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1994, 4:31 a.m. - Magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake rocks Santa Clarita Valley [video]
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The Good Long Road | Commentary by Jennifer Fischer
| Friday, Dec 26, 2014

JenniferFischerThis is the time of year for reflection. I’ve read some great A-Z lists lately, my favorite being “A to Z of Women In Film 2014” in Indiewire’s Women and Hollywood blog. I’ve decided to use the A-Z format, as well.

Here’s the first part of my A-Z of this past year’s news, highlighting the headlines that jump out at me as I look back on the year and reflect.

A is for Australia – The recent hostage situation and deaths in Australia reminded me of what a small, small world it is, and of how fragile life can be; of how we never know what might happen. It also demonstrated the ways tragedy can bring people together. Following the event, the hashtag #IllRideWithYou flooded Twitter feeds as Australians offered to ride with fellow Muslims who feared they might be harassed as they rode public transportation in their head scarves. I was moved by this gesture. So often, an act by one person in a group can lead people to make generalizations about that entire group, but in this case, that didn’t happen. Well done, Aussies. Well done.

B is for Blackfish – The documentary film, “Blackfish,” which highlights the controversy of holding orca whales in captivity with a focus on the deaths of SeaWorld trainers because of the actions of these whales, may have been released in 2013, but its impact reverberated well into 2014 for the aquatic water parks. The company’s stock price has plummeted. A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the SeaWorld, and recently the chief executive of SeaWorld Entertainment resigned as attendance at parks and revenues continued to decrease. As a filmmaker, the ability of this film to create actual change stands out as nothing short of remarkable.

C is for Cosby – More and more accusations cropped up this year against Bill Cosby from women who allege he drugged and raped them. The number of women who have come out about this certainly makes the accusations hard to ignore and have meant, for most, the fall of an iconic TV father. The entire experience reminds me of how a different code of ethics often exists for those with privilege in our society, and of how far we still have to go regarding equal rights and safety for women.

D is for Domestic Violence – Various high-profile domestic violence cases, most notably the case of NFL player Ray Rice, who was caught punching out his fiancee on tape, underscored the realities women face. And once again, how different consequences exist for those with privilege as the NFL struggled to handle this issue in a way that anyone felt was proper. Amid a year of so much turmoil, this incident also feels connected to larger issues in our society regarding excessive violence and disregard for the value of all lives, as certain lives seem to be given more importance than others.

E is for Ebola – Ebola has taken thousands of lives in West Africa and will no doubt continue to do so. While at times it has caused fear and panic in other countries, including in the U.S., it also has brought attention to significant inequalities around the world regarding healthcare, demonstrating how these inequalities can affect us all. I tipped my hat this year to the healthcare workers of Doctors Without Borders (and similar agencies) which have not hesitated to go to Liberia and other West African countries to help.

F is for Francis – It seems that daily, Pope Francis says or does something that surprises the world and demonstrates his mission of reforming the Catholic Church. He started by clearly showing the Catholic Church would be honest about its history relating to child sexual abuse (and would not tolerate or cover for priests anymore). He has moved on to stress that the church has overemphasized certain issues – homosexuality, abortion, contraception – at the expense of focusing on the marginalization of the poor, and he has called for a truly inclusive church that is open to all.

G is for Grand Juries – Many Americans began to question the value and validity of the grand jury system this year as cases from Ferguson to New York displayed that perhaps this aspect of our criminal justice system is deeply flawed. Grand Jury results sparked protests across the country against police violence and brutality – protests that seem linked to larger issues of privilege and oppression in our nation.

H is for Hackers – Hackers made their presence known, particularly with the Sony hack and the debacle surrounding “The Interview,” which had many people questioning the choice to not release the film. Though ultimately its release moved forward online, it was certainly one of the odder entertainment stories of the year.

I is for India Space Mission – The photos from India’s successful first mission to Mars were some of my favorite photos of the year, particularly the images of the researchers, engineers and scientists celebrating their success. India became the first nation to orbit Mars successfully on the first attempt, and theirs was also likely the cheapest mission to Mars. It was an inspiring story in a year that often felt bleak.

J is for Justice – Justice was a recurring theme this year – in the news and in my personal work as my primary research focused on the use of solitary confinement in the United States and our criminal justice system in general. The U.S. leads the world with 2.2 million individuals in prison or jail. Further, 2 million children in the U.S. are growing up with a parent behind bars. California took a bold move to reduce this number with Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for certain non-violent crimes. In general, it was a year in which many began to discuss exactly what justice is and began to examine our current criminal justice system more thoroughly. I expect more changes to come in the new year, as well.

K is for Kidnapping – Notable kidnappings grabbed headlines this year. The 200-plus girls and young women kidnapped by Boko Haram last April are still missing, and recently (Dec. 18), CNN reported that Boko Haram kidnapped at least another 185 women and children and killed more than 30 in a recent raid. Boko Haram has been terrorizing villages in Nigeria since 2009, and sadly, there seems to be no end in sight. Mexico was also flung into the spotlight with high-profile kidnappings. More on that next time.

Many of the stories that stuck out for me were stories of sadness, loss and injustice. Yet, there were some rays of light in there, as well, and the responses that many around the world had to the loss and injustice offer hope as many around the world stood together and called for the release of the girls kidnapped in Nigeria, spoke out for accountability, and raised their voices to help those in need – whether in Australia, Mexico, the U.S., Nigeria or elsewhere.

Whenever I see news that breaks my heart, I think of the words of Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” This is what I like to do, too. The helpers are always there.

 

Jennifer Fischer is co-founder of the SCV Film Festival, a mom of two, an independent filmmaker and owner of Think Ten Media Group, whose Generation Arts division offers programs for SCV youth. She writes about her parenting journey on her blog, The Good Long Road. Her commentary is published Saturdays on SCVNews.com.

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