Will Smith Moves Production of Next Film Out of Georgia in Protest

Staff

The shooting of the Will Smith’s slave thriller, Emancipation, just became the latest revenue hit in the fallout over Georgia’s new restrictive voter legislation. Instead, Smith and famed director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, Training Day) have decided to move production of their upcoming film to Louisiana.

“At this moment in time, the Nation is coming to terms with its history and is attempting to eliminate vestiges of institutional racism to achieve true racial justice,” said Fuqua and Smith in a prepared statement. “We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access. The new Georgia voting laws are reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting. Regrettably, we feel compelled to move our film production work from Georgia to another state.”

Ironically, it was the sensitive subject matter of the film that became the deciding factor, overriding the efforts of those like Stacy Abrams and Tyler Perry to sideline boycott efforts.

In the film, Smith plays a slave who has fled a plantation in Louisiana after being brutally whipped and his perilous journey north. Based on a true story, Smith’s character then joins the Army where during a routine medical examination the scars of his beating are exposed, subsequently photographed and published as indisputable proof of the cruelty and barbarity of slavery. The images—widely distributed—came to be dubbed as “The Scourged Back”.

As Cal Drops Age for COVID Shot, Black and Brown Nonprofits Demand Bigger Role

Bo Tefu | California Black Media

In Los Angeles County last week, 211 LA, a local non-profit organization that provides health-related information and services to residents, announced that it had reached an important milestone.

Celebrating its success, the community-based organization shared with California Black Media that it has been instrumental in helping more than 100,000 Angelenos sign up for vaccines since the state started rolling out its COVID-19 vaccination plan. Most of the people 211 LA helped get vaccinated were minorities living in greater LA communities that COVID-19 has hit hard.

“211 LA County has been there to connect people in our county with essential services for decades,” said Maribel Marin, executive director of 211 LA. “As we face a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, it was natural for us to partner with the County in helping people access the vaccinations that will help them get their lives back again.”

As California prepares to lower the state’s vaccine eligibility age to 16 by the middle of this month, community-based nonprofits around the state like LA 211 are demanding a bigger and more formalized role in California’s vaccination rollout, touting their unique ability to reach residents through long-established communication channels and because of trust they have earned over the years in the communities they serve. A history of racial disparities in the healthcare system has caused issues of mistrust and misinformation in Black and Latino communities, the community organization leaders say.

Earlier this year, the state launched a $30 million grant program for 180 community-based organizations to engage with underserved communities in efforts to boost health equity and counter vaccine hesitancy. But the leaders of many of those organizations say their work – and as a result the state’s vaccine plan — would be more effective if they state integrated them more into the structure of the state’s vaccination program and charged them with a broader scope of responsibility.

Rhonda Smith, the executive director of the California Black Health Network, said the news of vaccine expansion is great, but the road to widespread immunity has a number of barriers.

“The challenge still is accessibility,” Smith said. “Even though we’re opening up to a broader age range, there’s still the challenge of getting an appointment, and the accessibility and the ease of getting an appointment.”

Fortunately, she said, faith-based and community-based organizations have launched pop-up vaccination sites to address the issue of accessibility, particularly in regions of the state where large numbers of Black Californians live.

Last Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Prior to taking his shot, the governor announced the state’s plans to expand vaccine eligibility for people 50 years and older starting April 1, and people 16 years and older on April 15. Approximately 18 million vaccine doses have been administered since the announcement.

The state’s partnership with community-based organizations has boosted equity and vaccine efforts across California, state officials say.

Isaiah Antoine agrees. He is the community impact director of California Human Development, a nonprofit that runs a number of anti-poverty and human development programs throughout Northern California.

Antoine said vaccine expansion is necessary for low-income communities with predominantly Black and Brown populations. But to successfully implement it, the state would need to partner with groups that are rooted in the most affected communities.

According to state data, 46 % of COVID-19 related deaths were Latino Californians. Reports also show that Black and Latino people have been the most affected by the health and socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Vaccine expansion is the first step in ensuring these groups are receiving the protection and care they deserve,” said Antoine.

Andie Martinez Patterson, the vice president of government affairs at the California Primary Care Association, said the relationship between community health and public health agencies has not been strong across the state. She believes California needs to formalize those partnerships.

“For community-based organizations and the churches, there have been casual relationships, but not a strong network for when there’s a crisis,” said Martinez, adding that if that was the case, “you would immediately know what to do and which person to call.”

“The pandemic underscored the need to have a tighter social network surrounding the patients in the community, that should be prioritized, and we need to do a better job,” she continued.

“The pandemic was a learning curve for leaders in local organizations, primary healthcare, and public health to nurture relationships that will eventually save lives through quick and equitable response,” Martinez said.

Dr. Jeffrey Reynoso, executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, said the state’s vaccine expansion has the potential to increase access for Latinos Californians, too. However, health disparities among Latinos and the challenges of race and immigration status will be barriers to an effective vaccination program.

“There are implementation challenges on the ground, just because the guidelines say that those over the age of 16 will have eligibility for the vaccine that doesn’t mean that they have access,” said Reynoso.

Several community partners say they have kickstarted rapid response campaigns that have provided resources for economic assistance and information sessions on COVID-19 and vaccinations.

From Smith’s perspective, sharing vaccine success stories would be helpful because they will encourage people in the community to get vaccinated. Smith said understanding Black and Latino people, “geographically, mentally, physically, and spiritually,” is key to knowing how to best serve their communities.

“Going into the community and showing up is one way to build trust,” she said.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

Extended Tax Dates Spark Confusion

Staff

Last month, the Internal Revenue Service announced that the federal income tax filing due date for individuals has been extended from April 15, 2021 to May 17, 2021. But apparently the announcement came without much fanfare or promotion and has led to some confusion.

“I was rushing to get my taxes done when I was informed by my accountant informed me that the deadline had been pushed back to May. I had no idea,” said Keisha Wilson.

“Although the IRS do some press surrounding the announcement and it was picked by local and national news, a lot of people didn’t know that they had pushed back the deadlines. So, there was some confusion,” said Michelle Oduntan, of Santa Monica-based MMF Accounting. “Tax preparers, for the most part have been letting people know about the extension.”

Wilson is one of the countless taxpayers unaware of the change in filing dates the IRS was prompted to make in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This continues to be a tough time for many people, and the IRS wants to continue to do everything possible to help taxpayers navigate the unusual circumstances related to the pandemic, while also working on important tax administration responsibilities,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Even with the new deadline, we urge taxpayers to consider filing as soon as possible, especially those who are owed refunds. Filing electronically with direct deposit is the quickest way to get refunds, and it can help some taxpayers more quickly receive any remaining stimulus payments they may be entitled to.”

The automatic extension means that if you owe taxes for 2020, you have until May 17 to pay without penalties, regardless of amount owed. As stated, those who are due a refund are encouraged to file their returns as soon as possible as e-filed returns can be issued in a few as 21 days.
The extension does not apply to estimated tax payments —made quarterly to the IRS by people whose income isn’t subject to income tax withholding, including self-employment income, interest, dividends, alimony or rental income. Those taxes are still due on April 15, 2021.

While the IRS extension only applies to federal taxes, California’s Franchise Tax Board has announced that consistent with the IRS, it haspostponed the state tax filing and payment deadline for individual taxpayers to May 17, 2021 as well.

“We recognize what a challenging year this has been for Californians statewide,” said State Controller Betty T. Yee, who serves as chair of FTB. “I am pleased we are able to postpone tax filing and payment deadlines for all individual taxpayers in California to May 17. Hopefully, this small measure of relief will continue to allow people to focus on their health and safety and navigate the complexities caused by the pandemic.”

Los Angeles Times Report Reveals Zero Black Members in Hollywood Foreign Press Association

Staff

An investigation from the Los Angeles Times has revealed that the people behind the Golden Globes, a small group of 87 international journalists named the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, includes no Black members.

It represents a glaring issue in an organization that has been labeled outdated and unfair in the past. This year, the group received criticism (again) for once again passing over several celebrated TV shows and movies that featured Black stars and creators. For example, “Da 5 Bloods,” “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” all expected to receive Oscar best picture nominations, failed to receive Golden Globe nominations for top film.

“We do not control the individual votes of our members,” the association said in a statement. “We seek to build cultural understanding through film and TV and recognize how the power of creative storytelling can educate people around the world to issues of race, representation, and orientation.”

Shows that were also snubbed included “Lovecraft Country,” which boasts a predominantly Black cast. None of the actors were nominated, although the series did receive a drama series nomination. “I May Destroy You” from HBO was wholly omitted alongside Netflix’s hit show from Shonda Rhimes, “Bridgerton.”

“Reveals? As in, people are acting like this isn’t already widely known? For YEARS,” tweeted Ava DuVernay in response to the report.

Some Contract Workers Worry They May Owe State for EDD Overpayments

Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media 

A difficult year for unemployed Californians is closing out with one more thing for them to worry about.  

The California Employment Development Department (EDD) has asked at least 920,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) recipients to verify their income. Now, some of those Californians who lost their jobs because of the pandemic are concerned that an unclear question the EDD used to determine their income may be coming back to haunt them. Whether it was intentional or an honest mistake, if they received too much money in emergency unemployment payments from the department based on the amount of income they reported, they may now have to pay it back.

EDD began sending out notices on Nov. 21, and the agency has added a page to their website clarifying which documents can be used to verify income. The notice requires workers who received more than the PUA minimum benefit of $167 per week to verify their 2019 income using a copy of a 2019 federal or state tax return document. If they don’t have one, they can send business records, contracts, billing statements or similar records.

If the EDD determines that a person’s net income was less than the amount they reported on the initial PUA application, the person’s benefit will be reduced to reflect their net income, and EDD will seek repayment of the difference between their “current weekly benefit and the decreased benefit amount, for each week you were paid,” according to the notice. 

There are now instructions regarding paying back overpayment on the EDD’s website, and repayment plans are available. According to the EDD, PUA claimants will not be required to pay back the $600 federal supplemental compensation or $300 lost wage assistance payments. However, even just paying back the state overpayment would mean a bill of thousands of dollars for some Californians. 

According to some gig workers, the confusion comes from the type of income that the EDD requires self-employed workers receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to report versus unemployed people who qualified for regular unemployment insurance (UI). PUA, which was created to get COVID-19 relief to gig and contract workers as well as workers who do not qualify for traditional UI, calculates aid based on net income, or the income someone makes after deducting expenses. UI is based on gross income, or the amount one makes in total.

The difference between gross and net income can be wide for self-employed workers. 

Expenses that can be deducted include gas, maintenance or mileage for vehicles used for work, equipment and office supplies, and a percentage of rent for a home office. The large difference between gross and net income can mean that people who reported their gross income for PUA may have received thousands of dollars more in benefits.

This development comes six months after there was widespread confusion and a series of mishaps during the initial rollout of PUA – a period marked by unclear information about how people could sign up for unemployment benefits, which online portal they could use to file their claims and even a state website that crashed.  For months, beginning last Spring into the summer, contract workers did not know whether they were even eligible to receive unemployment benefits from the state or the temporary extra $600 per week the federal government provided to help bring relief to people left jobless by the pandemic. 

Gig workers say there may have also been confusion among applicants who did not have accurate income information because they had not yet filed their 2019 taxes when the state started receiving PUA applications.  This year, both the federal government and California extended their tax filing deadlines to July 15.

“If individuals reported gross wages instead of net income, which is an understandable mistake, it could lead to an overpayment. Under the CARES Act, a PUA overpayment currently cannot be waived,” According to a statement from the EDD.

Even if the California EDD, wanted to forgive the overpayments, they would not be able to. Only the federal government can make that decision because the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which established PUA, does not allow states to waive repayment. There is currently a bipartisan bill moving through the U.S. House of Representatives that is proposing repayment waivers if the worker was not at fault for overpayment and if repayment would mean severe economic hardship for that individual. 

Across California last month, the state unemployment rate stood at 8.2 % compared to 3.0 % at this same time last year. During the first two months of the pandemic, an estimated 2.6 million Californians lost their jobs. 

Los Angeles County Surpasses 9,000 Covid Deaths

By Staff

Los Angeles County has hit a “tragic milestone” as deaths surpassed 9,000 this week. 1,000 of those deaths came over the last two weeks. The county is currently averaging 85 deaths a day. 

“Unfortunately, today marks another tragic milestone as we acknowledge and grieve the more than 9,000 residents that have passed away from COVID-19. Our actions have an impact on the health and well-being of many people in our county, and not following the public health rules has deadly consequences,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer in a statement Tuesday.

The record numbers are expected to get worse as Los Angeles faces an ongoing surge of coronavirus cases and hospitals become overwhelmed. ICU capacity statewide remains around 2%. It is 0% in Southern California, forcing hospitals to enter “surge” mode. 

One survey determined that only 30 ICU beds were available on Sunday. That’s down from the 69 beds available last week. 

Hospitals are now preparing to possibly begin rationing care in the coming weeks according to a document obtained by the Los Angeles Times. The document outlined guidelines on how to allocate resources to save as many patients as possible, instead of trying to save every patient. If the guidelines are put in place it would mean patients determined less likely to survive would not receive the same care that they normally would. 

Photo by Los Angeles County (Flickr)

Michael Jackson Estate’s $100 Million ‘Leaving Neverland’ Lawsuit Reaffirmed

HBO has suffered another loss in its goal to avoid arbitration with Michael Jackson’s estate in the $100 million ‘Leaving Neverland’ dispute after an appeal court on Monday granted the Jackson estate’s appeal to allow for arbitration.

The 9th Circuit U.S Court of Appeals has reaffirmed that the estate’s lawsuit against Leaving Neverland may move forward. The estate is suing, arguing that the Emmy winning documentary goes against a 1992 non-disparagement clause in a contract between HBO and Jackson.

“An arbitration clause can still bind the parties, even if the parties fully performed the contract years ago,” wrote the trio of judges on Monday, reaffirming a lower court decision of September 2019.

“HBO does not dispute the existence of a valid agreement, the included arbitration provision, or the incorporated confidentiality provision, but rather the ‘continuing validity’ of the agreement and the arbitration provision,” the appeal court added in the decision. “Thus, a valid arbitration agreement exists.”

HBO maintains that the 27-year-old clause from the 1992 concert film is irrelevant to the present dispute.

New Cal NAACP Chief Appoints Sac Woman Executive Director

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

The new president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) California-Hawaii State Conference is keeping in step with a national movement making strides to level the playing field for Black women — long underrepresented in both private and public sector leadership roles. Like organizations and companies around the country, California’s conference of the oldest civil rights organization in the country is leading by increasing professional opportunities and offering critical career support for Black women. 

Kickstarting his tenure, the NAACP State Conference President Rick L. Callender announced last week that Betty Williams has been hired as the organization’s executive director. 

 

Cal Safety Workgroup Endorses COVID Vaccine Ahead of National Rollout This Week

Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media 

With concerns still lingering about the safety and side effects, the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has passed the full approval process and it is ready for distribution in the U.S. The first doses will arrive at California hospitals this week. 

On Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to be distributed to individuals 16 and older. In a statement, the FDA said that Pfizer’s clinical trial data showed that the “known and potential” benefits of the vaccine outweighed its risks. 

“Today’s action follows an open and transparent review process that included input from independent scientific and public health experts and a thorough evaluation by the agency’s career scientists to ensure this vaccine met FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. 

On Dec. 12, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended the Pfizer vaccine. CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D., accepted the recommendation on Dec. 13, passing the vaccine through the final step needed for distribution. On the same day it received CDC. approval, the first batch of vaccines was shipped out of a Pfizer plant in Portage, Michigan. 

“This is the next step in our efforts to protect Americans, reduce the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and help restore some normalcy to our lives and our country,” Dr. Redfield said in a statement. 

In addition to governmental reviews, state officials and public health organizations are also reviewing the safety of the Pfizer vaccine. The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, made up of scientists and experts representing California and other states, independently reviewed and endorsed the vaccine’s safety on Dec. 13. 

“This morning, the Workgroup recommended the Pfizer vaccine as safe for public use. With shipments of the vaccine soon on their way to California, we are working hand-in-hand with local public health officials to get the vaccine out to the first phase of recipients. Their work will continue as data becomes available on other potential vaccines,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. 

The National Medical Association, the largest national organization representing African American physicians and patients, has also formed a COVID-19 task force to offer a recommendation regarding the vaccine. 

California state officials expect to receive 327,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the upcoming week. The Moderna coronavirus vaccine is also expected to be approved by the FDA this month, and it’s expected that California will receive about 2.16 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines combined by the end of December. 

The Pfizer vaccine is given as two shots, administered 21 days apart. FDA documents note that the vaccine seems to provide “some protection” after the first shot, but it takes both doses to reach an efficacy of 95 %. 

Once the vaccines arrive in California, they will be sent to hospitals and other facilities that can store them at around minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Storage facilities confirmed so far include Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and UC San Francisco Medical Center. 

Priority for receiving the vaccine will go to health workers most likely to be exposed to COVID-19, as well as residents and staff of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. According to public health experts, vaccines will most likely be available for the general public in spring or summer 2021. 

As of Sunday night, the COVID-19 death toll in the United States since the pandemic was declared in March reached nearly 300,000. An estimated 16.2 million Americans have been infected. In California, there have been an estimated 21,043 deaths and 1.5 million reported cases. 

According to FDA documents, the vaccine does have some common adverse effects, including pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, chills, muscle or joint pain and fever. Long term effects of the vaccine are not yet known. 

The FDA has also warned against using the Pfizer vaccine for people who have had severe allergic reactions to ingredients used in this vaccine. Though severe allergic reactions to vaccines are rare, some participants in the Pfizer trial did experience adverse reactions, and the trial itself excluded people with a history of the severe allergic reaction anaphylaxis. 

In a Dec. 12 press conference, the FDA said it will continue to monitor severe allergic reactions associated with the vaccine.

 

From Forest to Faucet: The Health of Headwaters Determines Tap Water Quality

Dale Hunter | In Partnership with California Black Media 

Depending on where in California you live, some of the water from your faucet probably traveled hundreds of miles from its origins: either a melting snowbank in the high Sierra Nevada or a winter rainstorm that doused its foothills. 

That origin point, California’s headwaters, on average receive 60 % of the state’s annual precipitation falling as rain or snow. Californians consume roughly the same amount of water after it flows through streams and rivers into reservoirs, accounting for half of the state’s surface water storage. 

However, the harsh reality of destructive wildfires that mar every California warm season — especially this year — can also hit these headwater forests. When these catastrophic blazes, which are driven by climate change, burn through forests, they can affect water treatment because ash is washed into watershed streams and rivers. 

Intense heat from these fires bakes the ground into hardpan. Seasonal rains wash ashes off the surface into streams leading to reservoirs that feed water treatment plants. Water providers can still treat and deliver safe drinking water, but the ash makes the job more difficult because it adds sediment to the reservoirs. 

The good news is there are solutions within our reach. Work to achieve those solutions is underway in many parts of the Sierra Nevada and requires reversing a hundred years of well-intentioned, but ultimately destructive forest management. 

During most of the last century, wildland firefighting focused exclusively on preventing forest fires from starting. And When one did start, minimizing its size at all costs was the main priority. However, this strategy ignored the natural role of fire over millennia. Ignited by lightening or set by Native Americans who understood its value, natural fire kept forests thinned and healthy by removing excess undergrowth. These fires tended to creep along the forest floor and burn less hot and in more controlled patterns than today’s raging and record-setting conflagrations. 

However, large swaths of forests kept largely free from fire have overgrown. Instead of larger trees spaced apart, much of the Sierra Nevada headwater forests have become a thick carpet of smaller trees packed together and growing over dense underbrush. Years of severe and intermittent drought have cooked this vegetation into bone-dry kindling, explosive fire fuel that feeds all-consuming fires such as the ones that swept through California and the Pacific Northwest this year. 

Removing this undergrowth, thinning headwater forests back to their natural state and restoring the role of fire within the ecosystem represents a massive undertaking, but is not impossible. In California, public water agencies, environmental nonprofit organizations, as well as local and state agencies and the federal government are collaborating on many levels to enhance headwaters health, and in doing so protect the quality and reliability of our water supplies. 

Natural fire has partially returned through what are known as prescribed burns. Set outside of the height of fire season and closely monitored, this tactic has successfully cleared out overgrowth in limited sections of forest. There are risks, and these fires do affect air quality, but the alternative is far worse. Another tactic, although labor intensive, is employing work crews to manually thin sections of forests. These projects often use heavy machinery, such as masticators, which are tractor-mounted wood chippers. 

One example can be found in the Northern Sierra Nevada. The Placer County Water Agency (PCWA) is leading a public-private partnership that treated more than 1,000 acres of forest in the Lake Tahoe area during 2019. Over 10 years, this single project aims to restore health to 22,000 acres of forest within the headwaters of the American River, a major source of water for the Sacramento area. 

Making those forests less vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires will require a long-term financial commitment, as well as determination. However, as with many challenges with California water, collaboration involving water agencies has opened a clear path toward a more resilient future for our state’s water supply. 

About the Author 

Dale Hunter is Executive Director of the California African American Water Education Foundation (CAAWEF). It is a nonprofit water education organization focused on the African American community in California. Formed in 2019, CAAWEF is based in Sacramento. 

The information in this article is brought to you in partnership with the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), a non-profit statewide association of public water agencies whose more than 450 members are responsible for about 90 % of the water deliveries in California.

 


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