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Mississippi’s impact on the Academy Awards as well as the arts world

February 29th, 2012 3 comments

Morgan Freeman at the Governors Ball following the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.

At one point during the Academy Awards presentation last week, I was taken aback by the indelible mark Mississippi and Mississippians were making on the film industry at that very moment.

Sure everyone knew about “The Help”, and wondered if the Kathryn Stockett book, then turned into a movie could pull the upset and win for Best Picture. And yes, we all were keenly aware of Octavia Spencer winning an Oscar for her role in that movie.

But, there was more — much, much more.

Our own Morgan Freeman — a winner of an Oscar for acting and a cast member of three Best Picture winners, not to mention his best movie, “Shawshank Redemption,” which is recognized as one of Top 100 movies of all time — was the leadoff hitter for the show as a presenter.

“The Muppet Movie” (remember Jim Henson) won an award, and then the academy recognized Mississippi natives James Earl Jones (that’s Darth Vader to my kids and Terrance Mann to me) and Oprah Winfrey (no description needed) with Oscars.

Their awards were part of the Governors Awards, which were launched three years ago.

With Mississippi in the midst of boosting its image among film big shots as part of a Creative Economy campaign, the state couldn’t have had a bigger and more positive night in the spotlight.

I don’t have any particular numbers to back this up, but I would suspect that Mississippi — per capita — had a bigger impact on the Academy Awards in 2012 than any other state in America.

Add that to our world-wide impact on literature as well as the music industry and there is a case to be made that Mississippi should be considered to have had the most positive historical influence on arts in America — ever.

People will come Ray; they will come for B.B.

May 27th, 2011 Comments off

Hey, I realize it’s baseball season, and the Red Sox are on a roll, but please forgive me because I apparently have the movie “Field of Dreams” on my mind.
I think I even responded to my wife, Sarah, last night, saying, “It’s OK, honey. I… I was just talking to the cornfield.”
Fantasy is fun to play with from time to time. You know, you see a billboard that reads, “Lottery, $125 million,” and you immediately begin to think about what you would do with the money.
Uh, No. 1, buy a luxury suite at Fenway Park.
Oh, sorry.
Dreaming?
Well, I must be, because the Mississippi Business Journal has reported that the Farish Street Entertainment District boondoggle that everyone (I mean everyone) said would never happen, has signed a 15-year lease with an old blues guy.
Maybe you know of him.
He’s from Indianola — a guy by the name of Riley.
No, he’s not my cousin. We spell ours funny.
Anyway, I think his momma was the only one to call him that.
Most folks just call him B.B.
Yep, the B.B. King’s Blues Club, in conjunction with Beale Street Blues Co., has signed a 15-year lease on the former Star Laundry building on Farish Street, putting in place a key element in the plans of Watkins Development to bring life back to a street that once served as a key entertainment and shopping destination for Jackson’s African-American residents.
Build it and they will come, the voice in the cornfield said.
Well, if there were ever time to believe the voice, now may be it.
When I lived in Greenville years ago, there were lots of swirling rumors that representatives of B.B. King were involved to financing everything from a downtown entertainment district to a casino and blues museum.
However, King’s representatives would never comment when we called for confirmation.
So, imagine my level of scoffing when I arrived in Jackson three years ago and immediately led on a tour of the proposed Farish Street project with the dream of having B.B. King anchor the district.
Yeah, well, I had heard that song and dance before.
OK, so now I am on board.
If B.B. King’s Blues Club indeed arrives at the corners of Amite and Farish as the anchor for the entire district, you can begin the countdown on the announcement that success has been realized in the revitalization of downtown Jackson.
There will still be doubters. There always are, but “Ray, people will come.
“They’ll come to (Jackson) for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up (on Farish Street) not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive … as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere … (like) when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch … and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. But (blues) has marked the time. This (place) … it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Sure, I know I am the crazy guy in the cornfield, but I believe that an event like this can be the tipping point for an entire community, a business district and ultimately a city.
People will come.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.