Saturday, March 23, 2002

Boycott's list adds a new star

Whoopi Goldberg cancels June appearance at Aronoff

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Actress Whoopi Goldberg has canceled her sold-out June 12 engagement at the Aronoff Center for the Arts in support of the boycott of Cincinnati, the show's producer announced Friday.

        Ms. Goldberg was to appear at the Unique Lives & Experiences Women's Lecture Series. She was asked in February by one of the boycott groups to cancel her appearance.

        Bob Benia, Toronto-based series producer, said Ms. Goldberg requested information about the boycott after he made her aware of it.

        “I guess she has made up her mind that not coming to Cincinnati would be in keeping with the position she wants to take on this matter,” he said. “I'm disappointed that the boycott seems to be creating a situation where the city of Cincinnati is missing out on things like this. Ms. Goldberg has a lot of issues and experiences in her life that could possibly address the situation Cincinnati is facing right now.”

        Brad Cafaraelli, Ms. Goldberg's publicist, did not return phone calls Friday. Ms. Goldberg is hosting this Sunday's Academy Awards show in Los Angeles.

        About 2,600 tickets had been sold for the event at the Aronoff, Mr. Benia said. A substitute program will be announced shortly, he said.

        The actress-comedienne's cancellation comes a week after the Progressive National Baptist Convention pulled its 10,000-delegate annual conference from the city.

        Ms. Goldberg joins a growing list of African-American artists who have backed out of performances in response to the boycott. Among those who have honored the request are actor-comedian Bill Cosby, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and R&B singer Smokey Robinson.

        The Goldberg announcement is another victory for the three groups calling for a boycott of the city.

Text of the e-mail appeal from boycotters to Whoppi Goldberg
        In this instance, the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for Justice, a group led by Victoria Straughn, sent an e-mail on Feb. 7 to the production company responsible for Ms. Goldberg's appearance. It asked the company to boycott the city until demands for what it terms racial and economic justice are met.

        “I am really pleased that someone of Ms. Goldberg's stature has agreed to stand in solidarity with us,” Ms. Straughn said Friday. “I think the city continues to underestimate our determination to get change.”

        In her e-mail, Ms. Straughn asked producers of the lecture series to make Ms. Goldberg aware of the tense climate in Cincinnati and that “the threat of more unrest” is possible.

        “Our communities can no longer stand idly by while our unarmed young black men are gunned down and choked to death by the CPD, and watch the kind of Good Ole Boy network of Prosecutors, Judges, Elected officials, and the local FOP reward this kind of behavior,” Ms. Straughn wrote.

        The e-mail accuses police of “planting drugs on suspects, raping young women, verbally and physically attacking ... young African-American males.”

        Ms. Straughn said Mr. Benia's agency responded to her e-mail the next day and confirmed by phone a week later that Ms. Goldberg would not be coming. She never spoke to Ms. Goldberg directly.

        “We were actually trying to get all of the women involved in the lecture series to pull out,” Ms. Straughn told The Enquirer. “I'm not sure our message got through to everyone.”

        Lady Margaret Thatcher and activist Erin Brockovich have already appeared. Scheduled are singer Naomi Judd and author Anna Quindlen.

        The Unique Lives & Experiences series was started 10 years ago in Toronto, Canada, as a discussion forum for women. The series has been held in Cincinnati each of the past four years. The Cincinnati Enquirer has been its chief local sponsor.

        “We're very disappointed that Whoopi is not coming. We felt she would have had a lot more to do with racial healing and not racial division,” said Gerald T. Silvers, the Enquirer's vice president of market development. “The Unique Lives series has featured racial diversity since its inception in Cincinnati.”

        A June 12 replacement will be announced at a later date, he added.

        “There still will be a performance, just not by Whoopi.”

        Boycott organizers say Ms. Goldberg's decision should send a message to the community.

        “Maybe people will start seeing that artists — not just your average singer-entertainer type that's geared to one particular audience — are really thinking before they come to Cincinnati,” said the Rev. Stephen Scott. He is vice-chairman of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, a boycott partner.

        “I am waiting to see if we will finally breach the color barrier and have some of those (white) artists we have contacted say they are not coming either.”

        Born Caryn Elaine Johnson, Ms. Goldberg was raised by her mother in a Manhattan housing project and began appearing on stage at age eight.

        Her comedy and improvisational one-woman show, in which she changed characters in rapid succession, garnered her early success in Hollywood.

        She was nominated in 1985 for an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in the movie The Color Purple. It was her motion picture debut. She won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1990 for her portrayal of a fortune teller in the movie Ghost.

        In 1985, she won a Grammy for best comedy album.

        She has made a number of television appearances, including recurring roles on sci-fi series Star Trek: The Next Generation and TV game show Hollywood Squares. Her recent films include Girl, Interrupted and Rat Race.


Text of message from boycotters to Whoopi Goldberg

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