUDLIN: And before you go to Mario, I grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois, which is a small black town, Black City America, and I'd even take still photographs. I had no notion of being a filmmaker, and my experience my first year in college, I was sitting in the movie theater and this movie came on called "Sweet Sweetback Bad Asssss Song," and when I saw that movie, the first thing -- the credits said starring the black community -- and I said what kind of movie is this, and as this film proceeded, it was a complete reworking of American content, form, et cetera, and it's that moment in that darkened room in New Haven, Connecticut, that I said, oh, maybe I should do that, so I'm going to go back and add -- before I learned about Sower, it was Melvin Van Peebles who gave the inspiration.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: What about you, Mario?
MARIO VAN PEEBLES: My dad would shoot me if I didn't say Melvin Van Peebles, but you know what's interesting, I have a very unusual situation because if you grow up in America and you're black and the white man has told you that God is white and Jesus is white and Santa Claus is white and the President is white, you can, you can get, you can grow up a little deformed. I remember watching Bogart, digging Bogart, until the black butler came on, and then watching "Gone With the Wind" and saying, yeah, I could do that Clark Gable and then the maid would come on and -- say, wow, you know -- and then seeing three white cowboys kill one hundred red men, you know, and seeing that Hollywood consistently played minorities in a certain way. When I went to Japan, the first thing the Japanese said was you don't have to put an Asian boy in your movie, but we did, and he was a leading man. The role wasn't big and you had a woman who was a gangster, so one of my -- my situation was I grew up with a black film director so I never, as a boy growing up seeing your dad be the boss, you know, that's great, that's very healthy, I didn't question certain things, and as such, I remember when dad walked off the set of "Watermelon Man" he said, I'm not going to do this movie and they said, why, they had all this money invested, and he said, because I'm lonely, I don't see any of my people here, and he broke the union. The next day these all white unions had some black folks and some Puerto Ricans and some women, and they were trying to kill him -- when we finished "Sweetback" we had $13 left, the whole family.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: There was a lot of publicity when "Boyz N The Hood" opened because of the violence that was at some of the theaters and of course, there have been a lot of explanations as to why that happened. How concerned are you that this kind of thing as well as the publicity is going to affect your movies, I mean, has that --
WARRINGTON HUDLIN: It's really troubling me -- when that kind spin faces a movie as important as "Boyz N The Hood."
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: You mean the spin that it causes --
WARRINGTON HUDLIN: Exactly, because that's false -- flatly false -- and essentially "Boyz N The Hood" is the solution, not the problem, and that if one watches that movie and thinks, it's very clear about the kind of cycle of despair, impotence, that leaves that kind of insane violence -- that's not the way to go.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: John, does that worry you, or do you feel that that's going to have an impact on your films, the fact thatthere was attendant violence?
JOHN SINGLETON: No.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: You went around to the theaters.
MR. SINGLETON: The biggest thing happened in LA and it happened in LA because LA is a real small kind of like world unto itself, you know. There's a whole population of young brothers there who don't have no focus, don't have direction, you know, they don't have -- none of them have fathers, so they're all in the process of trying to prove their manhood. And I was up there that night when the shootin' went off and there were all these people from different neighborhoods coming in and the security in the theater didn't know what to look for. You know, they didn't know if a person is all dressed down and has all this members of -- what gang he's from, you know, that this person shouldn't be in the theater in the first place, they didn't know that, so they just let all the people from different places come in, and like when Mario's film, I mean, that came out, you know, people they talk about, oh, violence erupted when "New Jack City" came up but they forget that the LAPD lynched this brother named Rodney King the Sunday before the movie came out so there's a whole preconceived psychology between these young brothers who were outside of theaters that have had 7.50 or $7.00 taken away from them that they had to ask their mother or had to get off their jobs taken away from them and then to have the cops in front of them waving a baton, it's like when they've seen all this week that they're beating people, so they, you know, it's like -- there are little elements -- people don't look at the bottom line, at what causes certain things. They want to say the film did this. They don't want to say, well, let's look at the way society is going, you know, and try to deal with that.
MR. VAN PEEBLES: Let me just deal with "New Jack" for a minute because I got asked this question a lot and it was interesting. Opening week in "New Jack City" I go down to Westwood, all these folks came down, a lot of people bought tickets and could not get into the movie theater after they had bought tickets. You had a lot of folks standing around and that week they'd seen the Rodney King video when the cops came down, someone said, let's get 'em for Rodney King. Now that could happen in front of "Mary Poppins." Mind, you there were three people that got shot in "Godfather" -- am I correct -- in "Godfather." We had another case in Brooklyn, the guy went to see "New Jack City," was in one gang, and somebody else in another gang was waiting for him across the street in the parking lot and they got to shooting across the street. Now the media attributed that to "New Jack" but you see the media, the white media, they look at the poster for "New Jack" having never seen the movie, once the movie opens and people see it, and they see it's an anti-drug film or with "Boyz N The Hood" or whatever, they see it's a whole different thing, but I asked this question in Britain, because this British guy kept asking me that, I said, what about you guys in soccer matches, you go crazy over soccer. Is there something about soccer that drives you nuts? Are you going to ban soccer?
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: What do you think the success of your movies and the experiences that you're having now says about America in 1991?
WARRINGTON HUDLIN: I'd have to echo what Mario says, that Hollywood is green and that it's good business to be in business with black filmmakers. I don't think it represents a liberalization of racial attitudes or new egalitarian spirit. I think it's just a profitable investment.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: What do you think, John?
MR. SINGLETON: I think, you know, there's a large population of people in this country, black, and otherwise that always are interested in going on with black folks so you know, we're going to be making films for a long time, as long as we continue to make good films.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Do you agree with that, Neema?
MS. BARNETTE: I think that there's a fear to present the -- to present women of color on the screen, the silver screen as well as television.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Why?
MS. BARNETTE: Uh, well, Charlayne, you don't really --
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah.
MS. BARNETTE: Well, just to be brief, very brief, I have a lot of reasons why and I don't think we have time to go into 'em now, but i think that in terms of women create -- you know, women go to the movies obviously. They spend a lot of money in movies, umm, and I think that the absence and I mean absence and invisibility of the African-American women and women of color in general on the silver screen as well as in television leaves something for everyone to definitely think about as to -- everyone has their own opinion on why --
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Give me one reason, just briefly, because we really --
MS. BARNETTE: Well, I just think that -- one reason is I think there's a fear of creating a balanced image between black men and black women on the screen, giving the black man a real woman to deal with, as we are real, who are supportive and gives a balanced sense of family, you know, which has been basically absent, you know, in everything. I think that there's a lack of understanding of what we really are to each other and the role that black women have played in society and a fear of stop looking at us as the mammies of America and the mammies of the world and begin to look at us as the queens and the contributors to society that we always have been.
REGINALD HUDLIN: What's so important when you look at the history and the image of blacks in motion pictures and particularly when you consider that is at least currently in 1991 America's principal export to the world, that is how blacks are defined and that is how not only to other people but to ourselves. Reality is defined on a 40 foot screen written in light.
MS. BARNETTE: It's a mind molding business, all of it, the radio, the TV, the major motion pictures, you know, records, it's all mind molding, so we're involved in molding people's minds and changing society, using it as a political tool because really no matter how entertaining you claim it is, it is a political tool. This is the final frontier and we're trying to break it.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Mario, Neema, John, Reggie, and Warrington, thank you for joining us. ESSAY - SHOWTIME
MR. MAC thoughts Finally tonight we get the views of a man who likes to watch movies, not make them. He's essayist Jim Fisher of the Kansas City Star.
MR. FISHER: It's been a summer of blockbuster movies, "Terminator 2," lots of action, Arnold, mind blowing special effects, "Robinhood," flaming arrows, bad guys, good guys, merry men.
MR. FISHER: "Thelma and Louise" roaring across the West, a feminist buddy movie with large caliber guns. It's obvious in this summer of 1991 that Americans' love affair with the big screen is stronger than ever, even here in Kanopolis, Kansas, population 600, a town that once thought it was going to be the capital of the state. Except what's here isn't supposed to be here -- no way. What's in the North end of this town is something that sort of flies in the face of all our slick urban malls and their eight-plex movie theaters. It's something you don't see much anymore and what's that -- why a drive-in theater, specifically the Kanopolis Drive-In, this week playing "City Slickers."
MR. FISHER: Remember the drive-in, the memories they evoke? Can you remember the '50s when across the country 25 cents out of every movie going dollar was generated by what the trade called "ozoners" and what the public called "ashingtons," places with tinny speakers, little ridges you pulled your '54 Chevy up on so you and your date could see the screen until maybe the windows fogged up. Now you only have to look for what are roadside relics, screens cannibalized for barnside -- pipes that once held speakers -- and most of all -- weeds. Three thousand drive-ins have closed over the past three decades, losing out to rising suburban land values and becoming everything from flea markets to salvage yards. Not here though. The Kanopolis Drive-In, the only one in the 300 miles between Topeka and Dodge City, is thriving. On any given evening, a line of cars waits for owner Tony Blazina to open the gates. Tony and his wife, Olga, sell the tickets, three and a half bucks for adults, children in free -- a typical Kansas summer evening, spectacular sunset, with kids hanging out, doing cartwheels before the 40 year old screen that has withstood a half a dozen Kansas tornadoes. And as dusk approaches, there is Tony in the projection booth, readying two ancient projectors for the evening's show. Tony's a survivor in a tough business, one threatened by videos, big city sprawl, and how we spend our leisure time.
TONY BLAZINA, Owner, Kanopolis Drive-In: My personal view why I am still in business is first run pictures, keeping your theater in A-1 condition, what looks on the outside, tell you what's on the inside, low prices. That's mine and the clean restrooms and treat your public right.
MR. FISHER: It's a simple philosophy but one a lot of American businesses could learn from. Put out a good product, treat your customers right.
MR. FISHER: And they come back as they have here for almost 40 years. Maybe there's something else here too. On a drizzly night when the projector had to compete with the rain, the audience saw more than any indoor crowd would ever see -- a show beyond the screen. I'm Jim Fisher. RECAP
MR. MUDD: Again, the major stories of this Friday, President Bush said he would block a Democratic plan to extend unemployment benefits, the nation's trade deficit shrank to an eight year low, and the two top executives at Salomon Brothers offered to resign amidst a growing trading scandal at the Wall Street firm. Good night, Robin.
MR. MacNeil: Good night, Roger. That's the NewsHour for tonight. We'll see you on Monday night. I'm Robert MacNeil. Have a nice weekend.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
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- This episode's headline: Hidden Danger; New Hope; Conversation - New Jack Cinema; Showtime. The guests include DR. GENE COHEN, National Institute on Aging; WARRINGTON HUDLIN, ""House Party""; REGINALD HUDLIN, ""House Party""; MARIO VAN PEEBLES, ""New Jack City""; NEEMA BARNETTE, Director; JOHN SINGLETON, ""Boyz N The Hood""; CORRESPONDENTS: SPENCER MICHELS; CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT; JIM FISHER. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MacNeil; In Washington: ROGER MUDD
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- MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.” 1991-08-16. NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 11, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-5717m04m6m>.
- APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-5717m04m6m