The 88th annual Academy Award ceremony is more than a month away, but Oscar chatter has been dominated by criticism of the extreme lack of diversity in this year's crop of nominees. Selma's David Oyelowo and Twelve Years a Slave's Lupita Nyong'o have expressed disappointment. Director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith have announced they won't be attending the ceremony. Even Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs has acknowledged that it's time for the Academy to "[take] dramatic steps to alter the makeup of [its] membership."
But not every Academy member is so willing to take the blame. The Hollywood Reporter interviewed several Oscar voters, who expressed frustration at being painted as "racist" simply because they consistently fail to recognize any of the many qualified people of color who are eligible for recognition.
"I voted for a number of black performers, and I was sorry they weren't nominated. But to imply that this is because all of us are racists is extremely offensive. [...] It was just an incredibly competitive year," said actors branch member Penelope Ann Miller.
Another voter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was even blunter: "I'm very offended by the idea that some people are calling us racists — race was the furthest thing from my mind when I cast my ballot, and in fact I nominated one person of color for an award." Scott Meslow
Akash Vukoti. Write it down, commit it to memory. You're likely going to be hearing a lot about this 6-year-old in the next 24 hours.
The youngest competitor by grade to ever to participate in the Scripps Spelling Bee, Vukoti was greeted by enthusiastic applause when he managed to spell the word "inviscate" Wednesday morning, and moved on to the next round.
Let's face it: "Inviscate" isn't even recognized by this computer's spell check (it means "to encase in a sticky substance," if you were wondering). This first-grader from San Angelo, Texas, may be pint-sized, but he's all brain. Just check out his favorite word — it's 45 letters long:
— Hannah Buehler (@HannahBuehler) May 24, 2016
Now try saying that three times fast. Jeva Lange
The makers of a new Katie Couric documentary on gun violence apparently deceptively edited an interview with gun rights activists to make them appear stumped by her question, The Washington Free Beacon reports. About 20 minutes into the documentary Under the Gun, Couric asks members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, "If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?"
The response? Dead silence, for about nine awkward seconds:
That's not how it really went down, though, according to activists who contacted the Free Beacon. In audio provided to the website, Couric's question is actually quickly met with answers, and the back and forth lasts about four minutes:
The gun rights activists have called the segment "unbelievable and extremely unprofessional." "[Couric] intentionally removed their answers and spliced in nine seconds of some prior video of our members sitting quietly and not responding. Viewers are left with the misunderstanding that the members had no answer to her question," Virginia Citizens Defense League president Philip Van Cleave said.
When asked about the edits, Nora Ryan, the chief of staff for EPIX, which is airing the documentary, said that the channel "stands behind Katie Couric, director Stephanie Soechtig, and their creative and editorial judgement." Jeva Lange
What Donald Trump's campaign likely thought was a brilliant plan to take down Hillary Clinton was quickly foiled Wednesday afternoon when a Trump spokeswoman did some errant emailing.
While Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks meant to respond to an email from Trump adviser Michael Caputo requesting that a researcher at the Republican National Committee "work up information on HRC/Whitewater as soon as possible" for "immediate use and for the afternoon talking points process," she ended up replying to Marc Caputo — a reporter at Politico. With the mistaken click of a button, the entire email thread — and, subsequently, the scoop on Trump's next plan of attack — was dropped into Politico's inbox.
RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer has defended the request for information on Whitewater — the Clinton scandal stemming from a failed real estate venture in the 1970s — as nothing more than "just another example of Republican campaigns up and down the ballot looking to us for the best information." Neither Spicer nor Hicks provided any further clues as to when or how Trump will be using that requested information, though it goes without saying his coming attack will involve the word "crooked." Becca Stanek
Eleven states are represented in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Obama administration, challenging federal guidelines that require schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Wichita Falls, Texas, is in response to a directive released earlier in May by the Obama administration, which critics say oversteps the government's bounds. The lawsuit accused the administration of trying to turn schools and workplaces into "laboratories for a massive social experiment."
On Tuesday, the Justice Department and North Carolina filed competing lawsuits concerning a law in the state that bans transgender people from using bathrooms that don't correspond to the gender identified on their birth certificate. Jeva Lange
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams insisted Wednesday that the city will be ready for whatever the Republican National Convention may bring, be it protesters or riots. "A lot has been said about whether or not Cleveland is prepared for the RNC in about 50 days here. I have to tell you, we are prepared. I can't stress enough that we are prepared for this," he said.
The city attorney, Richard Hovarth, also announced temporary regulations for the area around the convention, including a ban on bringing lumber, fireworks, explosives, drones, ice chests and coolers, or ladders into the vicinity. Guns, noticeably, were not explicitly banned, although Ohio is an open-carry state.
The city has also bid for sets of body armor, conversion vans to transport prisoners, 2,000 sets of riot gear, 10,000 sets of plastic handcuffs, night vision goggles, motorcycles, and a horse trailer.
While violence is no certainty, riotous protests did break out Tuesday in New Mexico at Trump's first campaign rally in two weeks, with people throwing plastic bottles, burning Trump T-shirts, and hurling rocks at the police. Some heading to Cleveland this July have gone so far as to take self-defense classes similar to those given to journalists before they go into war zones. Jeva Lange
Civilians awaiting rescue in Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital, might not actually be that thrilled about their impending liberation. That's because, as CNN reports, given the choice between liberation by the predominantly Kurdish (and U.S.-backed) Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and rule under ISIS, Syrians in Raqqa may actually choose to "throw their lot" behind the terrorist group. As one tweet from the activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently put it, the "strategy of taking Raqqa by SDF ... [may] push a lot of people to join ISIS."
While the inhabitants of Raqqa may not quite be enjoying life since ISIS seized the city in 2013, ethnic tensions have Raqqa's Arabs leery of their potential liberators:
Backed by the United States, the Syrian Democratic Forces are a coalition of Kurdish, Assyrian, Christian, Arab tribal and other forces. But they are dominated by the Kurdish YPG, the Popular Defense Units. In other words, it's a Kurdish armed force with a multi-ethnic façade, and the Arabs of Raqqa could well be worried about their intentions in a post-ISIS Syria. [CNN]
The conundrum is one deeply rooted in history. The Kurds have long been suspected of trying to create a separate state from Syria and Iraq, CNN notes, which has Raqqa residents wary; when they see a predominantly Kurdish force coming to clear the countryside north of the city, the question arises of whether they're truly coming to rescue them, or just to take their land. Thus far, the SDF has promised its efforts are not aimed at the city itself.
The Obama family's tenure in the White House isn't quite over, but they're already planning their post-presidential digs. News broke Wednesday that the first family reportedly has plans to lease this 8,200-square-foot pad in the Washington D.C. neighborhood of Kalorama come January:
— Washingtonian (@washingtonian) May 25, 2016
The Obamas announced in March that they would be staying in D.C. after President Obama's second term ends to let their younger daughter, Sasha, finish high school.
The house — which is owned by NFL Executive Vice President of Communications Joe Lockhart and his wife, Giovanna Gray Lockhart, the Washington editor of Glamour — last sold in May 2014 for $5,295,000. It sits on about a quarter-acre of land and has nine bedrooms, eight-and-a-half bathrooms, and a spacious backyard.