Louisiana Weekly offered me the honor of covering the New Orleans premier of the movie 12 Years a Slave, at the Civic. Its director Steve McQueen had done a few low-key movies, but its stars weren’t yet big stars, and audiences were not yet aware of this movie’s brutality.
Somehow the premier’s guest list included my name but the venue hadn’t set aside my tickets. The event’s PR person recognized me, however, and walked me past the Press section, up into the VIP balcony. A nice surprise! I glanced around the balcony and didn’t recognize any New Orleans celebrities except, three empty seats down from me, then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu! A few years back I’d rented a large, affordable apartment from his brother Mark Landrieu! Mitch and I had never met, but we were practically buddies!
“Mayor Landrieu! I’m covering this for Louisiana Weekly. May I snap a quick photo of you?”
I stood to take the photo as he turned and shouted “NO!” at me — mean as he could. I saw back down. He looked over his shoulder to the back of the theatre, and made eye contact with a large Black man in a suit. Landrieu patted the empty seat beside him to call over his bodyguard, as one would a small child. The huge guy came down and took the seat between me and Landrieu, and then we watched 12 Years a Slave.
Though immediately embarrassed and a little angry that Mitch had yelled at me, I accepted that I had crossed a line by trying to commit press atrocities in the private VIP section. No one had warned me not to do that, but it shoulda been obvious. Still, you (Mitch) should never yell at your boss (me), even when you’re off work. Dick.
Anyway, I wasn’t ready for 12 Years a Slave, a film that churns your guts like a horror movie, with the added affect of making white people feel excruciatingly guilty. While very good, 12 Years had me fucking crying by the end. In the VIP section. A few seats from the Mayor who’d yelled at me.
I didn’t want anyone to see me like that. As the credits threatened to roll and before the lights could go up, I ran down the theatre stairs past the Press section and out the back door, trying to stop crying. Through teary eyes, I fast-walked down the block and around the corner to my truck (the same truck John Oates rode in). Against my truck leaned director Steve McQueen, actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (who I’d just watched as Solomon Northup), and the angel of perfection, Lupita Nyong’o. They all rested against my truck, drinking, smoking, laughing, listening to the audience’s applause from outside, and getting ready to go in and speak about their film.
I only saw Lupita though, because she glowed fucking angelic, but also because I’d just watched her be brutalized seconds ago, for like two hours. She turned and saw my crying face and said, “Oh!” and jumped off my truck. Everyone else stopped laughing and stood up straight. “Sorry about that!” she added.
“No! No!” I cried out. As they backed away from my truck I could only think to plea with Lupita, “Are you OK?”
She nodded her perfect head, seeming a bit worried. I must have looked insane, jumping in and driving off into the night, wiping my eyes to better stare at her in my teary rearview.
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