Hollywood will soon celebrate a stuttering King, an unbalanced prima ballerina, a Harvard-educated tech entrepreneur and a remake of a John Wayne classic western. We preview this weekend’s Oscar telecast and find out why some are lamenting this year’s lack of African American nominees.


  • Russell Williams Academy Award winning sound mixer; Member, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Distinguished Artist in Resident at American University School of Communications
  • Joe Barber Entertainment Editor, WTOP; Arts Critic, WETA's "Around Town"; Arts Columnist, InsideNOVA.com Newspapers

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Denzel Washington won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2001 for Training Day:


  • 12:06:41

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the economic history of America's black communities with author and academic Julianne Malveaux, but first, the tangled history of race and recognition in Hollywood. Let's start with a pop culture quiz. What do the following have in common: a British king with a stutter, a pair of lesbian mothers with kids, a ballet dancer who loses her mind and a college-bound boy who loses his toys? Yes. They're all subjects of movies nominated for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards. With 10 Best Picture nominees, there's less grumbling than usual this year about what movies were left out, but critics say there are still individuals who were overlooked.

  • 12:07:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe absence of African-American nominees this year also has critics wondering if that's an anomaly or a troubling reflection of new Hollywood sensibilities. This hour, we're previewing the Oscars with a local sound artist who has two Academy Awards of his own. Russell Williams is artist-in-residence at American University School of Communications. He won Academy Awards for his work on the films "Glory" and "Dances with Wolves." He's a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and got some of his early audio experiences hosting a show called "Spirits Known and Unknown" right here at WAMU 88.5. Russell Williams, good to see you.

  • 12:08:21

    MR. RUSSELL WILLIAMSKojo, it's a pleasure to be back on our air here at 88.5. Good to see you too.

  • 12:08:26

    NNAMDIWhat were the years you were doing "Spirits Known and Unknown" here?

  • 12:08:29

    WILLIAMSWe started in 1971, November 6th to be exact, and I left to go to Los Angeles in 1979. But I think the show actually stayed on the air until 1983 or so.

  • 12:08:43

    NNAMDI"Spirits Known and Unknown," he's still remembered in this town for that. Joining us in studio is Joe Barber. He's entertainment editor at WTOP. He's an arts critic for WETA's "Around Town" and an arts columnist for InsideNOVA.com Newspapers. Joe Barber, always a pleasure.

  • 12:08:59

    MR. JOE BARBERThank you, Sir. And by the way, I want to mention to folks that Tim Gordon and I have done an Oscar preview show for WETA. And Russell Williams is a great part of that show, and it can still be seen through this coming Sunday, including this Sunday evening at 7:30, just before the Oscars begin.

  • 12:09:15

    NNAMDIAnd if you'd like to nominate your own Oscar awards, you can call us, 800-433-8850, or join us at our website, kojoshow.org. Russell, this marks a big anniversary for you. Twenty years ago, you won your second Academy Award for your sound work on the film "Dances with Wolves." That came a year after you won for the movie "Glory." How are you celebrating this 20th anniversary of your back-to-back Oscars?

  • 12:09:42

    WILLIAMSKojo, if it weren't for the Motion Picture Academy sending the members an invitation every year, I may have even missed this anniversary. But when I looked at the invite, which I brought for you to look at, it says the 83rd, and then, I looked at my program that's in my office and I said, 63. I said, it was 20 years ago?

  • 12:10:05

    WILLIAMSSo my wife and I decided we're going to the Oscars, and it should be just fun on the red carpet since I don't have to worry about whether anyone is gonna call my name. I'm not nominated.

  • 12:10:16

    NNAMDISee, you're just gonna go and have a good time this year.

  • 12:10:17

    WILLIAMSI'm gonna enjoy the party.

  • 12:10:19

    NNAMDII'm just curious. Why did you walk away?

  • 12:10:22

    WILLIAMSWell, I'll put it this way. Part of it was the work that I loved so much in the business was being outsourced, which has happened to a lot of other industries, and it came late to the entertainment business. Two -- and this is not just a plug for Washington D.C., but I missed home. Three...

  • 12:10:44

    NNAMDIWilson High School, American University.

  • 12:10:46

    WILLIAMSThat's right.

  • 12:10:47

    WILLIAMSAnd grew up in Southeast. But, you know, if you're working in a position that we call below the line, if you're a craft person, camera or sound art direction, you know, 14, 15 hours a day, six days a week is a little bit much once you pass the 50 mark.

  • 12:11:03


  • 12:11:04

    WILLIAMSBeing a university professor is a lot more civilized, and I felt I could fulfill a need in my old alma mater at American. And I'm happy to be here walking, using Metro and enjoying four seasons.

  • 12:11:16

    NNAMDIA life at home. You were a sound mixer for "Glory" and for "Dances with Wolves." What does a sound mixer do?

  • 12:11:22

    WILLIAMSKojo, in my role, I'm part of the crew that's actually on set with camera and with the actors. So we're shooting 70 days of a feature film, and I'm there all 70 days. So we watch the rehearsals with the rest of the crew, meaning the director, the actors, the camera people. We determine how the scene will be mic'd. You know, my background in radio helps me quite a bit, because in radio and in music, you can put the microphone wherever you want to put it. But, of course, in film and television, you have to do it but not having the microphone be seen, except in, say, a film like "King's Speech," where it's actually part of the...

  • 12:11:59


  • 12:11:59


  • 12:12:01

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Russell Williams. He's artist-in-residence at American University School of Communications. He won Academy Awards for his work on the films "Glory" and "Dances with Wolves." He's a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He joins us in studio with Joe Barber, entertainment editor at WTOP. Joe is an arts critic for WETA's "Around Town" and an arts columnist for InsideNOVA.com Newspapers. We invite your calls. We're about to get to it on the movies themselves. 800-433-8850. Russell, you are a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences so you get to vote for the Oscar winners. So I know you cannot tell us who you voted for. But are there people who you think should have been nominated who were not?

  • 12:12:43


  • 12:12:47

    WILLIAMSWe start with actor in a leading role. I don't understand how Mark Wahlberg who I thought was fabulous in "The Fighter" doesn't get nominated. Luckily...

  • 12:12:57

    NNAMDI(Unintelligible) how Joe feels about that.

  • 12:12:59

    BARBERYou know, I understand your feeling, Russell, and I kinda felt that way too. But I think the problem with that character that he plays in "The Fighter" is that he's kinda of the center of the story...

  • 12:13:08


  • 12:13:08

    BARBER...the kinda quiet center of the storm actually around which those three huge performances by Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and Christian Bale have to circle, and they're so outsize and so large that it's kinda hard for him to break through and get the audience's attention.

  • 12:13:23

    NNAMDIWhich is probably why he didn't. Who else do you think should have been nominated?

  • 12:13:27

    WILLIAMSAnd it's such a small film in terms of recognition. I did -- I believe the Screen Actors Guild nominated Robert Duvall for "Get Low." I thought it was a very sensitive role, very nuanced. He didn't make it, but one of my favorite roles in the male leading category was Kevin Spacey for "Casino Jack."

  • 12:13:47


  • 12:13:48

    WILLIAMSIt's as if nobody saw the film. I mean, he was outstanding in that film. Let's see. Well, those are my top ones.

  • 12:13:55

    NNAMDIWho do you think, Joe Barber, should have been nominated who may not have been nominated?

  • 12:13:59

    BARBERI would like to do have seen Paul Giamatti nominated for "Barney's Version." In fact, he won the Golden Globe for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy or a Musical, and it's a really smart, funny film based on a novel by Mordecai Richler. And Giamatti has been so overlooked over the years by the Academy for things like "American Splendor" and some of the other films he's been in.

  • 12:14:19


  • 12:14:19

    BARBER"Sideways" exactly.

  • 12:14:20


  • 12:14:20

    BARBERRight. I would love to have seen nominated. I think he lost out because of the fact that Julia Roberts decided to run her own campaign for Javier Bardem for "Biutiful," and I think that raised that film's stature enough for him to get nominated.

  • 12:14:33

    NNAMDII can never forget the first time Paul Giamatti walked into this studio before he was as well known as he is.

  • 12:14:37


  • 12:14:37

    NNAMDII thought that he was somebody who had come here to deliver something.

  • 12:14:44

    NNAMDIWhen he identified himself, I was surprised, but that's just how good he is.

  • 12:14:49

    BARBERYes, he is.

  • 12:14:50

    WILLIAMSJust a side -- I worked with Paul on "The Negotiator." He was one of the guys...

  • 12:14:55


  • 12:14:55

    WILLIAMS...tied up in the room while Sam Jackson was ranting around, and I just said to myself, I said, this guy we're gonna hear from...

  • 12:15:03


  • 12:15:03

    WILLIAMS...because, as you say, he just seems like, you know, he's not there, and then all of a sudden, he cranks up his performance. And yes, he's there.

  • 12:15:09

    NNAMDIYou are exactly right.

  • 12:15:11

    BARBERIn fact, he's in Tom McCarthy -- the guy who did "The Station Agent" and "The Visitor." He's in McCarthy's new movie "Win Win," which opens in about month.

  • 12:15:18

    WILLIAMSOkay. I'll be looking for that.

  • 12:15:19


  • 12:15:20

    NNAMDII got an audio question from Jason in Washington D.C. So let me go to Jason. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:15:26

    JASONHey, Kojo and Russell. How are you doing? Jason Miccolo Johnson.

  • 12:15:30

    NNAMDIAll right, Jason.

  • 12:15:30

    JASONI want to -- hey. I wanted to ask you, with the advent of new technology and smaller microphones, what has that allowed you to do when you're mic'ing scenes, and particularly talk about how did you mic'd "Dances with Wolves" to get those bison sounds so authentic?

  • 12:15:50

    WILLIAMSJason, good to hear from you. Thank you for the question. One thing that you don't do when you have 6,000 head of buffalo coming at you is worry about where you're gonna put the microphone.

  • 12:16:01

    WILLIAMSSo I would say, on the record, most of that scene was done in post-production. One of the reasons that my sound on location wasn't used in that scene was because we used a helicopter and a few pickup trucks to actually drive the herd. To the first part of your question, the smaller microphones actually do help me quite a bit. I was never a fan of putting my microphones under people's clothing, but anything that's on a table or a wall or something that you can use as a prop to hide the camera's view of the microphone but get it closer to the person speaking helps us immensely. Again, you know, radio, you can put the mic right in the sweet spot, but in film and television, you -- unless the microphone is part of the story or the art direction like, say, you're at a judge's (word?) you can't really see the microphone.

  • 12:16:50

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jason. You too can call us. 800-433-8850. Do you like having 10 Best Picture nominees rather than five? Let us know and let us know your favorites. Same question to you, Joe Barber. Do you like having 10 Best Picture nominees rather than five?

  • 12:17:05

    BARBERIt's interesting in that...

  • 12:17:07

    NNAMDIIn other words, he doesn't like it.

  • 12:17:09

    BARBERNo, no, no.

  • 12:17:10

    BARBEROn the one hand, Kojo, it helped to get a lot of films celebrated this year they wouldn't have been. The fact, for example, that "Winter's Bone" got nominated, even though almost nobody saw it. That "The Kids Are All Right," which had a publicity push behind it, but might not have been nominated in an ordinary year, because I figured looking at these 10 films and this year probably the five -- if there were only five, it would probably been "The King's Speech," "Inception" -- "Black Swan" probably would have been left out. "True Grit" would have been nominated. I think there's no doubt about that. "The Fighter" might have been left out. So it's good to have it in a year like that. In a year in which there are so many great films, that becomes a real difficult choice, because you end up leaving somebody out who deserves to be there.

  • 12:17:50

    NNAMDIHow do you feel, Russell, about the fact that there are now 10 Best Picture nominees rather than five?

  • 12:17:55

    WILLIAMSWell, I do like the idea, Kojo, because it does give films that would be overlooked in other categories that were really solid performances, and I think that the numbers game is what probably a lot of the people in the audience aren't aware of. Last year, there were 267 films that were eligible for Academy consideration. So even with 10, 257 just got kicked to the curb.

  • 12:18:22

    NNAMDIWhittling them down to 10. What are your favorites, Joe, in the Best Picture category this year?

  • 12:18:28

    BARBERI think there is only one favorite, and that's "The King's Speech." It's a remarkable film, lovely, human and humane. It tells the story of how King George Virginia finds his voice after a debilitating stutter that he's had since childhood and of the man who works with him to help him find that speech and the ability to speak to his kingdom at a time when he desperately needs to be able to talk to them. It's a lovely movie. It's not just a period piece since some people dismiss it that way. I think it's a film that speaks to generations, including today's generation.

  • 12:18:57

    NNAMDIAnd I know you can't say who you voted for, Russell, but what are your favorites that you think might win the Best Picture category this year?

  • 12:19:03

    WILLIAMSWell, I think that Joe is correct in his assessment, and when I look back at the five -- rather when I look back at "The King's Speech," it is a film where no one really gets defamed. As he said, there's no violence. It's a film that you can bring the whole family to. In terms of scale, I did like "Inception." In terms of the class struggle, I did like "The Fighter." As a person who used to be a music director for a dance group, I like the "Black Swan." But if I had -- if I were a parent that had a daughter still in ballet, she would've been coming out Monday morning.

  • 12:19:35

    NNAMDIOh, yeah.

  • 12:19:36

    WILLIAMSOh, honey, we're gonna try softball now.

  • 12:19:40

    BARBERThat's right.

  • 12:19:42

    NNAMDIJoe, your favorites? Any others besides "King's Speech"? I do have to point out that for those who think of this as a historical document, Christopher Hitchens and others have written a long article...

  • 12:19:52


  • 12:19:52

    NNAMDI...saying that it's not necessarily historically accurate because Winston Churchill, for one, did not much favor this King George VI.

  • 12:19:58

    BARBERWell, there's always a fight going on. Whenever you have a film, quote-unquote, "based on true events," there's always that argument.

  • 12:20:03


  • 12:20:03

    BARBERAlthough the writer of "The King's Speech" did say that he got a lot of his information from the Queen Mother who begged him, pleaded with him -- that's the character Helena Bonham Carter plays in the film. The only request she had of him was, you can tell the story, just wait until after I'm dead to tell it. It's too painful for me. And, of course, he didn't know she was going to leave until well into this century. And that's one reason why it took so long to make the movie.

  • 12:20:23

    BARBERI am definitely rooting for and believe that Colin Firth will win for best actor. I think it's a partial thing about momentum and timing the fact that he was nominated last year for "A Single Man." He was great in that, but lost to Jeff Bridges who won for "Crazy Heart." I think now is his time to win, and I think he's going to win. The category I've been fighting with everybody about is best actress because, I'm sorry. I'm not that big a fan of "Black Swan." I think it's the least effective of all Darren Aronofsky's movies. And I'd much prefer to see Annette Bening from "The Kids Are All Right" win, not actually just for that film, but because she's been a great actress over the last several years who's never been celebrated with an Oscar.

  • 12:21:01

    NNAMDIThe odds in the acting categories, Russell?

  • 12:21:04

    WILLIAMSUgly. (laugh) Back to the 267 films that were eligible last year, none of them had -- few -- I would say few of them had fewer than 10 acting roles. So you're looking at 2,600 roles that are eligible and there are only 20 slots that they could fall in. Now, because they're gender specific, okay, if you're a male and you are possibly up for best actor or supporting, that means your chances are one in 534.

  • 12:21:34

    NNAMDIWhoa. So, yeah. It's gonna be really difficult this year. Got to take a short break. But before I go, let me read this e-mail from Jason in Cleveland Park. "Let's appreciate the genius of Pixar. The best film this year, by far, was 'Toy Story 3.' I'm a grown man. This film made me laugh. It made me cry. It affects people of every age. The story is simple but complex enough that it touches on all sorts of things about growing up, moving on, saying goodbye to adolescence. And it has Buzz Lightyear in Spanish language mode. (laugh) I know it won't win, but at least people are recognizing the genius of a great film." You liked it?

  • 12:22:05

    BARBERIt will win best animated film. It just won't pull off the double play, which is doing best animated and best picture.

  • 12:22:12

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will talk about the apparent lack of racial diversity among this year's nominees. You can still call us, 800-433-8850, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:24:12

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about this year's Oscars with two-time Oscar winner Russell Williams. He's artist-in-residence at American University School of Communications. He won Academy Awards for his work on the films "Glory" and "Dances with Wolves," which makes him now a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Joe Barber joins us in studio. Joe is entertainment editor at WTOP. He's an arts critic for WETA's "Around Town," and an arts columnist for InsideNOVA.com Newspapers.

  • 12:24:39

    NNAMDIAn article published last week in The New York Times called this year's slate of Oscar nominees Hollywood's whiteout. The newspaper noting that the group of actors and films up for award seems diverse in some ways that includes films about everything from social networking sites to speech impediments and characters that run the gamut from ballerinas to meth dealers, but, that in terms of racial diversity, it's the whitest and most homogenous group of nominees in decades. How do you explain that trend?

  • 12:25:07

    BARBERI'll explain it this way. How many really good black films did anybody see this year or films about Asians or films about American Indians? Very, very few. I mean, I know there'll be people who argue for "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough," but as someone who loved that play, this was the wrong person in my opinion to adapt it. I thought Tyler Perry brought too much of his own material to it, not enough of Ntozake Shange's work. And as I said on this show a couple of months ago, I think people are better served seeing the tape of the play than they are seeing the film itself.

  • 12:25:41

    NNAMDIWhat do you account -- what do you think accounts for the absence of significant black movies or black starring roles this past year?

  • 12:25:49

    BARBERI'm gonna offer my own quick opinion and then cut to Russell here. Simply put, we still have a problem in Hollywood, and that is there are no black people, no minority people who can green light a movie on a regular basis. And until that happens, we're gonna get this, because who's running the studios these days? Older white males.

  • 12:26:10


  • 12:26:11

    WILLIAMSI would agree, and I would also add that, number one, let me try to take the term Hollywood and dissect it a little bit. It's not a monolith. The major studios, right, and even independent filmmakers are simply in a different business than the people who create films. The studios are in the business of trying to release 18 films a year or so. You and I, and Joe, if we independently financed a film, we're trying to get our one film on the screen.

  • 12:26:42


  • 12:26:42

    WILLIAMSOkay? So that's number one. Number two, I think the problem is it's not even just films that are aimed at a black audience or an Asian audience, but if we can get more people of color in so-called general audience roles, right, and there were a few of those...

  • 12:26:57


  • 12:26:59

    WILLIAMS...this year, and every year there usually are. But again going back to the numbers, if you're one person out of 2,600 that are looking for a slot on either five or 10 nominations, your mathematical chances are really bad. And even if everyone was all one racial group, all one color, the math is against you getting nominated. It's a little bit better if you get nominated because now it's just one out of five. I don't see the business really responding to what Joe has said because the films that people clamor for, they do have a lot of positive roles on screen traditionally perform at the box office. So even though we think of it as show business, it's really the business of show.

  • 12:27:47

    NNAMDIMm-hmm. And Joe Barber, how do you explain the emergence of what seems to be a new separate black cinema led by people like Tyler Perry, even though there's nobody really like Tyler Perry.

  • 12:27:57

    BARBERWell, let's put it this way. Tyler has done it, I think, for -- in a way that works for him. He first became known to black audiences for doing his own plays...

  • 12:28:07

    NNAMDIStage work?

  • 12:28:08

    BARBER...like stage work, like "Madea's Family Reunion," stuff like that. He then segued very smartly into making small budgeted films for a relatively medium size company, New Line. He then broadened into television with shows like "Meet the Browns" and programs like that. And he has a certain kind of brand and style that attracts a certain kind of audience. He's also been very smart in the way he's handled critics. About seven films gone, he decided, from now on, I'm not showing the critics my films in advance. I'm gonna build it up that first weekend, get my huge audience down, get my church choir folks out there, let them go see the film, then we move to DVD all the while and make all the money that way. It's been very successful for him.

  • 12:28:46

    BARBERInteresting to see what he does with the next film he does because he went against himself in showing "For Colored Girls" because he thought was a class production. Two critics -- we pretty much savaged it and it made less money than any of his films ever made before.

  • 12:29:01

    NNAMDIAnd I guess, Russell, it goes along with what you were talking about. What Tyler Perry has created is simply a different kind of business model.

  • 12:29:08


  • 12:29:08

    WILLIAMSWell, it's a business model that has been successful. And let me also say that if you were a white independent filmmaker -- let's just put it this way. Most films that appear on the big screen don't perform. So thank goodness, there are home videos and paid cable and Video on Demand and other released windows that you could potentially get a return on investment. But most films don't make money on the big screen. The model is, essentially, you have to make at least 2.5 times what you spent on your budget to come close to breaking even.

  • 12:29:41

    WILLIAMSThe other thing that goes against all filmmakers nowadays is the social media. Now, the studios and the advertising community can create buzz. They can make you want to take those seats at first weekend. But as soon as you're in a movie theater, people can tweet. Now, luckily, if your movie is good, they'd say, man, this is great. If I were you, I would get right down here. But if your movie stinks, then before your first showing is over, the other people are saying, okay, what else is in this multiplex I wanna see? And you're dead. You're dead right there in the water.

  • 12:30:13


  • 12:30:14

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones now. Here is Richard in Annapolis, Md. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:20

    RICHARDI wanted to say I thought "Glory" was the best Civil War picture ever. "Dancing with Wolves" for the first time showed what the American Indian was like. But the -- really "The Fighter" was -- the language was so bad we got up and walked out. Even though the story looked good, we walked out. That's happened at The Colonial Players in Annapolis. I criticized and they said, well, they had to do it. I said, no, you don't. I checked with other producers.

  • 12:30:47

    NNAMDIWhat do you think, Joe Barber? The language?

  • 12:30:49

    BARBERWell, the language is of the streets, and these are some -- these -- the folks who've been playing this movie are street people. They are people from the lower middle class, and they're working and trying to make a better life themselves. The issue of profanity is always an interesting one. It depends on, you know, how much you're affected by what you hear. There was almost no nudity in the film, and that's one thing people get bothered about. And as far as violence is concerned, it's boxing violence. That's about it.

  • 12:31:14

    NNAMDIOkay. And I guess some people just feel that even though it is a movie about people from the street that maybe they should clean up their language a little bit, Russell. (laugh)

  • 12:31:24

    WILLIAMSWell, to me, and going back to the '70s when I was on the air, you were on the air, across town, Kojo...

  • 12:31:30


  • 12:31:31

    WILLIAMS...the whole issue of profanity really was a hot discussion with the FCC. And so I think the deciding factor was, is it for its own sake, or does it have -- you know, is there an overarching theme or something? And I think in a movie like "The Fighter," I think it would be really disingenuous if they spoke like the people in "The King's Speech," you know.

  • 12:31:52

    BARBERThat's true.

  • 12:31:53

    WILLIAMSSo, ultimately, it wasn't about, you know, flagrant language. But, you know -- I mean, at the end of it, it was kind of like "Rocky" meets "Raging Bull"...

  • 12:32:02


  • 12:32:02

    WILLIAMS...and there's this big victory at the end, not to give all the movie away. But I feel more the discussion of profanity in music is probably more damaging than what we heard in "The Fighter."

  • 12:32:16

    BARBERAnd let's remember, there was a fight over "The King's Speech" rating. It got an R rating because of the language used by the king in some of the...

  • 12:32:24


  • 12:32:24

    BARBER...the speech training classes, although many people believe...

  • 12:32:26


  • 12:32:26

    BARBER...it should be rated PG-13.

  • 12:32:27


  • 12:32:27

    NNAMDIHey, you get exasperated sometimes. Here is Eric in Arlington, Va. Eric, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:32:34

    ERICHi. I just -- I completely agree with what the director was saying. My thing is, 'cause there's obviously not enough minorities coming out in these pictures and stuff, but why does the Academy always have to pick movies that don't translate into box office? I mean "The King's Speech," who's really gonna watch that? I don't understand why British films are always accepted anymore over American films like "Avatar" that was nominated a number of times last year and only got two awards. "Pirates of the Caribbean" is huge at the box office, "Transformers." And those are popular films that have a bigger audience that watches it. But they always go to theatrical or drama movies every year. I don't understand it. That's just my question.

  • 12:33:14

    BARBERWell -- I'm sorry.

  • 12:33:16

    NNAMDIGo ahead, Joe.

  • 12:33:16

    BARBERI was gonna say -- well, I'll say this. First of all, there's always a dichotomy between box office and what's considered to be a quality film. And the Oscars are really meant to be kind of a sales job to celebrate what's supposed to be the quality and the class of what they're offering at -- from the studios. I will say this -- and I don't know if Russell -- I don't know what Russell will think what I'm about to say -- I have always considered "Avatar" to be "Dances with Wolves" goes outer space. I think it's the same story. I thought Costner did a better job of telling his story than Cameron did of telling his.

  • 12:33:47

    WILLIAMSWell, I would take it further back. I would say it was essentially "Pocahontas," you know. But to the caller's question, I would say -- and I'm agreeing with you, Joe, on this -- that the awards show he's speaking about basically is the People's Choice Awards.

  • 12:34:02


  • 12:34:03

    WILLIAMSNow there are times, obviously, where something that has made big box office also is a really well-done film and moved the art form forward. There are times when it's strictly a popularity contest, and there are times when movies win -- let's say like "Hurt Locker," which won best picture -- that really didn't perform in the box office. It's a subject that a lot of people felt uncomfortable with because we still have soldiers serving, you know. But the Academy, theoretically -- and, again, I'm a member. I'm not one of the board of governors, but it's supposed to be moving the art form forward.

  • 12:34:36

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Eric. And here is Tim in Frederick, Md. Tim you're on the air. Go ahead, please, Tim, Tim, Tim.

  • 12:34:43

    TIMThank you. I'd like to ask your guest if he could compare and contrast his experiences on those two films in which he won his Oscar. And they're both set in the same time period, and I was just curious if he learned things in "Glory" that he took forward in "Dances with the Wolves." And I'll listen on the air.

  • 12:35:05

    NNAMDIFirst, let him tell you about the food in South Dakota compared with the food in Georgia, which is what he was telling us about.

  • 12:35:12

    WILLIAMSKojo, I...

  • 12:35:13

    NNAMDINo, no. I'm sorry. Sorry to...

  • 12:35:14

    WILLIAMSWhy are you taking my punch lines?

  • 12:35:15

    NNAMDISorry to bust you on your...

  • 12:35:16

    WILLIAMSNo. But this -- this is a true statement. I enjoyed working on both films. "Glory" was easier to work on because of what Kojo said. Everybody in Georgia I encountered could cook. Virtually no one I encountered in South Dakota -- no offense -- could cook, at least cook the stuff that I like. I did learn quite a bit about the period and actually worked very closely with the costumers on both films, "Glory" and "Dances with Wolves" on "Glory." We actually -- I actually found out different ways of hiding microphones that weren't available to me on most films because the uniforms in the Civil War were buttoned all the way up to the neck. But there really are only two shots in "Glory" where we used a hidden microphone under the clothes.

  • 12:36:01

    WILLIAMSThe real difficulty in filming any period piece -- meaning something that doesn't appear in the time period that you're shooting -- is you -- in that case, we had to be far enough away from the 20th century so we could really hit the 19th century. On that note, it was easier to do "Dances" because we were literally out in the middle of nowhere. We never heard any modern civilized mechanist -- mechanized equipment except our own, from time to time. So the weapons were similar. Storylines, not necessarily similar, but, as the caller said, same time period. So I felt that entire year, because it was -- I was on location 11 months, and I felt I was back in the 19th century. I was almost considering buying a Civil War uniform, just walking around town.

  • 12:36:48

    NNAMDI(laugh) That's...

  • 12:36:48

    BARBERKojo, can I ask Russell a quick question?

  • 12:36:50

    NNAMDIVery quick.

  • 12:36:51

    BARBERVery quick question. Whose responsibility is it to keep the boom mic out of the shot? Is that on the editor, the camera operator or the sound folks?

  • 12:36:59

    WILLIAMSWell, firstly, it's -- the sound person and the camera operator have to agree on what is the frame line. And then what the boom operator will do, inside or outside, that person will find a point in space or something on the wall to say, okay. Say, for instance, we have a stopwatch beyond Kojo. If that's my frame line, then my job is to hold it above that level for the entire shot. Now, since so many more films are handheld these days, then the camera frame line probably doesn't stay as rigid as it was when things were on the tripod. And then sometimes they just find the microphone and the lights and everything else because we know at home that people aren't just shouting loud enough to be heard through the TV. There's actually a film crew there.

  • 12:37:43

    NNAMDIRussell Williams, so good to see you. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:37:46

    WILLIAMSThank you for inviting me, Kojo. It's a pleasure to see you, man.

  • 12:37:48

    NNAMDIRussell Williams is, in a way, when he's in the studios back home, he used to host a show at WAMU 88.5 called "Spirits Known and Unknown." He's currently artist-in-residence at American University School of Communications. He won Academy Awards for his work on the films "Glory" and "Dances with Wolves." Joe Barber is entertainment editor at WTOP. He's an arts critic for WETA's "Around Town" and an arts columnist for InsideNOVA.com Newspapers. Joe Barber, always a pleasure.

  • 12:38:14

    BARBERThank you, sir.

  • 12:38:15

    NNAMDIWe're gonna take a short break. And when we come back, Julianne Malveaux, author and academic on her new book, "Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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