Rita Moreno is more than an icon. She is a trailblazer who opened the door for non-POC performers to not only have a career, but to play roles than were more than the servant or the background character. She also dealt with mental illness and lived to tell the tale.
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It premiered a couple of weeks ago on the PBS series American Masters. The documentary follows her life and career from her early days playing “ethnic” characters to her current status as one of the most respected performers in Hollywood. Best known for her role as Anita in 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story, it was one of the first (if not the first) fully fleshed out Latino characters on the big screen. Up until that point, Latinx performers either had to hide who they were (a la Rita Hayworth) or play a stereotypical characters ( e.g. Carmen Miranda).
While I was not surprised that she was sexually assaulted. Then, as now, women are still seen as sex objects to be used and thrown away when our usefulness outside of the bedroom has vanished. What I was surprised is that she has lived with mental health problems for decades and survived a suicide attempt. I found her honesty to be refreshing and comforting. It was as if she was saying “I did it, you can too”.
If I could, I would send an invite to watch this film to anyone whose life is complicated by mental illness. If it provides one person at least a brief respite from the mess in our heads and the push to ask for help, I would be satisfied.
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is available for streamingon the PBS website.
Mental illness and it’s various forms affect countless people around the world. But unlike physical illness and it’s many variations, mental illness does not get the respect it deserves.
Back in 2008, Malka Leifer was accused of sexually abusing several students at the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne, Australia, where she worked as a teacher. But before she could be brought into the courtroom to face her accusers, Ms. Leifer left Australia for Israel. Twelve years later, she faces extradition back to Australia. Her lawyers and supporters claim that she is mentally ill.
I have a huge problem with this claim. The problem is that her claim (if it is not true) is not only foolish, but it could also have life-shattering consequences. Millions of us wake up every day with mental illness. I wake every day with depression hanging around my neck. Does that mean I will commit such a heinous crime as sexual assault on a minor?
It’s hard enough to admit that one is living with mental illness and needs help. The last thing those of us who live with this disease need is for someone to use it as an excuse for moral failings.
Mental illness is NOT an excuse for sexual assault and never will be.
When the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in 2017, it did not break out of thin air. Getting the story to the public took time, effort and going against powerful people who would do almost anything to keep the story out of the news.
Ronan Farrow was one of those reporters. In his new book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, Farrow walks the reader through the process of reporting the story of the Weinstein scandal and the major barriers that were in his way. Back in 2017, Farrow was working for NBC. What started out as a routine investigation blew up into a news story that revealed a dark side of our culture that few were willing and/or able to expose.
Though this book is non-fiction, it reads like a spy thriller. The scary thing about this book goes well beyond what Weinstein did. The scary thing is that he had accomplishes who actively helped to bury the story. To my eyes, it says that men like Weinstein still hold all of the cards. The women he attacked and intimidated are powerless.
However, there is a glimmer of hope. There are good people in this world, like Ronan Farrow, who despite the challenges, are willing to stand up for what is right.
Jeffrey Epstein is a coward. He knew what he did was wrong. He knew that when he went to trial, he would have to look at the women who he took advantage of as young girls. He knew that he would pay for his crimes.
Instead, he took the easy way out. In taking his own life, he took away the opportunity from his victims to obtain justice for what he did to them. Though he will not be sitting in a jail cell for the rest of his days, I hope that judgement comes on the other side.
May he rot in Hades for what he did to those women.
In an ideal world, the justice system would not be swayed by money and power or the lack thereof. Every defendant would be treated equally. But we live in an unequal world in which money and power can sway the justice system in the favor of the accused.
In 2008, billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was accused of sexually abusing underage girls. Those charges were dropped, but new charges were leveled against him this week. If convicted, he faces spending up to 45 years in jail.
He though he could hide behind his powerful friends. But powerful friends, like money and power cannot hide the truth of what he did to those young girls.
One of the aspects of this story I think surprises no one is that the current Secretary of Labor, Alex Acosta, who back then was working as a lawyer, arranged for a sweetheart deal that reduced the sentence. Mr. Acosta’s boss has been accused of similar crimes, but unlike Mr. Epstein, he continues to get off scot free.
Only time will tell if Mr. Epstein gets what he deserves. I hope he gets what he deserves and much more.