Felicia Middlebrooks, co-anchor of Morning Drive Program on Chicago’s WBBM Newsradio 780, moderated the Gene Siskel Film Center’s annual Oscars Nominations Panel on January 23. She discusses her Oscar picks and why the film The Post is relevant today. She also voices her opinions about Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig on their history-making nominations for Best Director. Middlebrooks also talks about her film production and her award-winning film Somebody’s Child: The Redemption of Rwanda.
Stephanie A. Taylor (SAT): Tell me how you became the moderator for the GSFC’s Oscars nominations panel.
Felicia Middlebrooks (FM): Well, I think I’m the newest member of the Gene Siskel Film Center Board. I’m mainly known in Chicago as a journalist. But my love for news and journalism has always run parallel to my love for film. And so, this is the first year that I got a chance to participate in the event. I’d just heard about it, so I was really flattered when I was asked to moderate. I didn’t quite know what to expect.
SAT: This is my second year covering it, it’s always a treat!
FM: I was really being honest when I walked up to the podium and said ‘when they first asked me, I got scared because they said these critics are very vocal, energetic, lively and they can get kind of wild; which is why I brought my mega phone.’ It was a lot of fun and very insightful.
SAT: While moderating you didn’t have much time to name your favorite nominated films. What are they?
FM: I have several. I absolutely loved The Post because chiefly I am a journalist and it’s a film about what we do. And I think it emphasized the professionalism of depths of study and integrity that are partial to our industry. We are really under attack with this whole “fake news” syndrome. I loved Three Billboards. I loved The Shape of Water. I also give high marks to Get Out and The Darkest Hour. I have a lot of favorites. The Shape of Water was just beautiful. It was eye candy, cinematically. I look at film with a different eye, now that I have a degree in film. I went back and attained that degree so it make me a better feature filmmaker. I’ve only done one documentary and hope to do more documentaries and feature films. But I wanted to educate myself so I can understand every facet of filmmaking.
SAT: Do you have any favorite films that were snubbed by the Academy?
FM: I thought Mudbound should’ve gotten more attention. Especially for the category of Best Director. Dee Rees was left out and I thought that was really a mistake. It was definitely an oversight.
SAT: Any others?
FM: I agree on the other choices they made on this list. Overall, Mudbound didn’t get the kind of props it should have. The director of cinematography, Rachel Morrison, did get nominated for Best Cinematography. She was the only woman of that category. Well-deserved, in my humble opinion.
SAT: Who do you think should bring home the gold for Best Film?
FM: I think I would give it to either The Post or The Darkest Hour.
SAT: Why is The Darkest Hour one of your picks?
FM: I thought it was a spot- on betrayal of Winston Churchill by Gary Oldman. It was almost as if he was channeling Churchill. The prosthetics and makeup certainly helped his myopics. I thought he did a phenomenal job. It was brilliantly done.
SAT: Jordan Peele is the fifth Black director to be nominated for best director, while Greta Gerwig is the fifth woman. Tell me your thoughts on that.
FM: I think it’s long overdue and I think it’s sad at this day and point and time that it’s still a distinction we need to talk about.
SAT: Do you think that this is at least a crack in the eggshell for this day and age?
FM: We have so far to go… so far to go. The list of nominations speak for themselves. There are certain entities that are just almost invisible. I’m very happy to see Jordan on the list. I think he did a phenomenal job. In fact, I think Get Out should get Best Original Screenplay, for sure. I think it was genre bending. They almost didn’t know how to classify it. They almost classified it as a comedy. But, I think it was a social commentary more than anything else. I thought it was brave of him to take on that subject matter which people talk about privately. I’m glad Greta is on the list as well. I thought Lady Bird was insightful and refreshing, in terms of exploring the mother-daughter dynamic. It’s something we don’t talk about enough. We don’t see that on the big screen often enough. It’s based on a true story.
SAT: How did Saltshaker Productions come about?
FM: I started it back in ‘96 or so, with the purpose of doing documentary work. The reason I chose salt was for its properties. It’s a play-on-words. I wanted to do stories that were redemptive, restorative and consoling for the soul and flavor for the senses. I came up with that because I love the properties of salt. It’s healing, it’s flavorful and it’s cleansing.
SAT: Tell me more about Somebody’s Child: The Redemption of Rwanda.
I was part of a women’s bible study. One of the women asked me on behalf of a nonprofit called Hands of Hope. She said the president of the organization would like to invite me to moderate an event. She talked to me about her nonprofit and it was formed to specifically help women in Africa who were forced to go through genital mutilation. A gynecologist had gone to Africa who was important to the continent where this practice was done by people of the Muslim faith in Africa. And, they were there to try to repair the damage that was done to these young women. She was so taken by the work that she formed her own non-profit called Hands of Hope.
When I spoke to her, I really got to know her. I also became passionate about helping women in Africa at that point. A few months later, she said the First Lady and President of Uganda invited her non profit to Uganda to see their work. They were doing such great work under that government. She asked if I’d like to go. I thought, ‘I’d love to go as a reporter to go and chronicle what I’ve seen and what I would witness.’ Then I found out that World Relief, an international nonprofit was spearheading the effort. They sent a presskit and said that they were also going to Rwanda.
So, it was Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo. This was in 2004, the 10th anniversary of the genocide that killed over one million people. I had my small production company and I sent a small crew ahead of me. We had production meetings and it was at that point that I decided to do a documentary.
I never done one before. But, I knew how to write a story. I did my research and I spoke with my mentor Bill Curtis, who had his own production company who did work for A&E who said everything was done correctly. And so I made my way to Rwanda.
It was life changing. I interviewed scores of survivors. I witnessed the churches and museums that they had that commemorated the dead. I wanted to make sure that I educated on why the genocide happened. It was all rooted in colonialism. They were fine until the European Invasion of their country, which put one tribe against another. Otherwise they were a very peace loving people. Hotel Rwanda was being shot at the same time as my documentary but it didn’t tell the whole story. A lot of people thought it was fantastic but they still didn't understand why the conflict occurred. So, I felt it was my job to tell it as a journalist. And that’s what I did.
© Stephanie A. Taylor (2/7/18) FF2 Media
Middle Photo: From GSFC (from left): Jim Jones, Sergio Mims, Pam Powell. Felicia Middlebrooks, Ray Pride & Michael Phillips.
Featured photo & Bottom Photo: Felicia Middlebrooks; Photo Credits: Brigid Presecky (1/23/18)
Editor's Note: Felicia Middlebrooks was the special guest at Chicago's 2007 International SWAN Day program, where she screened Somebody’s Child: The Redemption of Rwanda for a standing room only audience at the Landmark Century Center. Click here to see more pix from this celebration, co-sponsored by AWJ (the Association for Women Journalists), AAUW-Illinois, IWA (International Women Associates), IWPA (the Illinois Woman's Press Association), WIF-Chicago (Chicago Women in Film) & WITASWAN (Women in the Audience Supporting Women Artists now).
Final Photo from '07 courtesy of Jan Lisa Huttner (3/31/07)