HPC for Life: Genomics, Brain Research, and Beyond

During the past few decades, the life sciences have witnessed one landmark discovery after another with the aid of HPC, paving the way toward a new era of personalized treatments based on an individual’s genetic makeup, and drugs capable of attacking previously intractable ailments with few side effects.

Genomics research is generating torrents of biological data to help “understand the rules of life” for personalized treatments believed to be the focus for tomorrow’s medicine. The sequencing of DNA has rapidly moved from the analysis of data sets that were megabytes in size to entire genomes that are gigabytes in size. Meanwhile, the cost of sequencing has dropped from about $10,000 per genome in 2010 to $1,000 in 2017, thus requiring increased speed and refinement of computational resources to process and analyze all this data.

In one recent genome analysis, an international team led by Jonathan Sebat, a professor of psychiatry, cellular and molecular medicine and pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine, identified a risk factor that may explain some of the genetic causes for autism: rare inherited variants in regions of non-code DNA. For about a decade, researchers knew that the genetic cause of autism partly consisted of so-called de novo mutations, or gene mutations that appear for the first time. But those sequences represented only 2 percent of the genome. To investigate the remaining 98 percent of the genome in ASD (autism spectrum disorder), Sebat and colleagues analyzed the complete genomes of 9,274 subjects from 2,600 families, representing a combined data total on the range of terabytes.

As reported in the April 20, 2018, issue of Science, DNA sequences were analyzed with Comet, along with data from other large studies from the Simons Simplex Collection and the Autism Speaks MSSNG Whole Genome Sequencing Project.

“Whole genome sequencing data processing and analysis are both computationally and resource intensive,” said Madhusudan Gujral, an analyst with SDSC and co-author of the paper. “Using Comet, processing and identifying specific structural variants from a single genome took about 2 ½ days.”

SDSC Distinguished Scientist Wayne Pfeiffer added that with Comet’s nearly 2,000 nodes and several petabytes of scratch space, tens of genomes can be processed at the same time, taking the data processing requirement from months down to weeks.

In cryo-Electron Microscopy (cryo-EM), biological samples are flash-frozen so rapidly that damaging ice crystals are unable to form. As a result, researchers are able to view highly-detailed reconstructed 3D models of intricate, microscopic biological structures in near-native states. Above is a look inside of one of the cryo-electron microscopes available to researchers at the Timothy Baker Lab at UC San Diego. Image credit: Jon Chi Lou, SDSC

Not long ago, the following might have been considered an act of wizardry from a Harry Potter novel. First, take a speck of biomolecular matter, invisible to the naked eye, and then deep-freeze it to near absolute zero. Then, blast this material, now frozen in time, with an electron beam. Finally, add the power of a supercomputer aided by a set of problem-solving rules called algorithms. And, presto! A three-dimensional image of the original biological speck appears on a computer monitor at atomic resolution. Not really magic or even sleight-of-hand, this innovation – given the name of cryo-electron microscopy or simply cryo-EM — garnered the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the technology’s invention in the 1970s.

Today, researchers seeking to unravel the structure of proteins in atomic detail, in hopes of treating many intractable diseases, are increasingly turning to cryo-EM as an alternative to time-tested X-ray crystallography. A key advantage of the cryo-EM is that no crystallization of the protein is required, a barrier for those proteins that defy being turned into a crystal. Even so, the technology didn’t take off until the development of more sensitive electron detectors and advanced computational algorithms needed to turn reams of data into often aesthetically pleasing three-dimensional images.

“About 10 years ago, cryo-EM was known as blob-biology,” said Robert Sinkovits, director of scientific computing applications at SDSC. ”You got an overall shape, but not at the resolution you would get with X-ray crystallography, which required working with a crystal. But it was kind of a black art to create these crystals and some things simply wouldn’t crystalize. You can use cryo-EM for just about anything.”

Several molecular biologists and chemists at UC San Diego are taking advantage of the university’s cryo-EM laboratory and SDSC’s computing resources, to reveal the inner workings and interactions of several targeted proteins critical to the understanding of diseases such as fragile X syndrome and childhood liver cancer.

“This will be a growing area for HPC, in part, as we continue to automate the process,” said Sinkovits.

Machine Learning and Brain Implants

It’s a concept that can boggle the brain, and ironically is now being used to imitate that very organ. Called “machine learning,” this innovation typically involves training a computer or robot on millions of actions so that the computer learns how to derive insight and meaning from the data as time advances.

Recently, a collaborative team led by researchers at SDSC and the Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., applied a novel computer algorithm to mimic how the brain learns, with the aid of Comet and the Center’s Neuroscience Gateway. The goal: to identify and replicate neural circuitry that resembles the way an unimpaired brain controls limb movement.

The study, published in the March-May 2017 issue of the IBM Journal of Research, laid the groundwork to develop realistic “biomimetric neuroprosthetics” – brain implants that replicate brain circuits and function – that one day could replace lost or damaged brain cells from tumors, stroke or other diseases.

The researchers trained their model using spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP) and reinforced learning, believed to be the basis for memory and learning in mammalian brains. Briefly, the process refers to the ability of synaptic connections to become stronger based on when they are activated in relation to each other, meshed with a system of biochemical rewards or punishments that are tied to correct or incorrect decisions.

“Only the fittest individual (models) remain, those models that are better able to learn better, survive and propagate their genes,” said Salvador Dura-Bernal, a research assistant professor in physiology and pharmacology with Downstate, and the paper’s first author.

As for the role of HPC in this study: “Since thousands of parameter combinations need to be evaluated, this is only possible by running the simulations using HPC resources such as those provided by SDSC,” said Dura-Bernal. “We estimated that using a single processor instead of the Comet system would have taken almost six years to obtain the same results.”

On the Horizon

Other impressive data producers are waiting in the wings posing further challenges on tomorrow’s super facilities. For example, an ambitious upgrade to the Large Hadron Collider will result in a substantial increase in the intensity of proton beam collisions, far greater than anything built before. From the mid-2020s forward, the experiments at the LHC are expected to yield 10 times more data each year than the combined output of data generated during the three-years leading up to the Higgs discovery. Beyond that, future accelerators are being discussed that would be housed in 100-km long tunnels to reach collision energies many times that of the LHC, while still others are suggesting the construction of colliders based on different geometric shapes, perhaps linear rather than ring. More powerful machines, by definition, will translate into torrents of more data to digest and analyze.

The future site of the Simons Observatory, located in the high Atacama Desert in Northern Chile inside the Chajnator Science Preserve (photo licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Under an agreement with the Simons Foundation Flatiron Institute, SDSC’s Gordon is being re-purposed to provide computational support for the POLARBEAR and successor project called the Simon Array. The projects — led by UC Berkeley and funded first by the Simons Foundation and then the NSF under a five-year, $5 million grant — will deploy the most powerful cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation telescope and detector ever made to detect what are, in essence, the leftover ‘heat’ from the Big Bang in the form of microwave radiation.

“The POLARBEAR experiment alone collects nearly one gigabyte of data every day that must be analyzed in real time,” said Brian Keating, a professor of physics at UC San Diego’s Center for Astrophysics & Space Sciences and co-PI for the POLARBEAR/Simons Array project.

“This is an intensive process that requires dozens of sophisticated tests to assure the quality of the data. Only be leveraging resources such as Gordon are we able to continue our legacy of success.”

“As the scale of data and complexity of these experimental projects increase, it is more important than ever before that centers like SDSC respond by providing HPC systems and expertise that become part of the integrated ecosystem of research and discovery,” said Norman.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Why Pose Is the Most Groundbreaking LGBTQ TV Show Ever

“You know what my life is like … every movie, TV show, ad in a magazine shows what my life is like,” says one of the few cisgender characters to his trans lover on the FX original series Pose, about the New York City ball scene in the late ’80s. “But the only chance I’m gonna get of understanding your world is if you show me.”

Pose is doing exactly this for the mainstream — giving cis (people whose gender identity matches their physical sex), straight, white America a piece of LGBTQ history and representation that has been absent from the televised zeitgeist in favor of heteronormative stories. That’s why it’s so important to the LGBTQ community.

The show follows the lives of fictional characters within the ball scene, an LGBTQ subculture where different “houses” — mostly black and Latin gay, bi, lesbian and trans people — walk (or compete), usually on club stages or runways, for trophies in categories such as Face, Body, Butch Queen Realness, Femme Queen Realness, Miscellaneous Drag and Vogueing (yes, this is where the dance style originated).

The show’s first incarnation came about when co-creator Steven Canals wrote a spec script for his UCLA screenwriting graduate program a few years back. Canals, an out person of color from Harlem, was directly influenced by the AIDS epidemic and the New York ball scene.

Around the same time, writer-producer-director Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck, Feud, Glee) optioned the rights for Paris Is Burning, the famed 1990 documentary exploring the ballroom scene; it later inspired Madonna’s hit song “Vogue.” Murphy and Canals connected and joined forces to create Pose, alongside Murphy’s business partner, Brad Falchuk. Aside from the talented cast (MJ Rodriguez, who plays Blanca, and Billy Porter, who plays Pray Tell, are shoo-ins for Emmy nominations next year), vibrant visuals and, of course, drama, Pose (which airs its season finale on Sunday, July 22, and was just renewed for a second season) is breaking down boundaries in bold, new ways. Here’s how:

It features the largest number of openly trans actors in lead roles ever in a TV series.

Bianca (MJ Rodriguez), Angel (Indya Moore), Elektra (Dominique Jackson), Candy (Angelica Ross) and Lulu (Hallie Sahar) are all played by trans women of color. Imagine that: Actual trans actresses were cast in trans roles! When accepting his VH-1 Trailblazer Honors award last month, Murphy said, “I believe strongly in the power of television because … if you see yourself and some part of your human experiences reflected back at yourself, you will not feel alone. And people with hatred and bias in their hearts can often be converted if a character or situation they are invested in feels like a friend. … I decided [I wanted to] create representation, showcase gay people and minorities and outsiders and underdogs of all kinds.” While many if not all of his series and movies have accomplished this, Pose takes the cake. The representation doesn’t end in front of the camera, either: Many of the writers are trans women as well, including Janet Mock, Our Lady J (Transparent) and director Silas Howard, who is also a co-executive producer. Murphy also plans to bring to the show up-and-coming trans directors mentored through his Directing Mentorship Program.

It doesn’t shy away from sexually complex stories.

Having a writers room with diverse voices really lends itself to stories about marginalized groups that aren’t often seen on TV. In one storyline, trans character Elektra struggles between fulfilling her dream — having her surgical transition from male to female — and keeping her cisgender straight lover satisfied. “I know what I like but I can’t explain why my dick gets hard knowing that yours is there. All I know is that I want it in the room. Now maybe it’s because I like the feeling of knowing that I’m getting away with something that no one else knows about. I just want it there,” says Elektra’s lover (played by Christopher Meloni). After she decides to go through with the surgery, he ends their 10-year relationship (emotionally, physically and financially). This struggle of finding a partner who doesn’t fetishize trans women is a common one, but hearing it out loud in plain language was an innovative TV moment.

MJ Rodriguez as Blanca, left, and Indya Moore as AngelEXPAND

MJ Rodriguez as Blanca, left, and Indya Moore as Angel

JoJo Whilden/FX

It’s educational.

LGBTQ kids (and allies) may know terms such as “shade” and “reading” from RuPaul’s Drag Race, but both RuPaul and Michelle Visage were part of the New York ball scene first. Many of their references, from Ru’s music like “Category Is” or “Sissy That Walk,” to the show’s challenges or runway themes, came directly from this world. Pose does a great job showing younger people where the culture came from.

Similarly, with the advent of effective AIDS drugs, many in today’s younger LGBTQ generation unfortunately are not as careful as they probably should be. They may know about the AIDS epidemic but it’s seen as ancient history. Set in the late ’80s, Pose reminds the LGBTQ community just how devastating AIDS was: The series begins with Blanca finding out she’s HIV-positive, and Pray Tell’s loss of his boyfriend to the virus (as well as finding out he has it himself). It depicts just how horrific the disease was back then and still is, and how important it is to stay safe.

Speaking of gay sex, one scene in the show seemed to go farther than any other in terms of educating. Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), a young man kicked out of his home for being gay, is given a sex talk by his House mother, Blanca, who found him on the streets of New York and took him in. Learning about gay intimacy can be challenging — it’s not taught in schools or by parents in most cases. Now, Damon’s met a new guy and Blanca asks him if his father ever gave him “the talk.”

“He was saying all this stuff about women’s anatomy, and the whole time I was thinking, this is not the information I need to get. But I couldn’t ask him the questions I really wanted to know, which was about what men do together and stuff, or I’d be found out,” he replies. Blanca responds by giving him two pamphlets, one called “How to Use a Condom” and another called “Gay Men, AIDS: Reducing Risk.” She says to him, “Well, here’s what no one would tell you but me. Gay life is hard. Now as a gay man, you have options when it comes to sex. You can be a top or a bottom.”

Damon: “Uh, how will I know which one I am?”

Blanca: “Well, there’s no rule book. Sometimes you want to give, sometimes you want to receive. Sometimes you want all the pleasure.”

Damon: “What if I’m a bottom and I fall for another bottom?”

Blanca: “What y’all gonna be doing, bumping purses all night? … When you find the right guy, you’ll figure it out. Just promise me you’ll protect yourself.”

I can’t remember the last time I saw this kind of honest exchange about gay sex depicted on television, let alone by a parental figure teaching a child. Destigmatizing these kinds of conversations on TV is sure to help anyone with these kinds of questions feel less alone.

Evan Peters as Stan, left, with James Van Der Beek as Matt Bromley

Evan Peters as Stan, left, with James Van Der Beek as Matt Bromley

Sarah Shatz/FX

It tackles race issues, even within the LGBTQ community.

While it would be great if the entire LGBTQ community had one another’s backs completely, this is simply not the case and never has been. Despite being marginalized and outcast by society, we often discriminate against one another. Pose brilliantly depicts this when Blanca and Lulu are kicked out of a gay bar for being trans. When they try to order drinks, the bartender says, “I got 10 guys in here asking me if it’s drag night.” To which Blanca replies, “We’re not in drag, we’re women,” and the bartender retorts, “We don’t like women in here. This is a gay bar.”

The manager then comes by and asks to speak to them outside, where they have this exchange:

Blanca: “How could you discriminate against me in my own community?”

Bar manager: “We have a specific clientele: gay, under 35…”

Lulu: “White!”

Bar manager: “Frankly, yes. The New York City nightlife is segregated. … I’m sorry, I’m not throwing a costume party.”

After he leaves, Lulu says a hard truth to Blanca:  “Everybody needs someone to make them feel superior. That line ends with us, though. This shit runs downhill, past the women, the blacks, Latins, gays, until it reaches the bottom and lands on our kind.” Blanca then makes it her mission to get served at the bar, returning over and over again to order her Manhattan, only to be kicked out every time. On her last visit, she sees a cisgender African-American patron at the bar and says to him, “Have you noticed you’re the only one here with a year-round tan?” He asks her what’s her point and she says, “They don’t want us here.” His reply? “No, they don’t want you here.” This is moments before the manager calls the police, who arrest Blanca for “disturbing the peace.”

While the prejudice within the LGBTQ community may not be as bad as it was in the ’80s, Lulu’s statement about the “shit running downhill” is true to this day. One doesn’t have to look very far on hook-up apps like Grindr to see profiles that blatantly say things like “No fats, no femmes, no blacks, no Asians.” Some may call it a “type,” but most see it for what it is: racism and discrimination. Many in the LGBTQ community still segregate themselves from others to feel superior, and Pose boldly puts the issue out in the open, addressing this ugly history. We may have evolved a little since the type of incident Blanca and Lulu dealt with, but we still have a long way to go.

Dominique Jackson as Elektra, centerEXPAND

Dominique Jackson as Elektra, center

JoJo Whilden/FX

It explores cultural and class disparities in a new way, and producers are even trying to close the gap.

It’s probably no coincidence that the only two cisgender, straight, white principal men in the story work for Donald Trump. Trump gained notoriety in the ’80s and his presence in pop culture helped usher in the era of conspicuous consumption, Wolf of Wall Street–style. These two men, played by James Van Der Beek and Evan Peters, often display their white privilege. Van Der Beek’s character is shown sexually harassing the women in his office, while Peters’ character is caught up in what his life “should” be as a heterosexual white male. Peters’ repression sees him cheating on his wife with a trans woman of color (Angel), for whom he rents an apartment because he’s that rich.

The flaunting of wealth by white cis men is juxtaposed with the poverty of the people of color who go to balls. Trans women risk their lives to buy cheap hormone injections because they can’t afford the good ones; gay young men kicked out of their homes are living on the streets; and the Houses resort to stealing money or outfits just so they can feel fierce, pretty and accepted at the balls. Many of the trans girls are selling their bodies either for sex or as dancers. “When you’re transsexual, you take the work where you can get it,” Blanca says.

Then, of course, there are drugs. Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel) is caught selling them because “what choice do you have when all you have is an eighth-grade education?” The show brilliantly highlights the wage inequality, especially between the white majority and minorities, that still exists today. Nevertheless, Murphy is putting his money where his pen is: In May he tweeted: “I am donating 100 percent of my profits from my new FX show Pose towards trans and LGBTQ charitable organizations. These groups do amazing work and need our support. Every day for the next 14 days I will highlight a group I’m supporting, and encourage you to do the same!”

Some of the groups include the Peter Cicchino Youth Project, which offers free legal services to homeless youth; Sylvia’s Place, which helps LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth; Callen-Lorde, a leader in LGBTQ health care; and Equality New York, which works across the state to advance equality for LGBTQ New Yorkers and their families.

It’s authentic.

There have definitely been boundary-breaking shows about the LGBTQ community before — from programs that started the conversation and laid the groundwork, such as Ellen and Will & Grace, to shows that normalized gay characters (we’re just like you!) but showed them to be complex too, like Modern Family and Six Feet Under, to shows with all gay characters like Queer as Folk and Looking. What Pose does differently, however, is depict an accurate and real history of the LGBTQ community, without any white- or straight-washing, spotlighting stories of trans (and gay) people of color, played and written by trans (and gay) people of color. This is why the content is so innovative and refreshing and different from anything on television. Madonna said, “Beauty’s where you find it,” in the hit song that took the dance style from gay balls to the mainstream. In the case of marginalized groups being represented in media, sometimes it’s not that easy to find. Thank you, Pose, for making it a little bit easier.

The season finale of Pose airs on Sunday, July 22, at 9 p.m. on FX.

Ernie Barnes: football player turned artist

AT heart, Ernie Barnes the professional football player was always Ernie Barnes the artist. His teammates on the San Diego Chargers nicknamed him “Big Rembrandt” because he was always scribbling on pieces of paper.

He ended up painting vivid and highly acclaimed images from the playing field and from African-American life. He’s most famous for “Sugar Shack,” which shows African-Americans dancing at the Durham Armory. Marvin Gaye used a version of it for an album cover, and a print of it appeared in the closing credits of the sitcom “Good Times.”

Now, an exhibit has opened in his home state titled “The North Carolina Roots of Artist Ernie Barnes.” The exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History includes 38 paintings by Barnes, many unseen by the public until now, along with several pieces of memorabilia.

It’s the first exhibit of Barnes’ artwork in 11 years, and the first since he died at age 70 in 2009 in Los Angeles. It continues through March 3, 2019.

Barnes never considered football his true calling. From his childhood, he was drawn to art. In his 1995 autobiography “From Pads to Palette,” he wrote, “Throughout my five seasons in the arena of professional football, I remained at the deepest level of my being an artist.”

But he played professionally from 1960 to 1964, signing first with the Baltimore Colts and then with the Titans of New York, the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos. His sports connections led to his first exhibit through the support of New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin. And Barnes credited football with helping him develop the elongation technique for which he’s known.

An art instructor told him “to pay attention to what my body felt like in movement,” Barnes once said. “And when I did that, it was an elongated feeling. I hate to think: ‘Had I not played sports, what my work would look like.’”

He also spoke of how the “dehumanization” of professional football played out in his art.

“I painted until I exhausted the hate,” he said, according to comments provided by his estate.

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s vice president of operations, is probably the largest collector of Barnes’ art and someone in whom Barnes confided about his love-hate relationship with football.

Vincent estimates that he owns just shy of 30 Barnes’ paintings, most of them commissioned and never seen by the public.

In a phone interview, Vincent said that he and his wife “didn’t classify it as black art. He happens to be African-American, but it’s not black art. It’s art.”

At the time of Barnes’ death, Paul Von Blum, an art history and African-American studies professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, called him one of the premier figurative artists of his era.

Barnes, who was born in 1938 in Durham during the Jim Crow era, graduated from what’s now North Carolina Central University. His painting “Homecoming,” shows a marching band in Durham with US 15-501 signs in the background.

“Ernie said when he was growing up, the high school band used to come down from the segregated area and make the turn into the black community, and the band would kick it up right there,” Luz Rodriguez, his longtime assistant and estate trustee said in Raleigh before the exhibit opened. “So that’s what he painted.”

“Sugar Shack” came from Barnes’ memories growing up in Durham, Rodriguez said. His mother had told the 13-year-old Barnes that “they don’t do Christian things there” so of course he had to sneak in to find out what was happening, she said.

Actor and comedian Eddie Murphy owns the painting now, exhibit curator Katie Edwards said. A second version that Barnes painted is part of the North Carolina museum exhibit.

Barnes was able to “share our dark past yet articulate in color what the future could be‚ the proudness of our history, the proudness of our future. Ernie encapsulated all of that.”

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Democrats for Life of America gather ’round a message: ‘We want our party back’

(RNS) — In a political era dominated by growing wealth inequality, resurgent white supremacy and the Party of Lincoln reduced to presidential Twitter farce, a reasonable person might ask: Where are the Democrats?

Sidelined in Congress and decimated in statehouses, today’s Democrats have lost the winning touch that gave us the New Deal, the Great Society and four decades of uninterrupted control of the House of Representatives. To get it back, they might do well to note what’s happening in Denver this weekend (July 20-22) as Democrats for Life of America convenes for what’s planned to be an annual conference.

It wouldn’t hurt Dems to make room for faith language once again. The party’s unlikely coalition of Southern Protestants, white “ethnic Catholics” and Jews has given way to a secular-led party that cannot speak the language of faith sincerely and is skeptical of religious beliefs, especially when held by white people.

31 Movies Worth Watching in Seattle This Weekend: July 19–22, 2018

“Should I celebrate Jurassic Park‘s 25th birthday by watching it outside for free?” is an easy question.

Unmissable film events this weekend include Grand Illusion’s Kubrickheavy Summer of Celluloid and openings like Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade and the cartoonist biopic Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. Follow the links below to see complete showtimes, tickets, and trailers for all of our critics’ picks, and, if you’re looking for even more options, check out our complete movie times listings or our film events calendar.

Movies play from Thursday to Sunday unless otherwise noted.

Stay in the know! Get all this and more on the free Stranger Things To Do mobile app (available for iOS and Android), or delivered to your inbox.

Ant-Man and the Wasp
While Ant-Man and the Wasp is fun, funny, and exciting, it also runs the risk of being incomprehensible to those uninitiated in the ways of Marvel. The first Ant-Man, while it showed promise in casting Rudd as the gentle, dad-bod superhero we’ve been waiting for, fell flat in a number of places and wasn’t nearly as funny as it could’ve and should’ve been. (The underuse of Rudd’s awkward, sweet natural charm bordered on egregious.) But Ant-Man’s visual playfulness saved the day: A movie about a tiny Paul Rudd had a unique opportunity to show audiences micro and macro perspectives, opening a whole new world of creativity and comedy. Happily, Ant-Man and the Wasp follows through on that stuff and goes even further with scale-shifting action sequences. More importantly, this film uses Rudd exponentially better, giving him plenty of opportunities to be goofy and charming and Paul Rudd-y. SUZETTE SMITH
Various locations

Barry Lyndon
As much as I dislike Stanley Kubrick (please examine carefully the edits and zooms of the instrument panel of the bomber in Dr. Strangelove—they are just awful, so awful, so cheese in cheesy, so Hanna-Barbera bad), I have a bit of a soft spot for 1975’s Barry Lyndon because, when I attended college (in the 1990s), it introduced me to the art of lighting. Barry Lyndon is the film that I first saw lighting’s power and so, the image of how to light a scene is, in the life history of my being/body, found in this movie. The rest of the film is forgettable as far as I’m concerned. CHARLES MUDEDE
Grand Illusion

Writer/director Shana Feste’s films (Country Strong, The Greatest) tend to look like easily skippable mainstream studio fare, but that casing masks an artistic fascination with the way families can be both fragile and durable, depending on how willing their members are to invest in them. Her latest features a fantastic cast—Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Peter Fonda, Christopher Lloyd, and the hugely underrated Bobby Cannavale—in a story about a middle-aged woman forced to drive her estranged, pot-dealing reprobate of a father across the country after he gets ejected from a nursing home. It might not be the kind of film you can rally a big group of your friends into seeing en masse, but rather the kind you steal away to see at a solo matinee and find yourself wiping away tears as you emerge into the afternoon sunlight. SEAN NELSON
AMC Pacific Place
Thursday only

Coolness is a phenomenon that contains several contradictions: It’s both meaningless and profound, subjective and undeniable, ephemeral and, in the case of movie stars like Steve McQueen, eternal. Though no one has ever bothered to deny McQueen’s effortless magnetism, he has also managed—like so many pop culture phenomena once assumed to be unforgettable—to be a little bit forgotten. This classic McQueen film, one of the great action thrillers of all time, is evidence of the actor’s immortal charisma, and also of the melancholy truth that even the best pop stuff can fall between the cracks of cultural memory if you’re not careful. SEAN NELSON
Grand Illusion
Thursday only

The Cakemaker
When Thomas, a Berlin baker, learns that his boyfriend, Oren, a married Israeli man who visits Germany once a month for business, has been killed in a car accident, he travels to Oren’s home country to seek closure. Once there under a false name, he meets Oren’s widow, Anat, whose struggling bakery he revives with his non-kosher cakes and cookies. But how far can he hide his relationship with Anat’s dead husband? Critics have praised this original, tense drama about loneliness and love.
SIFF Film Center

Carole Lombard: Queen of Comedy
The cool, brainy star of 1930s cinema starred in great movies like To Be or Not To Be, My Man Godfrey, and Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Watch the films that made her famous at this weekly SAM series—this week, it’s Hands Across the Table, a saucy comedy about a gold-digging manicurist who falls for a cute guy who initially is just as money-obsessed.
Seattle Art Museum
Thursday only

Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska star in this zany postmodern Western by the Zellner brothers (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter). Critics agree: It’s a hoot. “The Zellners […] keep things intellectually curious and devilishly clever, as if they’ve just watched Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona for the first time while reading Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot aloud to each other. Their teamwork lets the comedy chips fall where they may in between bursts of bloody action and subversive provocation.” (So says Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.)
Northwest Film Forum
Thursday only

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot
The latest from director Gus Van Sant follows Portland artist John Callahan (played by Joaquin Phoenix) from his hard-partying days, through a drunken accident that leaves him mostly paralyzed, to his kicking alcohol and becoming a much-loved and much-hated cartoonist. Callahan used his comics to make fun of living with a disability, religion, intolerance, and macabre subjects that ended up offending pretty much everyone. Even after the car crash, he didn’t stop his heavy drinking, and his life continued to be chaotic, until he eventually found a group of recovery misfits, led by a Lao Tzu–quoting gay alcoholic (Jonah Hill, going full-on Gregg Allman). The true story is an affecting one that doesn’t dismiss the hardships of being a quadriplegic or trying to turn your life around. GILLIAN ANDERSON
AMC Seattle 10 & SIFF Cinema Uptown

Eighth Grade
Ugh, the agony of being a middle-schooler. Kayla is a quiet kid being raised by a single dad. She has no close friends and drifts through her school days not being noticed by anyone. She reaches out to the world through her inspirational YouTube videos (“The topic of today’s video is being yourself”), but nobody is watching. She desperately wants to connect, to be appreciated by someone who isn’t just her dad (“If people would talk to me at school, they would find out that I am really funny and cool and talkative”). This is the first feature film by writer/director Bo Burnham (a stand-up comedian and former teen YouTube sensation!), who refreshingly puts the adolescent girl perspective front and center, unfiltered by Instagram. All the problems of young teenhood are on display here: awkward social skills, skin problems, trying too hard, and feeling too much. Elsie Fisher as Kayla is both extraordinary and completely unremarkable. The film is funny and sad and excruciating and hopeful. Eighth grade is the worst; Eighth Grade the movie is wonderful. Winner of best film and best actress for Fisher at this year’s SIFF. GILLIAN ANDERSON
SIFF Cinema Egyptian

En el Séptimo Día
A young undocumented man in Brooklyn works hard six days out of seven; the seventh day is devoted to soccer. But when José’s boss demands that he work Sunday, the day of finals for his thriving soccer team, José must decide whether to risk his job to keep his self-respect. A quiet, restrained, very well-shot film by Jim McKay (Girls Town).
Grand Illusion
Thursday only

Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution
James Redford’s Happening explores the economic and health benefits of a new clean energy era, highlighting an underlying story of “human resilience, social justice, embracing the future, and finding hope for our survival.”
Bauhaus Books & Coffee
Sunday only

If you’re not comfortable with the very real possibility that you’ll be drenched in sweat and cowering in the fetal position by the end of Hereditary, perhaps this is one cinematic experience you should skip. But you’d be missing out—writer/director Ari Aster’s feature debut might be one of the most beautiful and nauseating horror movies ever made. Hereditary centers on miniaturist artist Annie Graham (an Oscar-worthy Toni Collette), whose family is rattled by mysterious events following the death of her reclusive mother. Her daughter, tween outcast Charlie (Milly Shapiro), is apparently grieving the hardest of them all—she spends her free time making dolls out of dead pigeons and always looks like she’s got a category five hurricane brewing inside her head. Hereditary is brilliant—the whole thing hums with cold electricity that’s guaranteed to unsettle your soul. Aster gracefully illustrates humanity’s ancient fear of predestined fate in a setting, and with a family unit, that feels deeply rooted in reality. It’s also a powerful reminder of the horror genre’s underutilized potential as a source for empathy—proof that it’s possible to uncover great truths about the human condition, so long as we’re willing to kneel down in the dirt and pick apart the rotting carcasses of our worst fears. Like Hereditary, it’s gross, but it’s worth it. CIARA DOLAN
AMC Pacific Place & AMC Seattle 10

The Immigrant Experience Film Series: Nybyggarna (The New Land)
This installment of the Nordic film series will feature Jan Troell’s 1973 Swedish drama The New Land, based on Vilhelm Moberg’s novel series and starring the extraordinary actors Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow (who often worked with Ingmar Bergman and other titans). This film, an Oscar nominee that takes place in the wilds of Minnesota, follows the Swedish immigrant household as hardship and dreams take the family members in different directions.
Swedish Cultural Center
Friday only

Incredibles 2
Incredibles 2 simply isn’t as tightly tied together as the first. Its villain, the Screenslaver, isn’t as key to defining Elastigirl’s character as Syndrome was to Mr. Incredible’s in the first film—so when everything climactically comes together in the third act, Incredibles 2 ultimately packs a weaker thematic punch. This isn’t really a knock, though. What Incredibles 2 (slightly) sacrifices in cohesion and heart it makes up for with action and comedy. He opens Incredibles 2 with back-to-back set pieces that quickly put the previous film’s finale in the rearview; he closes the film with a team-based triumph that any three X-Men flicks combined couldn’t compete with; and when he goes for the gag (which is often), it feels like Chuck Jones-era Looney Tunes via classic-era Simpsons (which Bird himself helped make classic). Incredibles 2 isn’t as good or affecting as the first, but it is prettier, louder, faster, and funnier—and if you have to make a trade, that’s not a bad one. BOBBY ROBERTS
Various locations

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
I totally understand why people object to these films and their CGI manipulations, but I am helpless before the allure of plausible dinosaurs wreaking havoc on humans. I thought the original Spielberg ones were killer. I thought the Joe Johnston third sequel was killer. I thought the reboot Jurassic World was killer. And I think this new one, again starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, both of whom I can usually live without, looks, guess what: killer. I love films with dinosaurs chasing and killing people. It’s what movies are for. SEAN NELSON
Various locations

The Last Suit
An extremely handsome and well-dressed Holocaust survivor from Argentina embarks on what feels like a final adventure to Poland to fulfill a promise he made during the Shoah. Though he’s charming and sympathetic, our hero is also a stubborn old man who has deeply disappointed all he’s sired. The quality and variety of the silk cravats in this film is enough to recommend it. But powerfully good acting and the heart-melting story of a survivor reckoning with an incomprehensibly painful past makes the film a must-see. RICH SMITH
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
Thursday only

Leave No Trace
If you lived in the Pacific Northwest in 2004, you remember it: The discovery that, for years, a father and daughter had been living in Portland’s Forest Park in an undetected campsite. They were eventually found and housed by the authorities, but soon disappeared again. The story inspired a novel, My Abandonment, written by Reed College creative writing professor Peter Rock, and that book has been adapted into a compassionate, graceful movie by Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik. The father and daughter in Leave No Trace—played by Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie—aren’t meant to be stand-ins for the actual people, and the movie’s plot doesn’t precisely follow real-life events. But everything else about Leave No Trace feels entirely authentic, from its patient rendering of life in the pair’s urban-adjacent campsite to the way it shows how a parent and child are able to communicate without words. Foster is excellent as Will, a veteran coping with PTSD by getting as far as he can from the disturbing elements of civilization while also doing his best to provide for his daughter. But the movie belongs to McKenzie, whose extraordinary performance as daughter Tom is heartbreaking, inspiring, and unforgettable. NED LANNAMANN
Meridian 16

Midnight Movie Madness
Have a blast watching public domain horror films, boozing it up at the pay-what-you-want bar, or playing board or video games with the horror sketch troupe Drop the Root Beer and Run. A must for fans of comedy, low-fi horror, and cheesiness.
The Pocket Theater
Friday only

Patti Cake$
It’s a bleak setting many Americans will recognize: wide, treeless roads; trash-strewn strip mall parking lots; an inescapable sense of resigned hopelessness. But Patti perseveres, filling her notebooks with rap verses that she shares with her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). When she can’t rap with Jheri, Patti escapes into elaborate fantasies, floating through green clouds of Wizard of Oz–style haze and dreaming of winning the favor of her rap idols with her rhymes. Patti Cake$ could easily be labeled a feminist 8 Mile, and at first glance, it looks just about identical: the fights with mom, the working poverty, the white rapper seeking to break into a traditionally African American art form. Patti Cake$ only escapes the 8 Mile cliché—the idea that it’s somehow heroic for a white person to succeed in a marginalized person’s world—on the strength of its actors, the versatility of its director (Jasper also penned Patti’s lyrics), and the fact that its script packs so much heart. While 8 Mile struggled under the weight of trying to remain true to Eminem’s account of his life, Patti Cake$—a work of pure fiction—feels much more real. SUZETTE SMITH
Scarecrow Video
Sunday only

All hail Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Better known as “RBG” to her fans (and “Bubby” to her grandkids), at 85 years old, the US Supreme Court justice still has a fierce intellect, a duty to the law, and an immense inner and physical strength. Over the long course of her career, RBG repeatedly defended the rights of everyone to live free from bias, but, as Supreme Court correspondent Nina Totenberg says, Ginsburg “quite literally changed life for women.” And she’s still doing it. With intimate interviews with family and friends, as well as RBG herself, the film captures the life of a woman with a heart none of us wants to stop ticking. KATIE HERZOG
SIFF Cinema Uptown & AMC Seattle 10

I’m not going to stand here and tell you to your face that Scorchy is good, at least not in the classic sense of the word “good” (or the word “scorchy”). But the 1976 white-people-in-a-blaxploitation-movie potboiler has two major assets that make it well worth a film lover’s time: (1) The catalog of American International Pictures—the leading distributor of independent American cinema before “independent American cinema” meant cheap genre exercises with gratuitous sex and violence—only becomes more fascinating with age; the shoddy production values, poor acting, un-writing, and inert action sequences are astonishing artifacts of a time before audiences were sophisticated enough to care. (2) It was filmed in Seattle in 1975–76. Talk about astonishing artifacts. Unlike many of the films made here during the ’70s (The Parallax View, Cinderella Liberty, 99 & 44/100% Dead), Scorchy actually takes in quite a bit of the city as it was then, and the newly restored print (thanks, Shout Factory!) is a vivid time capsule of the time before progress made it so hard to live here. Top marks for the curators of Ark Lodge Cinemas’ Dark Lodge series for having the nerve to program such an essentially local relic. SEAN NELSON
Ark Lodge Cinemas
Thursday only

Sea to Shining Sea
Few indie genres boast a larger risk-reward ratio than the road movie, with the inherent narrative momentum serving as a launchpad for a wide variety of intriguing takes, as well as the potential for a whole lot of tedium in the wrong hands. Director/writer/star Maximón Monihan’s Sea to Shining Sea counts as one of the good ones, fortunately, with its barely there story providing ample room for a slew of entertaining serio-comic digressions. Capitalizing mightily on the chemistry between two old friends, it finds an engagingly wobbly back and forth rhythm early on, and then just keeps on trucking. The thinly fictionalized plot finds Seattle native Monihan reuniting with his old skateboard buddy Robert Boerleider, a Dutch-Surinamese wiseass from Amsterdam with a fierce yearning to see the real America. After borrowing an old Subaru in San Francisco, they embark on a not-that-well-planned-at-all odyssey to New York. Their relationship makes sitting in the theater while watching people sitting in a car an unexpectedly fulfilling experience. ANDREW WRIGHT
Northwest Film Forum
Thursday only

Seattle Outdoor Cinema
This 21+ series invites you to snack on street food from the night market, drink cold beer, and relish classic movies like, in this case, Jurassic Park. Do we have to sell you on Jurassic Park, perhaps the greatest creature feature ever made? On that exuberant John Williams score? On eccentric Laura Dern, grumpy Sam Neill, and above all, shirtless Jeff Goldblum? South Lake Union Discovery Center
Saturday only

The Shining
Charles Mudede’s aversion to Stanley Kubrick films notwithstanding, The Shining towers over every film made before or since about hauntings, possessed children, beleaguered wives, and psychotically murderous ax-swinging lunatics. (And there are a lot.) There’s something beautifully, coldly opulent about its portrait of American violence, with Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott’s inexorable tracking shots rushing us toward overwhelming evil. The theater will be showing The Shining on 35mm film as part of their Summer of Celluloid.
Grand Illusion
Friday & Sunday

It’s in Skyscraper—the latest in a streak of big-budget high-concept Dwayne Johnson blockbusters—that he finally claims Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mantle. What Skyscraper represents is an absurd action movie that simply couldn’t justify it’s existence without Johnson’s presence. He’s an enormous charisma engine; drop him into a shiny plastic shell, and suddenly you’ve got a vehicle. That’s not to say Skyscraper is poorly made. It’s quick like a bunny and very aware of its formula. Skyscraper is a thoroughly 2018 action movie: Violent but largely bloodless, with a bit of heart, a bit of menace, no travel time between objectives, and zero downtime between set pieces. There’s basically everything you need to keep the whole family entertained for 90 minutes. BEN COLEMAN
Various locations

Sorry To Bother You
When hip-hop collective the Coup released their sixth album, Sorry to Bother You, front man Boots Riley, a former telemarketer and Occupy Oakland activist, described it as “a dark comedy with magical realism.” That description applies equally well to his razor-sharp directorial debut. The title phrase, of course, is how telemarketers, like Cassius Green (Atlanta‘s and Get Out‘s Lakeith Stanfied), launch cold calls to potential customers. He’s just a young dude trying to earn enough to graduate from his uncle’s garage where he lives with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a performance artist in Julianne Moore-in-The-Big Lebowski mode. Riley grounds things in a loose semblance of reality before shit starts to gets weird. Every time Cash makes a call, marks (people on the other end of the line) hang up on him, so he tries on a Putney Swope-like white voice (voiced by David Cross in spectacularly geeky form). Marks love their unctuous new pal and buy crap they don’t need, and Cash finally gets to ride the Mishima-inspired gold elevator to RegalView’s top floor where the Power Sellers, a shallow gaggle of strivers, congregate. The more money he makes, the more of a jerk he becomes. If he’s making more than he deserves, his first-floor colleagues, like Danny Glover’s old-timer Langston, are making less, at which point a union organizer (Steven Yuen), the film’s true hero, steps up to the plate. Riley’s satire enters the nightmare realm of Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man!. Riley’s ability to transfer his leftist politics intact from turntable to screen is truly miraculous. His film has a distinct look that ranges from pop-art bright to demonically dark, and Stanfield’s lightly absurdist performance holds it all together. KATHY FENNESSY
Various locations

Three Identical Strangers
What starts off looking like a standard issue Netflix doc about a zany family—replete with insulting reenactments and that creeping sense that you’ve just signed on for two hours with people who only think their story is worth telling—rapidly becomes one of the most complex, even shocking adoption stories you’ll ever hear. Short version: Within the space of a couple of days in 1980, three 19-year-old triplets who have never even heard of one another’s existence meet and become brothers, friends, and NYC media darlings. But the story of why they had never met—why, in fact, their existence was intentionally kept a secret—involves a conspiracy worthy of a psychological thriller. As the story unravels, you become astonished by the layers of complexity and injustice these three guys have experienced. And it doesn’t take long before your initial impressions are totally forgotten: These guys aren’t just lovable doofballs telling well-rehearsed chestnuts about their kooky life. They’re people who have suffered unimaginable hardship and now bravely submit it to further public scrutiny in the hopes of solving the mystery at the center of their lives. SEAN NELSON
Meridian 16 & AMC Seattle 10

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist
At the start of the documentary Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood begs off discussing any part of her life on camera. The story has been told many times over. Why go over it all again? That scene is the perfect encapsulation of Westwood’s career: Throughout her 40-plus years making startling, stylish clothing from her home base of London, she’s continually looked ahead, not behind, predicting trends and seeking inspiration. By upending the usual way of telling that story, director Lorna Tucker does an impressive job capturing the spirit of Westwood and her work. Tucker saves the parade of celebrity endorsers, like model Kate Moss and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, for the movie’s closing moments, and spends the rest of the time weaving through the highlights of Westwood’s glitzy yet gritty life. But even then, Tucker doesn’t focus on the things you’d expect. We get a pointed view into the difficulties Westwood faced in gaining acceptance in her home country and how her persistence and vision won out in the end. It’s damn inspiring. ROBERT HAM
SIFF Film Center
Thursday only

“She was something I didn’t want my sister involved with. It was evil. It was wicked,” one of Whitney Houston’s brothers says. As he does it, a chill goes up my spine. “I knew she was a lesbian, yes.” He’s talking on camera about Robyn Crawford, Whitney’s intimate friend, possibly her true love, the woman who was by Whitney’s side throughout her rise to mega-stardom, the woman who understood Whitney better than anyone, the woman who made an ultimatum to Whitney at one point: Bobby Brown or me. Whitney was already married at that point. Whitney chose Bobby. As the documentary reveals, fate turned its knife over and over in Houston’s life. What everyone in the film agrees on is that Whitney Houston was one of the greatest vocal performers who’s ever walked the earth. There is footage you expect to see (like her star turn singing “The Star-Spangled Banner”), and audio that amazes every time (like the vocals-only track to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”). CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE
AMC Pacific Place

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
The question isn’t how much you will cry. The question, which only emerges days into the aftermath of seeing this extraordinary new documentary about the life and work of Fred Rogers, is this: What exactly are you crying about? Possibility number one: good old-fashioned nostalgia. A huge chunk of the film consists of clips from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the public TV show for children Rogers created, wrote, and performed multiple roles in for 33 years. Seeing the way he spoke directly to his viewers, making sure we knew we were valued, cared for, seen, and known is a powerful reminder of the early validation the show provided. And learning that this style of address arose from radical education theory, developed by Rogers himself (in conjunction with learned colleagues like Spock, Braselton, and Erikson), about the benefits of being candid with children, only deepens the admiration. But this footage also stirs up the memory of inarticulate childhood sorrow his attention helped to alleviate, taking you back to the time before you were capable of constructing the armor required for this nightmare of a world. Possibility number two: the impossibility of such a human existing again, either on television or, indeed, on earth. He represented a strain of religious conviction that seems inconceivable now. Through his show, he demonstrated the precepts of his faith—kindness, empathy, dignity, peaceful coexistence, safety, love—without ever once mentioning, or even gesturing toward, a deity. SEAN NELSON
Various locations

Yellow Submarine
Milestones call for celebration—or in the case of Yellow Submarine, which has its 50th anniversary this month, a good ol’ fashioned restoration. The animated musical fantasy—ostensibly made for children, but with surrealistic, psychedelic animations by George Dunning, appealing to adults of both the square and acid-eating varieties—was inspired by the 1966 Beatles song of the same name, and culls select other tracks from that seminal rock band’s catalog to soundtrack and illustrate its story: A group of musicians (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) embarks on an underwater adventure through wildly surreal and psychedelic seascapes to save their Pepperland paradise from the music-hating Blue Meanies who’ve invaded and drained all the love, peace, and color from the place. Other than the film’s use of their likenesses (and their music), the Beatles were barely involved in its making; the project fulfilled a three-film contract to United Artists, and their sole live-action cameo in the final scene satisfied their contractual obligation to actually appear in the film. But it’s arguably the best of all the Beatles films, and seeing a fully remastered version on the big screen will be a rare treat. LEILANI POLK
SIFF Cinema Uptown

Also Playing:
Our critics don’t recommend these movies, but you might like to know about them anyway.

The Apple

The Equalizer 2

The King
Thursday only

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Unfriended: Dark Web

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RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Dr. Alonzo Ward to speak on African American History before the Civil War at Jacksonville Public Library tonight

Considered by many to be the highest prize in writing and journalism, the Pulitzer prizes celebrated their 100th anniversary last year, and the Jacksonville Public Library will partner with Illinois College to welcome the 2017 Pulitzer winner for fiction to Jacksonville.

The JPL is hosting a series of events in anticipation of Colson Whitehead’s visit on Wednesday, September 12th. Whitehead won the 2017 Fiction Writing Pulitzer for his novel “The Underground Railroad”, categorized as an alternate history novel that follows two slaves, Cora and Caesar, as they seek to earn their freedom on the infamous Underground Railroad.

The series begins this evening at 6:30 p.m. with Dr. Alonzo Ward, Assistant Professor of History at Illinois College. According to JPL Director Chris Ashmore, Dr. Ward will offer an educational session about African American history in the United States before the Civil War.

“Today, Dr. Alonzo Ward will give a program entitled ‘African American History Up To the Civil War’. Dr. Ward will discuss the historical backdrop of the novel, what life was like for African Americans, and then touch on what the real Underground Railroad was like. That will be a nice lecture followed by questions and answers after.”

Ashmore explains the two JPL events that will bring a more specific focus on the novel.

“We will have two book club style discussions led by Dr. Beth Kappa, an English professor at Illinois College, Thursday August 16th and Thursday August 30th, both at 6:30 p.m. Unlike Dr. Ward’s program, which is primarily a historical program, Dr. Kappa will be leading a discussion much like you would see in a high school literature class or a book club. It will basically be the same discussion, so folks can come to either meeting.”

Ashmore details the schedule for Colson Whitehead’s September 12th Jacksonville visit.

“At 5 p.m., he will come to the library and we’ll be having an open house and sort of meet and greet with the author with food and drink. When that is over at 6:30, there will be about a half hour break, and then Mr. Whitehead will be speaking probably to a packed house at Illinois College’s Rammelkamp Chapel in regards to the novel and he’ll be taking questions after. There is also a book signing planned but not scheduled, and I’m not sure whether that will be at Illinois College or here at the library.”

In addition to the 2017 Fiction Pulitzer, Whitehead’s sixth novel won the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Hurst/Wright Legacy Award, and the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, and is a selection of Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 list.

Journalism in the Age of Trump: What’s Missing and What Matters

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Prior to Trump’s election, the press was frequently criticized for its embrace of “he said/she said” journalism and the false sense of balance it imparted. Thankfully, this approach has been jettisoned in the Trump era, freeing journalists to forcefully call out the president’s falsifications and misrepresentations. But has the balance perhaps tipped too far in the opposite direction? A news organization like the Times derives its reputation by delivering the news “without fear or favor,” but sometimes there seems to be too much favor.

In reporting on Trump, for example, the paper often uses such tendentious words as “swagger,” “brag,” “boast,” “tirade,” “rant,” and—a particular Times favorite—“bluster.” A President Who Peddles Bluster Quietly Revives His Banter, ran a July 15, 2017, headline. Amid Bluster, White House Ponders Next Step, declared another on September 23, 2017. An article in May 2018 about Trump’s speech to the graduating class of the Naval Academy was headlined: Navy Officers Saluted With Bluster and Big Numbers. According to the article itself, Trump spent much of the address touting his efforts to increase the military budget and expand the armed forces. The headline would have been more professional—and informative—had it stuck to that fact, as the online headline actually did.

But the bias runs deeper than just headlines. On June 23, the Times ran a story contrasting the policies of the NBA and the NFL for dealing with player protests during the national anthem. To explain the NBA’s more lenient stance, the Times cited the greater star power of basketball players. According to the article, after the president withdrew an invitation to the champion Golden State Warriors to visit the White House because the team’s record-setting point guard, Stephen Curry, said he didn’t want to go, Trump “was met head on by basketball’s biggest star, LeBron James, who called him a bum. Other prominent players spoke out, too. The president slinked away, the way a bully does when faced with unexpected resistance.” Does such opinionizing belong in a news article?

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Around the same time, the paper ran a story headlined Italy’s Economy Was Humming Nicely. Then Came Trump. According to the story, the Italian economy had been seeing brisk growth until Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, putting at risk some large Italian contracts, and imposed tariffs that could make steel more expensive, further endangering growth. But the Italian economy had been stagnant for years due to political paralysis, a massive national debt, and a banking sector hobbled by bad loans; though it has finally begun to rebound, major structural problems remain. While the Times article did mention the paralysis, it held Trump mostly responsible, something few Italian economists would do.

No less striking than the negativity of the Trump coverage has been its volume. On June 9—the day after a press conference that Trump held before leaving for the G-7 meeting in Canada—the Times devoted the entire top half of its front page to the president, along with all or parts of six inside pages. On some days, The Washington Post has a dozen or more stories about Trump and Washington politics, compared with just one or two about the rest of the country. When White House communications director Hope Hicks resigned, the press spent days pondering the implications of this second-tier figure’s departure. When Trump waited 48 hours to post a tweet criticizing the Red Hen restaurant for refusing service to press secretary Sarah Sanders, the Times ran a detailed analysis of what the delay said about the president’s opinion of her.

Such articles reflect the “Politico effect.” Since its launch more than 10 years ago, Politico has popularized a style of reporting that is (as Joe Pompeo observed in Vanity Fair) rapid-fire, fine-grained, gossip-filled, obsessed with who’s winning, and consumed by palace intrigues. “Scoop artists” are prized above all else. Among the Politico reporters who have gone on to work at other top national news organizations are Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush, Alexander Burns, Jonathan Martin, and Ken Vogel (now at the Times); Josh Dawsey (now at the Post); Manu Raju, Dylan Byers, and Hadas Gold (CNN); Tara Palmeri (ABC); and Gregg Birnbaum (NBC). Covering Trump has brought many White House reporters fame, with speaking fees in the five figures, Twitter followers in the six figures, and regular appearances on television.

The appetite of cable-news networks for Trump experts is so great that they have signed many reporters to exclusive deals. As Steven Perlberg reported in BuzzFeed, “print reporters—used to workmanlike life behind the scenes…have been cast as celebrities of #TheResistance.” The starting TV rate for reporters is between $30,000 and $50,000 a year; top reporters get $50,000 to $90,000; some big-name pros earn as much as $250,000. Appearing on TV magnifies these reporters’ influence and access to the White House. That, in turn, enhances their ability to get inside information, which further increases their TV desirability, creating a self-feeding loop that keeps the media Trump machine whirring and humming.

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Seymour Hersh—one of the nation’s most celebrated investigative journalists—has expressed dismay about the workings of that machine. Speaking to On the Media, he cited a hypothetical Times reporter as an example: “I’m in The New York Times—I get a tip on a story…put it online for the Times, then go on MSNBC to talk about it…. A lot of tips and a lot of secondhand stuff is being run as serious stories, even in the good newspapers.” The Trump coverage, he said, “just doesn’t end…. I look at the cable news and I just think, ‘Have we really come to this?’”

Russian journalists have been similarly baffled by how their country is covered in the United States. Last summer, The New Yorker’s Joshua Yaffa asked more than half a dozen independent Russian journalists to assess the US coverage of Putin, Russia, and possible Russian interference in the American election. All of them said they were “bemused, frustrated, or disappointed.” One complained that the US press had made Putin “look much smarter than he is, as if he operates from some master plan.” In fact, this journalist added, “there is no plan—it’s chaos.” Over and over, the Russian journalists told Yaffa that “the U.S. media, in its reporting of the possible Russia ties of Trump associates,” veered “toward trafficking in the conspiracy theories that define so much of Russian coverage of the United States.” Elena Chernenko, who heads the foreign desk at Kommersant, tartly noted that “[t]he way the American press writes about the topic, it’s like they’ve lost their heads.”

The tone for the American media’s coverage of Trump was set two days after the election, when The New York Review of Books published a piece by Masha Gessen on its website titled Autocracy: Rules for Survival. Trump, Gessen declared, “is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won.” Her first rule—“Believe the autocrat”—has been cited repeatedly ever since.

In February 2017, Susan Glasser published a front-page piece in the Times’ “Sunday Review” opinion section titled Our Putin. “Don’t worry too much about whether Trump and the Russian leader are working together,” advised the subhead. “Worry about what they have in common.” That same month, Timothy Snyder came out with On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century, a book (expanded from a Facebook post) in which he observed that “Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism.” Earlier this year, Madeleine Albright expanded on that theme in Fascism: A Warning, while Cass Sunstein edited an essay collection titled Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America, the general answer to which was “yes.”

Andrew Sullivan, reviewing that book and another Sunstein volume (Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide) in the Times Book Review, compared Trump and his movement to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz party. Though Trump “is not about to initiate a coup, or suspend elections or become a dictator,” his authoritarianism is likely to follow their models: “The dismemberment of a public discourse centered on objective truth is a key first step,” Sullivan wrote, “fomented by unceasing dissemination of outright lies from the very top, metabolized by tribal social media, ever more extreme talk radio and what is essentially a state propaganda channel, Fox News.” Next comes “the neutering of the courts,” with Trump already “well on his way to (constitutionally) establishing a federal judiciary whose most important feature will be reliable assent to executive power. Congress itself has far less approval than Trump; its inability to do anything but further bankrupt the country, enrich the oligarchy and sabotage many Americans’ health care leaves an aching void filled by…a president who repeatedly insists that ‘I am the only one who matters.’”

Had Sullivan published something like that in Turkey, he might have been arrested. Currently, some 70 journalists are in prison there, and most independent newspapers have been closed or bullied into silence. In addition, more than 100,000 Turkish officials and civil servants have been dismissed; at least 2,200 judges and prosecutors have been jailed pending investigation; and 11,000 teachers have been suspended. The repeated characterization of Trump, by Sullivan and others in the national media, as a full-blown fascist, an autocrat, a Putin, a Mussolini, or a Hitler itself refutes those claims. So, too, do the marches in the streets, the rallies on campuses, the grassroots activism, the filing of lawsuits, the bitterly contested midterm elections, and all the other signs of a fully engaged civil society.

Roger Berkowitz, the director of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, which is dedicated to promoting Arendt’s legacy and ideas, became so exasperated with the facile way people have used her writings that he recently warned about the danger of “seeing fascism everywhere”: The “outbreak of civil unrest in the United States,” he noted, “is a good indication that the country is not fertile ground for fascism.”

In offering such bloated comparisons, America’s intellectual class has excused itself from the hard work of analyzing and explaining the peculiar and protean nature of Trump’s populism. It’s a strange mix of economic nationalism and cultural nativism, deregulatory zeal and protectionist impulses, common-man fanfare and plutocratic pomp, patriotic support for the military and isolationist antipathy to interventionism, inflammatory demagoguery, raucous rallies, unapologetic vulgarity, and racist inflections. Grappling with this stew, journalists and other members of the educated elite often seem at a loss.

In their rush to discredit all things associated with Trump, the media missed the potential historic significance of his summit with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Singapore. Certainly Trump’s performance was open to criticism on many counts, including his failure to press Kim on his government’s brutality and the lack of details about any possible denuclearization agreement. Even so, the meeting represented a step back from the brink of war and could open the way to an end of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula. It was applauded by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who told Trump in a phone conversation that it had “laid a great foundation for peace”; by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who commended the “courage and determination” of the two leaders; and by UN Secretary General António Guterres, who called it “an important milestone in the advancement of sustainable peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.”

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The US press, however, was almost unanimously critical. Typical was On the Media’s Bob Garfield, who said that Trump had “spontaneously and unilaterally cancelled the military exercises that ensure readiness for regional security, always…conscious of the lenses and the lights and loving it all—ad libs, pronouncements, ceremonies, self-congratulation. In short, just another day covering Trump, only much farther away and at a far higher cost—all to document a moment of Trump diplomacy that would have been unnecessary if Trump himself hadn’t tweeted us into nuclear confrontation with a ruthless dictator.”

The derisive reference to Trump’s unilateral cancellation of military exercises is especially revealing. The temporary suspension of the scheduled joint exercises in South Korea seemed not only an understandable move from a diplomatic standpoint but also a welcome break from the hair-trigger readiness on the peninsula. Yet most American journalists rushed to condemn it. In an editorial headlined No More Concessions, for instance, The Washington Post chastised Trump for making this “gift”: “With backing from China and Russia, which seek to diminish U.S. strategic standing in Asia, North Korea has long sought an end to the exercises—and until Tuesday, this and previous U.S. administrations had flatly rejected the idea. Now, Mr. Trump has adopted it—and, remarkably, used Pyongyang’s language in describing the ‘war games’ as ‘provocative.’” The idea that Trump was adopting North Korea’s language by calling the exercises “provocative” was repeated over and over by American journalists, as if directed by a central committee.

The United States maintains nearly 800 military bases and other installations in more than 70 countries and territories—more than Britain, France, and Russia combined. That so modest a step as the temporary suspension of the exercises in South Korea met such broad condemnation can at least partly be explained by the fact that Trump was its author. (Of course, the negotiations with North Korea might go nowhere—in which case the exercises could resume.)

No precinct of American journalism rings more loudly and monotonously with denunciations of Trump than the nation’s opinion pages. At the Times, one can choose from among Paul Krugman (A Quisling and His Enablers), Gail Collins (Stupid Trump Tricks), Maureen Dowd (Trapped in Trump’s Brain), Timothy Egan (Trump’s Sellout of American Heritage), David Leonhardt (Trump Tries to Destroy the West), Frank Bruni (President Trump’s Perversion of Leadership), Michelle Goldberg (The Plot Against America), and, in a class by himself, Charles Blow. Since the start of the year, Blow has devoted 36 of 42 columns to Trump, many making the same points over and over again. (Trump, Treasonous Traitor was the headline on one of his most recent.) It would be good to see these columnists go out in the field more and test their ideas on the ground. I’d like to read Blow talking with opponents of immigration, Krugman interviewing factory workers fed up with NAFTA, and Goldberg speaking with evangelicals who support Trump.

In a bid to diversify its opinion pages, The Washington Post has added Gary Abernathy, the editor of The Times-Gazette in Hillsboro, Ohio. The Times-Gazette was one of a handful of papers that endorsed Trump, and twice a month Abernathy offers Post readers a view from southern Ohio. For the most part, though, the paper’s opinion pages are as monochromatic as the Times’, with traditional conservatives like Jennifer Rubin, Michael Gerson, and George Will outdoing even the liberals in their excoriation of Trump. (The Wall Street Journal is just as partisan and monotonous, but in a rightward direction.)

Based mostly in New York and Washington, these columnists sometimes write off entire sections of the population. For example, in a column headlined Obama Was Right: He Came Too Early, the Post’s Dana Milbank declared that Trump is “leading the backlash to the Obama years and is seeking to extend white dominion as long as possible, with attempts to stem immigration, to suppress minority voting and to deter minority census participation.” These “are the death throes of white hegemony. And they are ugly,” Milbank continued, citing “innumerable studies and regression analyses” that showed “that the main predictor of support for Trump is racial anxiety—far more than economic anxiety.” The “outcome of the struggle—fading white hegemony—is inevitable.”

Attributing Trump’s victory to a rear-guard effort to prolong white domination seems both one-dimensional and short-sighted. Thomas B. Edsall, writing in the Times in March, cited recent studies of the electorate by both the Pew Research Center and the Center for American Progress that found that white, working-class voters constituted a much larger share of the 2016 electorate than exit polls had indicated. For Democrats, Edsall observed, these studies “suggest that because the noncollege white vote remains highly significant, the party and its candidates need to prevent any further erosion in this constituency that went so strongly for Trump.”

Two issues were especially critical—immigration and trade. On the former, Edsall quoted William Galston of the Brookings Institution: “Denouncing citizens concerned about immigration as bigots ameliorates neither the substance nor the politics of the problem.” On trade, Galston noted that nearly two-thirds of working-class whites consider trade deals harmful on the grounds that they send jobs overseas and drive down wages. Overall, he observed, non-college-educated white workers “are experiencing a pervasive sense of vulnerability.” To be competitive in the Midwest in 2020, Edsall concluded, Democrats have to do a better job of addressing this vulnerability.

Since the election, journalists have worked hard to report on these matters, but their perception has sometimes been clouded by their antipathy to the president. Even manufacturing has become suspect in the age of Trump. In March, for example, NPR featured an interview with Danielle Kurtzleben, a contributor to its website, about how Trump’s policies on trade and manufacturing constituted an exercise in identity politics. Trump’s “whole political persona,” Kurtzleben said, “is about nostalgia, right? ‘Make America Great Again.’” He’s “a very backward-looking guy,” harking back “to this era—the forties, the fifties, the sixties, and the seventies—when manufacturing employment was on the upswing.” Looking back to those decades “isn’t just about…manufacturing” but also “a time when a particular group of Americans, white Americans, and white men, were really on top.”

In fact, about 30 percent of all workers in manufacturing are women, 10 percent are African Americans, and about 17 percent are Latinos. Black workers were especially hard-hit by the loss of jobs in manufacturing and in the auto industry during the 2008 recession. Under Obama, the government’s efforts to rescue the auto industry and boost manufacturing received generally favorable coverage; under Trump, those efforts have sometimes been met with disdain. With Trump’s erratic tariffs policy unlikely to provide relief to these beleaguered communities, there’s a need for a more effective response, but the latent discomfort with blue-collar America suggested by these examples shows how journalists continue to struggle in reporting on class.

More generally, condescension toward the less educated and less cultured has become a fixture of liberal commentary and satire. During the 2016 campaign, I enjoyed reading Andy Borowitz’s sly put-downs in The New Yorker of Trump and his supporters; however, after the election, I came to think that the joke was partly on us liberals, and that Borowitz might take an occasional poke at our cluelessness about what was happening in the rest of the country. Instead, he has continued to train his ridicule on the unwashed multitudes. A May 30 piece headlined Trump Addresses Rally of Ambien Users began as follows: “Donald J. Trump held a rally in Nashville on Tuesday night and addressed his most ardent supporters, people who take the sleep medication known as Ambien”—a reference to Roseanne Barr, who claimed she was “Ambien tweeting” when she made a racist comment about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. On late-night TV, meanwhile, the nonstop jeering of Trump by Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and Saturday Night Live has reinforced the belief among his supporters that the media are monolithically and hopelessly arrayed against them.

The prevalence of such repetitive partisan fare has a simple explanation: It’s good for business. Both the Times and the Post have benefited from the much-publicized “Trump bump” with a surge in digital subscribers. And with subscribers displacing advertisers as the main source of revenue for these papers, they are increasingly influential in determining what appears in them. As Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg observed in The Fourth Estate, “We’re in a mode right now: What do the readers want? We just want to give them what they want.”

Those who fail to do so must be prepared to face the readers’ wrath, as Nicholas Kristof has periodically discovered. One of the few Times columnists who regularly reports from the field, Kristof in April 2017 wrote about voters in Oklahoma who continued to support Trump even after learning that he wanted to cut public programs that had helped them. The reaction among readers was venomous. “I absolutely despise these people,” one woman tweeted. “Truly the worst of humanity. To hell with every one of them.” Another: “ALL Trump voters are racist and deplorable. They’ll never vote Democratic. We should never pander to the Trumpites, we’re not a party for racists.”

Such vitriol, Kristof wrote, seems “as misplaced as the support for Trump from struggling Oklahomans. I’m afraid that Trump’s craziness is proving infectious, making Democrats crazy with rage that actually impedes a progressive agenda.” Among the reasons that working-class Oklahomans cited for sticking with Trump: not only their opposition to abortion and support for gun rights, but also “the mockery of Democrats who deride them as ignorant bumpkins. The vilification of these voters is a gift to Trump.” Nothing he had written since the election, Kristof continued, had sparked more anger from readers “than my periodic assertions that Trump voters are human, too.” (Needless to say, plenty of ugly mail comes from the right as well.) While urging his readers to stand up to Trump and resist his initiatives, Kristof cautioned them to “remember that social progress means winning over voters in fly-over country, and that it’s difficult to recruit voters whom you’re simultaneously castigating as despicable, bigoted imbeciles.” The nation’s opinion writers, however, seem less interested in persuading others than in feeding the faithful.

The most irredeemable outpost of the national media is cable news. In the past, Fox News stood out for the nakedness of its partisanship and the purity of its ideology; now, both MSNBC and CNN are mirror versions of it, tailoring their programming to the demands of their Trump-loathing audiences. With their noxious talking heads, irritating breaking-news flashes, nonstop commercials (20 or more minutes out of every 60 on CNN), performative White House correspondents, paucity of reporting, and constant drumbeat of Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, watching these networks is a demoralizing and soul-sapping experience.

The one cable show I try to watch regularly is MSNBC’s Morning Joe—because it’s both livelier than most programs and more revealing of the current state of the news media. On most days, there’s at least some discussion of books and ideas; the usual pundits are joined by historians, diplomats, economists, and the occasional philosopher. Unfortunately, the cast is drawn from a very narrow sliver of society. In addition to hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and Washington anchor Willie Geist, the regulars include Steven Rattner, a Wall Street investor (and former Times journalist); Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations; political commentator Mike Barnicle; the Post’s David Ignatius and Eugene Robinson; the Times’ Nicholas Confessore; the historian and journalist Jon Meacham; and the historian Michael Beschloss. They are mostly older white men residing in the Amtrak corridor.

The conversation is no less uniform. To get a sense of the thinking of the Eastern establishment, this is the place to go. Over weeks of viewing, I heard Michael McFaul, the former ambassador to Russia, declare that Putin’s actions are even worse than those of his predecessors in the Soviet Union’s final decades; Madeleine Albright warn that we’re on the road to fascism; Confessore attribute Trump’s support to anxiety over America’s disappearing white majority; White House reporter Peter Alexander remark that, “for this president, words don’t really mean much”; and Beschloss say that while Richard Nixon lied occasionally, the lying today in Washington is constant. (In fact, Nixon lied about his role in scuttling the 1968 peace talks with North Vietnam, his knowledge of the Watergate break-in, his payment of hush money to cover up that crime, the secret bombing of Cambodia, the CIA’s efforts to destabilize the government of Salvador Allende, and much, much more.) On the show, there are constant references to World War II, America’s role in liberating Europe, our unwavering commitment to democracy and freedom, and our longtime willingness to serve as the protector of the postwar global order.

That order, however, is undergoing a major transformation. With China, Russia, India, and the European Union emerging as new power centers, American influence is steadily declining. As Parag Khanna, a public-policy scholar in Singapore, observed in a January 2018 piece in Politico: “Trump, like Obama before him, is really just an accessory to what has been happening for at least the past quarter century: the rise of a truly multipolar world.” The global system “is underpinned by more powerful forces than either the whims of America’s president or even the country’s enormous military and economic weight.” Due to its unique geography and political history, Khanna continued, the United States “is probably the most self-absorbed country on the planet—and it’s been hard for American leaders to adjust to a world in which the U.S. is one star in the constellation and not the North Star of the entire sky.”

The same is true for the American press. Trump’s rise is part of an international right-wing populist wave that needs to be not only decried and condemned but also dissected and understood; resistance must be rooted in wisdom. Watching Morning Joe, I’m struck by how little curiosity its panelists show about the changes taking place outside the studio. There’s little recognition of the tremendous harm inflicted by the 2008 financial crisis, or of the many millions around the world who continue to feel disserved and displaced by the global capitalist system. And given the show’s proximity to the epicenter of that system, it’s no surprise that it rarely acknowledges Wall Street’s role in producing the disruptive forces that helped propel Trump to victory.

Our national newspapers have been similarly remiss. Journalists, while energetically exposing the venality, greed, and shady dealings of figures like Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump, have paid little attention to the activities of financial titans like BlackRock’s Laurence Fink, Elliott Management’s Paul Singer, Citadel’s Kenneth Griffin, Third Point’s Daniel Loeb, and Tudor Investment’s Paul Tudor Jones. While diligently revealing the money-grubbing practices of the Trump Organization, the press has been mostly silent about the operations of Blackstone, the Carlyle Group, Apollo Management, and other private-equity firms whose mergers, acquisitions, and “restructurings” have contributed to so many factory closings, layoffs, and outsourcings. Goldman Sachs, which was widely reviled as a “vampire squid” after the financial crisis, has regained its status as a respected member of the financial community, with the Times running personality-centered accounts of the competition to replace CEO Lloyd Blankfein. (The Next Goldman Chief Could Be a Banker Who Moonlights as a D.J., announced the headline over one article.) While journalists have creditably covered the efforts by Republicans to weaken the Dodd-Frank Act, they rarely discuss how the country’s big banks operate and whether they actually benefit the US economy.

In the end, Trump is both the product and the servant of an entrenched system—one that news organizations generally shrink from challenging. Why is that? Because writing about the way things really work would endanger journalists’ access to sources? Because it would provoke an outcry from powerful people? Because it wouldn’t produce enough traffic? Or is it a result of the “Trump effect”? The preoccupation with the president has pushed aside many urgent stories, not the least of which are the economic and political realities that propelled his rise and that, if not fully covered and addressed, could prolong his stay in office.

Brenda Gilmore Looks to Succeed Thelma Harper in Senate District 19

Rep. Brenda GilmorePhoto: Stephen Elliott

In spring 2017, it looked as if this year’s Democratic primary in state Senate District 19 could be a referendum on Sen. Thelma Harper. Harper is a prominent figure in Nashville’s African-American community — she first won the seat in 1990, as the first black woman elected to Tennessee’s state Senate — but some thought she had exceeded her political expiration date. 

After years of speculation that Rep. Brenda Gilmore was the obvious successor to Harper, Gilmore announced she would run while Harper was still mulling her future plans. It set up a potential showdown between two powerful North Nashville Democrats. 

But earlier this year, Harper announced her retirement from politics after nearly 30 years in the state Senate and eight years on the Metro Council before that. Now Gilmore is effectively playing the role of incumbent. She’s been in the state House for 12 years, and she also served eight years on the Metro Council. She’s undoubtedly the favorite to win the Democratic nomination and take the seat, but she does have several opponents. 

At a recent fundraising event hosted by Metro Councilmember Jacobia Dowell at GranDale Manor in the Antioch area, Gilmore — whose daughter Erica Gilmore is an at-large member of the Metro Council — made a point of noting Harper’s decades of public service. And she sought to draw a distinction between the benefit of experience and the negative connotations of being a so-called career politician. Gilmore prefers the term “public servant.” 

Supporters at the event backed her up. They insist that Gilmore can be seen visiting area churches, for instance, even when it’s not campaign season. Speaking to those in attendance, Dowell and former Metro school board member Cheryl Mayes emphasized her accessibility to constituents as well as other elected officials. 

As a member of the state Senate, Gilmore would be part of a historically small minority — there are only five Democrats in the chamber. Given that reality, the 65-year-old Gilmore says, “Sometimes some of the successes we have are not necessarily the bills that we have passed, but the bad things we have prevented from happening.” Other times, she adds, “Issues of working-class people, regardless of how the odds look, we still have to put those forward.” 

As for legislative priorities, Gilmore lists continued work toward criminal justice reform — she has been a part of efforts to make it easier for offenders to have their records expunged — as well as health care and affordable housing. She says she’d bring back a proposal to offer tax breaks to landlords who offer rental homes at affordable rates. 

Gilmore’s most serious challenger appears to be Howard Jones Jr., a Goodlettsville minister who has worked as an assistant principal and a probation officer. Earlier this month, Harper announced her endorsement of Jones to succeed her over Gilmore, saying she trusts Jones “to be our voice and to do what is right for the men, women and children that he represents.”

Gilmore has a significant fundraising advantage over Jones and the other candidates in the race. She brought in more than $70,000 last quarter. Jones raised just more than $3,200 — including a $1,000 contribution from Bill Freeman, the real estate developer and former mayoral candidate who recently became co-owner of the Scene.

Jones tells the Scene he was motivated to run by “the condition of our community and the true lack of leadership.”

“I wrote an article some time ago and I asked the question, ‘If you’re the keeper of the garden, why are the weeds so high?’ ” he says. “You have these politicians who are saying, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this,’ but you’ve been sitting in your seat for the last 12 years and you’re the reason why it’s in the condition it’s in.”

Some Jones supporters at a recent candidates’ forum expressed skepticism about Gilmore’s connection to average citizens as opposed to well-connected individuals. The two have stated agendas that look similar — Jones’ campaign materials also prioritize education, affordable housing and criminal justice reform. So as in many races this cycle, the question may ultimately be whether familiarity and experience on the inside of state politics are still more of an asset than a liability.