After viewing a preview screening of “Selma,” I checked the schedule for the Arclight and the Laemmle Pasadena Playhouse 7. I was surprised that Pasadena would not be one of the places it was screening. If you haven’t lingered around City Hall of Pasadena, then you might think, why would that be important.
After all only 13.4 percent of the people in Pasadena are considered African American. The largest minority population is Latino (33 percent) with the majority of the people white (55 percent). Even within the San Gabriel Valley, the black population is low (2.4 percent) compared to 44.7 percent Latino and 25.7 percent Asian (with 24.8 percent white) according to the Los Angeles Times.
Yet opposite City Hall is a small park–the Pasadena Robinson Memorial–with two large sculptures of two former residents: Jackie Robinson and his brother Mack Robinson. You might be less familiar with Mack Robinson. He is the older brother of Jackie. Although both were born in Cairo, Georgia, they were raised in Pasadena. Mack set national junior college records in the 100 meter, 200 meter and long jump at Pasadena City College. He won a silver medal in the men’s 200 at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics.
The Pasadena City College stadium is dedicated to him and there’s the Matthew “Mack” Robinson Post Office in Pasadena. He died in Pasadena in 2000 at age 85 and is interred at the Altadena Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum.
Jackie Robinson graduated John Muir High School and like Mack attended Pasadena City College (then Pasadena Junior College). Jackie later transferred to UCLA and was one of four black players on the UCLA Bruin football team in 1939.
Other reasons “Selma” should be shown in Pasadena touch both high and low culture, history and fantasy.
- Octavia Estelle Butler (1947-2006): An American science fiction writer, recipient of Hugo and Nebula awards, the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship was born in Pasadena.
- Rodney Glen King (1965-2012) was born in Sacramento but raised in Altadena. Before his infamous beating at the hands of the LAPD, he had been arrested in Monterey Park for robbery. Two years later, in 1991, King and two passengers attempted to lose a police pursuit, mostly because driving under the influence of alcohol would have violated the parole he was on from that robbery. The acquittal of the five officers was the catalyst for the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
- John Singleton, film director, attended Pasadena City College before going on to USC School of Cinematic Arts. Singleton received an Oscar nomination for his 1991 “Boyz n the Hood.”
- Jaleel White was born in Culver City but attended South Pasadena High School and began acting. He is most famous for his role of Steve Urkel on “Family Matters” which he began at age 12. Although he didn’t make it to the finals, he was one of my favorites when he competed on “Dancing with the Stars” Season 14.
Last I checked, the Pasadena Arclight is playing “Annie” and “Exodus” but doesn’t currently have “Selma” on its schedule. The Laemmle will open “Selma” on 9 January 2015 in Claremont and NoHo, but not in Pasadena. For Laemmle, “Selma” is considered the genre of “African-American Experience,” while “Exodus” (currently at NoHo) is simply a “Drama.”
For me–a non-Caucasian, non-African-American, non-Christian and non-Jew, “Selma” is about the American experience, the dark downside of the 1950s and should be seen by as many people as possible. In 2015, fifty years after the events at Selma, America still needs to be reminded that black lives matter because all lives matter and someday maybe that won’t be an issue, but it is one now and it was then.
Rodney G. King