Jodie Foster: An American In Paris

In Paris to film Roman Polanski’s latest movie, the legendary Hollywood star reflects on her career, and lifelong love affair with France.

Jodie Foster: An American In Paris
Jodie Foster (Franz Richter)
Marie-Noëlle Tranchant

PARIS - Francophile film star Jodie Foster is due to preside over the Césars award ceremony in Paris this Friday, the French equivalent of the Oscars. But the American actress doesn't need to fly in for the appearance: she's already in the French capital for the shoot of Roman Polanski's next film, an adaptation of Yasmina Reza's play The God of Carnage.

Is the film in French? "No," she explains. "The story has been transposed to New York, which works really well because it deals with universal themes." Polanski cannot return to the United States, where he faces charges of sexual assault against a minor, so an American backdrop has been recreated in a studio in Bry-sur-Marne on the eastern outskirts of Paris.

The story revolves around two couples who meet-up to shed light on a playground fight between their respective sons. Foster stars alongside Cristoph Waltz as one couple, opposite Kate Winslet and John C. Reilly as the other parents.

The meeting, which starts off as a civilized discussion winds up in a full-scale verbal brawl. "These are sophisticated, well-off people, who had children late in life. They live through their children," Foster explains. "They don't throw punches, but instead use words, which are no less destructive."

A lifetime's work

After roles in a number of children's series and films, Foster left the bosom of the Disney family at the tender age of 12 to study her craft with very grown-up directors like Martin Scorsese and Alan Parker. Scorsese, fascinated by this little, blond girl with "the voice of Lauran Bacall," cast Foster in the role of the tough-talking Audrey in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. He then offered her the even harsher character of Iris, the child prostitute and drug addict in Taxi Driver opposite Robert De Niro.

"I thought to myself that this was a great role for a 21-year-old, but was risky for a child," she confides. Foster jumped at the opportunity with that knack she had throughout her youth of mixing ages: at once a child with wisdom beyond her years and a razor-sharp mind, and immature adult who refuses to dress sexily or pose nude. "I'm not developed enough," she explained at the age of 15.

In 1976, Jodie Foster was the youngest star at the Cannes Film Festival, where she presented not one, but two films. Scorsese's Taxi Driver, which picked up the Golden Palm and Bugsy Malone, Parker's gangster movie parody starring child actors, in which she played the sassy vamp Tallulah. That same year, the actress also played a young murderer in The Little Girl Who Lives down the Lane.

Foster is something of phenomenon with her own set of world records. She has one of the longest Hollywood acting careers relative to her age. Having started out in advertising at the tender age of three, she has spent 45 of her 48 years working as an actress. "In America, lots of actors start out young," she says with characteristic modesty. Yes, but not all of them also come out top of the class at the Lycée Français in Los Angeles before picking up a literature degree at Yale University.

Violence, as fiction and reality

She says she prefers tragedy to comedy. These descents into murky and violent universes don't appear to unsettle her. "For sure," she confides. "Having outside intellectual pursuits has helped to keep a distance between me and this profession, which in turn has enabled me to follow my instincts."

Not everyone is so lucid. In 1981, when Foster was just 19, John Hinkley shot U.S. President Ronald Reagan as a way to get the actress to notice him. This traumatic episode came back to haunt her. She wrote about it with a startling terseness. "A stranger approached me in the street and said, "You're not the girl who shot the president are you?"

How does Foster deal with her own anger and fears. Perhaps she exorcizes them through the thrillers she loves so much. The actress swears she prefers tragedies and is not scared of violence. She has proved this again and again – from her first Oscar-winning her role as a rape victim who fights her aggressors in Jonathan Kaplan's The Accused, to her performance as a young FBI agent opposite Anthony Hopkins in the guise of a serial killer in Silence of the Lambs, to the character of a woman seeking revenge for a brutal attack in Neil Jordan's The Brave One.

In each case, her characters have an unusual relationship with men, based more on power-play than seduction – although she has played more traditional roles opposite Richard Gere in Sommersby and Mel Gibson in Maverick.

Foster only recently spoke publicly about her homosexuality. Throughout her life, she has been surrounded more by women than men: the father figure, whether her own or that of her children, has always been absent. Foster's mother, instead, raised her with a distinct love of the French language and culture.

"She dreamed about Europe and France, drove a Peugeot and took me to see French films which imbued me with a sense of this country." Since then, Foster has always kept one foot on this side of the Atlantic. "It's crazy how much a language can convey," she says. "When I speak French, I'm a different person, with a sense of humor and sensitivities that are subtly different."

That said, Foster remains very American. She is preparing to direct a new film, Castor, with old friend Mel Gibson. "It's about a depressed and suicidal man who rediscovers life through a puppet. It's a fairytale, but psychologically realistic."

Read the original article in French

Photo credit - (Franz Richter)

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food / travel

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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