Saturday, April 26, 2014

220: The Self-Empowered Woman: Lupita Nyong'o

Dear Followers,

Have you seen the current issue of People magazine? Lupita Amondi Nyong'o is on the cover, and labeled as the world's Most Beautiful Woman.  In the magazine's 25 years of bestowing that honor, she is only the third black woman to be chosen--Halle Berry was the first in 2003, and BeyoncĂ© was in 2012.  You may remember the 31 year old actress for her starring role in 12 Years A Slave, for which she won an Academy Award, and her unusual life and rise to fame definitely has a fairytale aura.
She was born on March 1st, 1983, in Mexico City, where her father was a visiting lecturer in political science at the Colegio de Mexico. At the time of her birth, her family had been living in Mexico for three years, but before that her father had been the former Minister for Medical Services with the Kenyan government. Lupita is the second of six children.
When she was an infant, her parents moved briefly to New York before they returned home to Kenya. She has described her childhood there as "middle class, suburban." She attended an all girls school, where she acted in school plays--her first acting experience was a minor role in a school production of Oliver Twist. As a youngster, she was "...teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin" (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest), but by the time she was fourteen she had made her professional acting debut with a Nairobi-based repertory company called the Phoenix Players (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).
When she was 16, her parents sent her back to Mexico for a seven-month intensive language program, and today she currently holds both Kenyan and Mexican citizenship. She is fluent in her native language of Luo, as well as English, Swahili, and Spanish.  She attended college in the U.S. at Hampshire College where she received a B.A. in film and theater studies. Work as part of the production crews for a variety of films gave her behind the camera exposure to the world of movies.
One of those films was The Constant Gardener, which starred Ralph Fiennes. She had originally been inspired by Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple, but also credits Fiennes as a real inspiration to pursue a professional acting career (4: Supportive Someone).
She began to get roles in short films, and in 2008, returned to Kenya where she starred in a TV series. The next year she wrote, directed and produced a documentary, In My Genes, about how albinos are treated in Kenya. It won first prize at the Five College Film Festival. She also directed a Wahu music video which was nominated for the Best Video Award at the MTV Africa Music Awards in 2009 (11: Risk Addiction).
After having lived in Mexico. Kenya, Amherst and New York (and then Kenya again) she enrolled at the Yale school of drama for her masters degree in acting. She appeared in a variety of stage productions, and during the 2011-12 academic year won the Hershel Williams Prize, which is awarded to an acting student with outstanding ability (10: The Critic Within).
Immediately before her 2012 Yale graduation she was cast in 12 Years A Slave, in the role of Patsey (a slave who works next to Solomon Northrup at a cotton plantation). In addition to BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations, she won The Oscar. She became the 15th actress to win an Academy Award for a debut performance in a feature film. She also became the sixth black actress to win, the first African actress to win, the first Mexican actress to win, and the first Kenyan to win (13: More Than Meets The Eye).
Earlier this year, at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon she gave a speech and talked about how (when she was younger) she used to pray every night that god would make her skin lighter (6: Life Is Not A Beauty Pageant). She told the audience that she used to feel "unbeautiful," but now she is celebrated as a fashion icon, and has just been hired by LancĂ´me cosmetics as its first African spokeswoman (8: Turning No Into Yes).
Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

219: The Self-Empowered Woman: Idina Menzel

Dear Followers,

 First of all, thanks to everyone who has been casting votes on my behalf for the NMEDA contest for a new handicap accessible van.  Just in case you need the link (since voting lasts until May 8th), here it is:
Now, let me introduce you to one of the entertainment world's most talented Self-Empowered Women.
You may have seen her on Broadway in Rent or Wicked, or you may have watched her on TV's Glee, or you may have heard her voice in the animated hit movie Frozen, or you may have heard her sing at this year's Academy Awards when John Travolta accidentally mangled her name. The bottom line is that if you've had any contact at all with the entertainment world during the past two decades, you've probably heard Idina Menzel's amazing voice.
Born on May 30th, 1971, in Queens, New York, she is the only Tony Award-winning actress to ever record a song (Let It Go) that has reached the top 10. Her grandparents were Russian/Eastern European immigrants, and her mother (Helene) is a therapist and her father (Stuart) worked as a pajama salesman. When she was 15, her parents divorced (1: No Paternal Safety Net), and she began working as a wedding and bar mitzvah singer (2: An Early Sense Of Direction). Her family is Jewish, and she attended Hebrew school, but didn't have a bat mitzvah (3: Belief In The Unbelievable)
She attended NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, and earned an BFA in drama before being cast in the rock musical Rent. She was nominated for a Tony Award, but didn't win. Instead, she recorded her first solo album (Still I Can't Be Still), and performed in a variety of other Broadway and off-Broadway plays.
In 2003, she and Kristin Chenoweth starred on Broadway in Wicked, and Menzel won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. When the play opened in London, she was the highest-paid female performer in the West End--earning $30,000 per week. In 2003, Menzel married the actor Taye Diggs, a fellow performer in Rent. Racist protesters were angered by the couple's interracial marriage, and both received threatening letters. When Menzel was in Wicked, a threat was made against her life because Diggs is black and Menzel is white and Jewish (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest), but the theater provided heavy security and no additional incidents occurred.
Menzel has appeared on PBS programs, at the 1998 Lilith Fair, and in a variety of movies including Just A KissKissing Jessica Stein, The Toll Booth and Water. In 2008, she performed on the M&M Candies Float as part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 2009, Menzel and Diggs had a son, Walker Nathaniel Diggs, and she has admitted "I didn't know how much your heart would feel...there is so much love" (16: Intensive Motherhood).
In 2010, Menzel founded "A Broader Way Foundation," to help support financially-needy young people in the arts with camp programs, scholarships, educational programming, and opportunities to experience professional performances. The following year, she ran a ten-day performing arts camp in Lenox, Massachusetts where young girls were able to collaborate with Broadway artists (7: Magnificent Obsession).   
Four years ago, Menzel performed at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama. Last year, after ten years of marriage, Menzel and Diggs separated (15: Forget About prince Charming). In light of the record-breaking success of Frozen ($1.1 Billion as of this writing), Menzel's role as Queen Elsa has elevated the 43 year old singer to superstar status.
Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

218: The Self-Empowered Woman: Dorothy Thompson

Dear Followers,

As man of you know, I'm in the middle of a month-long national competition for a handicapped-accessible van. The more votes I can get the better, and I'm competing against a number of people who have large organizations (i.e., big voting blocs) behind them. This is a shameless request for three minutes of your time today to vote on my behalf, and then one minute each day until voting end on May 8th. The link--is below--and if you answer the daily question correctly, I'll get two votes!

Thank you so much for your support--and if you can think of any friends, Facebook members, or anyone else who could join the cause that would be terrific! Here's the link

Now, let me introduce you to another amazing American woman...


As a journalist, I should have been aware of Dorothy Thompson's work, but I just learned about her last week. Born on January 9th, 1893 in Lancaster, New York, she is widely considered to be the "First Lady of American Journalism."

Her father (Peter Thompson) was a Methodist preacher (3: Belief in the Unbelievable), and her mother (Margaret Thompson) died when she was seven years old. Her father quickly remarried, but Dorothy and her stepmother did not get along. When she was 14, her father sent her to Chicago to live with his two sisters (1: No Paternal Safety Net). She graduated from Syracuse University (where she majored in politics and economics) in 1914, and was acutely aware that she--unlike most women at that time--had been fortunate to receive a quality higher education. This awareness prompted her to work on behalf of women's suffrage, which later developed into a life-long passion for political justice (7: Magnificent Obsession).

In 1920, she moved to Europe (14: Selective Disassociation) to pursue a career in journalism. That same year, while in Ireland, she became the last person to interview Sinn Fein leader Terence MacSwiney before his arrest, imprisonment, and death. The Philadelphia Public Ledger appointed her as their Vienna correspondent, and she worked diligently to become fluent in German (10: The Critic Within). Five years later, her newspaper promoted her to Chief of the Central European Service, which was an amazing development in the male-dominated newspaper world of the 1920s.

A few short years later, The New York Post made her the head of its Berlin bureau in Germany, where she witnessed the rise of the Nazi party (11: Risk Addiction). During this time, according to her biographer (Peter Kurth), she was "The undisputed queen of the overseas press corps, the first woman to head a foreign news bureau of any importance" (13: More Than Meets The Eye). She wrote a book about the dangers of Nazism  (I Saw Hitler), and in August 1934, the National Socialists expelled her from Germany (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest). She was the first journalist--male or female--to be kicked out of the country.

Back in America, in 1936, she began writing "On the Record," which became an incredibly successful national newspaper column. It was read by over 10 million people, and appeared in over 170 papers. She also wrote (for 24 years!) a monthly column for the Lady's Home Journal, Additionally, NBC hired Thompson to become a news commentator with a program called "On the Record." The wide popularity of her radio program made her one of the most successful public speakers of her time. Being expelled from Germany catapulted her career into a new level (8: Turning No into Yes).

Thompson's life was full of risk-taking, but one event in particular caught the public by surprise. After writing a column about how hard it was to find flattering clothes, she accepted a challenge from Vogue magazine to do a makeover. And since she was a size 20 (when the average woman of that era was a size 12), the whole experience was out of her comfort zone (6: Life Is Not A Beauty Contest). 

Naturally, her private life was unconventional. She was married three times (15: Forget About Prince Charming), and in 1930, had a son, Michael, with her second husband, Sinclair Lewis. It was a well known fact that she adored her only child (16: Intensive Motherhood). In 1939, Time Magazine reported that she was the second most influential woman in America after Eleanor Roosevelt.

The 1942 hit movie, Woman of the Year, which starred Katharine Hepburn, was based on Thompson's life. The author of 18 books, she died on January 30th, 1961, in Lisbon, Portugal.

Looking forward to your comments...