“Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” by Mary L. Trump, Donald Trump’s niece. MUST CREDIT: Simon & Schuster
By The Washington Post · Shayna Jacobs · NATIONAL, POLITICS, COURTSLAW
NEW YORK – A state court on Monday issued an eleventh-hour ruling affirming Simon & Schuster’s right to publish a new book by President Donald Trump’s niece, issuing a decision that prioritizes the First Amendment over a dated confidentiality agreement among members of the Trump family.
The book by Mary Trump – “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” – is slated for release Tuesday. Some copies already have been distributed, and it’s already considered a best seller.
“The court got it right in rejecting the Trump family’s effort to squelch Mary Trump’s core political speech on important issues of public concern,” her lawyer Theodore Boutrous said in a statement. “The First Amendment forbids prior restraints because they are intolerable infringements on the right to participate in democracy.”
Mary Trump, 55, was sued by her uncle Robert Trump, the president’s brother, in an effort to block publication. He had accused her of violating a confidentiality agreement in an inheritance case that was settled two decades ago.
An attorney for Robert Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He could attempt to seek monetary damages from his niece, but it is unclear whether he intends to do so.
In Dutchess County, N.Y., Justice Hal Greenwald said that Simon & Schuster had no obligations under the family’s nondisclosure agreement and that constitutional law “trumps contracts.”
The agreement was signed as the family settled the estate of Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump. Attorneys for Mary Trump had argued that it was meant to keep details of the settlement private and does not bar Mary Trump from telling her famous family’s story outside of that. They had said, too, that the book’s content was vital to the country’s democratic process, saying in court filings that “the speech at issue concerns vital political discourse directly relating to an ongoing national election.”
The book has struck a nerve for the president and his family. Mary Trump is the daughter of Fred Trump Jr., the president’s brother, who died in 1981 when she was 16 years old. A clinical psychologist, she has said she employed her professional training in analyzing the president and the “toxic” environment in which he was raised.
In his ruling, Greenwald reasoned that Mary Trump, under her contract with Simon & Schuster, had no ability to halt publication, saying it would have been “moot” to order her to stop publication of a book that “has been published and distributed in great quantities” already.
The judge refused to apply a broad view of the estate settlement, saying “what was confidential was the financial aspect.”
“The parties agreed to keep the settlement under seal. That’s it,” Greenwald wrote of the deal that was executed at a time when “the Trump family were New York based real estate developers and not much else.”
The Trumps “were not elected officials or TV personalities,” Greenwald said in the ruling. “The issues that were the subject of the Agreement were intra family issues, not of worldwide concern, or even national interest.”
Greenwald suggested that the case to stop publication was also weak because it was brought by Robert Trump, even though the book focuses largely on the president.
In a statement, Simon & Schuster said that, “The unfettered right to publish is a sacred American freedom and a founding principle of our republic, and we applaud the Court for affirming well-established precedents against prior restraint and pre-publication injunctions.” Mary Trump’s book, the publisher added, is “a work of great significance, with very real implications for our national discourse.”
The book, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, depicts Fred Jr.’s death as a defining moment for the president, who was said to have dealt with his brother harshly as he pushed him into the family real estate business. Fred Jr. was preoccupied with pursuing aviation as his family, including the future president, pressured him to focus on the family business.
Mary Trump labels the president a “sociopath” in the book, citing his efforts to win over his difficult father. The memoir paints the family patriarch as a malignant figure who largely created and shaped the future president. Both men’s business reputations have been questioned extensively, dogged by a number of cheating accusations spanning decades.
Putin’s People Photo by: FarrarStraus and Giroux — handout
By Special To The Washington Post · Anders Åslund · ENTERTAINMENT, BOOKWORLD
Putin’s People By Catherine Belton Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 624 pp. $35 —
In her deeply researched new book, Catherine Belton tells a dark tale of Vladimir Putin’s rise to power and his 20 years as leader of Russia. Reading “Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West,” we are reminded of how far we’ve come from the romantic days of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Western writers depicted a Russia full of hope and hints of freedom. We’ve also progressed far from the exhilarating but scary portrayals of the immensely rich oligarchs in the late 1990s who flocked around Boris Yeltsin and his family.
In Belton’s view, freedom, private enterprise and liberalism simply don’t exist in Russia. To her, Putin’s Russia is all gloom. She details how Putin’s nefarious efforts took shape with others in St. Petersburg and its seaport, an area that “became ground zero for an alliance between the KGB and organized crime that was to expand its influence across Russia, and later into Western markets and institutions.” She delves into territory explored by Russian historians Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky in “The Corporation: Russia and the KGB in the Age of President Putin”; by opposition politicians Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov in their white paper, “Putin and Gazprom”; and by Karen Dawisha in “Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?” But Belton, a former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, digs deeper.
Hers is a story about Putin, his KGB colleagues, businessmen and mobsters pieced together though interviews with many relevant players. Belton’s access to prominent personalities is impressive, perhaps unmatched, though her interlocutors also steer the direction of her story.
The main takeaway is that the KGB and organized crime have operated symbiotically for a long time and that their overt Russian nationalism is nothing but a veneer. Belton characterizes the ambitions of Putin’s people in her description of Nikolai Patrushev, the former head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and now secretary of the powerful Security Council. “A hard-drinking KGB man,” she writes, “he combined a strong capitalist ethic of amassing wealth with an expansive vision for the restoration of Russian empire.” Thus, Putin’s men (they are all men, of nearly the same age, mostly from St. Petersburg) have created a potent mix of the KGB, larceny and a wistfulness for Russian imperialism.
Belton appropriately compares Putin’s regime to that of Czar Nicholas I, who reigned from 1825 to 1855. Putin’s “philosophy was a direct copy of the state doctrine of ‘Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality’ of Nicholas I, one of the most reactionary tsars, known for his brutal suppression of one of Russia’s first democratic uprisings,” Belton writes. “Putin’s KGB men were seeking to recycle his ideology to define their rule and justify their clampdown on any opposition.”
When Putin became president in 2000, he already controlled the FSB and soon Russia’s legislative body, the Duma. During his first term (2000-2004), he consolidated his power: His KGB men served as a counterweight to Yeltsin’s oligarchs, and he seized control of television, the regional governors and the judiciary. He ordered the oligarchs to keep out of politics, but their power remained great. Putin ended the Yeltsin regime by taking down the biggest of all the oligarchs, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, by confiscating the Yukos Oil Company.
That story is well-known, but Belton’s account is probably the best. She spoke extensively with the main Yukos owners, including Khodorkovsky and Leonid Nevzlin. In her view Khodorkovsky had fallen victim to his own hubris, believing he could criticize corruption within Putin’s circle. The result was that Putin took him down. But Khodorkovsky’s plight reflected something much larger. Putin’s grip was becoming a stranglehold. “The country was turning back to the times of the gulag,” Belton writes. “The Kremlin had taken control of the legal system. The power of the secret services was being cemented. Khodorkovsky, the country’s onetime richest man, was languishing in a prison camp in Krasnokamensk.”
In October 2002, about 40 armed Chechen fighters seized the Dubrovka Theater in a Moscow suburb and took about 900 people hostage. The siege lasted three days, until Russian security forces stormed the theater after gassing both the fighters and the hostages. More than 100 hostages died. The traditional story is that the heavy-handed security services could not have cared less about the loss of the civilians.
But Belton offers a novel interpretation of what happened at the theater. On the basis of credible inside information, she claims that this purported Chechen terrorist attack was a Putin charade that went horribly wrong. Based on her conversation with a source familiar with Kremlin discussions about the matter, Belton argues that the attack was planned by FSB chief Patrushev as a way to “cement Putin as president. It was intended as no more than a fake exercise that would boost Putin’s authority when he successfully brought it to an end, and increase support for the war in Chechnya, which was beginning to flag.” Patrushev assured Putin that the terrorists-for-hire did not have real bombs and that in the end, Belton writes, “Putin would emerge as a hero, as the one world leader who’d ended a hostage crisis without any civilian deaths – and then he could tighten control in Chechnya.”
But it all started falling apart on the first day of the siege, when a civilian entered the theater and was shot to death by one of the Chechens. Belton’s source told her: “Everything spiralled out of control. . . . By the time the security forces prepared to storm the building, the hostage-taking was being treated as if it were a real act of terror.”
In Belton’s telling, Putin uses an “obschak” for both his private business dealings and his personal life. “In Russian criminal parlance,” Belton writes, an obschak is “a common cash pot or slush fund for a criminal gang.” The Panama Papers – millions of documents on offshore entities, leaked in 2016 – revealed that much of the obschak was held offshore. Belton devotes two chapters to the obschak, focusing on Gazprom’s devious gas trade with Ukraine and the government larceny revealed in the Panama Papers. But she doesn’t take her analysis much beyond the role of defector Sergei Kolesnikov, a Russian businessman and whistleblower who charged Putin’s closest business friends and cronies with vast corruption before he fled Russia in 2010.
Belton builds a strong case against Putin’s corruption and the bald hypocrisy of his propaganda. She quotes Putin’s former banker, Sergei Pugachev, as saying, “They’re stealing from all sides and then they come out and speak about how Putin is fighting against corruption.” But Belton is unable to shed any new light on Putin’s personal finances. Pugachev is her dominant source, but he “had gradually been sidelined,” Belton writes, after Putin’s attack on Khodorkovsky. Pugachev’s own downfall came because he was not sufficiently submissive to Putin; ultimately he was deprived of most of his enterprises and had to flee to the West.
Belton also probes the many connections between Russian organized crime in New York and Donald Trump. But Craig Unger has already pursued this trail in greater detail in his excellent book “House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia.”
Belton’s book is an outstanding account of Putin’s Russia, and elegantly told. At the heart of her story is the long battle between the KGB and the country’s oligarchs. From 1994 to 2000, when Putin came to power, Russia was an oligarchy. Today, the tables have turned: Russia has no oligarchs, only wealthy servants of Putin and his FSB. As a former senior military intelligence officer told Belton, the KGB once had to serve the oligarchy. “Now they are having their revenge.”
Bangkok’s first gallery showcasing contemporary street art was launched on July 4 by internationally acclaimed British DJ Clifford Price, who is better known as Goldie.
Located in Warehouse 30, a trendy community project in the district of Charoenkrung, the Aurum Gallery was inspired by the 1980s golden era of New York graffiti. The 528 square metre gallery is seen as a celebration of Goldie’s lifetime passion and career as an influential contributor to the art scene spanning over three decades.
The gallery will showcase the works of influential world artists, including Vhils, Belin, Saturno, Ben Eine, Odeith, Bio and Crash to name a few. It also hopes to unearth and celebrate a growing, exciting pool of local and regional talent such as P7, Benzilla, Jecks, and Wal Chirachaisakul.
On display are masterpieces such as Belin’s “Mickey Confinament”, Goldie’s own “Apache Girl”, as well as several pieces from Vhil’s “Matters” series.
Aurum Gallery will also house a live workshop that can showcase these artists in action as well as provide master classes to aspiring talent. The gallery also aims to hold events on a regular basis, allowing art enthusiasts a chance to be completely immersed in the process of creation.
It also intends to be the “go-to-gallery” for prominent artists as well as a platform to elevate up-and-coming artists in Thailand and the region.
By presenting legendary works of established artists alongside the boundary-pushing pieces by fresh faces, Aurum Gallery hopes to bring something new and exciting to the burgeoning art scene in Southeast Asia.
By Special To The Washington Post · Alfredo Corchado · ENTERTAINMENT, BOOKWORLD
America through Foreign Eyes By Jorge G. Castañeda Oxford. 307 pp. $27.95 —
America’s sobering reckoning has been laid bare for the world to see – a nation beset by protests and rioting over police abuses, growing inequalities, a pandemic and resurgent white supremacists. Added to this season of discontent: A landmark presidential election looms just months away.
In his latest book, “America Through Foreign Eyes,” Jorge G. Castañeda, Mexico’s former foreign minister and a longtime professor at New York University, critically dissects what’s gone wrong from the perspective of a well-informed and often admiring outsider. As has often been true, the eyes of an outsider prove more lucid than those of natives. Castañeda holds a mirror up to America and warns that the once-shining model for much of the world is now crumbling. “Please don’t hold this against me: The United States itself is at fault,” he writes. “Like a great many people on earth, I’ve long been fascinated by this remarkable phenomenon which calls itself America.”
As Castañeda sees it, the United States is straining to balance different visions of what it could or should be. The nation is under siege by unresolved questions, from the Civil War to its debatable claim of exceptionalism and now the bluster of the Trump administration.
Castañeda argues that America is fast losing its encanto – its charm – as it increasingly looks like other trouble spots that have authoritarians at the helm, from Europe to Latin America and beyond.
Indeed, at times reading “America Through Foreign Eyes” feels like a humbling comeuppance for many of us – particularly journalists like myself – who perhaps have smugly judged Mexico and other societies as somehow more wayward than our own. “The very tenets of the American Dream are being questioned,” Castañeda warns.
He and I both are products of and participants in the dramatic U.S.-Mexico integration of the past three decades and of the more recent democratization in our homeland, Mexico. We share too often unrequited love and hope for both countries.
I first met Castañeda in the late 1980s as a Mexico correspondent for a U.S. newspaper, and our paths crossed now and then while I reported on the country. I was the Mexican-born son of farmworkers, and I was back home in Mexico hellbent on proving to my countrymen that upward mobility, hope for reinvention up north, was real.
Castañeda, a fortunate son of the Mexican elite, is a graduate of some of the finest schools in the world, Princeton and the University of Paris. He is no stranger to U.S. society and politics. A man of the left, he drew the ire of many former comrades by serving as the top diplomat for conservative president Vicente Fox, whose election 20 years ago ended seven decades of authoritarian one-party rule. Among Castañeda’s lifetime goals has been bringing to Mexico the kind of institutions he now fears are collapsing in the United States.
“This book is not written from a Mexican perspective,” Castañeda writes, “but rather from that of a sympathetic foreign critic who has seen the United States from both inside and outside.”
The U.S.-Mexico relationship, of course, is more than a bit complicated. The countries share a 2,000-mile border, tightly woven manufacturing chains, and growing family ties between millions of Mexican immigrants in the north and their families back home. The fact that Texas and much of the American Southwest were once claimed by Mexico only adds to the irritants in the relationship. “Having lost half its territory to the United States in the nineteenth century, having found itself caught up in the maelstrom of America’s current identity crisis,” Castañeda writes, “Mexico can never ignore what happens north of the border.”
But Mexico isn’t the main character in “America Through Foreign Eyes.” This is a report card on the United States, now in the grip of a narcissistic, xenophobic reality TV star fumbling on the world stage and stoking division and fear at home. A 2017 Pew Research Center opinion poll in 37 countries found that just 22 percent of respondents said they trusted Trump’s handling of international affairs, down from 64 percent who had had confidence in President Barack Obama.
Trump’s cynicism is emblematic of a deeper problem. He’s simply a symptom of America’s identity crisis – rooted in the nation’s birth. The cry for independence was for equality, Castañeda writes, though limited to certain segments of the population. Equality existed, he explains, “as long as slaves and Native Americans were excluded from the calculation, which, of course, they could not be. Equality, but not for everybody.”
Castañeda warns that the world is growing fatigued with America because of Trump and his enablers’ disregard for institutions and Trump’s obsession with walls – not unlike the barriers he ordered built around the White House to keep Americans out during recent protests.
America’s soft power – technology, food, cinema, music, clothing, a welcoming spirit – remains strong and seductive. Castañeda believes there are few, if any, competitors in that realm. “Chinese soft power, while rising, is light years away from the potency of American civilization,” he writes, “not yet ready for prime time.”
America’s best hope for going forward may be based in its grand legacy of reinvention, an inherent ability for renewal and replenishment. To claim a promising future as the country moves toward a minority-majority population – younger, more brown, black and female – America must confront its racial and wealth inequality and show up at voting booths. America must also stare down itsaura of exceptionalism, which Castañeda compares to hypocrisy. Americans’ vision of their country’s exceptionalism – as a nation so superior to others, it can change the world – too often clashes with its culture of guns, mass incarceration, death penalty and war on drugs. Also in its history lie countless invasions and occupations of Latin American countries, including Mexico. Such conduct has no “place in the modern world, much less so in American civilization,” Castañeda writes.
Castañeda’s book is short on storytelling and anecdotes and long on wonky policy musings. And despite reminding us that Mexico must always be vigilant of what goes on up north, he doesn’t follow up on the implications of America’s erratic behavior for his own country. Not even a mention of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose left-leaning policies stand in sharp contrast to President Trump’s. But their governing styles are remarkably similar: Both are populist, narcissistic, divisive and often stubborn figures who see institutions and the media as their archenemies.
But obsessing over the lack of human narratives would be to miss the larger point of this important read and its impeccable timing. Yes, the world is watching America, especially its neighbors – all largely rooting as much for themselves as for the United States.
“American democracy will no doubt survive,” Castañeda writes. “But how it rides out its current storm will inevitably shape its future.”
Thai Buddhists have come to terms with the new normal in the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak and are even making merit on Asalha Bucha and Buddhist Lent days wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the virus in temples.
Asalha Bucha is one of the most important days for Buddhists as it commemorates the Buddha announcing the establishment of his religion.
By The Washington Post · Michael Cavna · NATIONAL, FEATURES, MEDIA
Small newspapers in some Southern and Midwestern states have recently issued a cluster of apologies, explanations and resignations over controversial cartoons commenting on protests and police brutality.
At the weekly Islander News in Key Biscayne, Fla., however, the leadership has stood by its decision to run a hot-button cartoon, while running numerous letters over the past several weeks to let its tight-knit community air their views on why the artwork was so incendiary.
The June 11 cartoon, created by veteran contributing cartoonist Peter Evans, depicts President Donald Trump saying, “Chuck the Constitution.” The caption puts Trump’s urging to “dominate” and “arrest and try” Black Lives Matter protesters in opposition to the First Amendment’s protection for peaceful assembly.
To try to drive home his point, Evans drew a partially obscured swastika on Trump’s suit jacket.
The opposition to his use of the Nazi symbol was swift and sizable.
“I have never received such a large response,” Evans told The Washington Post. “This touched a nerve that surprised me. Not so much from Republicans, but from the Jewish community.”
The newspaper ran a sampling of letters the following week. One offended reader called the cartoon anti-Semitic, writing: “Never expected our local newspaper to be so out of touch with many, if not most, of the Key Biscayne residents.” Others wrote letters of support.
The next week, the Islander News ran several pages of letters and commentary. A notable guest column was by Avremel Caroline, rabbi of the Chabad Key Biscayne Jewish Center, who noted that many in “our Jewish community found [the swastika] to be completely unnecessary, inaccurate and insensitive.”
“For many, the swastika is a deeply personal symbol,” Caroline wrote June 18. “It is a representation of the greatest evil that modern history has witnessed, and it is an atrocity that has a direct impact on so many of our lives. … The use of a swastika as the symbol for everything dictatorial (or even fascistic) greatly diminishes the true scale of evil that Nazism represented, even when compared with other dictatorial or fascistic regimes.”
Tom Clifford, the newspaper’s associate publisher, defended the political cartoon in an article on June 18, noting “the best ones are provocative.”
Because the swastika “remains associated with white power extremists worldwide, including the U.S. – groups that support the president, and who Trump has refused to condemn,” Clifford wrote, “it’s clear why the cartoonist employed that symbol to hammer home his point.
“It was also heavy handed, inelegant and inadvertently insensitive,” the associate editor added, noting: “But it was not libelous or slanderous.” Clifford said the paper respected Evans’s right to express his opinion.
On June 26, Evans published a response to the controversy. “The partial swastika was not meant to offend,” he wrote. “It was cartoon shorthand for what can happen when we ignore dangers the Constitution protects us from.”
“If you think that could never happen here and are not old enough to remember, I urge you to Google ‘McCarthyism,’ ” added Evans, noting that he has lampooned both major political parties during nearly a quarter-century at the Islander News.
Evans said that for him, the swastika is not a symbol out of impersonal history.
“I was born in 1935 and grew up in England during World War II, so the swastika was very real to me,” he told The Post. “It appeared daily in newspaper cartoons, which perhaps made me more casual about its use.”
In trying to spotlight the First Amendment right to assemble to redress grievances, Evans said “the swastika was actually an afterthought. I saw parallels between what is happening today and 1933 and tried to communicate that visually.”
Evans said that during his “long tenure with the Islander News, I have had unequivocal support from my editorial bosses through thick and thin.”
Evans – who has been honored by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists – emphasized that he did not intend to take aim at either major political party, but rather at what imperils the Constitution.
“Like most Americans, I believed the Constitution to be an impregnable fortress against despots and demagogues,” he said. “But I recall how all America cowered in fear over Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade during the ’50s.
“The swastika is a detestable symbol. But it is only a symbol. I feel we should be more focused on what brought the symbol about.”
Jul 05. 2020Ifeoma Ozoma’s private information was leaked by a Pinterest co-worker and posted on extremist forums. She says the company did nothing to help her. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Adria Malcolm for The Washington Post
By The Washington Post · Nitasha Tiku · BUSINESS, FEATURES
SAN FRANCISCO – Two days after two black female ex-Pinterest public policy officials claimed in viral Twitter posts that they were underpaid, faced racist comments from their manager, and were subject to retaliation, Pinterest chief executive Ben Silbermann tried to assuage outraged employees.
Ahead of a companywide meeting on Google Meet in mid-June, they had submitted more than 100 questions about the allegations. Silbermann ended the Q&A by assuring his 2,000 employees that people who work at Pinterest have “really good hearts,” according an employee in attendance.
The image of Pinterest as a kinder, gentler social media juggernaut grew out of the site’s predominantly female user base and soft-spoken CEO – a reputation held aloft in recent years by the company’s commitments to racial and gender diversity. This made Pinterest an outlier among its generation of multibillion-dollar start-ups, where Uber’s unbridled aggression led the pack.
But since Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, who represented two of the three people on Pinterest’s policy team, quit together at the end of May and soon went public with their claims, that image has grown harder for Pinterest to maintain.
The two women and other former employees, who were inspired to speak after they saw the Twitter threads, allege there’s little accountability at Pinterest, where some subordinates were berated, women were pushed out without warning, and executives in Silbermann’s inner circle faced no consequences despite repeated complaints. The Washington Post spoke with Ozoma, Banks, and five other women who formerly worked at Pinterest, and viewed copies of performance reviews, investigation findings, emails, and other documents. The other women spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retaliation from Pinterest and further harm to their careers.
“On the one hand, Pinterest was fine with me being the person interviewed on ‘All Things Considered,’ the person who’s doing press all around the world on behalf of the company for an initiative I’m leading,” says Ozoma. “And on the other hand, they just completely did not believe that I had enough sense and enough ability, both financially and otherwise,” to keep pursuing her bias claims, which she felt Pinterest had shrugged off.
Pinterest declined to comment on specific allegations. The company pointed to a note Silbermann sent employees Monday, which was included in a press release announcing that Pinterest’s board of directors hired the law firm WilmerHale to conduct an independent review of the company’s culture. “This is important work that will help us make Pinterest better,” Silbermann wrote, urging his staff to prioritize following up if they were contacted by the firm.
The womens’ stories echo complaints across the tech world and corporate America, as companies are pressured to address systemic racism. In Silicon Valley, black employees are breaking norms by speaking out against employers and investors who failed to take their allegations seriously and often did not believe their stories of toxic bias. In recent weeks, employees have also come forward from Facebook, LinkedIn, and other tech companies.
Hours after the Q&A, Silbermann sent an effusive note to his staff, apologizing for not confronting these issues. “What I’ve learned over the past few weeks is that parts of our culture are broken. Truthfully, I didn’t understand just how much work we have to do. That’s not an excuse, that’s a failure in leadership, and I’m truly sorry for letting you down,” he wrote. “It’s been devastating to hear the stories of Black employees who feel like they don’t belong at Pinterest. Because of the lack of representation in senior leadership and the board. Because they are afraid to bring concerns to their managers or HR. Because they don’t feel that they have the same opportunities to grow their careers.”
But that was a shift from Silbermann’s early response to the women’s claims. Hours after Ozoma and Banks tweeted, he sent his staff an email refuting their claims without mentioning their names. “The investigations found that we treated these employees fairly. I know that this message is not nearly detailed enough to give everyone the clarity you may have hoped for,” he wrote in an email viewed by The Post.
“Unfortunately, this is not just a Pinterest problem. Every tech company I know has stories of anti-Black racism and bias,” says Michelle Kim, chief executive of Awaken, a Bay Area firm that hosts diversity workshops for tech companies.
Bias is reinforced in part because of tech industry’s monoculture, in which white and Asian men tend to hire the people in their networks, who in turn hire from their networks, which can define what is considered acceptable workplace behavior and who is viewed as an outsider. Ozoma and Banks, however, had sterling credentials: they had worked at Google, Facebook, and the White House, and studied at Oxford and Yale, upending the unspoken belief in tech that the industry’s lack of diversity is due to a lack of diverse talent.
The idea of Pinterest as an exception to the rule was an outgrowth of Silbermann’s unassuming persona as a nontechnical transplant from Iowa who came up with the idea for online pinboards because he collected insects as a kid. The site’s earliest adopters were Mormon women and Midwestern moms. The first rule on Pinterest’s etiquette page was “Be nice.”
As Pinterest grew, it increasingly defined itself in opposition to the recklessness of growth-at-all-costs start-ups. When Pinterest was a five-year-old company already valued at $11 billion, co-founder Evan Sharp told Business Insider that Pinterest liked to hire “geniuses that are nice to each other,” rather than follow the “stereotype of a successful start-up” as an “aggressive, type A place.”
That same year, in 2015, Pinterest announced its strategy to increase diversity inside the company, including hiring a new startup called Paradigm to train employees and executives in unconscious bias, hiring a head of diversity and inclusion, and publicizing its hiring goals in order to hold itself accountable to make meaningful improvements on diversity. (Four percent of Pinterest’s workforce is black, according to the latest figures released by the company.)
The reality inside the company was different, the former employees said. One black female former employee said she was told to stop speaking in meetings and watched her manager use the presentations she created to speak to clients instead. The woman, who was the only black person on her team, says an executive joked that she should act as “the servant” and “serve” her co-workers at a team dinner. “Everyone knew it was wrong, but nobody said anything in that moment,” said the ex-employee, who said she was too scared of retaliation to report the incident to HR.
Another black ex-employee said a top marketing executive told her that she was surprised that marketing material showing a black woman, created by the ex-employee, was successful.
Most of the women said that were made to feel incompetent after raising these issues. Most believed their experience inside Pinterest was unique until they heard what happened to Ozoma and Banks.
Now, nearly 25,000 people have signed a petition demanding that Pinterest pay its black employees fairly.
Ozoma and Banks were well-respected in tech circles for spearheading improvements to Pinterest’s policies, including the decision to stop promoting content about slave plantation weddings and to block antivax content, as well as the decision to reinstate holiday pay for Pinterest contractors in December 2019.
The content policies were frequently cited in media coverage as Pinterest prepared to go public last year, insulating Silbermann from the type of scrutiny around misinformation and racist content that greeted his social networking rivals.
Yet, behind-the-scenes, Ozoma and Banks were rebuked and investigated for championing those same decisions around content moderation and contractor pay, they said.
They allege that they were unknowingly assigned lower levels on Pinterest’s internal hierarchy for doing the same work as their manager, who is white. Ozoma received two raises and a promotion during her two-year tenure at the company, which she says was a reflection of her job performance, but the changes did not address her concern about being hired at the wrong level. Both women say their lower level in the internal hierarchy deprived them of stock options they believe are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In June 2019, Ozoma’s name, cellphone number, email, and photo were published on extremist forums, including 8chan and 4chan, where users organize harassment campaigns after a co-worker leaked documents to a right-wing news organization. In one of the documents, Ozoma suggested looking into creating an advisory warning for content from conservative media personality Ben Shapiro, whom she described as “a white supremacist,” which angered Shapiro’s supporters.
Ozoma said she had sought help for the publication of her personal details from a third-party company named Storyful, that she had worked with on health misinformation, after Pinterest’s deputy general counsel brushed off warnings from Ozoma and Banks that individual employees were likely to be targeted, according to emails viewed by The Post.
But when Pinterest’s legal department took over monitoring, the company asked Storyful to investigate whether Shapiro actually was a white supremacist. “Instead of focusing on security and making sure that we were fine and validating the concerns that we had, their concern was: Is what you said is valid? Almost like [the employee] had a legitimate reason to share my personal information all over the Internet,” Ozoma says.
In an email exchange with Silbermann the day she was doxed, Ozoma shared her disappointment in Pinterest, including screenshots of the harassment she received. “I’m personally concerned that when these risks were raised, we didn’t take the right steps,” the chief executive wrote, vowing to ask his deputies and look into the matter. Ozoma says she received no follow-up from Silbermann.
Banks also claims that Pinterest was more aggressive about investigating her actions, than the complaints she raised. In December, Banks had advised the company to reinstate holiday pay for contractors, a position that Pinterest’s federal consultants congratulated Banks for pushing, according to an email viewed by The Post. However, under pressure from management who disagreed with the situation, the consultants, a firm that advises Pinterest on interactions with regulators and government agencies, falsely said they had not advised that course of action, Banks alleges.
In response, Pinterest’s “business conduct” team investigated Banks’ policy decision, including searching through an employee’s cellphone to try to find WhatsApp and Facebook messages with Ozoma or Banks, and then accidentally forwarded the screenshots to Banks, according to emails viewed by The Post. Pinterest never informed Banks of the outcome of the investigation, she says.
Both women say they hoped to resolve their disputes internally. Even after they filed documents in 2019 with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing indicating their intent to sue, Pinterest still had the same manager they had been complaining about for months conduct their reviews.
When the women posted parts of their story on Twitter, the uproar was immediate. Public policy executives from Facebook and Google praised their skills and accomplishments. Color of Change, an advocacy group that had worked with the women on restricting marketing for planation weddings before they quit, posted a press release saying Pinterest’s “hypocrisy is glaring,” considering statements the company made in support of Black Lives Matter.
Responding to internal and external pressure, Pinterest took a page from Uber, whose chief executive Travis Kalanick hired former attorney general Eric Holder to investigate the company’s culture after allegations of rampant sexism.
“I’m not sure that they remember Kalanick ended up stepping down,” Ozoma says.
Jul 02. 2020The fireworks show June 27 at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home near Washington. Attendance was restricted to 600, from the normal 2,700, and fireworks were launched from a barge anchored in the Potomac River. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Kevin Ambrose
By The Washington Post · Michael E. Ruane · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, FEATURES At John Sagaria’s company, Fireworks Extravaganza, the cancellations began in April.
The Fourth of July show at the University of Maryland in College Park was canceled in May. The July 4 fireworks at Rockville’s Woodmont Country Club was not scheduled at all.
Shows in Elkton, Md.; Middletown, Del.; North East, Md., and dozens of other places were also gone, as a result of covid-19 fears, he said.
“I’ve never been able to prepare for something like this,” said Sagaria, who is based in Paramus, N.J. “About 90 percent of the shows canceled … It’s just horrible.”
While the virus has the trade in backyard fireworks booming, it has wrought havoc with the aerial fireworks display industry. Across the country shows large and small have been canceled or postponed, fireworks company officials say.
And the promise of a rare Saturday Fourth of July has turned into a fireworks bust.
Traditional displays attract huge gatherings of people, which are now deemed potentially hazardous because of the disease, the officials say.
Fireworks at big league baseball games never happened, because much of baseball hasn’t happened. Memorial Day shows dried up. And the loss of Fourth of July events has been devastating.
“Many of the skies around America are going to be dark over the Fourth of July,” said Stephen Vitale, chief executive officer at Pyrotecnico Fireworks, in New Castle, Pa.
Mike Cartolano, president of Melrose Pyrotechnics, in Kingsbury, Ind., said, “It takes social gathering to have fireworks events, and with social gathering gone” many fireworks have gone too.
While President Donald Trump’s July 4 fireworks show on the Mall is still scheduled, along with one Friday at Mount Rushmore with him in attendance, the virus has taken a heavy toll on the industry.
Sagaria said he usually does 200 to 250 shows a year across the Mid-Atlantic.
“Right now we’ve done about eight,” he said Tuesday.
“Three things happened,” he said. “People never booked, or people canceled, or people fought to keep their show, and the latter is very small.”
Plus, the virus hit at a bad time.
“There’s a cycle every year,” he said. “During the winter and spring is when we get deposits on the shows for the summer. This thing hit in the middle of deposit time.,”
The industry, much of which was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants a century ago, is appealing to the government for aid – asking Congress for help via the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program offered by the Small Business Administration.
“Typically there are 16,000 Independence Day fireworks displays across the nation,” said Julie L. Heckman, the executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.
“This year, we’re compiling a list of the displays that are actually going to happen on July 4,” she said. “It’s not a very long list . . . [and] we don’t get a do-over on July 4.”
(George Washington’s Mount Vernon managed to pull off its fireworks show on June 27 by restricting attendance to 600, from the normal 2,700, and shooting from a barge anchored in the Potomac River.)
“Part of the reason the display industry is struggling so much is they lost all of the Spring festivals and events,” she said. “They have lost all the sporting events … So basically the display industry has had no business, no revenue since New Year’s Eve.”
“They are so desperate,” she said. “This is by far the biggest crisis this industry has ever faced.”
Vitale, of Pyrotecnico Fireworks, in New Castle, said Memorial Day was an almost complete loss.
“Last Memorial Day we had 69 shows,” he said recently. “This year we had four.”
But his firm also does fireworks for the Washington Nationals, and the Philadelphia Phillies, who haven’t played an inning. It does the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s fireworks, which were canceled this year.
Of his usual 600 shows between July 1 and July 4, around 400 have been canceled this year. “It’s been devastating,” he said.
“Most revenues in the fireworks industry revolve around the Fourth of July,” he said. “It can be sixty percent upwards to eighty or ninety percent of a business’s annual revenue.”
“The Fourth of July is our bread and butter,” he said. “Most of that’s gone away. We’ve furloughed about 70 percent of our staff and really don’t have the work to bring them back.”
He said his firm was started by his great-grandfather, Constantino Vitale, in Italy in 1889. “Fireworks was a village trade in Italy,” he said. “A lot of the fireworks [involved] religious festivals.”
In the United States, his ancestors worked in tin mills around New Castle. “They would work in the tin mills during the day, and . . . work making fireworks at night and on weekends.”
Now, he said, “I don’t think a lot of us are going to make it.”
Vitale, who started in the business when he was 13, said the industry has always been hardy.
“We’ve been recession resistant . . . because people always want to celebrate,” he said. “We have not been pandemic resistant.”
August Santore, of Garden State Fireworks, in Millington, N.J., has the contract for the fireworks on the Mall, his company’s biggest show. But he was long in limbo, waiting to see if the show would come off.
Last week, word finally came that it was on. As he did last year, he would share the stage with another company, Fireworks by Grucci.
“It helps,” he said. But damage had already been done.
“I’m lucky if I’m going to have maybe ten percent of my business for the season,” he said recently. “We lost 25 [shows] maybe in April. Maybe 30 or 40 in May. Probably 80 in June. It just multiplies.”
“It’s terrible,” he said. “If the government doesn’t come up with something for our industry, I believe 75 percent of the companies are going to fold up.”
At Melrose Pyrotechnics, Mike Cartolano said the firm might reach twenty percent of its annual revenue. Like others, he relies heavily on Fourth of July and sporting events.
“I’ve got a lot of longtime customers,” he said. “My father started with the Chicago White Sox in 1960 … So we were all contracted. We were set for a banner year.”
“A Saturday Fourth of July happens once very six years,” he said. “It would have been a wonderful year.”
Then the cancellations started rolling in.
“I get up every morning and I turn my computer on and I find more cancellations,” he said.
And now companies are stuck with tons of unused fireworks that they must guard.
“There is so much explosives that are usually consumed around the Fourth of July that we now have to safely store,” said Sagaria, of Fireworks Extravaganza. “Not only did we have to pay for it, we have the additional expenses of keeping it safe.”
“Put it this way: Fireworks is an extremely hard business, without this,” he said. “Just normally it’s a hard business. The industry is small, but the patriotism is big.”
Jun 28. 2020The Sugarloaf Pub sits on Cannon Street in the City of London on June 23, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Olivia Harris.
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Alan Crawford, Greg Ritchie, Viren Vaghela · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, WORLD, RACE, EUROPE
If there’s one thing that foretold the City of London’s ambition to become the epicenter of finance it was the founding of the Royal Exchange almost 500 years ago.
The driving force behind the capital’s first purpose-built center for trading stocks was Sir Thomas Gresham, whose legacy survives in the college, City street and law of economics that bear his name.
Less celebrated is the role of his prominent backer in the venture, Sir William Garrard: former Lord Mayor and pioneer of English involvement in the slave trade.
An empty plinth, where the statue of 18th century slave owner Robert Milligan used to be, stands in front of the Museum of London Docklands in London on June 23, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Olivia Harris.
The City of London is interwoven with so many layers of history, from Roman to Medieval, Civil War and the age of empire, that the lives of the myriad figures who contributed to its status today are often obscured by time.
But with outside scrutiny comes the realization that many made their fortunes off the back of slavery and colonial oppression, a fact that is now being acknowledged by some of the financial district’s most venerable names, shaking the foundations upon which many of these institutions were built.
The Bank of England apologized last week for “some inexcusable connections” to slavery by former governors. Barclays is examining its own history. While “we can’t change what’s gone before us,” the bank is committed to “do more to further foster our culture of inclusiveness, equality and diversity.”
“We understand that we cannot always be proud of our past,” Lloyd’s of London, which began life insuring ships and their cargo in the late 17th century, said in a statement. “In particular, we are sorry for the role played by the Lloyd’s market in the 18th and 19th century slave trade — an appalling and shameful period of English history, as well as our own.”
The “Gilt of Cain” monument by Michael Visocchi and Lemn Sissay, commemorating the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade stands in the City of London on June 23, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Olivia Harris.
Those cases were far from isolated.
According to Richard Drayton, professor of imperial history at King’s College London, Britain became the principal slaving nation of the modern world, with the City providing the finance to facilitate trade with the plantation colonies. “This was big business, and the rich men of the City were in the thick of it,” Drayton said in a lecture delivered in the Museum of London last October.
The “triangle trade” involved shipping manufactured goods to western Africa and exchanging them for human beings, who were transported in appalling conditions to the Caribbean and sold as slaves to work in the plantations.
The tobacco, rum and most of all the sugar that were the fruits of their forced labor were then taken back to Europe. “The formation of the City of London was shaped significantly by sugar,” said Nick Draper, one of the lead researchers on University College London’s groundbreaking Legacies of British Slave Ownership project. “Merchants in London would advance credit to planters and guarantee remittances to slave traders so that London merchant houses became the center of this economic system built on Caribbean slavery.”
That uncomfortable, probing questions are now being asked of the institutions that profited from the trade is down to the Black Lives Matter movement that began in the U.S. and crossed over the Atlantic, prompting a re-examining of the role of prominent figures with sometimes contradictory histories in London, but also in the mercantile cities of Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow.
Walking through the warren of ancient streets lined with discrete Victorian facades and modern steel-and-glass towers that make up London’s Square Mile — effectively a city within a city — it’s possible to find echoes of that legacy.
Pubs with names like the Jamaica Wine House in St Michael’s Alley, or the Sugar Loaf on Cannon Street — while both housed in 19th century buildings constructed after the abolition of slavery — hint at what came before.
Whereas in the Elizabethan age, financiers like Garrard invested in the voyages of glorified privateers, by the 17th century the trade was more developed, if no less barbaric.
Barbados became England’s first sugar producing colony in the 1640s, followed by Jamaica after it was seized from Spain. Cargoes of cane were landed at the sugar wharf beside the Tower of London at what is now Customs House. Cannon Street was the site of sugar refineries that helped fuel the rise of England, and after the union of 1707, Great Britain, to a world power.
In 1672 came the founding of the Royal African Company, an enterprise backed by the Crown that historian William Pettigrew has said “shipped more enslaved African women, men and children to the Americas than any other single institution” during the transatlantic slave trade.
Its shareholders included 15 Lord Mayors and 38 City of London council members known as Aldermen, according to Drayton. Edward Colston, whose statue was torn down and dumped in Bristol harbor this month, was a deputy governor. Its symbol — as stamped on guineas of the day made with African gold — was an elephant with a riding carriage, or houdah: the Elephant and Castle.
It’s not known if the symbol bears any relation to the London landmark of the same name, such are the layers of juxtaposed history. Take the Lloyd’s building: Located off Leadenhall, it occupies the site of the headquarters of the former East India Company, which employed a private army to appropriate the subcontinent’s wealth. The East India Company’s original marble fireplace was incorporated into the Foreign Office in Whitehall when it opened in 1868.
The Guildhall off Moorgate, the ceremonial and administrative center of the City since the 15th century, illustrates the difficulty in unpicking and assigning guilt to institutions. Inside is a statue of William Beckford, a two-times Lord Mayor and owner of thousands of acres of Jamaican plantations worked by slaves. The Guildhall was also the scene of a court case over the killing of more than a hundred slaves at sea that spurred the anti-slavery movement, leading to full Abolition in 1833.
Even then, Drayton said, slavery continued for decades in other countries in the Americas. “London was the close partner of the expansion of the cotton south in the United States, creating complex mortgage-backed securities which provided a paper veil for a new kind of slave-ownership,” he said.
David Barclay, one of the founders of the eponymous bank, was a “keen and committed advocate for abolition of the slave trade,” even as his bank then in Lombard Street financed plantation mortgages, causing him to suffer a “moral dilemma,” according to the UCL slave ownership project.
The City’s institutions are now confronted with their own moral dilemma. Lloyd’s is among those to have pledged to invest in programs to attract and develop Black and Minority Ethnic talent. In 2018, 28% of the City’s workforce was of non-White origin. The City of London Corporation, the financial district’s governing body, said it understands “it’s not enough to say that we are against racism but we have to work to eradicate racism in all that we do.”
Sajid Javid, the former chancellor of the exchequer, has spoken about his decision to leave the City for New York early in his career in part because of his ethnicity and class. “The U.K. has come a long way since then,” he told PBS. “But we still need to make sure we’re not complacent and we keep tackling racial injustice wherever we find it.”
Kehinde Andrews, a professor of Black studies at Birmingham City University, says the wealth generated then is still with us now, helping to perpetuate the racial divide. “It’s not past, it’s very much the present and a continuation, and the banks are one of the key drivers,” he said. “The idea they can just apologize and have some more diversity is frankly insulting.”
The son of a father whose own parents came from Jamaica as part of the Windrush generation of Caribbean immigrants invited to the U.K. after World War II, Dominic Burris-North has a personal connection to the dilemmas raised. He is one of just two qualified “Blue Badge” guides who provide tours of the City focusing on its historic ties to the slave trade. The reactions, he says, are predominantly shock, horror and dismay.
“It’s really hard to separate slavery from so many things that we know of in modern Britain, from the royal family to our galleries to the British Museum to the Bank of England to former prime ministers — all of these names, all of these institutions,” he said. “As more people start to understand and hear about these things, eventually there will be a reckoning.”
Jun 22. 2020The English National Ballet in Akram Khan’s “Giselle.” MUST CREDIT: (Laurent Liotardo/Marquee TV.
By The Washington Post · Sarah L. Kaufman
With uncanny timing, MarqueeTV, a performing-arts streaming service, debuted in this country in February. None of its leaders could have predicted the global crisis to come, but the bittersweet irony is that it created ideal conditions for Marquee’s high-definition dance, theater and opera offerings, available on demand.
Given the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, the novel coronavirus pandemic “has been a game-changer,” says Marc Kirschner, a Marquee founder and head of product and innovation. March and April saw a five- to sixfold spike in subscriptions, he says.
Yet what Marquee’s team knew long before the virus outbreak, and believe even more fervently now, is this: The future of the performing arts is digital.
And if U.S. arts groups want to survive the coronavirus crisis and beyond, they need to focus on getting their work online, those at the streaming service say – because American artists have fallen far behind their peers overseas.
“Doing digital isn’t a quick-fix Band-Aid for anyone,” says Kathleya Afanador, Marquee’s co-founder and head of content. “It’s a fundamental layer of their overall business that needs to be prioritized.”
Marquee launched in the United Kingdom in 2018, offering handsomely filmed performances from such international venues as London’s Royal Opera House, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater and the Opéra National de Paris. It works much like a Netflix or Amazon account, with subscribers having access to a wide range of performances and documentaries on the arts. (Subscriptions cost $4.99 weekly, $8.99 monthly and $89.99 annually, with a current discounted rate of $62.99 a year.)
Kirschner declined to give an exact subscriber figure, but said it’s in the tens of thousands, mostly across the United States and the United Kingdom. The site is available in about 20 countries.
Among Marquee’s offerings are such large-scale classics as the Bolshoi Ballet’s “Coppelia” and “Swan Lake” and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s graffiti-splashed “Hamlet” starring Paapa Essiedu. Experimental works are equally represented, including avant-garde director Robert Wilson’s multigenre “Adam’s Passion.”
Marquee officials describe the shows they offer as “high-quality captures,” produced using multiple cameras and led by directors experienced in bringing stage performances to the screen. In most cases, Marquee has gained the rights to air existing films, though it plans to increase its commissioning of films by helping to fund and produce them. On Friday, Marquee launched its first commissioned project – Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young’s dance-theater work “Revisor,” based on a farce by Nikolai Gogol and filmed shortly before the pandemic-related shutdowns.
“These aren’t just archived films of live performances. It’s a very sophisticated operation,” says Gregory Doran, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which has several recently filmed plays available on Marquee (as well as on other British streaming services).
“The challenge for us was to create a language that suited each production. Not just get the cameras onstage and get the sound right,” Doran says, “but to make them stand out as pieces of art in their own right.”
On June 13, Marquee aired its first live-streamed event since the shutdowns: a danced duet and music performances from London’s Royal Opera House, minus the audience. Another will air on Saturday.
This is all good news for arts-starved viewers who are hungry for great works and fresh adaptations.
It also reveals what Marquee officials see as a big problem for the performing arts in the United States: They lag dangerously far behind those abroad in having a digital strategy.
“They’ve ignored it, to be really honest,” Kirschner says. “To have a digital focus was just pushed aside. It was, ‘This is not a priority for us.’ “
Marquee’s catalogue includes many American artists and companies showcased in gorgeous presentations – including Bill T. Jones, the Paul Taylor Dance Company and the New York City Ballet. But in most cases, these works were filmed overseas by well-equipped production companies, in London, Paris, Madrid and other international cities.
Kirschner points to the example set by Arts Council England, a government-funded agency that promotes the performing, visual and literary arts.
“It started demanding digital mandates 15 years ago for their arts organizations,” he says. “That grew into a production subsidy fund, to support the creation of great art, make it accessible, center it on equity and sustainability. They see digital as the solution for all of that.
“In the U.S., it’s been an inversion. Everybody’s been focusing on different priorities, and they see digital as a subset.”
It’s an age-old lament: American arts groups don’t enjoy the luxuries of their peers across the pond with their greater state-supported benefits, which even include a solid digital strategy. According to Kirschner, agreements with stakeholders, including unions, often can be a complication for U.S. organizations seeking to make digital recordings.
Yet while a solution for these groups is not easily at hand, the argument that the performing arts here need to power up online is potent, especially now.
As shuttered arts groups have seen their income streams vanish and are scrambling to stay on funders’ and the public’s radars so they can survive until theaters reopen, a lack of recorded content is a problem. How do these groups make their work known to people staying home?
For a sector that depends on people leaving their homes, what if people don’t do so for a very long time?
“Arts organizations are gasping for oxygen right now,” says Alonzo King, founder of the San Francisco-based LINES Ballet. Several of his fluid, vigorous and deeply musical works are featured on Marquee, which he’s happy about since the public’s reluctance to gather in theaters could be long-lasting.
“So we have to change how we do things in America,” King says. “For every organization involved in theater, the dream is two things: to return to that humanity” – performers and audiences in the same physical space – “but also to always have a digital presence as well.”
King says he receives no direct financial benefit from having his ballets on Marquee. A foreign production company filmed the works (with King’s consent) while the LINES Ballet was on tour in Europe. “Eight-camera shoots,” King says, “so meticulous and well-crafted.” The Marquee deal is with the outfit that produced them. King gave his blessing to including them in the streaming service’s catalogue, and says he considers it good exposure as well as a public service.
“It’s a library, a bank, for people who would not otherwise see these works,” he says.
“Why shouldn’t everyone have access to see art?” King adds. “We are producing ballets nonstop. And you can’t hold everything in. You have to dare. That’s part of how you connect.”
As theaters remain closed, many arts groups have been posting what videos they have on their websites or YouTube channels. But as newsrooms discovered 20 years ago in awkward, ill-prepared migrations from print to digital, a hasty effort with limited reach isn’t a great strategy.
Marquee wants to help.
“It’s really about growing the digital operation for these companies that so badly need it,” Kirschner says. He points to a key reason arts groups need to put their work online: accessibility. It’s a way to invite and hook potential ticket buyers.
“In streaming, we’re giving them that experience in a risk-free environment, to sample an artist they didn’t know before,” he says. “If someone likes wine, they need to be able to sample and experiment. That’s not accessible to lots of people at $100 a ticket or more. And what if tickets are sold out or there’s only lousy seats or they don’t have time that evening? The additional burdens are massive.
“The future is live and digital collaborations,” he adds. “We’re an extension of what live organizations do, not a replacement.”
The idea Kirschner and Afanador are promoting to arts groups is this: If Marquee viewers discover and fall in love with, say, Mark Morris’s sumptuous interpretation of the Handel oratorio “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato” (filmed while the Mark Morris Dance Group was touring in Spain), maybe they’ll buy tickets to a live show by the Brooklyn-based group when it comes to their city.
Or, since “L’Allegro” is listed on the Marquee site as part of the “Joyce Theater Collection” – a listing of works by groups that have performed at that New York venue – maybe viewers who like what they see will attend an event at the Joyce next time they’re in Manhattan.
Kirschner says Marquee also aims to share anonymized data on who’s tuning in.
“Presenters working with smaller, contemporary companies are perfectly suited to take advantage of our marketing and data collection, to put people back in their theaters,” he says.
Linda Shelton, the Joyce Theater’s executive director, says her staff worked with Marquee to curate a list of Joyce-affiliated artists from those already featured on the streaming service.
“We want to do everything in our power,” she says, “to stay in the public eye.”
There may be benefits to come, she adds. What if theaters, when they reopen, can sell only half their seats? “If you’re getting your work out there virtually, maybe that’s the other half,” Shelton says.
Perhaps, she suggests, Joyce subscribers could mirror newspaper subscribers, with their access to print and digital versions. For the Joyce, an annual package might include theater tickets plus a digital membership to Marquee.
One thing seems clear: Arts groups appear to have gotten past the initial fear – which feels antiquated at this point, to be sure – that putting work online would take away from ticket sales. No one interviewed for this story expressed concern that streaming “The Barber of Seville” or “The Merchant of Venice” would harm the box office.
“Cinema didn’t take away from theater, and telly didn’t take away from cinema,” says Doran, of the RSC. “Nothing replaces the experience of seeing a live actor on a live stage.”
Marquee’s RSC Collection, he adds, is “a big advert to make your way to Stratford-upon-Avon and see it live.”