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Reel Mama: March 2012

Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Mirror Mirror": Snow White gets a makeover, "Princess Bride" style

Some might argue that Snow White has been done to death, that the premise is a little tired and beginning to show its age.  I had my doubts about subjecting myself to yet another rendition, but I started to warm up to the idea when I realized that the newest incarnation, Mirror Mirror, gives the Brothers Grimm classic fairy tale a fun and fresh contemporary makeover.  The filmmakers had the inspired idea to make a broad romantic comedy with lots of slapstick in the vein of The Princess Bride. Not only the premise, but Snow White herself has received a makeover as a liberated princess who doesn’t need rescuing, thank you very much.  Snow (Lily Collins) says she wants to rewrite the endings of all the fairy tales she’s read, where the princess is always rescued.  She wants to create a new story, where the princess saves the day. 
As Mirror Mirror opens, it is Snow White’s eighteenth birthday. Since her father’s tragic disappearance, the evil queen (Julia Roberts) has forced Snow to live in the palace as a shut-in.  Snow longs for a taste of freedom and decides to sneak out of the palace to discover what’s become of her father’s kingdom since the queen took power.  Meanwhile, Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) of Valencia is on the hunt for adventure, but unfortunately meets with a band of thieving giants in the woods, who reveal themselves to be dwarves on stilts after taking the prince for all he’s got. The prince insults them by calling them children, and to make him pay the dwarves steal his clothes and string him up by his feet.  Snow White finds the prince in this most vulnerable position, a remarkable difference from the Disney original, when the prince is a fully-clothed man who doesn’t snag his tights as he leaps over a wall to serenade Snow White at their first meeting.
Lily Collins’ Snow White rescues the prince, who makes his way back to the castle, where the evil queen immediately wishes she could sink her cougar claws into his hairy chest and goes about plotting to make him fall in love with her.  Yet the prince only has eyes for Snow, who crashes the ball the queen throws in his honor.  With jealousy eating her alive, the queen orders her “executive bootlicker” Brighton (Nathan Lane) to kill Snow White in the woods.  Brighton doesn’t have the heart and lets her go free, but later swears to the queen that he did the deed.  Wandering in the woods, Snow discovers the dwarves’ hideaway.  More surprising and pleasing departures from the Disney original ensue to help this version feel contemporary, including Snow becoming a warrior princess of sorts.

Snow White (Lily Collins)
and her merry brigade of thieving dwarves

Julia Roberts takes up the mantle of evil queen, following in the footsteps of Oscar nominees Sigourney Weaver and Miranda Richardson.  Personally I would love to see Angelina try her hand as the queen.  J-Lo would be another very interesting, sassy choice, though it’s not easy for Hollywood’s most beautiful leading ladies to admit that another is fairer than they.  Julia is still drop dead gorgeous, and it is daunting for any young actress to try to upstage her, but spunky and brave Audrey-Hepburn-clone Lily Collins is willing to give it a shot.  The daughter of music icon Phil Collins, Lily Collins was performing smaller roles and was featured on the 2009 TV remake of the 1990s classic Beverly Hills 90210.  Collins really proves herself in this breakout role, and if given a chance she could have a lot of staying power with a long career ahead of her as a romantic comedy leading lady, Julia style.
The rest of the cast is also fun to watch.  I always get giddy when I learn that I’m getting to see a movie with Nathan Lane, one of my all-time favorite actors of stage and screen.  His role as the obsequious Brighton is extensive but not always laugh-out-loud funny.  He’s enjoyable in the role, but it doesn’t provide enough moments for him to shine and yes, steal the show, though when the queen works her magic on him, he is a riot. 
The dwarves, a band of merry thieves (instead of miners as in the Disney original), are at the top of their game with comic timing.  It’s nice to see the dwarves imbued with a real dose of humanity and individuality.  Purists might miss Grumpy, Sneezy, and company, but these dwarves provide a nice change of pace with names like Half Pint and Chuckles.  It’s always a pleasure to see Jordan Prentice, a veteran of comedy who has displayed his acting prowess in films like In Bruges, and he’s the dwarf with a conscience and, perhaps, a Napoleonic complex, since his name is Napoleon.

If looks could kill: Julia Roberts
as the evil queen in Mirror Mirror

Director Tarsim Singh is famous for his stunning visuals, especially memorable in his films The Cell and The Fall, and here his production design delivers once again.  The costumes alone make the film worth seeing.  They are deliciously over-the-top, especially the elaborate ensembles worn by the courtiers.  These are just the kind of outlandish, artistically exquisite get-ups I was hoping to see on the citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games.  The sets are eye popping and whimsical, for example the moving clouds on the walls of the queen’s throne room.  Other special effects are fabulous too: for instance, in order for the queen to consult her mirror, she must travel through the mirror and underwater to a strange and remote island structure. 
Lots of crackling anachronistic quips make this version of Snow White good, almost clean fun.  (Example: Two palace guards say they’ll “pinky swear” that they won’t tell the queen when Snow leaves the palace.)  There’s no bad language to speak of, but there are a few mildly off-color jokes.  There is some slapstick violence that might make even the three stooges wince, as well as some violent confrontations between the forces of good (team Snow White) and evil (the queen’s black magic and her minions) at the climax.
I wouldn’t be giving away too much to say that Mirror Mirror has a happy ending, though ultimately Snow White isn’t as empowered as I might wish her to be.  Also, the moral of the story that growing older is a fate worse than death is shallow and passé, especially considering that Julia, now in her mid-forties, continues to kill it onscreen in terms of her beauty, talent, and box office caché (i.e., her ability to put tushies in seats). 
Nevertheless, Lilly Collins’ Snow White breathes a breath of fresh air into the role of a princess who is often controversial because of her passivity in the Disney original.  Young girls will enjoy seeing this film, perhaps not with the same passionate fervor that their moms enjoyed The Princess Bride, but it’s sure to be a fun slumber party favorite for years to come.
Screenplay by Melissa Wallack & Jason Keller
Reel Mama’s rating: Appropriate for ages eight and up.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In the age of the first black president, racism persists

It’s difficult to imagine, in an era when an African American is the leader of the free world, that racism would rear its ugly head in two very different incidents during the past two weeks.  First, the heartbreaking story of Trayvon Martin, a young African American who took a shortcut through a gated community on his way home from the convenience store in Florida.  Tragically, George Zimmerman, an armed vigilante on a “neighborhood watch” who reportedly felt “threatened” by Trayvon’s presence, particularly because he was wearing an offending hoodie, hunted him, then shot him down in cold blood.  

Carrying an iced tea and a package of Skittles and talking on his cell phone with a friend, Trayvon was absolutely defenseless.  He had no means of escape from a man intent on killing him because his skin color and wardrobe sent up a “red flag.”  Being on a neighborhood watch is not a license to kill; the idea is merely to pick up the phone and alert the police if one sees something suspicious, yet Zimmerman insisted on taking the law into his own hands, pursuing Trayvon even when police authorities directed him not to.  If there is any justice, Trayvon’s murderer will not go free but will receive a minimum sentence of life in prison.  This was a lynching, plain and simple, and far outside of the protections that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law affords Zimmerman.
The second incident of racism, while not nearly as grievous as Trayvon’s murder, could more accurately be described as incidents, or numerous comments on social media networks by some teen fans of the hit film The Hunger Games, who are protesting the casting of two black actors as characters whom they had imagined to be white when they read the books: Lenny Kravitz as the main character Katniss’ mentor Cinna, and Amandla Stenberg as Katniss’ young ally Rue. Though these characters are described as having dark skin in the books, said fans would apparently prefer that Caucasian actors with really deep tans have been cast instead. It’s a sad statement that some of our nation’s young people, in the age of the first black president, have so little imagination and so little tolerance.  

African American young people like Trayvon, had he lived, and Amandla deserve to grow up in a nation where they can be respected and admired for their beauty, both inside and out, and for what they can contribute to the world.  Sadly, the world will never know again the joy and light that Trayvon brought his friends and family, but some day when Amandla is a veteran performer standing on the podium with an Oscar for Best Actress in her hands, like Halle Berry before her, she will have shown them all.  The small-minded idiots who expressed their dismay at the color of her skin will thankfully be but a distant memory.  

Amandla Stenberg, who portrays Rue in The Hunger Games,
on the film's opening night

These events are unfortunate proof that racism continues to thrive in our nation, whether behind closed doors, in social media networks, on the playground, in gated communities, or in the hearts of those with narrow minds and narrower hearts.  
As parents, we have the power to raise children with loving hearts and open minds.  These incidents should set off an alarm, and a raise a gigantic red flag, that we are not out of the woods when it comes to racism.  We must be ever vigilant against the worst enemy the United States could ever face: the hatred and cruelty within some human hearts that awakens, attacks, and even kills without warning.

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Why I'm an "American Idol" junkie

The top 13 American Idol contenders for season 11

It’s hard to say why American Idol is so addictive, but in my case it’s because I find it inspiring.  There’s something exhilarating about seeing those kids fight through tears and nerves to achieve that one triumphant moment against all odds.  I’m not ashamed to say I’ve shed a tear a few times watching it play out in real time, live.  I love getting “goosies,” J-Lo’s somewhat endearing term for goosebumps, although lately she’s been threatening to punch and shake contestants whom she likes when she’s overwhelmed by their performance. Luckily I don’t think we have to worry that any violence will transpire on the show.  Unlike The Hunger Games, this reality show isn’t a fight to the death, though I’d love to see Steven and Randy try armed with nothing but Steven’s feather boas.
Nevertheless, we can think of The Hunger Games as an allegory for the pain, heartache, and public humiliation that these reality show contestants sometimes endure.  It’s crushing when a voice cracks onstage, or a really talented person has an off night and just doesn’t deliver the goods.  I’m sure it feels like a metaphorical death to each of these contestants when he or she goes home empty handed.
I also enjoy seeing the upsets, but sometimes threaten to stop watching when my favorite gets voted off, as in last year’s travesty with Pia Toscana. We always assume that the singer who is “perfect” is safe.  We get invested in these shows, and we come to care about the contestants and feel that we know them.  I was a bit hard on the viewers of reality TV in my review of The Hunger Games.  Maybe we are like the citizens of the Capitol with our obsessive desire never to miss a moment of our favorite reality show (DVRs were invented for people like us).  Are we surrendering to our voyeuristic tendencies and indulging in a guilty pleasure? Absolutely.  But we aren’t leering, apathetic, and grotesque.  We are interested, entertained, enlightened, and moved.
Suzanne Collins, who wrote The Hunger Games (both the books and in collaboration with others on the screenplay), was surely creating a satire of a media-addicted audience, but in presenting such sympathetic lead characters she seems to understand implicitly the great degree of heart that the contestants onscreen and the audience off screen often put into their “relationship,” one with visitation rights through a fourth wall, our TV screens.  We root for our favorites (our “friends”?), and especially love an underdog.
I also love the more surprising Idol moments, like last week when I thought contestant Heejun Han had forgotten his lyrics, only to be surprised to find him ripping off his tuxedo to reveal a very colorful T-shirt ensemble usually worn by the likes of Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory.  He had fun sticking it to the judges with his version of Billy Joel’s My Life, but Steven Tyler was not amused.  It is unfortunate to see Heejun seemingly blowing off the contest at this stage of the game when other contestants would have taken it more seriously.
As for Idol, I would love to see J-Lo’s dream for a female face-off in the finale to come true.  These contestants are all so profoundly gifted, but if I had to guess the two women who would make it to the finale, I would probably bet on Jessica Sanchez and Hollie Cavanagh.  Just as deserving as these two, Elise Testone is amazing, but her funky vibe may not be as obviously ready made for pop stardom to achieve the top slot, though I’d love to be proven wrong. She’s a cross between someone like Alison Krauss and Janice Joplin, and there is no question there’s a big market for this kind of music.  She’ll actually have more creative freedom if she doesn’t win.  Skylar Laine is feisty, country strong, and confident, and she may prove that she knows how to hold ‘em (hold onto the votes, that is).  
It seems that last year’s unfortunate trend of the girls being voted off in quick succession is already starting, though of course last year Lauren Alaina and Haley Reinhart did make it all the way to the finish, though neither got the Idol title.  (For the record, I do think Scotty was deserving, though I was rooting for my namesake Lauren.)  So far we have Shannon Magrane and Erika Van Pelt going home, along with one boy from the first live results show, the sweet-natured Jeremy Rosado.  I hope another girl doesn’t go home this week.
If I had to call it right now, I’d say Phillip Phillips will probably win. He has a relaxed boy-next-door persona.  With his looks he’s heartthrob material, and will probably have the tween girls’ thumbs texting their votes for him at lightening speed right to the finish.  I’m not sure that I can keep up, or that I want to try.
So now you know what I do in my “spare” time.  How I find 3-5 hours of my life to dedicate to American Idol every week, I’ll never know.
Hollie and Jessica, may the odds be ever in your favor.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Hunger Games: What if “American Idol” were a fight to the death?

It’s a GREAT time to be a 13 year old girl.  Maybe I was born at the wrong time, but if I were a ‘tween or a young teen right now, I’d eat The Hunger Games right up.  This sci-fi movie is the perfect recipe for good fun at the movies, grrrl style.  This isn’t just pretty white kids with problems, as some might think, nor is it Beverly Hills 90210 on a camping trip gone terribly wrong.  While both of these occurred to me, it was only in passing.  
This movie is surprisingly gripping and very creative.  I was dreading the almost two-and-a-half hour length, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself engrossed from start to finish.  The movie, it turns out, is as involving as the reality TV it seeks to expose and, at times, parody.
The world of the story is the land of Panem, what’s left of the United States in the future, and it’s bleak.  In a post-civil war society, the country has been divided into twelve districts by the powers-that-be, who reside in the Capitol, which is a futuristic combination of Rome and D.C.  District Twelve, where our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) reside, resembles poverty-stricken Appalachia.  The starving residents of this district are coal miners.  Their garb is plain, reminiscent of the Mennonites or nineteenth century pioneers.  Katniss manages to overcome deprivation with her hunting skills, and the game she catches provides extra food for her family or can be bartered for the basics.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, an
empowered coal miner's daughter
in The Hunger Games

It is the eve of the Hunger Games, a bread-and-circus Roman-style spectacle in which two young people aged 12 to 18 representing each district, who are known as tributes, compete for survival in the wilderness at the behest of the leaders in the Capitol.  It’s a televised fight to the death and compulsory viewing for all citizens as a way to keep them in line.  The last kid standing is the victor, and receives food to last his or her family for a year as well as the veneration of this voyeuristic society.  This world is so brutal that Katniss tells her hunky lover boy Gale (Liam Hemsworth), “I’m never having kids.”
A terrified Primrose is a possible contender for the survival game, and as bad luck would have it, her name is selected in the lottery.  Katniss, not only older and braver but the rock for the family after her father’s death, steps forward and offers to volunteer in her sister’s stead. The powers-that-be accept, and the events’ host, a blue-haired, outlandish clown named Caesar Flickerman, played with slimy charisma by Stanley Tucci, revels in this dramatic turn of events.  Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is the other young player to represent District Twelve selected by lottery.
The wilderness where the games take place is in nature, and yet it’s a giant film set: cameras are hidden everywhere, and acts of god designed to destroy the tributes can be conjured with the push of a button from the control room.  Suzanne Collins, the author of the popular book trilogy on which the film is based and a screenwriter on the film, has doubtlessly seen the reality show Survivor, where contestants survive in a no man’s land or wilderness, outwitting and out-maneuvering one another in order to get their hands on a million-dollar prize.  Director Gary Ross introduces an unsteady camera to portray the unsettling atmosphere of the games, and he uses sound to brilliant, jarring effect.
In terms of Survivor and reality shows of this ilk, The Hunger Games speaks to the human cruelty often on display in these shows.  There are some aspects of high school we never outgrow.  The cliques formed in high school become the alliances formed in the wilderness during the Hunger Games, just as alliances are formed on the show Survivor, where it seems the nice guys always finish last.  The Hunger Games takes mean girls and bullies to a whole new level, and this is brought into a disturbing new light when the host Caesar asks the youngest player, Rue (Amandla Stenberg), who is outfitted like Shirley Temple for the interview, “Are you a hunter?”
The filmmakers even work some elements of American Idol into the story.  A very glam stylist named Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) with rocking gold eyeshadow mentors Katniss on presentation so that she can capitalize on her newfound celebrity and win sponsors who will provide amenities during the games. Katniss proves to be very good at playing to the crowd, and she comes to be known as “the girl on fire,” quite literally.  The special effects, while a little corny at times, play to the audience, both onscreen and off, and meet our demand for viewing dazzling spectacle and danger alike, as long as it’s from the safety of our own seats in a dark auditorium.  In the end, the Hunger Games aren’t so much about the players’ lack of food but about the audience’s hunger for more, more, more.  
Woody Harrelson is the other “natural born” mentor, a champion from a previous year turned loser boozer who is supposed to provide training to Peeta and Katniss for the physical, mental, and emotional challenges the games present.  The best advice he can give them is to “embrace the probability of your imminent death.  You know in your heart there is nothing I can do to save you.”  Survival of the fittest is an understatement in the Hunger Games: it’s kill or be killed.  
The Hunger Games would hardly be complete without some soapy teen romance, and the filmmakers provide it in spades with a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gabe, who pines away for her back home.  Luckily the romance is never too sappy and adds to the compelling storyline.  This cast has enough talent to fill the Roman Coliseum and then some.  This is the role of a lifetime for Jennifer Lawrence, whose breakout performance in Winter’s Bone garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress last year.  Josh Hutcherson, who was so fantastic in The Kids Are All Right, brings a great deal of heart to a role that might have been easily overshadowed in the hands of a lesser actor.  
I also enjoyed the character of Rue, performed by youngest cast member Amandla Stenberg, who currently has some Hunger Games fans up in arms for all the wrong reasons: she is an African American actress cast in a role that’s described as a blonde “with dark skin” in the book.  Apparently some fans would have preferred to see a white actress with lots of time on the tanning bed instead.  How misguided they are.  

Amandla Stenberg shows up the naysayers
with a star turn as Rue in The Hunger Games.
Can anyone say, "Girl on fire"?  You go, Amandla!

The Hunger Games needs the diversity that Stenberg and Kravitz bring to the table.  The casting still falls short in the diversity department (the Harry Potter films fared a little better).  Stenberg should be recognized for the merits of her performance and the spunk and sweetness she brings to the role, not for the color of her skin.  I know we’ll be seeing a lot more of this actress, and I have a feeling she’ll come through the other side of this ridiculous controversy as a leading lady.  
The costumes of the Capitol citizens are garish and remind me of a combination of an amateur theater production, Baptist church ladies, disco, The Wizard of Oz, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Their over-the-top clownishness doesn't quite seem to gel with the seriousness, grit, and drama of Katniss’ struggle, but in thinking about The Hunger Games as a send-up of America’s obsession with reality TV, they actually do fit.  We are the gawking, garish audience.  We are the citizens of the Capitol.
The Hunger Games ends with the audience hungry for more, more more.  Can anyone say sequel?
Screenplay by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray
Reel Mama’s rating: Appropriate for ages 13 and up.  When the games begin, the killing starts right away, but it’s not graphic, and the blood is kept to a bare minimum.  The first televised killing portrayed is of the previous year’s victor killing another with a brick, but it cuts away before the deed is done.  I have heard a lot of parents express their concerns about the movie representing children killing children.  I will say that it is intense and disturbing.  Whether you allow your ‘tween or teen to see the film may depend on his or her maturity level, but I will say that most teens understand that this is an allegory, albeit one of epic proportions, representing the minefield, heartaches, pain and glory of what it is to be a teenager in America today.  I’d like to think most teens can handle it, but parents in doubt can pre-screen the movie and check other parenting sites for more information before making a decision.
There is some mild language.  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The divine Miss Mayim Bialik talks with Reel Mama about mothering and her new book "Beyond the Sling"

Perhaps you aren’t familiar with attachment parenting (AP).  I wasn’t before I got pregnant.  But once I had a baby on the way, I soon found out.  According to Attachment Parenting International’s website, “Attachment Parenting is an approach to childrearing that promotes a secure attachment bond between parents and their children.”  There are numerous ways to achieve this bond with your child, and some of them are controversial.  I wish that Mayim Bialik’s book about attachment parenting, Beyond the Sling, had been available at the time. My understanding of AP would have been much clearer and more immediate.
If Mayim’s name sounds familiar to you, it should.  Mayim has been gracing screens big and small since the late 1980s.  Only in her thirties, Mayim has decades of experience under her belt.  Her breakthrough role came when she was only 12, when she played the young Bette Midler in the classic film Beaches. As a teen she went on to star in no less than two sitcoms, one at Fox and one at NBC.  The NBC show won the ratings game: Blossom was a hit show for five seasons, a major accomplishment on network TV, where most sitcoms don’t make it past the pilot.  Mayim has exploded on the scene again on another hit show, this one from CBS, The Big Bang Theory, with her recurring role as Sheldon’s girlfriend Amy Farrah Fowler.  
Add to this a PhD in neuroscience and becoming a loving mother to two children, and you begin to realize that parting a sea -- my vote is for the sea of traffic on the 405 -- is about the only thing she can’t check off her list of accomplishments.  Refreshingly, Mayim’s style, both in her book and in person, is anything but intimidating.
Mayim presents chapters on each of the major tenets of attachment parenting in a style that is straightforward and accessible.  She sprinkles each page with humor and with love, and her book will leave you thoroughly informed about this popular but often controversial parenting style.
I recommend that every parent read this book so that they can understand the tenets of attachment parenting and decide which or all aspects could work for them.  Attachment parenting isn’t for everyone, and some of the ideas, such as elimination communication (which largely does away with diapers and helps children communicate their elimination needs by reading their natural signals), are unconventional and may be difficult for some parents to embrace.  
However, parents with an open mind will be rewarded with creative ideas and new tools to use in their own parenting.  Enforcing rigid adherence to the tenets of attachment parenting is not Mayim’s goal with the book.  Instead, she hopes to foster understanding about AP, to educate parents so that they can decide for themselves which approaches might work for them, and to create a dialogue among parents so that they can share approaches that have been successful.  

What makes this book so engaging is that Mayim uses personal experiences with her husband and own children, Miles and Frederick, to illustrate her points.  While I don’t practice every tenet of attachment parenting, I felt more confident in my own parenting choices after seeing how confident Mayim is with hers.   This approach is working for her family, and in the end, that’s what makes our parenting choices a success.
Mayim is a strong, educated, empowered woman both onscreen and off.  She’s an inspiration, and I greatly enjoyed my opportunity to speak with her about her book.  I also couldn’t help but ask her the burning question that’s been on my mind since the character of Amy was introduced on The Big Bang Theory: will she ever consummate her relationship not with Sheldon, but with Penny?  

Note that my questions are in bold.

Mayim Bialik

I really enjoyed reading your book, and I recently watched an episode of Blossom. I felt that the opening lyric -- “in my ‘opinionation’ the sun is gonna surely shine” -- could be applied to parenting.  We all have an “opinionation” about parenting, and I wondered what motivated you to pick up your pad and pencil and give us a piece of your mind in terms of writing the book?
Actually, I wasn’t looking to write a book.  I was blogging for a website called Kveller, and I kind of just became this unofficial voice for attachment parenting, but was not really looking to write a book.  That didn’t seem at all to be where I was going.  I was interviewed for a podcast by a comedian and author -- her name is Teresa Strasser -- and she said to me, "I would never want to parent the way you do, but you make it sound really interesting, and you make it make sense.  She said, “I want you to meet my book agent.”  I met with her book agent, and again I was thinking, “I don’t want to write a book,”  and he said, “You have a really interesting voice, and you have a really interesting perspective.”  Four months later I had basically written many of the stories that my friends and I had been navigating together, and that’s how this book came about.
How do you define attachment parenting?
I stick to Dr. William Sears’ description of it.  He is sort of the founder of the “attachment parenting” phrase, and he gave support for this book.  Attachment parenting includes things like natural birth and breastfeeding.  Attachment Parenting International acknowledges that breastfeeding should mimic bottle feeding as much as possible.  Sleeping with your children, gentle discipline, and wearing your baby in slings, things like that.  Attachment parenting’s not all or nothing.  There’s no attachment parenting police, but those are the major tenets of attachment parenting.
Why do you think attachment parenting is so controversial, and how do you respond to the critics of AP?
I think it’s controversial in light of the fact that this century especially has seen a real emphasis on early independence, on a sort of parent-centered philosophy with children sort of being seen but not heard.  Those are things that make for a very productive family unit.  Especially thinking about the Depression and World War II, those were things that were sometimes emphasized, but again it’s not the way the human body was designed to parent, and it’s not the way a lot of modern cognitive psychology is indicating is necessarily healthy for families.
One of the things that I really appreciated about your book was one of the take-away messages about the importance of advocating for yourself and your child, especially in a medical setting and when it comes to child birth.  I wondered if you could give some advice for moms about how they can be empowered to advocate for themselves, either in a medical setting or a natural setting, especially with child birth, depending on what they choose.
Attachment parenting per se takes no stance on medical issues, but I think what you’re touching on is a really important aspect of attachment parenting: that you really are the authority on your child. A lot of the parenting styles that I talk about are largely intuitive.  They are things that many people intuitively want to do, for example hold the baby, care for the baby in a specific way, and it’s a lot of “modern” conventional wisdom that’s sending people away from that.  So I think that people like Ricki Lake, whose name is also on the back of our book, have done a tremendous amount to show what one voice can do to teach people about the human body and the way that it was designed to give birth, and the way our country thinks it should give birth.  So I think that a lot of it is surrounding yourself with people who are like minded and open minded, but it’s very difficult. I know that, even though I live in Los Angeles, and I’m surrounded by progressive people, supposedly.
It was really interesting to relive my birth experience, which I did have in a hospital, when you were discussing your birth experience.  I was remembering the times I almost had to fight with the doctor and nurses just to get things that I felt that I needed. 
It shouldn’t be such a battle, but it absolutely is.
What are some of the common misconceptions about breastfeeding, and how can moms overcome some of the stigmas that society still places on breastfeeding?
The biggest is one that could be so easily remedied if we just spoke to women when they were pregnant.  The human body gives birth with exactly the right amount of milk for the baby.  Period!  It’s a fact; it’s one that many doctors and nurses don’t know about. The human body is absolutely designed [for nursing].  There’s no waiting for milk to come in to feed a baby.  We talk instead about establishing a milk supply after the colostrum phase, but even subtly shifting the language of how we speak about breastfeeding could significantly improve the lives of moms and babies. That’s one of the misconceptions. Another one is that  babies need solids at six months.  Of course the World Health Organization and the Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give solids at six months.  We nursed for a full year and a couple of months with nothing but breast milk, and I know people who have nursed into the second year with nothing but breast milk.  Breast milk builds the baby. That’s what it’s there for.  
Another misconception is that it inappropriately ties you down to your child, and you need your freedom.  I do acknowledge that that’s a normal fear.  The fact is that you are absolutely building a relationship that is purposeful, and that does involve a certain amount of commitment on your part.  For many of us it’s a struggle both emotionally and sometimes physically at first.  But it is one that we believe in because it is so valuable, not simply because we are looking to be martyrs, which is one of the common accusations. 
I was impressed to read that you’re a certified lactation consultant.  Is that right?
I’m a lactation educator counselor.  I’m not a full IBCLC (International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners).  That involves many hours in hospitals and working. It’s something I’m hoping to work towards, but I’ve done the first step towards it.
Are you ever on the line when someone’s calling for nursing advice with La Leche League (an organization Mayim is involved in that provides breastfeeding support for moms)?
I’ve counseled parents through word of mouth.  I’ve counseled a nice bunch of moms and dads.  Part of the reason that I wanted to get my lactation educator counselor certification and hopefully work towards being an IBCLC is that I had a lot of difficulty nursing:  I was unable to leave the house for many weeks because I couldn’t put clothing on.  So I just kind of wanted to be known as someone who makes house calls and does it just because I love it.  I’ve been able to counsel a nice group of women and at this point we’ve had really fantastic success.
It’s so necessary to have that kind of support for breastfeeding, because there are so many questions.
Absolutely, and a lot of times they’re easily solved if you get on them right away, and that’s why it’s so important.

Mayim uses attachment parenting with her two sons

UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families, or CELF, recently released a study of middle class parents living in LA.  A Wall Street Journal article about the study stated the following: “Among the findings: The families had very a child-centered focus, which may help explain the ‘dependency dilemma’ seen among American middle-class families, says Dr. [Elinor] Ochs. Parents intend to develop their children's independence, yet raise them to be relatively dependent, even when the kids have the skills to act on their own, she says.”  I took the study as a direct criticism of a child-centered approach to child-rearing.  Did you happen to see this study, and if so, what did you think of it? 
I have not heard of any long-term, statistically significant studies showing that that’s true.  The general notion, and again this is one that is supported by pediatricians, is that encouraging early dependence does lead to later independence.  Obviously it depends a lot on the temperament of the child.  I would argue that I see a lot of interesting phenomenal kids come out of this style of parenting because it also does teach both to expect a lot of the world and to know your feelings very well.  I don’t know all the factors in that study, but I think it’s important to point out that again for all of human history we have parented this way, in a way that’s consistent with the needs of the child.  And it’s a recent innovation in our culture to encourage this kind of early independence.  I don’t know that we have enough research supporting that that’s the way to go.  
You say that “a whole parenting industry has been created it seems solely to confuse us.” I definitely felt confused and frustrated when I read the study. I only read the WSJ article, but there were different things that frustrated me. One was the wording the study used that moms tend to “gyrate” between their responsibilities.  Instead of multi-tasking, they’re “gyrating” between doing laundry, cooking dinner and reading a story to her child, and it seemed to be portrayed as a negative thing.  Sometimes it’s just a necessary thing. You have to achieve a balance.
I consider all of that normal.  I’m super interested [in the study], and it’s one of the things the attachment parenting community has been saying, and it continues to be true that there is no long-term evidence that me sleeping with my kids or nursing a toddler is “bad” for them. A lot of the research is showing that things like holding children, not hitting children, those things actually do matter.
On a related topic, as a mother of a daughter who will be growing up quickly, I was so impressed with Blossom, and really felt that it was ahead of its time in terms of addressing a lot of the issues that modern families and teens face, and what a strong and responsible character she was. Then I saw your blog piece about the spread in W Magazine with its hyper-sexualized disturbing imagery (I totally agree with you on that one).  What would be your message to young girls in terms of processing these hyper-sexualized or unrealistic images of beauty that they are confronted with?
I don’t think there’s an easy answer.  I think the more adults can speak up on behalf of young women, the better. These things will not go away if there aren’t people to speak up for them, absolutely.  I think also a lot of it does fall on parents to encourage a wide range of activities and interests for little girls, I mean starting very young.  There’s nothing wrong with girls who like pink, but I think it’s important to note that there’s nothing evolutionarily beneficial about pink, or about fairies or princesses.  Those are absolutely cultural constructs that a lot of little girls resonate with, but I think our media is very, very strongly trying to encourage a very, very simplistic presentation of what’s male and what’s female, and I think that’s part of where it starts.
There’s so much we could talk about with that, down to the pink Rock-a-Stack.  It’s crazy!
For my last question, I want to ask you about The Big Bang Theory.  People often ask you if Amy and Sheldon will ever consummate their relationship, but I’m wondering if Amy and Penny’s friendship might become something more, and Amy might act on her obvious attraction to Penny?
That’s really funny! Amy is bi-curious, and I actually think it’s a sweet aspect to her.  I don’t know, but the chances are more likely we’ll see progress on the Amy-Sheldon front, but I actually have gotten some really fun and interesting support from the LGBTQQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning) community saying that it’s kind of nice to have a bi-curious character represented, so I’m happy for that.

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Reel Mama interviewed on the inaugural broadcast of "Showbiz View" internet radio show with Le Rad

This past week I had the great pleasure of being one of the guests on the inaugural broadcast of the internet radio show "Show Biz View," which explores all aspects of entertainment with a focus on film.  Radio host Le Rad interviewed me about this year's Oscars and some of my favorite children's film recommendations. I hope you will check out the broadcast.  You can listen to a rebroadcast by clicking here.

You can view updates about upcoming shows by visiting the Artist First Radio Network website:

Le Rad brings her warm on-air personality to her fun new show.  She has a great deal of experience on the red carpet, and for her show she will be interviewing writers, directors, actors, authors, musicians, sports figures on all levels, and those making a difference in their communities.  Last week Le Rad also interviewed Ray O'Connor, a veteran actor co-starring in David Mamet's THE UNIT.  Next week, I will be joining Le Rad as a guest as she interviews my good friend, the very talented filmmaker Tamar Simon Hoffs, who recently celebrated with her business partner, actor Malcolm McDowell, as he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Join us live this coming Wednesday, March 28, at 10pm ET/ 7pm PT!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fans celebrate the opening of THE HUNGER GAMES

Last night, fans gathered at the Grove in Los Angeles as they awaited the midnight screening of THE HUNGER GAMES, the most hotly anticipated film of the year.  Clara Collins and Daisy McElfresh, both 13, were exhilarated.  Clara first read the books in fourth grade.  They are now in seventh, so they've spent years of their young lives waiting for the film event of the century.  "I've been counting down on Facebook for ten days.  I can't wait. It feels like it's not here!" said Daisy.  "It's crazy!" added Clara, soaking in the electric atmosphere of the moment.

Clara Collins and Daisy McElfresh, both 13,
planned to attend the midnight screening of THE HUNGER GAMES

Rachel Hahn and Cristine Tennant dressed as citizens of
the Capitol depicted in THE HUNGER GAMES book series

Rachel Hahn and Cristine Tennet might have taken the prize for best dressed of the evening. Outfitted as citizens of the Capitol depicted in the books, they turned heads everywhere they went and let their outfits speak for their excitement for the movie.  They read the book a year and a half ago, and have been anticipating the movie ever since.

Fans of THE HUNGER GAMES, what did you do to celebrate the big opening of the hottest film on the planet?  What did you think of the movie?   

"The Hunger Games" cast shows fans the love on film's opening night

On March 22, prior to a midnight screening of the film at the Grove in Los Angeles, eager fans gathered at the Barnes & Noble to meet the young stars of the hottest film on the planet.  The night was cinema-tastic as Liam Hemsworth, who stars as Gale, Alexander Ludwig, who plays Cato, and Amandla Stenberg, who stars as Rue, were all on hand to greet excited fans, melt hearts, and turn the world on with their smiles.  

The fans, some of whom wore costumes, were delighted as the actors signed their books and movie posters, which are sure to be collector’s items in years to come.

Fans meet the cast members of THE HUNGER GAMES: 
Amandla Stenberg (Rue), Liam Hemsworth (Gale), and Alexander Ludwig (Cato) were at the Grove Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles signing books and posters for lovers of the best-selling series

Some people are so handsome it's ridiculous

Alexander Ludwig greets one of THE HUNGER GAMES' youngest and most adorable fans

A young fan of THE HUNGER GAMES is thrilled with her signed poster

Amandla Stenberg is a lovely young star of THE HUNGER GAMES.  I'm sure we'll be seeing much more of her.

Liam Hemsworth greets a fan with his melting gaze. She was so distracted that she accidentally put her ice cream cone in her purse after this meeting.