The New Web Site for ‘DiMag & Mick’

Check out the new web site for my book ‘DiMag & Mick’ that will be in book stores March 16,

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‘DiMag & Mick’ Now the No. 1 New Book Release in America

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The American Dream is Alive and Well…

My friend Robert Pharr of Dallas, Texas, looks upon Lady Liberty on a recent visit to New York. (Copyright 2015, John Robert Pharr)

My friend Robert Pharr of Dallas, Texas, looks upon Lady Liberty on a visit to New York. (Copyright 2015, John Robert Pharr)

Dallas businessman John Robert Pharr, looking at the Statue of Liberty while ferrying around Liberty Island, shares the dreams of Americans inspired by the sight of Lady Liberty.



Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!

May the joy and peace of Christmas be with you during the holidays... The love of my life in a vintage card from the incredible artist Dennis Mukai.

May the joy and peace of Christmas be with you during the holidays… The love of my life Renee LaSalle in a vintage card from the incredible artist Dennis Mukai.

Can Jorge Ramos Save The Americam Immigrant Dream?

Univision broadcaster Jorge Ramos spars with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump before being booted from the news conference.

Univision broadcaster Jorge Ramos spars with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump before being booted from the news conference in Iowa Tuesday.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S DISAPPOINTING failure to champion immigration reform, what The Washington Post called his “immigration train wreck,” may be the consummate example of the failure of the Obama presidency on Latino issues.

It is also a tell-tale sign of the potential trouble the Democratic Party could find itself in politically, and an incredible opening for the GOP if it could ever decide to take the courageous steps needed to broaden its base and not fumble the opportunity.

Sadly, for Latinos, the 2016 presidential campaign could wind up being a repeat of the last eight years – broken promises from the Democrats, should they once again put immigration reform on the back burner, and frustration because any Republican presidency likely will have no mandate to make history on the same issue.

Whatever happens next year, count on Univision broadcaster Jorge Ramos to continue being the conscience of America on immigration reform, as he again showed himself to be in confronting Republican frontrunner Donald Trump Tuesday.

At a news conference in Iowa, Ramos attempted to grill Trump on immigration without having been called on by the candidate, and it led to fireworks that have been at the top of the political news cycle since then.

“You haven’t been called on, go back to Univision,” Trump said to Ramos, who soon was removed from the news confernce by security.

Trump and Ramos apparently have a negative history not unlike Trump’s with Fox newscaster Megyn Kelly, with whom he sparred during and after the GOP debate earlier this month – and on whom he has not lessened his criticism since then.

Ramos also is hardly non-partisan. His wholesale support of immigrants rights is well know, and he has acknowledged that his daughter now works on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Those leanings, however, never stopped him from his criticism of Obama.

“A promise is a promise,” Ramos famously reminded Obama over his failure to press for comprehensive immigration reform. “Una promesa es una promesa.”

Jorge Ramos’ own championing of immigrants has taken on a life of its own not only because of him being perhaps the best nationally known Latino advocating progressive immigration reform but also by the fact that Univision and its new Fusion network offer him the biggest platform enjoyed by any Hispanic leader.

It’s not that some Latino Democratic leaders haven’t also been critical of Obama’s broken promises, but their criticism has been understandably muted by comparison – their own party’s fate is at stake, after all.

Latino Democrats and partisans also are not about to call the president and their party’s leader a bald-faced liar, which is what Ramos effectively has done — and can get away with, perhaps because he’s not beholden to the Democratic Party but possibly because of that charming accented English of his that allows him to be harsher than he actually sounds.

Any other journalist might be accused of being rude, but not Jorge Ramos who perhaps should be called the linguistic Barack Obama. Like Obama at the height of his popularity in 2008, Ramos is a man of color whose presence and style don’t immediately alienate a white audience.

But Ramos does have some of those Latino Democratic leaders pulling at their hair because they fear that his criticism only adds more fuel to the fire potentially burning their party’s hopes of winning the White House in 2016 and possibly control of Congress.

Over the past year I have had a long dinners with influential Latino Democrats who visibly grimaced when talk turned to Jorge Ramos, his ongoing criticism of Obama’s immigration record, and the fact that the Obama presidency’s increasing unpopularity has become a glaring political weakness for the party.

What will it mean for the Obama legacy? How will he be viewed among other presidents? He has no international conquests like even Richard Nixon’s legacy leans back on, unless you count Osama Bin Laden’s killing, whose hunt began during the Bush administration. Today the country is torn apart over race, not only in Congress but across communities and its national culture. The economic recovery is overblown. The Affordable Health Care Act, remains a mixed bag of hope and promise, at best, like its namesake.

And immigration policies, on which there has been only limited improvement and no reform, have continued to leave Latino immigrants as second class American dreamers, with the Obama history of record deportations qualifying his administration as perhaps the worst of any recent president on immigration.

My Democratic friends have tried to downplay Ramos’ criticism the same way that many of Jorge’s critics have found it easy to dismiss him – that it’s Jorge’s own immigrant background speaking.

Ramos, 57, was already in his mid-20s when he immigrated to the U.S. His understanding of politics was groomed in Mexico, which in the minds of many Americans is a quasi democracy where imperial leadership and essentially a one-party political system formed Jorge’s views of political power.

That may be unfair to Ramos, who in the last three decades has become one of America’s leading journalists. But it doesn’t make him immune from sometimes sounding surprisingly sophomoric and naive, especially given his experience and when other political reporters weigh in their analyses of Obama and other candidates.

But the Democrats’ political considerations aren’t Ramos’ concern, nor should they be, any more than those of Donald Trump who has now assured that Jorge will be recognized even more so as a journalist one of my reporter friends calls “the Latino Edward R. Murrow.”

Perhaps, though, Jorge Ramos has more accurately fashioned himself as our Alexis de Toqueville, the 19th century French political thinker and historian whose writings on democracy in America form the backbone of assigned political science reading at U.S. college and universities.

For it may be the fate of yet another immigrant to help put this troubled nation of immigrants back on the right path to its destiny.

R.I.P. Fred Slatten, The King of Santa Monica Boulevard

THEY USED TO CALL FRED SLATTEN the King of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood in the years just after the 1960s had begun transforming pop culture in America.

Slatten wasn’t a musician or an actor. He didn’t direct movies or represent stars. He did own a gorgeous bronze and gold Rolls Royce that became synonymous with him in the years that he was a fixture in an unincorporated West Hollywood trapped at the time between the glitz of Tinseltown and the exclusivity of Beverly Hills.

Fred Slatten in the 1970s

Celebrity shoe designer Fred Slatten in the 1970s

A tall, lanky former college basketball player at Kansas State, Fred Slatten became famous and rich for designing a product that he himself would never need – platform shoes, which became the rage for stars, celebrities and everyone trying to dress like them at a time when Hollywood lived on glam rock at its shaggiest.

One of the most prominent American shoes designers of his time, Slatten also designed boots – and those sexy, above-the-knee boots Nancy Sinatra sang about in her 1966 hit “These Boots Are Made for Walking” were Fred Slatten creations.

“Nancy Sinatra,” Slatten later recalled in one interview, “was our biggest customer.”

Friendship aside, though, Nancy couldn’t talk Slatten into selling her his personalized “FS 1” license plates from his Rolls Royce that she desperately wanted as a gift for her father Frank.

Cher, Diana Ross, Prince, Marvin Gaye, Barbara Streisand, Goldie Hawn, Liza Minnelli. Pick a name from that era, and they too likely shopped at Fred Slatten Shoes, a boutique he kept lit 24 hours a day with the display windows showing off spinning turntables of his platform designs.

“Before we knew it,” he once said, “we had a captive audience.”

Originally from Kansas City, MO, Slatten had been an executive at Bullock’s and later a wholesaler before deciding to design women’s shoes full-time.

His store on Santa Monica Boulevard was among a collage of unique boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants and hip businesses around the corner from Larabee Sound Studios in the years before West Hollywood became a city.

Stars and celebrities poured into Slatten’s boutique, but in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Slatten recalled that actress Lana Turner had been “the only customer we kept the store open late for.”

“Then there was this little pudgy guy who turned out to be Elton John,” he said. “He bought every shoe we ever made.”

Slatten also had a special armoire in his store that was filled with nothing but platform shoes and boots made especially for singer Stevie Nicks.

“When Stevie needed a new pair, she would call Fred, and he’d have them sent overnight to her no matter where she was in the world,” recalled Becky Cash, who was like an adopted daughter to Slatten and the longtime manager of his store.

The boutique became a magnet for men shopping for girlfriends, as well as women, because Slatten took pride in hiring the most beautiful sales assistants he could find.

Fred Slatten's sales team: Becky Cash, Shannon, Nicole Lalli

Fred Slatten’s sales team: Becky Cash, Shannon, Nicole Lalli

“Gene Simmons from KISS came in a lot,” Slatten told one interviewer, “but I think he just liked our girls.

“Every centerfold for 15 years wore our shoes. Barbi Benton wanted a pair that lit up, so we powered them by batteries.”

At one point, Slatten’s shoes showed city skylines or the faces of David Bowie or Marilyn Monroe, while other platform shoes had real goldfish in their wedges and live birds in their heels.

But as West Hollywood transformed, with cityhood in the mid-1980s and a revamped image on the boulevard, the demand for Slatten’s specialized shoes changed, as well. He closed his boutique, continued designing shoes for others and eventually retired.

He also didn’t think much about today’s platform renaissance, saying they were “kind of gross looking.”

“Our shoes,” he said of his designs, “flattered the foot.”

Most recently Slatten had been working on his memoir about his time and role in Hollywood and his place and its pop culture.

His time, like everyone’s, had come and gone, he used to say.

On July 1, he died in his sleep at his home. He was 92.

Last week friends gathered at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery along Slatten’s beloved Santa Monica Boulevard where his ashes were scattered among the graves of Johnny Ramone, Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks and hundreds more of Hollywood’s greatest stars.

The King of Santa Monica Boulevard had come to his final resting place.

Why Ted Cruz’s presidential candidacy is important

Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday became the first major candidate to declare his candidacy for the 2016 presidential campaign. (AP Photo for Scott Applewhite)

Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz on Monday, March 23, became the first major candidate to declare his candidacy for the 2016 presidential campaign. (AP Photo for Scott Applewhite)

RONALD REAGAN ONCE said that Latinos were Republicans. They just didn’t know it yet.

Ted Cruz, the Republican U.S. senator from Texas who has become the first major candidate to officially enter the 2016 presidential campaign, is quietly gambling that those words were never truer than in the upcoming campaign where he also apparently becomes the first major Latino figure to run for the White House.

The importance of Cruz’s entry into the race, however, is not that he is running as a Latino. Clearly he is not. Nor, quite frankly, should any Hispanic be running for that or any office on his ethnicity any more than, say, a Jewish candidate entering any campaign as little more than a Jewish candidate.

Instead, the significance of Ted Cruz is that he has not made his Latinoness an issue nor a cornerstone of his candidacy, and that the news media has not been quick to make him being Hispanic the historical importance that it placed on Jesse Jackson when he ran for president in 1984 or Barack Obama when he announced he was entering the 2008 campaign.

All that is important for the large segment of Latinos in America who are not recent immigrants, who are no more the activists of immigration reform than they were of the Chicano movement back in the 1960s.

Those Latinos made up most of the 8 million Hispanic Americans in the U.S. in 1972, and they along with with children and grandchildren still make up the bulk of the 50 million now in the country and, more importantly, of those who are eligible and registered to vote — and who do vote.

They are the ones that Ronald Reagan was talking about. And they are the ones that Republicans are now targeting.

It is not new that many, including some conservative Republicans, believe that Latinos hold the fate of upcoming political elections in their hands.

What is new, though, is just how diligent and undeterred the GOP has been in quietly wooing the traditionally loyal Hispanics, trying to help them discover that, as the party patron saint Ronald Reagan said, they are Republicans and just haven’t realized it.

In the past year, the GOP has spent more than $10 million in improving its Hispanic field operations in key states and flooding the air with Spanish-language advertisements.

The Republican National Committee has also launched “Hispanic engagement field teams” in nine states, with two dozen paid staff members on the ground reaching out to Latinos.

“The message we are going to give Latinos is about jobs, about education and about Obamacare,” says the GOP’s Rosario Marin, the California political operative who was U.S. treasurer under George W. Bush.

Marin, now a RNC advisory board member, insists that the national debate on immigration has not hurt Republicans, pointing to Chris Christie carrying 51 percent of the Hispanic vote in his gubernatorial reelection triumph last year in New Jersey, and the GOP’s David Jolly winning a special congressional election in Florida.

In fact, a Pew Hispanic Center survey agreed that immigration is not the most important issue to Latinos, ranking behind education, the economy and health care.

Marin and others maintain that the anti-Republican sentiment over the congressional impasse is exaggerated and offset by President Obama’s struggles with the immigrant community over deportations.

The GOP is also drawing encouragement from a Gallup poll in Texas in which more Latinos identified themselves as Republican than in the country as a whole.

Democrats hold a 30 percent advantage among Latinos over Republicans nationally, but that difference is only 19 percent in Texas, where Democrats had hoped to make inroads into the GOP’s two-decade stranglehold on the Lone Star State in last year’s mid-term election but failed miserably.

James Duarte, a retired state employee a former Democrat and current independent, typifies third and fourth generation Latino Americans who he couldn’t see himself voting for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis – paradoxically over the issue that made her the state’s Democratic Party darling.

“I (couldn’t) get behind a candidate whose chief claim is being pro-abortion,” Duarte, an American G.I. Forum leader among Latino veterans, says of Davis, who skyrocketed to national fame last year because of a legislative filibuster opposing an abortion bill.

But Duarte’s disenchantment goes even deeper. Asked if he would be more enthusiastic over a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, he shook his head.

“I don’t see myself being any more interested in a Hillary Clinton campaign,” he said.

“I think I have just lost faith in the Democrats asking us to vote for them but not having one of us as the candidate at the top of the ticket.

Joe Silva In Excelsus


JOE SILVA WAS the kind of little brother you never wanted around or following you, but he did.

He was my childhood best friend Johnny Silva’s little brother, and in an especially important way he was mine as well.

Joe Silva, who died Monday in Nashville at the age of 65, was our conscience. He was everything good and pure and honest. When you’re a little kid, the last thing you want around you is a good-two-shoes, which thank God he was.

He also saved our lives.

In the fourth grade, Johnny and I had started smoking, secretly, of course, snatching my father’s Camels and lighting them up every afternoon on our way home from school.

Johnny and I lived a block apart and always walked home together along a creek that took us past a golf course, under a bridge on Garden Drive, and through a cemetery with overgrown weeds and vegetation where hobos sometimes camped out, eating wild blackberries growing in the brush and catching crawfish in the waterbed.

We lived in the sticks of South Waco in a dusty neighborhood called Oakwood Addition lined with gravel streets where we were all poor white trash, as a white friend who later became a banker still says of us — to which I’ve always said to him:

“You may be white trash, but I’m a golden palomino.”

So, too, were Johnny and Joe, and we were among a handful of Hispanic kids in what was otherwise a poor, white working class community in the heart of America’s Bible Belt in the 1950s.

One afternoon, walking home along the creek, Johnny and I lit up our Camels and thought more of how we were going to try blowing smoke rings than the care we took in discarding the matches we’d just used.

As we trudged along next to the creek bank, indulging ourselves with our cigarettes, a couple of hobos ran past us, which we thought was strange, though not as odd as seeing Joe running madly toward us with a terrified look on his little face, screaming at the top of his voice.

Joe was in the second grade, and we could barely make out what he was yelling until he was almost upon us.

“Fire! Fire! There’s a fire behind you!” he screamed, pointing toward something behind us.

We turned around and immediately froze in our own horror.

A sea of flames had engulfed the entire cemetery as dried weeds and brush fueled the blaze that was racing toward us and was now perhaps no more than 10 feet away, close enough that we could smell it and hear its crackling.

“We’ve got to get out of here!” Joe screamed with a child’s urgency.

He grabbed our hands, and we ran what must have been the length of a football field under a blistering Texas sun, seemingly hotter because of the fire that roared and burned a cloud of black smoke behind us.

Outside the cemetery field, a fire engine with its wailing siren alerting its arrival turned into the trail next to the creek as a second truck appeared as well.

It was the most frightened I had felt in my young life, and all I could think of was that Johnny and I had almost died and that we were now in a heap of trouble.

I swore off cigarettes. I said Hail Marys. I wanted to turn the clock back.

That night my parents got a phone call from Mrs. Silva, who was also the den mother of my Cub Scouts group, but she wasn’t calling about scouting. She came over to our house, and I immediately apologized to her.

“It was my fault,” I said. “Don’t blame Johnny.”

“Really?” she asked. “Because Johnny says he’s the one responsible.”

“Will I go to jail?” I asked her.

She looked at me, and her tears made me feel worse.

“Should you go to jail?” Her question just hung there and would haunt me for a long time.

Mrs. Silva pulled me close to her and gave me a hug I desperately needed.

The next day our two families were at the Waco Police Department where our parents turned us in and promised to pay for the damage.

We were lucky. Lucky, that is, except that neither Johnny nor I could sit for a couple of days without our butts not hurting from the belt spankings each of us got from our fathers.

But our parents didn’t have to pay for the damage. The manager of Restland Cemetery said that the blaze cleared out the unwanted forest that had swarmed over the graveyard for several years, making it an eyesore that families hadn’t wanted to visit.

“We did ‘em a favor,” Johnny later bragged to some of our friends. “It was like we were heroes.”

We weren’t, of course, except for Joe.

Joe was his brothers’ keeper.

Who Is Eric Garcetti? The 2.0 Latino Model

The young Eric Garcetti, the future mayor-elect of Los Angeles with dad, Gil, who became district attorney.

The young Eric Garcetti, the future mayor-elect of Los Angeles with dad, Gil, who became district attorney. (From Garcetti’s Facebook page)

AMONG THE ESTIMATED 2.1 million violent deaths during the decade-long Mexican Revolution a century ago were the brutal hangings of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of supporters and officials of the longstanding government of dictator Porfirio Diaz that was overthrown.

They have long been forgotten, unearthed only in the memories of their families, many of them long since emigrated to safety in the United States.

One of those who was hanged was Massimo Garcetti, an Italian immigrant who had risen to some success in his adopted homeland, becoming a judge in the northern state of Chihuahua

“I assume,” says Garcetti’s great-grandson, Eric, “that means he was on the wrong side of the revolution.”

History may show it to be one of the few times that a Garcetti has been on the wrong side of anything dealing with politics, certainly the biggest stamp on that being Eric’s surprisingly easy election as mayor of Los Angeles last week.

In a bitterly-contested campaign whose winner some feared wouldn’t be known possibly for weeks, Garcetti last year stunned two of the city’s most dominant forces – organized labor and the Hispanic leadership – by whipping opponent Wendy Greuel among virtually every voter bloc, including Latinos.

Garcetti’s triumph makes the story of his great-grandfather’s hanging, believed to have taken place in a square in Chihuahua, that much more significant because it hasn’t been one that the mayor-elect has trotted out in a narrative of tragedy and hardship as politicians are known to do.

He could have claimed, if he wanted, that his family has shed blood for Mexico – that he is a mejicano in more than just ancestry and ethnocentric political hyperbole.

The 2013 mayoral campaign in which critics – many of them the city’s Latino leadership — and even the Los Angeles Times questioned whether he was Hispanic enough, were opportunities for Garcetti to make a stronger case for himself as to his Latinoness.

Not that he avoided it. But he didn’t wear his ethnicity on his sleeves.

As he told a group of Latino voters in one of his last campaign stops, “I don’t want your vote just because I speak Spanish.”

And that, in addition to being perhaps Garcetti’s shrewdest move of handling his ethnicity in politics, appears to signal a shift on the pubic thinking of what and who is a Hispanic as Latinos in Los Angele in recent days have rushed to celebrate his victory.

Oscar Garza, who edited the now-defunct Ciudad magazine recalled this week how his publication had once trumpeted “how Latinos in L.A. are increasingly the children or partners of people from other ethnicities and races.”

“And now,” he says of Garcetti, “L.A. has a mayor who fits that bill.

“Eric Garcetti represents the 2.0 model of Latinos in L.A. “

Garcetti’s election has also brought into question the credibility of the city’s Latino leadership, which heavily endorsed his opponent – some of them openly questioning whether the now mayor-elect was really Hispanic.

There was the Italian last name and the ancestry from Italy, which is not that unusual among Hispanics in Latin America but seems to rankle some Mexican Americans buried in provincialism.

“He says he’s Latino,” City Councilman Jose Huizar, himself a Mexican immigrant. “But, you know, that’s for the voters to see or the constituents to see.”

On Election Day, an overwhelming number of Latinos apparently saw Garcetti as one of their own. Garcetti won 60 percent of the Latino votes, according to an exit poll from Loyola Marymount University’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles.

So much for the pull and power of all those self-inflated Latino leaders, as Garcetti now seems to have emboldened those who voted for him.

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‘Ruben Salazar’: The best may be off-camera


Filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez’s long-awaited documentary ‘Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle’ airs tonight on PBS.

IT’S POSSIBLE THAT “Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle” may be the first documentary to be more important for what isn’t on the screen than for what is.

The significance of documentary, airing Tuesday night, is that the filmmaker, Phillip Rodriguez, and his supporters were able to break down the barrier that Los Angeles law enforcement had built around its investigation the 44-year-old killing.

Salazar was the former Los Angeles Times columnist who in 1970, while working for the city’s Spanish language station KMEX, was killed by sheriff’s deputies during a break in a massive Chicano demonstration taking place in the city’s Hispanic Eastside.

A Los Angeles County deputy fired a deadly tear gas canister into a bar where Salazar was having a beer with his camera crew, hitting the newsman in the head and killing him instantly.

The outcry was unprecedented and the findings unsatisfactory to Latinos and law-abiding citizens. No deputy was charged, even after investigations showed law enforcement officers were negligent in firing the tear gas canister blindly and in their actions responding to an anonymous call of someone with a weapon in the bar.

It was all even more highly suspect because Salazar’s reporting on the inequities faced by Latino in Los Angeles had angered and alienated many officials and law enforcement authorities.

Rodriguez took it upon himself to undertake the definitive documentary of Salazar and what happened. A young filmmaker at the University of Southern California, he enlisted the support of the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund and took on the establishment.

In a series of court decisions, the filmmaker won the right to have all the law enforcement files surrounding Salazar’s killing and its investigation opened to him and researchers.

That was historic, fitting of Salazar, the tough reporter who had been not an activist but middle-class. He had grown up in Texas. He was married to a non-Latina. He lived in Orange County, which was heavily white and Republican conservative at the time.

The filmmaker winning a court battle to open long-closed legal files may be the best part of the documentary because of the limitations of technology during the Age of Salazar and the expectations that the technology of today places on any filmmaker.

That’s to say that in the 1960s there weren’t people running around with camera phones, TV equipment was bulky and expensive, and what videotape there was often was reused.

For instance, you can’t watch Sandy Koufax’s perfect game of 1965, except for snippets, because no film doesn’t exists and the videotape of the game was recycled.

Similarly, there is little of Salazar on tape or film as he went about his work in Los Angeles or Vietnam or Mexico City. He was never a panelist on any of the Sunday morning network interview shows, and the limited footage from local stations has been seen repeatedly over during the years.

This wasn’t the Kennedy Assassination with local and network cameras duplicating themselves, and there were no Zapruder’s filming from some safe location in East Los Angeles.

Face it, the technology of television news of that time was still in its infancy.

There is also only so much you can do with private photographs in filling up an entire documentary.

So Rodriguez had to work with overused footage and mostly talking heads being interviewed – old guys who knew Ruben but whose ramblings put you to sleep and young journalists who didn’t know Salazar and sound more informed than they really are with second and third-hand information at best.

And the documents to which the filmmaker won access?

Well, even Shakespeare’s prose would quickly get a little tiresome if all television showed you were page after page of a manuscript.

What this means is that “Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle” is an ambitious project done by a promising filmmaker about a man who deserved better than what he got in the end and who today might have been proud of what his professional descendent was able to accomplish with what he had to work.

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