Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters yesterday announced that University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing has been
indicted by a grand jury on murder charges for the shooting death of 43-year-old
Cincinnati resident Samuel Dubose. Deters also released body camera footage of the shooting at a news conference yesterday.
Hundreds took to the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse, and later to the streets of downtown, following the announcement. Tensing was arraigned on those charges this morning. He plead not guilty and is being held on a $1 million bond.
Deters had harsh words for Tensing, calling his shooting of Dubose “the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make” and stating that Tensing should never have been a cop in the first place.
Deters repeatedly told members of the media that he could not speak candidly about his feelings, at one point calling the traffic stop itself “chicken crap.” Deters said he was shocked by the video and sad for the community.
“I couldn't believe it,” Deters said of the body cam footage. “I just could not believe it.”
WARNING: GRAPHIC FOOTAGE
Officials played a portion of Tensing’s body cam video at the press conference. The entire video will be made available, Deters said.
Deters’ description of the encounter sharply contradicts Tensing’s story.
"This does not happen in the United States," Deters said. "People don't get shot for a traffic stop. ... He was simply rolling away."
During the press conference, Deters referenced a latter portion of the video showing officers after Tensing shot Dubose discussing what had happened. Deters expressed skepticism toward some of Tensing’s comments after the incident, including his arm being caught in the car. Police will investigate collusion with other officers, Deters said.
“He said he got his arm stuck in the steering wheel,” Deters said. “You just have to watch it.”
“I think he was making an excuse for a purposeful killing of another person,” Deters added. “That’s what I think.”
Tensing’s initial explanation was that Dubose started to drive off during a traffic stop in Mount Auburn over a missing license plate, nearly running him over. Tensing says he was then forced to shoot Dubose in the head because he was being dragged by the car and his life was in danger. Tensing said he suffered minor injuries when he fell to the ground as Dubose’s car rolled away.
Dubose's family said they were thankful for the grand jury's decision.
"I thank God that everything is being uncovered," said Audrey Dubose, Samuel's mother. "This one did not go unsolved and hidden."
Audrey Dubose pledged to continue fighting against police injustice, calling for body cameras for all police departments. She said many others have died at the hands of police unnecessarily.
"My son was killed by cop unjustly," she said. "I gotta know many more are killed unjustly. I'm going to be on the battlefield for them."
City leaders delayed a scheduled a news conference at 2 p.m. in order to let the Dubose family speak after Deters. Officials praised the grand jury's decision, saying that the city simply wanted truth about the incident to come out. Mayor John Cranley called for demonstrators to remain peaceful if they took to the streets. City Manager Harry Black said the Cincinnati Police Department will soon get body cameras similar to the one that played a pivotal role in the Dubose shooting investigation. University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono, meanwhile, revealed that Tensing had been fired from the University of Cincinnati Police Department. He also responded to an earlier suggestion from Deters, who said the school should disband its police force and let CPD patrol campus. Ono said the school has not yet considered that option.
More than 500 people including Mayor John Cranley, City Manager Harry Black and State Sen. Cecil Thomas attended Dubose’s funeral services at Church of the Living God in Avondale yesterday, where the father, musician and entrepreneur was laid to rest. His mother and other family members remembered him as a kind and loving man who nevertheless had a deep, sometimes complicated independent streak. Dubose was buried at Landmark Memorial Gardens in Evendale.
Until today, Deters had declined to release video footage, a decision that caused protests. Deters said the protests did not affect his decision to finally release the footage. He lauded the protesters for being peaceful and praised the Dubose family.
City Manager Black had been briefed on the video and called it “a bad situation,” saying, “someone has died who did not necessarily have to die.” Mayor Cranley met with the Dubose family this morning.
Tensing, 25, hasn’t had major disciplinary actions on his record and his superiors have spoken highly of him. He started at UC last year after serving with the Green Hills Police Department, where he started as a part-time officer in 2011. Tensing has retained Stew Matthews, a Cincinnati attorney, for his defense.
During the press conference, Deters called for the disbanding of the University of Cincinnati police department. He said he has spoken with UC’s president and Cincinnati police about disbanding the unit, replacing it with CPD.
“I just don’t think a university should be in a policing business,” Deters said. “I just don’t. I think CPD should be doing the entire campus.”
Black Lives Matter has scheduled a rally for 6:30 p.m. at the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office.
Good morning all. Here’s the news today. The biggest story is the possible release of a grand jury decision and/or body camera footage in the case of Samuel Dubose.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference about the death of Dubose at the hands of University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing July 19. Deters has confirmed he will release the body camera footage of the shooting today, and may announce the results of a grand jury probe into that shooting. The University of Cincinnati will shut down at 11 a.m. in preparation for Deter’s announcement, suggesting something major will be divulged at the event. City leaders have scheduled a response news conference at 2 p.m.
""The University of Cincinnati will cancel all classes on the Uptown and Medical campuses at 11:00 a.m. today including all classes in session at that time," a UC e-mail to employees and students said. "Offices on these campuses also will close at 11:00 a.m. This decision is made with an abundance of caution in anticipation of today’s announcement of the Hamilton County grand jury’s decision regarding the July 19 officer-involved shooting of Samuel Dubose and the release of the officer’s body camera video. We realize this is a challenging time for our university community."
Questions continue over Dubose’s death. Tensing’s story is that Dubose started to drive off during a traffic stop in Mount Auburn over a missing license plate, nearly running him over. Tensing says he was then forced to shoot Dubose in the head because he was being dragged by the car and his life was in danger. Tensing suffered minor injuries when he fell to the ground as Dubose’s car rolled away. But Dubose’s family and some activists have expressed skepticism about that chain of events.
Yesterday was the funeral for Dubose. More than 500 people including Mayor John Cranley, City Manager Harry Black and State Sen Cecil Thomas attended the services at Church of the Living God in Avondale where the father, musician and entrepreneur was laid to rest. His mother Audrey Dubose and other family members remembered him as a kind and loving man who nevertheless had a deep, sometimes complicated independent streak. Some friends knew him as the man who started the Ruthless Riders, a black motorcycle club, and as a talented rapper and producer. The service and its immediate aftermath were at times somber, but devoid of anger. Family, friends and faith leaders called for answers to Dubose’s death, but also stressed they did not want to see violence or unrest in the wake of his killing. Dubose was buried at Landmark Memorial Gardens in Evendale.
Thus far, the prosecutor has declined to release video footage for the time being as his office presents evidence to a grand jury, causing protests. The grand jury could decide to indict Tensing on charges ranging from aggravated murder, which carries a potential death sentence, to negligent homicide, a misdemeanor. City Manager Harry Black has been briefed on that video and has called it “a bad situation,” saying that, “someone has been died who did not necessarily have to die.” Tensing, 25, hasn’t had major disciplinary actions on his record and his superiors have spoken highly of him. He started at UC last year after serving with the Green Hills Police Department, where he started as a part-time officer in 2011. Tensing has retained Stew Matthews, a Cincinnati attorney, for his defense in the event he is indicted.
Most classes and events require registration; classes frequently sell out.
Hey Cincinnati! I'm Natalie, a new staff writer here at CityBeat covering news. You may have already seen a byline or two of mine. Expect to see more! I'm giving Nick a little break today and taking on my first morning round-up of headlines. Here's what's happening.
The family of Samuel Dubose, the man who was shot a week ago by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, has hired the former attorney of controversial neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who shot unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in 2012. Attorney Mark O'Mara has already begun to question officials on the release ofTensing's body camera footage. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has declined to release the footage at this time, saying it could jeopardize a fair trial for the officer. O'Mara says he plans to join the lawsuit filed by the Associated Press, the Enquirer and four local television stations, but could file his own suit as well. Dubose was shot by Tensing on July 19 in Mount Auburn when he was stopped for missing the front license place on his car.
• Cincinnati has a new Assistant Police Chief. Police Captain Eliot Isaac was sworn in to his position Monday afternoon. Isaac has 26 years experience with the Cincinnati Police Department and was chosen unanimously. He was promoted to captain in 2004 and his other previous positions include District 4 commander, criminal investigation commander, internal investigations commander and night chief. He's replacing Paul Humpheries, who left the department in June to head security at Coca Cola Beverages in Florida after nearly 30 years on the force.
• You’ll have to get your home fries and bacon elsewhere for a bit. Over-the-Rhine greasy spoon and 70-year-old community institution Tucker’s was damaged July 27 by a fire and is currently closed. The fire did extensive damage to the Vine Street fixture’s kitchen, and owner Joe Tucker says it’s unclear when it will reopen. Tucker’s parents opened the restaurant in 1946.
• After missing out on a huge political convention, Cincy's U.S. Bank Arena will be getting a huge renovation that could make the city more competitive in vying for major events. Arena owners Nederlander Entertainment and AEG Facilities announced today that the renovation will increase the stadium's capacity by 500 to 18,500. It will also have up to 1,750 club seats — a vast improvement over current numbers — and add a new suite level closer to the stage. The lack of available suites was one of the major reasons that Cincinnati its bid lost the Republican National Convention to Cleveland. In addition to its increased capacity, the arena will also sport a new glass facade and other improvements. Cost for the renovations were not released by the owners.
• Covington is once again struggling to find ways to pay for its police and fire departments. Over the last 10 years, the city has reduced staffing for police and fire, and now some residents are worried there aren't enough to properly look after the city, which has a relatively small population for some of the challenges it struggles with including poverty and higher crime rates. The city's woes are long-running in this regard: Covington has been struggling to fully pay for basic services like law enforcement since the 1970s for a variety of social and economic reasons. Some there say it's time to raise taxes to make sure there are enough cops on the beat, while others have pushed back against proposed tax increases.
Hey all! Hope your weekend was grand. Here’s the news today.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are a number of events going on downtown to commemorate the historic federal law, which works to guarantee equal rights for those with disabilities. A rally and presentations about the history and impact of the law kicked off at City Hall at 9 a.m. this morning, followed by a march to Fountain Square, where ADA-related events will take place through this afternoon. We’ll have more on the events and the ADA’s legacy later.
• On the one-week anniversary of the University of Cincinnati Police shooting death of Samuel Dubose in Mount Auburn, protesters gathered yesterday outside UC’s Public Safety office to demand answers about the incident. More than 100 people showed up for the protest, many of whom later marched down Vine Street to the site of Dubose’s death half a mile away. Driving rain didn’t keep family members, friends and activists from gathering and remembering Dubose, calling for the release of tapes showing the incident, and the removal of UC Police Officer Ray Tensing, who shot Dubose. Officials say Dubose was stopped due to a missing front license plate on his car. His license was suspended at the time, and Tensing ordered Dubose to leave his vehicle. Dubose refused, according to police, and a struggle ensued. Police say Dubose started his car and began driving away, dragging Tensing with him. Tensing then shot Dubose in the head and fell away from the car. Family, friends and police-accountability activists, however, question this version of events. They say footage from Tensing’s body camera and possible security footage from a nearby building could tell a different story. At least some of that footage is now in the hands of Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, who has said he will not release it at this time. City Manager Harry Black made comments today about the shooting, saying he's been briefed about the video and that "someone has died who did not necessarily have to die." Black refused to elaborate further on the situation.
• The head of Ohio’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, one of the nation’s oldest and highest-profile marijuana legalization groups, was ousted in June, and he says his removal is due to his support of another legalization effort. Rob Ryan, who lives in Blue Ash, was removed as president of Ohio NORML after he came out in support of ResponsibleOhio, a ballot initiative that is seeking to legalize marijuana use for anyone above 21 and establish 10 legal marijuana grow sites around the state owned by the group’s investors. Now Ryan says he was dismissed due to his support for that group. But NORML officials say his removal had more to do with his personality, charging that he has been rude and even abusive to NORML members who don’t support ResponsibleOhio. The ballot initiative to create a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana has deep Cincinnati ties and has been very controversial due to its limitations on who can grow the drug commercially. The group is now also in a frantic, last-minute scramble to get more than 30,000 valid signatures from voters across the state after a past petition drive fell short of the 300,000 signatures required to land a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. The group has until next month to collect those signatures.
• Northside is getting a new spot for cold, sweet treats. Dojo Gelato, a Findlay Market fixture for years, will move to its first stand-alone store at the old J.F. Dairy Corner on Blue Rock Avenue right around the time it starts getting warm again next year. Owner Michael Cristner lives in the neighborhood, and has been looking to set up permanent shop there for some time. I do really love Dojo’s affogato with the Mexican vanilla and Dutch chocolate, but I’m also a big adherent of Putz’s Creamy Whip down the street. Blue ice cream with a cherry dip, y’all. I guess I’ll just have to double my ice cream/gelato intake.
• Gov. John Kasich, it seems, can be downright postmodern in his view on today’s big policy questions as he tries to convince Republicans he’s their man to run for president. At recent campaign stops, Kasich has shrugged off the tyranny of the solid, sure answer for an acknowledgement that the world is absolutely insane, knowledge is illusory and none of us can really know anything. OK, so that’s a pretty big exaggeration on my part. But the guv has been uttering the phrase “I don’t know” a lot on the trail in response to policy questions. Does it show he’s honest? Still formulating his positions carefully and with intellectual rigor? Or is he just kind of a wimp who won’t commit to an answer? Time will tell. In the meantime, John, can I suggest some real page-turners by this guy Baudrillard? There is more and more information in the world, Mr. Kasich, and less and less meaning, and we both know it.
• Speaking of the complete shattering of the fallacy that the world is a rational place, new polls continue to show real-estate magnate and hairpiece-addiction spokesman Donald Trump leading the field of GOP hopefuls. He’s sitting at 18 percent in the crowded contest, three points above next-best contender, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and eight points ahead of the third-place contestant in this wacky gameshow, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Do I need to give another rundown of recent Trump events? He said former POW and Republican Arizona Senator John McCain isn’t a hero because he got caught by the enemy. He equated Mexican immigrants with criminals and rapists and received a death threat from notorious cartel leader El Chapo. Via Twitter. Give him this: the guy knows how to get attention and has never met a question he wants to answer with “I don’t know.”
Cincinnati Opera winds up its 95th season in truly grand operatic
fashion with an opulent production of Puccini’s Turandot. The singing is (mostly) sublime, the spectacle is lavish
and all the production elements are executed with stylish precision.
The opera is a fantasy based on a play by the Venetian Carlo Gozzi. Turandot is
a Chinese princess bent on revenge for the rape and murder of an ancient
ancestor. If a prospective suitor fails to answer three riddles, off with his
head. That doesn’t discourage Prince Calaf, who manages to solve the riddles
and melt the ice princess’s reserve. Oh yes indeed, this is a fairy tale.
It’s also Puccini’s grandest opera with fabulous music incorporating romance,
drama and Chinese folk melodies. The score was unfinished when Puccini died in
1924; composer Franco Alfano composed the final section using Puccini’s
sketches. Despite Calaf’s signature aria “Nessun Dorma,” the best music belongs
to the chorus and the two female leads.
Biggest ups to the chorus. They sing with power, precision and a remarkable dynamic
control thanks to Chorusmaster Henri Venanzi, who celebrates his 41st year with
the CO. Unlike most other operas that feature one big choral number and that’s
it, Turandot’s chorus is onstage for
almost the entire piece.
Marcy Stonikas is a formidable Turandot, physically and vocally. Her voice has
the cold, steely edge for an ice princess but there’s a hint of warmth that
fully emerged in the final scene to convey a sense of humanity. “In questa
reggia” is Turandot’s big aria and Stonikas did not disappoint. Hers is one of
the most exciting voices I’ve heard in a long time and I hope she’ll be back.
The role of the slave Liu usually steals the shows and this was no exception.
French soprano Norah Amsellem sings with haunting delicacy and tremendous
power. It’s a performance to savor, and she garnered the evening’s loudest
ovations. And her limping on the stage was no act — she injured an ankle
earlier in the week and was using a brace.
Frank Porretta’s Calaf was barely audible in the first act. He may have been
having vocal problems because he powered up in the second act, but “Nessun
Dorma” was under pitch and lagged behind the orchestra. Let’s hope he recovers
for the remaining performances.
As the court officials Ping, Pang and Pong, Jonathan Beyer, Julius Ahn and
Joseph Hu were genuinely responsive Puccini’s score, offering characters
ironically comic and human as they sing of returning home. They also executed a
vaudeville soft shoe routine with panache.
Bass Andrea Mastroni made an impressive debut as Calaf’s father, Timur. Tenor
Chris Merritt sang the Emperor Altoum with poignant beauty.
Under the baton of Ramón Tebar, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra gave a
stunning performance of this magnificent score. There are so many gorgeous
subtleties, from the loudest of gongs to shimmering woodwinds and strings, and
they were heard to wonderful effect.
Red is the operative color for André Barbe’s sets and costumes, with black and
white running close seconds. A huge red lacquer arch is the main set piece,
punctuated by huge white heads on pikes, reminders of the executed princes. The
chorus, mandarins and dancers are swathed in black and red. Ping, Pang and Pong
sport sky-blue robes, and Turandot and Emperor Altoum are garbed in white. It’s
opulent but never excessive.
Most impressive are Renaud Doucet’s staging and choreography. The huge cast of
choristers, supernumeraries and dancers move with confidence and precision. Fortunately
for us all, the leads are equally graceful and they respond to each other with
more than outstretched arms. Doucet creates stage pictures that, for all their
scope, never lose focus on the performers. The dancers are a special pleasure.
Their costumes with multiple flags projecting from the back don’t make for easy
movement, but they make it look effortless.
Go see it. And go hear it. There aren’t many opportunities to see spectacle like this, unless it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber, who mined Puccini’s melodies for inspiration. Puccini did it way better.
MORE STUFF TO DO:
You may have seen recent 2014 American Community Survey data released by the U.S. Census Bureau showing that bicycle commuting continues to rise.
Cincinnati has been one of the cities leading the way in that growth, it turns out.
The League of American Bicyclists recently analyzed those ACS numbers and came up with data showing where cycling and bike commuting are biggest and growing fastest. While Cincinnati ranked 31st among the 70 biggest U.S. cities in terms of share of cyclists commuting to work (we’re at just under 1 percent), the number of bike commuters here is growing faster than just about anywhere else in the country.
Bike commuting in Cincinnati increased by 350 percent last year, according to the ACS. That’s more than any other major city besides Detroit, which saw a 403 percent boost, and Pittsburgh, which saw bicycle commuting go up by 360 percent.
Cincinnati easily beat out other Ohio cities, including Columbus (ranked 36th with .8 percent of commutes happening by bike) and Cleveland (ranked 40th with .7 percent).
The city with the top percentage of bicycle commuters is, predictably, Portland, Ore., where more than 7 percent of commutes are taken by bicycle. The city has more than 23,000 cyclists. Oregon is tops in terms of states when it comes to bike commuters, as well. Ohio is well down that list, ranking 36th.
As a bike commuter, I'm excited that I have more company on the roads. You can read the whole League of American Bicyclists report here.
Hello all. Hope you enjoyed your weekend. Yesterday was the ideal day weatherwise, so if you stayed inside all day, well, that sucks for you. I went to a pumpkin festival at Lobenstein farms in Indiana, where I got a strange white pumpkin that I believe is probably haunted. I also had the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever eaten and some amazing fried chicken. So I’d say it all balances out. Anyway, none of that is news. This is news.
First — it’s the last day to go register to vote for the November election. Go do that now. Though there aren’t any major public officials to weigh in on this year, there are several very important ballot issues, including changes to the redistricting process for Ohio’s State House seats, whether to create a state-sanctioned,10-farm weed monopoly to legalize marijuana and whether to pass a levy that would provide millions to new park projects. So. Go register. I’ll wait.
• Over the weekend, The Cincinnati Enquirer posted, then took down, a story about changes to the city’s urban conservator office and Historic Conservation Board, which help decide questions of historic preservation, demolition permits and the like. Basically, these bodies help mediate the push-pull between developers who want to build buildings at maximum profit and community members and historic preservation advocates who want to save old buildings that contribute to the character of Cincy’s neighborhoods.
Lately, there have been shake ups on both the board and with the urban conservator, who was unceremoniously removed from his post in late August. Meanwhile, four of the board’s six members are newcomers who have contributed to Mayor John Cranley’s campaign. Some, including some Over-the-Rhine community leaders, see this as a politicizing of these decision-making bodies and a possible weakening of the city’s historic preservation safeguards to the benefit of developers friendly with Cranley. But others defend the changes, saying rotation on the board is healthy to get fresh perspectives on historic conservation. The Enquirer says it took down the story because it accidentally posted an unedited version a couple days ahead of schedule. You can read the original version, which does contain some errors, in this Facebook post by transit activist and OTR resident Derek Bauman. It will be interesting to read the final version of that story when it finally comes out.
• A group of activists will take to City Hall today to protest the pending closing of Cincinnati’s last women’s clinic that provides abortions. More than 100 people are confirmed for the rally on a Facebook event posted by the group, which says it is protesting to get city officials to express support for abortion rights and opposition to the clinic’s closure. Several Democratic city officials have already expressed support for Planned Parenthood.
The Elizabeth Campbell Medical Center in Mount Auburn, which is run by Planned Parenthood, was denied a license renewal by the Ohio Department of Health last week. It is staying open pending an appeal of that decision, but could close immediately if federal courts find in favor of the state. That would make Cincinnati the largest metropolitan area in the country without direct access to abortions. The Women’s Med Clinic in Dayton faces a similar situation with the ODH; if both shut down, the entirety of Southwestern Ohio would be without direct access to abortion services. Today’s rally begins at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.
• Meanwhile, most city officials will be away from City Hall at Great American Ball Park this afternoon for Mayor John Cranley’s second state of the city speech, where he’ll unveil his priorities for the coming year. Among those priorities is a task force aimed at lifting 10,000 children and 5,000 adults out of poverty. The task force will be expected to deliver a set of action steps by June 30 for that goal. In 2012, more than half of the city’s children lived in poverty. That ratio has gone down to 44 percent since, but it’s unclear why that is. Whatever the reason, city officials say that’s still far too many kids without basic needs. Ohio’s childhood poverty rate is 23 percent and the nation’s is 22.
Cranley will likely talk about other priorities he has for the coming year, including an initiative to raise millions for Cincinnati parks by putting a permanent property tax levy into the city’s charter so the city can issue bonds for capital projects in the parks. Projects such as the Wasson Way bike trail, a redevelopment of Burnet Woods and other money-intensive efforts are on the slate should that levy pass in November.
Here are some quick notes about state and national politics/other news:
• The state of Ohio is getting tons of money for charter schools, despite recent scandals about data-fixing in the Ohio Department of Education and generally lagging performance from those schools. The U.S. Department of Education is awarding eight states money for their charter programs, and Ohio is among them. Despite being the lowest-performing of the eight, the state could receive more than $70 million for the privately run, publicly funded schools, the most of any of the eight states. The story linked above has more information and is definitely worth a read.
• U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has raised a big old mountain of cash from Republican donors in his re-election bid. Portman will face either former Ohio governor Ted Strickland or Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld in the general election next year, both of whom trail Portman’s $2 million quarterly fundraising haul significantly. That’s not the whole story, however. Democratic primary frontrunner Strickland is polling dead even with Portman and in some polls surpassing him, despite the fundraising deficit. Many political observers predict the race to be among the most costly in the country as Dems and the GOP battle it out for control of the Senate in a presidential election year. Outside groups are already pouring money into Ohio against Strickland.
• Ohio governor and GOP presidential primary contender John Kasich has called New Hampshire, an early primary state, essential to his bid for his party’s nomination and indicated this weekend that a bad showing there would be the end of his campaign. Unfortunately, he’s also lagging there, dropping from second behind Donald Trump in a poll last month to seventh in a poll taken this month. The guv just opened his campaign headquarters in the state, which has its primary in about four months.
• Probably not a surprise, but Republicans are still fighting over who will replace U.S. Rep. John Boehner of West Chester in his powerful speaker of the house role. Boehner resigned from Congress recently amid infighting over a possible government shutdown by hardline right wing Republicans. His second-in-command, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, seems to be the favorite for the position, but recent slip-ups by McCarthy and an announcement that Utah’s Rep. Jason Chaffetz is also running for the role have increased the uncertainty about who will take the reigns for Republicans, who control the House of Representatives with a large majority.
• Finally, stock up on those solid color neon hoodies now. American Apparel announced bankruptcy today. The company, which sells basic clothing items that are made in America, has lost money every year since 2010. It suffered a blow last year as founder Dov Charney was ousted amid widespread allegations that he engaged in sexual harassment against employees. The company says its retail locations, including the one in Cincinnati, will remain open amid the bankruptcy.
Hey all! Here’s a brief news rundown for your Friday. Let’s get to the weekend already.
Is a charter school coming to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center? It could happen, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Carpe Diem is a charter sponsored by Cincinnati Public Schools that operates out of Aiken High School. The school has expressed interest in opening up another CPS-sponsored charter in the Freedom Center, though nothing official has been planned yet. The charter’s CEO has said he’d be interested in having the school open as soon as next fall, though CPS has yet to make a decision about whether it wants another charter, saying such a school would need to perform as well or better than traditional public schools in the city. CPS currently sponsors two charters. Charters in Cincinnati and Ohio in general have a mixed record over the past decade, with some performing as well or better than public schools while many others have lagged and been shut down for performance issues or ethics violations.
• What’s the most Instagramed spot in Ohio? It’s the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, according to a review of social media data by travel website busbud.com. The site looked at which attractions in every state generated the most hashtags on the popular, Facebook-owned image-posting social media app. The zoo joins the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the White House in D.C. and the Space Needle in Seattle as one of the most popular spots for ‘gramming in the country. I would have guessed Washington Park, but yeah. Pretty cool for the zoo.
• Apologies in advance for fans of Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, because I have some disappointing news for you. The staunchly anti-immigrant sheriff, who has gained a national profile due to his aggressive stance on conservative issues and appearances on talk shows discussing those views, won’t be running for U.S. Rep. John Boehner’s congressional seat. As we reported last week, Jones had indicated he was interested in campaigning for the spot, which Boehner vacated Friday after years of fighting with congressional conservatives as speaker of the house. But Jones has since announced that, while Congress could “use someone like him,” he’s better off staying in Butler County.
• A Chicago-based investor in ResponsibleOhio’s plan to legalize marijuana in the state has backed out, according to the group. Meanwhile, Youngstown-based Brian Kessler, whose father invented the Hula-Hoop, is in to take his place. Kessler is now one of the 22 investors who have gone public about their role funding ResponsibleOhio’s drive to pass an amendment to the Ohio constitution that would legalize marijuana and create 10 constitutionally mandated grow sites across the state. The identity of another 30 investors has not been made public by the group.
• So everyone got all riled up about the Pope’s visit with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis last week. Now the Vatican is clarifying that meeting... kind of. Davis, you’ll remember, refused to issue marriage licenses even in the wake of this summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. Davis was eventually found in contempt of court and went to jail for her refusal on religious grounds to issue the licenses. Fast forward a bit. Davis recently revealed that when the pope was here in the U.S. a couple weeks back, she was granted a 15-minute visit with the religious leader. This was something of a shock to many progressives, who were still applauding Pope Francis' statements before Congress on climate change and income inequality. Many, of course, took the visit as a signal that the pope agreed with Davis on her stand. Now, however, the Vatican is saying that the visit was requested by Davis and doesn’t mean that the pope supported her point of view or her actions. Annnnnd… that’s about all the church said. So. Hm.
• Finally, you’ve certainly already heard about the horrific school shooting in Oregon yesterday, but it seems strange not to mention it in a news round up. So here’s a story with what we know so far. As your humble morning news blogger, can I suggest we simply pause to feel for those involved and not instantly begin fighting about this? No? OK.
That’s it for me. Twitter, email, etc. You know what’s up.
It was a dim and smallish room I entered for my third library event, and at first I thought I was lost. I was in the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and after searching unsuccessfully decided to follow someone, who mercifully led me to the right room. “Headlines and Dead Lines”, the title of the class, promised to teach me about a library database that would research local history, and as the program began, I contentedly settled in for a good history lesson.
The class, taught by Reference Librarian Cindy Hill, mostly focused on Newsdex,
a database that holds listings for local Cincinnati history. As I listened, Hill
rattled off various fun facts about the system. “It’s the longest-running
publicly available database for the Cincinnati area,” she announced proudly. “It’s
a really great place to start.”
According to Hill, Newsdex is often used for genealogies, but also provides
information on companies, neighborhoods, historical sites and local events. You
can find death notices, obituaries, wedding announcements, murders, addresses,
local events and advertisements. The database includes articles from multiple
Cincinnati publications, both current and discontinued, like the Cincinnati Post, Times-Star, Gazette, Commercial and the Western Spy. “[Newsdex] has a totally wide-range of newspapers, but
it’s not complete,” Hill said. “It’s being updated all the time.”
As I listened to her, I began to see why Hill sounded so excited about the
database. “As far as we know, there’s
not another library that’s done this,” she said. “Many of our databases require
a library card, but Newsdex is used all over the world…it’s used across this
country and beyond.” She added that people from as far away as Japan have
requested information from the index, and that local companies and news
organizations have also used the site.
Later I talked to Steve Headley, president of the Genealogy and Local History
department of the public library, who told me that the database has been around
in one form or another for a long time. According to Headley, Cincinnati
librarians began to index newspapers into the library’s card catalog in 1927.
In 1940 a concentrated effort began to index obituaries, as well as death
notices, and in 1990 the system was digitized and named Newsdex. “There is no
other real source [like] it, especially for the number of newspapers that it
covers,” Headley said.
However, as great as Newsdex is, it doesn’t contain everything. Hill explained
one reason is that some people wanted to live private lives, so nothing was
printed about them in the paper. “Not everyone can be traced,” she warned.
“There were people back then that didn’t want to be out there.” According to
Headley, the information might not be indexed yet, since information is added
as librarians have time. “The further back you go, the less complete it gets,”
he said, “simply because when the librarians were doing the indexing they were
using the individual cards, and it was pretty time consuming.”
One thing I appreciated about Newsdex is that it’s easy to use. Instead of
having to weed through newspapers pages, Newsdex tells you what paper the
article is in, what day it printed and what page it’s on. Then you simply work
with the genealogy librarians to get that paper. At the end of the hour, I
found myself wishing I had something to research, because I wanted to use my
newfound knowledge. Instead of being intimidated by the wealth of information
in Newsdex, it amazed me how much local history one city could hold. Cincinnati
has so many facts to be discovered, and while I know I could never dig through
them all, Headlines and Dead Lines made me want to try.
Did this event sound interesting? Check out similar workshops at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County:
Book a Librarian: Get help with job searches, research or resume writing.
Date with an iPad: Learn the tricks to using this Apple device.
Technology Appointment: Schedule a one-on-one workshop to learn basic computer skills.
Buy some yarn at the KENTUCKY WOOL FESTIVAL
The Kentucky Wool Festival: a celebration of sheep and the fleece we shear off them. Wander through tables of crafts with local pottery, accessories, homemade soaps and candles and wooden items of every kind. Stop by the wool tent for demonstrations of combing, wet felting, sheep shearing and Turkish spindling. Then grab a chocolate-dipped pie and check out the Queen City Cloggers and other live entertainment all weekend. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. $5; free for children younger than 5. 48 Concord Caddo Road, Falmouth, Ky., kywoolfest.org.
Sex is pretty much a constant presence in life as we know
it, and it’s often a driving force in plays, taking on many shapes and
outcomes. That’s particularly the case with two shows that just opened
locally, Laura Eason’s new play, Sex with Strangers, at the Cincinnati Playhouse on its Shelterhouse stage through Oct. 25, and William Mastrisimone’s 1982 script, Extremities, at Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ Incline Theatre, through Oct. 18.
Eason’s script is about two writers who seem as opposite as can be — he’s an arrogant 28-year-old blogger (Nicholas Carrière as the charming and ebullient Ethan) whose writing about sexual conquests has been turned into a best-selling book, while she’s a serious, introspective novelist, 39, (Nancy Lemenager as introverted and self-conscious Olivia) who’s given up because of bad reviews and weak sales of her first book more than a decade earlier. But they end up together in a Michigan B&B due to a snowstorm (and some serious interest on his part in meeting her) and they discover a powerful mutual attraction that’s also driven by aspiration and envy of one another’s careers. Eason writes great contemporary dialogue, and director KJ Sanchez keeps things hurtling along down a road of desire and tentative trust. It seems evident that things could go off the tracks, but when they do there’s some more interesting sparks — and a lot of conversation about the state of writing and literature today. While the show’s title is titillating and they are strangers who steam things up — repeatedly — it’s really the title of his blog, and a past that he might or might not want to move beyond. There’s both humor and real emotion to be appreciated in this finely crafted production. Tickets: 513-421-3888
Mastrisimone’s off-Broadway script from three decades ago (Extremities also became a 1986 movie starring Farrah Fawcett) comes at issues of sex and attraction from a far more serious and brutal angle. It’s a significant a departure for Cincinnati Landmark, best known as a producer of safer, more mainstream fare, musicals and classical comedies. Raul (Will Reed) has been stalking three young women who share a house. He bursts in on Marjorie (Eileen Earnest), who we meet lounging around in a state of undress; he overpowers her, knowing her roommates won’t be back for hours. But she turns the tables on him, and when Terry (Katey Blood) and Patricia (Rachel Mock) return, they find Marjorie menacing and torturing her foul-mouthed attacker, hogtied and imprisoned in a large fireplace. They are shocked by her violent turn, and their perspectives — Terry is shocked and fearful, while Patricia is pragmatic and overly analytical — provide various takes on the situation and its potential resolution. Their four-cornered battle unfolds in harsh, often unhinged arguments about motives, likely outcomes and fears. Some of these feel a tad dated in 2015, but that does not diminish the story’s power. Earnest’s searing performance as Marjorie and Reed’s manipulative portrait of an intelligent, twisted man she insists on calling “The Animal” fuel the pounding pulse of this production of Extremities, staged by Tim Perrino. You’re never sure how the battle will end, and that makes for good theater. Tickets: 513-241-6550
CCM Drama head Richard Hess calls David Edgar’s Pentecost the British equivalent of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Both are big-cast plays, stuffed full of language and contending philosophies. The discovery of a 13th-century mural in an Eastern European church threatens to upset the world of art history, but it also lights the match on conflicts that go well beyond — to geopolitics, religion, history and more. It’s a heady script, with 26 roles speaking multiple languages, utterances that audiences have to intuit, just as the characters need to try to grasp one another’s motives. Read more about Pentecost in my recent Curtain Call column. Like most CCM productions, this one (at UC’s Patricia Corbett Theater) has a short weekend run; the final performance is a matinee on Sunday. Pentecost is an important play, an essential experience for serious theatergoers. Tickets: 513-556-4183
One more interesting piece of theater this weekend, inspired by Titus Kaphar’s Vesper Project at the Contemporary Arts Center, a multi-part installation in which paintings are woven into the walls of a 19th-century American house in New England, the home of a mixed-race family. His exhibit there involves a true/false backstory and familiar/unfamiliar environments. The massive exhibit invites conversation, and that’s what writer (and occasional CityBeat contributor) Stacy Sims has created after several discussions with the artist. She invited five local actors to work with her to respond to the piece, and the result, RETRACED: A theatrical conversation with the Vesper Project, will be performed three times this weekend at the CAC on Sixth Street in downtown Cincinnati, at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Sims says, “While I have a strong idea of how the actors will move in and out of the space and intersect with each other, each of their individual stories will be deeply informed by their own personal narratives of race, power, privilege and home.” Performances are free with gallery admission.
This weekend is your last chance to see the Cincinnati Playhouse’s beautiful production of The Secret Garden, NKU’s rendition of the comedy Moon Over Buffalo and New Edgecliff Theatre’s well-acted staging of Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
Hey hey! Good morning Cincy. How’s it going? Here’s what’s up in the news today.
Yesterday the city officially announced the results of a long-awaited study about disparities in the companies it hires to take on taxpayer-funded projects as well as several measures it plans to take to address those inequities. According to the Croson Study, only about 2.7 percent of the city’s contracts went to black-owned businesses and only about 6.2 percent went to businesses owned by women. This despite the fact that black and women owned businesses in the city have the capacity to do 20 percent of that work, the study says. You can read more about the study and the city’s proposed solutions, which include race and gender-based contracting requirements, in our online story yesterday. City contracts represent more than $1 billion in spending, and city officials say getting that pie split up more equitably could go a long way toward addressing the deep economic inequalities in the city.
• Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed legislation that gives all city employees six weeks of parental leave after they have or adopt a baby, including 28 days at 70 percent of their pay. Council members Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson proposed the new paternity leave policy, which the city administration estimates will cost about $225,000 a year. Council voted 7-2 to pass the proposal. Seelbach, Simpson and other backers say the slight cost to the city is worth it, saying it’s the right thing to do and that it will help the city recruit the best and brightest employees. Council members Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray voted against the measure, in part because they believe leave offered to employees should be decided through negotiations with the city employees union.
• One of Cincinnati’s iconic but currently empty churches will be born again as an event center, developers say. Towne Properties, which has its headquarters in a portion of the building, will redevelop the former Holy Cross Monastery, which overlooks the city from its lofty perch in Mount Adams, turning it into an upscale space for weddings and other events. The church has been empty since 1977, and Towne has owned it since 1980. The developer has been puzzled over what to do with the property, considering a hotel or office space for the building. But none of that worked out on paper and so the historic 12,000-square-foot church, built in 1873, has remained empty except for some pretty amazing art exhibits that have popped up from time to time there. I remember seeing Shinji Turner-Yamamoto’s beautiful Global Tree Project at the monastery back in the day. It’s an incredible place.
• Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus has officially announced she’s running for Hamilton County commissioner against sitting Republican commish Greg Hartmann next year. Driehaus, a Clifton resident with a long history of service in local and state politics, is prohibited by term limits from running for another stint as state rep. Hartmann first got the commissioners job in 2008 when he ran unopposed for the post, replacing outgoing commish Pat DeWine. Before that, he mounted an unsuccessful bid for Ohio Secretary of State.
• The Ohio General Assembly yesterday passed so-called “ban the box” legislation that strikes questions about prospective employees’ criminal records from public job applications. The state struck a similar question from its job applications in June, but now an application for any public job in Ohio won’t have questions about an applicant’s criminal history. Proponents say that will help ex-offenders get a new start and decrease the chances they’ll end up in prison again. You can read about the ban the box effort in our in-depth feature story on the subject published in June.
• Finally, in national news, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is raising nearly as much money as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the two duel it out in the Democratic primary for the 2016 presidential nomination. Sanders raised $26 million in the last fundraising quarter to presumed frontrunner Clinton’s $28 million. That’s kind of crazy because Sanders is an independent, not a Democrat, and he’s been running around for years telling people he’s a socialist. Not exactly the most obvious path to the White House. Clinton, meanwhile, is named Clinton and has the vast fundraising network of her former president husband Bill and plenty of backers from her time as a senator. But then, when the top GOP contender for the presidential nomination is Donald Trump, all the rules we all thought were well understood and set in stone go flying out the window.
That’s it for me! Email or tweet at me and let me know if Washington Park is open to us commoners (aka the public) today. You know what I'm talking about if you passed by yesterday.
City of Cincinnati officials today unveiled the final draft of a long-awaited study of gender and racial disparities in the city’s contracting practices, as well as ordinances that might address some of those inequalities, including race and gender based requirements for contractors.
The so-called Croson Study shows that between 2009 and 2013, black-owned businesses were awarded only 2.7 percent of the city’s contracts, totaling about $5 million, despite blacks making up more than 45 percent of the city’s population. Businesses owned by women fared only slightly better during the study’s time frame, getting only 6.2 percent of the city’s contracts. Eighteen percent of busineses in Cincinnati are owned by blacks, and nearly 30 percent are owned by women.
Mayor John Cranley cast the report as a positive step toward more equitable contracting for the city.
“We’re finally here after a long amount of hard work,” Cranley said during a ceremony today at City Hall featuring a wide array of about two dozen city officials, faith leaders, members of the business community, activists and others. “We have a lot of great things happening in the city, but we’re not perfect, and, clearly, the city’s procurement process has not reflected the diversity of our city.”
Councilman Wendell Young also praised the study, but sounded a much more somber note.
“Since we’ve confirmed what we already know, how hard are we willing to work to address the problems?” he asked. “It’s true that the city of Cincinnati is making great progress. It’s also true that a significant part of this community is not feeling that progress. Cincinnati has many distinctions that we’re not proud of."
Young citing the city’s sky-high infant mortality, childhood poverty and black unemployment rates.
“Today we’re at the point where we have the road map and the confirmation. From today on we find out if we have the political will, the ability, the skill and whether the work we do can make a difference. We won’t be the first, but we’re going to find a way to make this work. And if we can’t do that, heaven help us all.”
The report also revealed that 70 percent of the city's $1.2 billion in prime contracts went to a small group of businesses, a fact that many on city council found disturbing.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman said that fact should make not just
minority and female-owned businesses angry, but anyone who has competed
for a city contract.
"That's one hell of a country club," he said.
Cranley touted steps the city has already taken toward diversifying its contracting, including recently establishing the city’s new Department of Economic Inclusion and making changes to its Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program. But he also said the Croson Study and its suggestions are huge parts of the solution.
The study makes several suggestions for improvements in the city’s contracting process on four different monetary levels, from under $5,000 to more than $250,000, on both the prime contract and subcontract levels. Some recommended solutions are based on race and gender categories, while others are neutral.
On the subcontracting level, Cincinnati City Council will consider ordinances which create a Minority Business Enterprise program and a Women Business Enterprise program, allowing such businesses to compete with each other for certain set-aside contracts.
On the much larger prime contracting level, businesses will be given points on some bids if they are at least 51 percent owned by minorities or women.
Some council members, including Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, want the city to go farther in ensuring better equity in awarding contracts at the $1 billion prime contracting level. Both Simpson and Councilman Chris Seelbach offered pointed questions about what more could be done at the prime contracting level to ensure a greater piece of that large pie goes to minority- and women-owned businesses.
The city usually awards prime contracts to companies, which then hire subcontractors. City Manager Harry Black pointed out that the city will make requirements for businesses winning prime bids as to the level of minority subcontractors they should hire. Businesses winning contracts with the city of more than $50,000 will be required to subcontract 17 percent black-owned businesses for construction work and 14 percent black-owned businesses for other services, and 14 and 16 percent businesses owned by women for those categories respectively.
One recommendation made by the Croson Study that the city has not yet considered is ending so-called master agreements, or contracts with companies that can be used by multiple city departments on separate projects and which can be subject to multi-year renewals without re-bidding.
“The city should eliminate the use of master agreements and follow the competitive bidding standards for all contracts,” the study states in its conclusion.
One point that every city official agrees upon, however, is that minority- and female-owned businesses are up to the task of doing more projects on taxpayers' behalf.
The study shows that black-owned businesses in the city have the capacity to take on up to 20 percent of the city’s contracts. Businesses owned by women see a similar capacity gap: The report shows female-owned businesses have the ability to tackle another 20 percent of the city’s contracts.
“To all my colleagues here, please do not use the word ‘capacity,’ " Smitherman said.
Though the report is clear, the details involved in increasing minority contracts awarded by the city are complex. Part of the complication comes from the legal realities around what the city can and can’t do to increase minority contracting.
The Croson Study gets its name from a U.S. Supreme Court case, City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, in which the Virginia city was sued by a contractor over its contract diversity initiatives. The Supreme Court ruled Richmond’s setbacks of contracts for minority businesses unconstitutional and set a standard of strict scrutiny, the highest legal standard, for municipal contracting diversity programs.
That means that cities risk lawsuits if they don’t demonstrate a very clear need to enact gender- or race-specific contracting guidelines and cannot show that those guidelines are narrowly tailored to address disparities without discriminating against other businesses.
Cincinnati has already been through such a lawsuit in 2004, when Cleveland Construction Company unsuccessfully sued the city over its contracting diversity policies. The company claimed that the city’s Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program, which was used in part to score the bids from Cleveland and other companies, created unconstitutional racial and gender classifications and violated its rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. An initial decision from the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas agreed with that claim, and the city amended the race- and gender-related parts of its SBE program. The case went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which eventually ruled in favor of the city.
The Croson Study offers some protection from future lawsuits, say city officials and representatives from Mason Tillman Associates, which conducted the 338-page report. The report quantifies the extent of Cincinnati’s contracting diversity problems and puts forward recommendations, many poised to be passed by council, that are tailored to address them.
“It gives us a legal basis to do what we need to do to be a city that will work for everybody and not just for a few,” Cranley said.
Good morning, Cincinnati! Here are your morning headlines.
• Campbell County Schools Superintendent Glen Miller abruptly announced his retirement after he was charged with domestic violence. Miller has been on paid administrative leave since he was arrested last Wednesday night at his Erlanger home after his daughter called 911 to report that he has struck his wife in the head and neck. Miller told police his wife's injuries were a result of an accident, but his story didn't quite match his wife and daughter's versions. He was booked into Kenton County Detention Center and charged with domestic violence that same evening just after midnight and released the following afternoon. Miller has been superintendent of Campbell County Schools for four years. His retirement will go into effect November 1. In the meantime, Associate Superintendent Shelli Wilson will be placed in charge of the district.
• Cincinnati State is considering a partnership with private testing and consulting firm Pearson to attempt to boost its enrollment and retention rates. The college seems to have hit a rough patch. Current enrollment is just below 10,000, 10 percent lower than a year ago, it faces a state-mandated tuition freeze and president O'dell Owens recently departed after tensions with the board of trustees. Cincinnati State is reportedly discussing a 10-year contract with Pearson that would give the company control of its $550,000 marketing and recruiting budget in exchange for 20 percent of students' tuition recruited above the college's quota of 4,000. If it goes through, this contract would be the first for the New York-based company, which earns much of its revenue through K-12 standardized test preparation. Given the college's not-so-great reputation for relying heavily on test scores, the college's faculty senate has urged the administration to wait on the contract until the results of spring recruitment are in.
• Child poverty is down in Cincinnati, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, but the rate is way above state and national averages. According to the survey, child poverty is down to 44.1 percent from 51.3 percent in 2012, but it's double the national average of 21.7 percent and near double the state average of 22.9 percent. City Health Commissioner Noble Maseru has suggested targeting the poorest zip codes first to begin to further bringing that number down, but no concrete plan has been put in place.
• Infamous Rowan County clerk Kim Davis apparently secretly met with Pope Francis. According to Davis's lawyer, officials sneaked Davis and her husband, Joe, into the Vatican Embassy in Washington D.C. last Thursday afternoon where the Pope gave her rosary beads and told her to "stay strong." During his first visit to the U.S., Pope Francis did not publicly support Davis by name but instead stated that "conscious objection is a right that is a part of every human right." Davis spent time in the Carter County Detention Center for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She and her husband were conveniently already in Washington D.C. to accept an award from conservative group, the Family Research Council.
• Cincinnati is a travel hotspot, or at least, "on the verge of a hip explosion," according to Forbes Travel Guide. According to the magazine, Cincinnati has a hilly landscape much like San Francisco's without the San Francisco prices, and the newly gentrified, or "revitalized," Over-the-Rhine is like Brooklyn before the hipsters took it over. Other reasons the third-largest city in Ohio makes "the perfect weekend getaway" include Skyline cheese coneys, a ton of German beers and Kentucky whiskeys to choose from and a "surprisingly impressive array of luxury hotel options."
That's it for today! Email is email@example.com, and I'd love to hear from you!
Whether or not you like The Green Inferno probably depends on whether or not you can put up with the guy at parties who says, “I don’t want to be that guy, but…” and then suggests something inconvenient (usually they want your food). This gore-fest of a horror film knows it’s being “that guy.” But does acknowledging one’s faults make them automatically forgivable?
Director Eli Roth’s latest effort to gross us out is propped up against the backdrop of the Amazon rainforest. Like many of his films before (Cabin Fever, Hostel), it focuses on a naïve protagonist venturing to unfamiliar territory. When Justine (Lorenza Izzo) finds herself teaming up with a social activism group at college aiming to end the destruction of the rainforests inhabited by indigenous tribes, she doesn’t just sign up to hold a rally at a capitol building or egg a corporation’s headquarters. She signs up to go into the jungle, which is currently a warzone between industry and indigenous tribes. Justine ignores the risks because she thinks the leader of the student activists is really, really hot. One of their planes eventually crash-lands, leaving them in the middle of the jungle with no sense of direction and no GPS. In a turn of events soaked with irony, the students who are attempting to save the indigenous people from neocolonial expansion are mistaken for workers of the aggressive enterprisers and are brought in as prisoners by the unnamed tribe. Once the students are locked in a cell, we quickly learn that the students are not so much captives as they are cattle. The tribe is cannibalistic, and it seems that the only thing they revel in more than eating human flesh is the ceremonial torturing of it.
The Green Inferno knows exactly how wrong it is, and Eli Roth is laughing all the way. It is a campy, tongue-in-cheek, refreshing throwback to the likes of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, although its premise does directly call back to Cannibal Holocaust, even if the film at hand doesn’t match up to either of the two grindhouse horror classics. Roth wastes no time trying to get us to genuinely care for any of the characters, most of whom cannot help but exude privilege even in the most typical of conversations. Rather than try to get us to root for the survival of a group of heroes, he gets us to pity Justine along the way. Roth hopes that we become overwhelmed not only by the buckets of blood spurting from victims’ severed limbs or heads, but also by the insurmountable misfortune that Justine attracts. She serves as a sort of doppelganger to the unsuspecting moviegoer that unwittingly finds themself in a showing of The Green Inferno. Way in over her head, constantly shocked by the brutality of her apparent fate and always trying to plot ways to escape when she isn’t trying to contribute to another prisoner’s plan, Justine may represent that weak-stomached tag-along in the group of friends who shouldn’t have come to this movie. And I am warning you: Any popcorn you eat is coming right back up if you aren’t ready for Roth’s demented exposé. Better yet, Justine might be seen as the squeamish piece in all of us that we can’t help but hear in the back of our minds saying, “Get me out of this theater.” And that’s where The Green Inferno really burns brightest — in its ability to make us cringe, make us looks away from the screen for brief moments, make us wish were brave enough to keep watching.
It differs in an essential manner from the all-out seriousness of last month’s similarly plotted No Escape. But while the Owen Wilson-led action flick felt heavy-handed and unapologetic in its possibly xenophobic premise, The Green Inferno is packed with enough despicable victims that it doesn’t feel like the American college students are helpless against foreign customs. It just feels like they’re getting what’s coming to them. They are a carefully crafted crew of stereotypical archetypes with foul mouths and insensitive opinions. Some are homophobic. Some seem racist. One smokes pot, one plays guitar and two of them are partially along for the trip to the Amazon in an attempt to eventually get laid. Before our characters get captured, tortured and perhaps killed, we are given ample reason to wish it upon them.
Despite any of the premise’s inherent faults, Roth understands that if we want to celebrate the relentless cannibalistic carnage that he so desperately loves, the deaths must not be tragic, but a release. That’s where the unlikable characters become so useful. I caught myself grimacing as much at what the characters said as when I witnessed their respective dooms, but I also caught myself occasionally laughing at the grotesque images of severed limbs, gauged eye sockets and impaled skulls. There’s no getting around the uncomfortable dull-mindedness of its protagonists, but for all of its bumps and bruises, The Green Inferno mostly slashes, burns and bleeds its way to a good time. And it’s not in spite of how unlikable the characters are. It’s because of how unlikable they are.
But just because I mostly had a good time doesn’t mean I was mostly impressed. The Green Inferno delivers where it should and comes up short where you might expect. The dialogue serves its purpose but drags its feet, and I’m not sure that the attempted commentary on globalism hits its mark. None of the actors shine — although to be fair, this is an Eli Roth film, where acting is but a mechanism to eventually get your head chopped off. The most troubling conceptual piece of the movie comes with its script’s big “reveal” moment. Underlying hidden motivations for their trip are eventually unveiled to the students upon their capturing and it absolutely reeks of a “ghost in the machine.” Even though the twist tries to serve as an anti-neocolonial statement, it comes across as just a hollow plot device that could have been solved somehow else.
Still, the point isn’t to be impressed with a social commentary, stellar acting or a remarkable plot when you walk in the theater for a cannibal horror flick. The point is that the subtext, performances and story amplify the fear of intense physical pain, the fear of a slow tortuous death and the fear that the worst things can happen to people who believe that they are working to create a better world. In that regard, The Green Inferno is definitely worth a viewing for horror enthusiasts despite its missteps and it is also a must-avoid for the weak of stomach. If it were any bloodier, you would have to bring a bib. If it were any better, you would have to see it to believe it. Grade: C