Black Lives Matter at The Rockefeller University

Natural Selections Editorial Board

The appalling and tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis during a pandemic that was already disproportionately affecting Black communities provoked a global re-awakening for justice for Black people. This seeking of justice has not excluded the realm of academia. 

The Rockefeller Inclusive Science Initiative (RiSI) is a student-run organization formed in 2018 with the support of Erich Jarvis as the faculty advisor. Dr. Jarvis, a Rockefeller alum himself, is the first and only Black full professor in the 119-year history of Rockefeller. RiSI’s mission is “to unify diverse voices and improve our campus and broader scientific community” in terms of diversity and inclusion. In the two short years since its inception, RiSI’s work and passion have already had an impact on the Rockefeller community and the broader scientific community, including their advocacy for contracted custodial workers at the beginning of the shutdown due to COVID-19.

So when no official statement came from Rockefeller for days after the murder of George Floyd and the beginning of protests, RiSI stepped up. On May 31, 2020, they sent an e-mail to the Rockefeller community acknowledging Floyd’s murder and encouraging university members to show their support for the Black community (see RiSI e-mail, page NNN). 

Black Lives Matter signs were subsequently hung around the university, most prominently displayed to the public on the north side of the Kravis Research Building along the East River and in the halls of university housing (shown below). Unfortunately, the sign hung in university housing by Rockefeller graduate students Rachel Leicher and Donovan Phua was removed the next day, according to Leicher. 

Photo courtesy of Rachel Leicher

RiSI also followed up with an e-mail linking to helpful resources including fundraisers, petitions, literature, and organizations related to social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. After sending a statement of solidarity to the community along with this list of resources, RiSI collaborated with Women in Science at Rockefeller (WISeR) and People at Rockefeller Identifying as Sexual Minorities (PRISM), as well as a group of Rockefeller alumni to send concurrent e-mails to the Rockefeller administration addressing their silence. 

RiSI, WISeR, and PRISM sent a collaborative e-mail to the administration on the evening of June 1 (see RiSI, WISeR, and PRISM e-mail, page NNN). After collecting 116 signatures from alumni belonging to graduating classes ranging from 1969 to 2020, the alumni group sent their e-mail the following afternoon on June 2 (see Rockefeller alumni e-mail, page NNN).

On the afternoon of June 2, the Rockefeller administration broke their silence with an e-mail to the Rockefeller community. After additional prompting by RiSI and others within the Rockefeller community to stand publicly in solidarity with the Black community, the initial e-mail response was made public two days later.

The administration also acknowledged their receipt of the alumni letter and said that they would use their ideas as resources to consider how to move forward and improve the community at Rockefeller. 

RiSI continued to have multiple meetings with the administration and followed up with an additional letter and petition for the administration to commit to taking actionable steps to address racism on campus (see RiSI petition e-mail and petition, pages NNN-NNN). 

Within twenty-four hours, the petition had garnered support from 350 members of the Rockefeller community. This continued effort led by RiSI resulted in the first racial equality Town Hall meeting of academic staff and students with the administration on June 10, which was also the date of #shutdownSTEM, a day used by academia to protest and reflect on social injustice in support of the Black community. As of June 25, RiSI’s petition had the support of 444 members of the Rockefeller community, including sixteen Heads of Laboratory.

The Rockefeller administration is trying to respond to these cries for justice. To show their support, they have provided free COVID-19 testing for those wishing to participate in protests in the city. Statements of solidarity, like the one given by President Rick Lifton at the beginning of the 2020 Virtual Convocation Ceremony, are greatly appreciated as are steps that have already been taken to make the university inclusive. But a response to cries for justice predicates that there is an unmet need in the community and there is clear room for improvement. Continued, consistent, and intentional action and support are required. Our community needs to unequivocally say and show that Black Lives Matter. 

RiSI e-mail:

“Last Monday’s horrific scene in Minneapolis, in which police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee planted on George Floyd’s neck until his death, has sent shockwaves throughout the US. The frustration and anger towards Mr. Floyd’s death and staggering frequency of injustices on the Black community has culminated in nationwide protests in at least 48 cities. People are tired of the silence and frustrated at the lack of meaningful response to previous movements calling for social change.

Now is the time to show our support to the Black community in any way that we can at Rockefeller University. Though many may take comfort in the claim that science is apolitical, our Black community members are not afforded this privilege. The excellent work of several laboratories and departments at Rockefeller (lab safety, custodial, food, animal facility, etc) are led by people from communities hit the most by police brutality and racism. As Rockefeller begins to reopen, more people from these communities will be on campus and it will be important for their presence to be recognized.

One simple way to do this is by posting signs that reflect our support for the Black Lives Matter movement around the laboratory and other areas on campus that are heavily trafficked. Please refer to the signs in the dropbox link for examples to easily print out and put on windows and doors. If other laboratories/facilities nearby are interested as well please coordinate with each other to make something more visible.

Please ensure that your Head of Laboratory is comfortable and supportive of posting signs prior to doing so.”


RiSI, WISeR, and PRISM e-mail:

“Dear Members of the Rockefeller Administration,

Last Monday’s horrific scene in Minneapolis, in which police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee planted on George Floyd’s neck until his death, has sent shockwaves throughout the US and the world. The frustration and anger towards Mr. Floyd’s death, and the staggering frequency of injustices on the Black community, has culminated in nationwide protests in at least 48 cities. People across the country are tired of the silence, and frustrated at the lack of meaningful responses to previous movements calling for social change.

Though many may take comfort in the claim that science is apolitical, many in the Black community, and other communities of color, are not afforded this privilege. Science and medicine have a long, unfortunate history of exploiting marginalized communities, particularly those of color. Some of the most infamous examples include the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments, the acquisition of HeLa cells from Henrietta Lacks, and the erroneous justification of racism through genetic studies. 

Black individuals and communities most affected by police brutality and racism are an integral part of the Rockefeller community, leading much of the excellent and vital work in several laboratories and departments (lab safety, custodial, food, animal facility, etc.). As Rockefeller begins to reopen, more individuals from these communities will be on campus and it is imperative that their presence be recognized.

This past weekend, we, the Rockefeller Inclusive Science Initiative (RiSI), sent out a call for students and postdocs to speak to their HOLs about posting Black Lives Matter signs around the laboratory. Additionally, we sent a list of funds, organizations, and media to support the cause further. Our emails were met with enthusiasm from both students and the HOLs they’ve contacted. The Rockefeller community is coming together during this time to show that movements for equality can be, and should be, advocated for by scientists.

As leaders of the University, your voice speaks volumes to our community, and those watching us. It would be meaningful to Black members of our Rockefeller community, and the community at large, for the administration to directly address the systemic racism brought to the forefront by recent tragedies, including George Floyd’s death. We ask that you consider joining many universities in expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement, principles of equity and inclusion, and condemnation of police brutality and systematic racism in our nation. We also ask for your support in a community effort to hang Black Lives Matter signs in places where we can most powerfully show our stance, such as on the pedestrian bridge over 63rd St and Kravis Research Building windows facing the river. 


César Vargas and Josue Regalado
Rockefeller Inclusive Student Initiative

Stephanie Marcus and Audrey Harnagel
Women in Science at Rockefeller (WISeR)

The PRISM Board
People at Rockefeller Identifying as Sexual Minorities (PRISM)” 


Rockefeller alumni e-mail:

June 2, 2020

Dear Members of the Rockefeller Administration,

We are writing as alumni of Rockefeller University to express our support for the recent call to action from the graduate community to address racial justice and anti-racism. As you’re aware, there has been a large and appropriate response to the murder of Black Americans across the country. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade’s names have all been added to a long list of Black lives lost at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. We must recognize that our Black colleagues live with the knowledge that it could be them.

Rockefeller’s motto — science for the benefit of humanity — is a fundamentally political statement implying that science has a duty to serve society. Embedded within that motto are political questions, such as: for the benefit of whose humanity? Who is allowed to steer the science for that benefit? Throughout our history, we have seen the biomedical research community make research choices driven by politics and value judgments. When we run a Fisher’s Exact Test, we cannot forget that Ronald Fisher was a pioneer of eugenics. When we pull out a culture of HeLa cells, we cannot forget those cells were extracted from Henrietta Lacks without her consent. When confronted with the devastating statistics surrounding COVID-19, we cannot forget that this virus has taken disproportionately more Black lives because of systemic inequities in healthcare.

As leaders, you have a responsibility to Black trainees, faculty, and staff to openly and loudly affirm that you are aware of our history and that this legacy stops here. Your voice is essential in asserting you are working to ensure that Black members of our community are safe at work from racism and discrimination — that you commit to working for the benefit of their humanity, as well. 

Universities and institutions across the country, including Harvard School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, have issued statements echoing their commitment to racial justice and anti-racism, as well as concrete actions they can take to ensure their words carry weight. Actions Rockefeller can take, in addition to supporting the community effort to hang a #BlackLivesMatter sign along the pedestrian bridge, include:

  • Join leaders in the biomedical research community and publicly denounce racial injustice and anti-Black racism;
  • Pledge not to call the police for non-violent crimes, while ensuring campus security are trained in methods of de-escalation;
  • Require bystander intervention training;
  • Hire anti-racist educators to educate faculty, staff, postdocs, and trainees on meaningful strategies to dismantle systemic racism;
  • Convene a committee to draft an explicit anti-racism policy for the campus community, bringing in scholars of anti-racism and compensating them appropriately for their time;
  • Hire independent diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants to assess the current atmosphere and university practices and serve as change management officers to transform the workplace culture;
  • Create an anonymous system for members of the Rockefeller community to report acts of discrimination and bias;
  • Recruit and retain students and faculty of color, particularly those who have been historically underrepresented;
  • Create a policy that explicitly describes how faculty will be rewarded for mentorship and outreach in decisions of tenure and promotion, as these responsibilities often fall disproportionately on underrepresented faculty.

We sincerely hope that you use your position to combat the history of racism and violence — both within and outside of science — and stand with the Black community. Supporting Black lives follows in John D Rockefeller’s commitment to the abolition of slavery and his founding of Spelman College, America’s oldest private historically black liberal arts college for women. We must commit to do the learning and transformation necessary to be part of the solution and to develop robust anti-racist practices in science and society. 

Until then, we are left with George Floyd’s last words to fill the silence: ‘I can’t breathe.’


The Rockefeller Alumni”


RiSI petition e-mail:

“Dear Rockefeller community, 

In response to the global outrage at continued systemic racism and police brutality against members of the Black community, President Lifton’s statement last week called for “the beginnings of efforts to bring about lasting change” and a “rigorous inquiry to evaluate our own biases”. We hope that this statement only marks the start of campus-wide steps to address institutionalized racism on our campus. In efforts towards this cause, we at the Rockefeller Inclusive Student Initiative (RiSI) have been working with the Dean’s Office and administration to develop actionable plans for lasting change. 

While we continue this dialogue, we want to ensure that all in our community are heard and that progress be transparent. We ask that everyone respond to a survey/petition to assess which changes are most needed and desired at Rockefeller. This survey also serves the dual role of a petition where everyone’s voices will be collected and sent to the administration as evidence that the broader Rockefeller community stands behind these actions. The longer this list of names is, the more significantly we can push for institutional change.

Within the survey, there is also a field for individual comments which we strongly encourage all to fill out to strengthen our petition with personal testimonies. There is a national movement for science and academia to #Strike4BlackLives planned for tomorrow, Wednesday, June 10th. We ask that on this day of pause, each of you take a moment to complete the survey and submit any personal accounts you feel comfortable sharing of institutionalized racism in education or science and reasons why institutional support for Black and underrepresented scientists is important. These will be collected and presented to the administration (with the option of remaining anonymous). Please respond by 11:59pm Wednesday, June 10th.


We are also currently asking the administration to conduct a campus-wide town-hall on racial equality issues present at Rockefeller. The responses provided in the survey will be an opportunity for you to draft what you’d like to see discussed at a town-hall, with the possibility of either reading it out yourself or by a member of RiSI on your behalf.

Finally, we encourage discussion within your labs and departments, and we ask that heads of labs and departments make space for difficult conversations concerning diversity and inclusion in science. We want to foster serious, empathetic conversations about racial discrimination and its effects on our scientific community campus-wide to show that these issues involve us all. Together we can take the anger, shock, and frustration that so many of us have rightfully felt these past days to take a stand for a campus that listens to and supports our Black and underrepresented minority members. 

We owe it to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others whose lives have been taken at the hands of institutionalized racism to fight for a more just and equal future. This begins by calling on the leaders of Rockefeller University to listen to our collective voice and fight with us. This movement will continue to press on because this is how change happens. We thank you for your passion.

In solidarity,

The Rockefeller Inclusive Science Initiative” 

RiSI petition:

“June 9, 2020 

We are disappointed in the administration’s tepid response to the Black Lives Matter movement and a lack of commitment to institutional changes to make the University a more diverse AND inclusive place. We demand that the administration immediately design, circulate, and implement an action plan to make Rockefeller University a supportive environment for all our members of Black and underrepresented minority communities, among our students, postdocs, faculty, and staff. 

This is our opportunity as a community to communicate that issues of diversity and inclusion are fundamentally important and need to be addressed by Rockefeller University’s administration. 

We ask that you stand with us in our efforts to make Rockefeller University more inclusive by becoming a model for these efforts across academia, and sign this petition by the end of the day on Wednesday. 

IN ADDITION to the action items requested in the alumni petition, we demand that the University commit to: 

  1. Administrative position dedicated to diversity and inclusion: Hire a diversity/inclusion officer or similar position that reports to the president. We wholeheartedly agree that promoting diversity and inclusion should be in everyone’s job description, and we will continue championing that goal, but coordinating these long-term efforts takes a significant time commitment. We strongly feel that having a professional solely dedicated to the administrative side of these efforts will shift some of the burden from trainees. 
  2. Public statement on recruiting underrepresented faculty and trainees: Publicly make a commitment to recruit trainees and faculty from communities underrepresented in science on the university website (appropriate locations would be in the Faculty Recruitment and Graduate Program in Biosciences pages). 
  3. Town hall: Organize a town hall (or series of town halls) for community members to discuss incidents of institutional racism experienced at Rockefeller, to brainstorm ways to address these inequities, and for the administration to be transparent with details on how they are enacting institutional change. Recent examples have occurred at other institutions including Weill Cornell, UCSD, Caltech, and an upcoming vigil hosted by Columbia University Medical Center (this Wednesday at 6:30pm over Zoom). 
  4. Climate survey: Administer and publicly disseminate the results of a new, anonymous campus-wide climate survey that specifically addresses issues of racial inclusivity, discrimination, and bias on campus. 
  5. Inviting speakers from diverse backgrounds: Commit to increase the number of invited speakers for lectures and seminars who are from underrepresented backgrounds. Here, we propose to also create an annual Friday lecture that is centered on the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion in science. 
  6. Annual reporting on HOL mentorship: Require HOLs to complete an annual report on mentorship practices and undergo additional training if they do not actively work toward creating a diverse and inclusive work environment. 
  7. Research relationships with minority-serving institutions: Develop a research training relationship with medical schools, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and other minority-serving institutions (as defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965) across the country. We aim to provide research experiences at Rockefeller laboratories to Black and Native American MD and MD/PhD students, and additionally, retain at least one spot in the SURF program for undergraduate students from HBCUs or other minority-serving institutions. 
  8. Anti-racism, anti-bias in science training: Require a module or class on the implications of race, gender, sexuality, gender identity, and disability on the history and future of bioscience. This could be incorporated as an extension of the Responsible Conduct of Research course. 
  9. Diversity statements from faculty candidates: Require faculty candidates to provide statements on their past, present, and future contributions to promoting equity, inclusion, and diversity in their professional career. 
  10. Increased diversity in executive team: Development of an institutional plan (with milestones) to increase diversity within Rockefeller’s executive leadership and board of trustees. Increasing diversity amongst the administration will push for decisions to be more inclusive on campus. Current executive leadership and board of trustees are listed here.” 

Excerpt from Rockefeller’s Response:

  • Rockefeller does not have a diversity/inclusion officer. We commit to evaluating the models utilized by different institutions to promote diversity and inclusion, concluding with our own plan no later than the end of August.
  • The University has long published our encouragement for applications from communities underrepresented in science for graduate school and faculty appointments. We will immediately put these statements on display on our public web sites as well. 
  • We will provide forums and mechanisms to report and discuss incidents of discrimination, bias, and institutional racism at the University and determine actions to address inequities and prevent bias.
  • We will administer and disseminate results of an anonymous campus climate survey regarding issues of racial inclusivity, discrimination, and bias.
  • We commit to increase the number of invited speakers and seminars from underrepresented backgrounds, and will host a featured annual Friday lecture focused on promoting diversity and inclusion in science.
  • Working with the Academic Council of the faculty, we will establish guidelines for annual reporting on HOL mentorship practices and provide further training as warranted. 
  • We will seek to establish relationships with minority-serving institutions and expand research experiences at Rockefeller labs to BIPOC students from minority-serving institutions.
  • We will require training on anti-racism and anti-bias in science through the Responsible Conduct of Research course and evaluate anti-racism and anti-bias training for the broader campus community, including training and interventions tailored to units on campus in which specific problems are identified. 
  • By the end of August, we will develop a plan to increase diversity at all administrative levels including the executive team and board of trustees.”

Thank you, Sarah!

Natural Selections would like to say a special thank you and farewell to our Editor-in-Chief, Sarah Baker, who successfully defended her thesis at The Rockefeller University in March. Sarah joined the editorial board as a Copy Editor in the fall of 2017 and became Editor-in-Chief in February of 2019. A prolific author, Sarah regularly contributed articles to Natural Selections in addition to her roles on the editorial board. We have benefited tremendously from Sarah’s leadership and the culture she created at Natural Selections. While we are sad to see her go, we wish Sarah all the best in her future endeavors and thank her for her service.

Reopening Rockefeller

Natural Selections Editorial Board

At 5 p.m. on March 18th, 2020, The Rockefeller University shut down its campus due to the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic on the New York City area. A reduced staff maintained the most essential operations, such as security and power, while the vast majority of research was halted. Only research directly related to COVID-19 was permitted to continue. Four days later, Governor Cuomo issued an executive “New York State on PAUSE” order closing all non-essential businesses and canceling all non-essential gatherings in the state. 

For more than two months, the majority of Rockefeller employees and researchers have stayed home in various levels of isolation and quarantine. Our collective efforts to stem the spread of the virus appear to have had an impact. The Regional Monitoring Dashboard, which evaluates COVID-19 spread and pandemic readiness, shows that nine of New York’s ten regions have met the requirements to begin phased reopening. Even though New York City has not yet satisfied the requirements for reopening, it is hard to keep ourselves from projecting into the future and imagining what a new normal will look like for Rockefeller.

On May 4th and 5th, Rockefeller University President Rick Lifton hosted a virtual Town Hall for students and postdocs to discuss the campus shutdown and address questions from the community. While there are few specifics regarding exactly how or when Rockefeller will reopen, Lifton was able to speak to some common concerns. Natural Selections also reached out to others in the administration for comment.

How has the shutdown affected Rockefeller University?

In the midst of the shutdown, a small cohort of Rockefeller scientists have continued their benchwork. These scientists are studying COVID-19, in keeping with Rockefeller’s long-standing tradition of conducting “science for the benefit of humanity.” Although, according to Lifton, there are only about 125 individual researchers physically working on campus, they represent twenty laboratories studying everything from COVID-19 prophylaxis and therapeutics to understanding the course of infection and disease severity.

However, for many scientists, the Rockefeller University shutdown dramatically decreased the amount of research being done. Core facilities are closed and non-COVID-19 bench experiments are prohibited. Graduate students have expressed concerns that the shutdown may impede their progress, delaying their ability to meet milestones for a timely graduation. Lifton addressed these concerns, expressing that the expectations for progress have been adjusted. Sid Strickland, Rockefeller’s Dean of Graduate and Postgraduate Studies, has echoed these sentiments, encouraging students to contact the Dean’s Office to discuss any issues they may have. While there is no blanket policy, it is understood that individual circumstances will vary, and students would not necessarily be expected to meet the same deadlines as were established before the pandemic. “One of the great attributes of Rockefeller is that we are a small institution that can deal with issues on an individual basis,” Strickland said. “We know all of the students personally and care deeply about their well-being. If anything is concerning any student, please reach out to us anytime.” 

Researchers expressed similar concerns regarding the need for extensions in fellowships granted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the Town Hall with students, Lifton said there was a precedent for this kind of support—in 2008 after the financial crisis, billions of dollars were set aside to help NIH funding recipients. Lifton and others in the Rockefeller administration are now advocating for funds to be similarly allocated.

When should Rockefeller reopen?

Before reopening Rockefeller, Lifton said, we would need evidence of a recovering city. This is in line with Governor Cuomo’s orders that regions are to remain shut down until they have met the seven metrics for reopening according to the Regional Monitoring Dashboard. At the time of this writing, New York City had met four of the seven metrics for reopening, with our hospital and ICU capacity still below 30%. The expectation is that New York City will meet the requirements to begin reopening in the first half of June. Rockefeller will begin restarting non-COVID-19 research activities on June 1st.

The newly formed Rockefeller University Research Restart Committee will evaluate the conditions at Rockefeller and determine exactly how to proceed with a phased-reopening of campus. Strategies for reducing risk to employees include staggering work hours, establishing laboratory capacities, and/or encouraging remote work where possible. While the details of each phase of reopening are unclear, we know that it will not be an immediate return to pre-pandemic operations. Reopening will be incremental, guided by the changing conditions and information.

How will we keep the Rockefeller community safe once we reopen?

Frequent testing of all Rockefeller employees for SARS-CoV-2 would be essential for maintaining the safety of Rockefeller employees as asymptomatic carriers can spread COVID-19. In his Town Hall meetings, Lifton emphasized the need to identify emerging infections, trace contacts, and isolate those affected in order to keep the campus healthy. The university currently has an Abbott point of care instrument and an on-campus test site on the tennis courts. Although testing is currently low-throughput, an aspirational goal is to eventually be able to test all Rockefeller employees twice per week. 

In addition to testing, preventative measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and diligent hygiene will be necessary to provide a safe work environment. Lifton said the university will insist on social distancing and has already mandated mask-wearing in all areas, with the exception of private offices occupied by a single person. The Office of Research Support has issued safety guidelines to Heads of Laboratories, each of whom will designate a Research Restart Officer within the laboratory responsible for safety training and enforcement. Amy Wilkerson, Associate Vice President of the Office of Research Support, said that in addition to oversight by the Research Restart Officer, “Security, Plant Operations, and [Laboratory Safety and Environmental Health] personnel, who are regularly in the labs to provide service and support, will also report non-compliance. Failure to comply will result in loss of access to campus.” However, Wilkerson said, “Everyone will be responsible for working safely.” Unsafe working conditions can be reported directly to the relevant supervisor or by emailing

A common concern is how we can maintain six feet between one another in spaces designed to facilitate interactions. The River Campus, for example, is designed so that researchers must walk through multiple laboratories in order to reach their individual workspaces, with laboratory benches and desks clustered together within each laboratory. Even in the older buildings, laboratory bays often position researchers back to back, and common areas feature couches and group seating areas. While these designs were appreciated in the time before COVID-19, they may require some reworking to fit with the new social distancing model. 

Alex Kogan, Associate Vice President of Plant Operations, is working with the Rockefeller administration to address these concerns. “There are many means to reduce risk,” Kogan said, including establishing laboratory capacities and staggering work hours to ensure social distancing. And while laboratories are inherently enclosed spaces, Kogan assured us that Rockefeller’s laboratories are supplied with 100% outside air, exchanged eight to twelve times per hour. Kogan also said that Rockefeller is “looking into spreading out common space furniture, limiting the number of people in break rooms, conference rooms, etc.” But, according to Kogan, the most important factor in ensuring employee safety will be community compliance with COVID-19 safety guidelines issued by the university.

What does Rockefeller’s future look like?

Over the past two months, there has been a massive transition to remote work and virtual meetings. Everything from weekly group meetings, to the Friday Lecture Series, to Rockefeller’s convocation are being held virtually. Although the Zoom format may be a little impersonal to some, it has allowed for continued scientific communication during the shutdown and made some seminars more accessible to our community. While working from home and virtual meetings may have been rare in the past, we expect these will become part of the new normal for many at Rockefeller, even as in-person seminars return. Todd Wells, Lead Media and Design Support Specialist of Rockefeller’s Information Technology Department, spoke with Natural Selections about continuing to offer remote options after the campus reopens. Wells said that “both Caspary and Carson Family Auditoriums are equipped with integrated camera systems that are Zoom and webcast ready, as are many of the conference rooms, especially on the River Campus,” and there are plans to similarly upgrade other campus meeting rooms. “We have already broadcast many events in both formats, even before the lockdown, and we expect this to become much more common as we continue to adapt how we host events in response to the pandemic.”

While teleconferencing and remote work can help to reduce the spread of the virus, working from home can be challenging for employees with families, especially those with children. Without childcare, working from home or even returning to work may be untenable. Lifton acknowledged that reopening the Child and Family Center (CFC) would be imperative for allowing employees with families to return to work, but there are significant challenges: the CFC typically follows the public school system, which is closed for the remainder of the academic year. In addition, many CFC teachers have their own children to care for, and no childcare available to them. While unresolved, the issue of childcare at Rockefeller is at the forefront of the administration’s mind.

Very little is certain, and nearly everything is subject to change. Every day we have more information about how COVID-19 is affecting our community, and best practices shift with our understanding of the disease. Communication will be critical for ensuring a safe return to research and a healthy future. Rockefeller has demonstrated its commitment to communicating with the campus community, and we are hopeful that the university will continue to prioritise our collective safety as we reopen our campus.

Dear Readers


Picture courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

These are unprecedented times.

Across the globe, communities, cities, and countries are taking measures to scale down the dynamic social interactions that defined our modern world. Social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine have become imperative.

Many research institutions in the United States have entered a shutdown, ceasing lab operations for all work except that which is directly related to SARS-CoV2, in an attempt to stymie the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 18th, The Rockefeller University joined this effort.

While the changes in our daily lives may be unsettling, we are strong as a community. We have already seen lab donations to supply our local hospitals with personal protective equipment, community volunteerism to provide support services to Rockefeller community members, and guidance from our university leadership.

No one struggles alone. We are all in this together. And we will persevere.

 –Natural Selections Editorial Board


Available Resources:

Rockefeller University COVID-19 Updates (contact:

March 15th University Communication

Occupational Health Services and psychiatrist Dr. Nisha Mehta-Naik (contact:; (212) 327-8414)

COVID-19 Support Request (contact:

Anyone who has recovered from the novel coronavirus infection can participate in a study conducted at Rockefeller to better understand ways to block coronavirus infection.


Struggling with social distancing? Here are some ideas to keep you stimulated, active, and engaged with your community:

  •         Stay engaged in science

o   Write a review article. Preparing a review article is a great way to get a lot of reading done and also gain ideas for next steps for a project.

o   Host a journal club. Use Zoom to connect with your lab and discuss up-to-date literature.

o   Focus on an old project. Do you have an old project that you collected data for, but it fell by the wayside? Reconsider writing up your data and determining if it is publishable.

o   Apply for funding. Consider applying for both governmental funding and smaller private grants.

o   Think about career plans. MyIDP is a great platform for scientists to determine their strengths and weaknesses and explore potential career choices.

o   Promote your scientific work. Update your LinkedIn and ResearchGate profiles. Tweet about your work. Make sure your CV is up to date.

  •         Stay active

o   Hold a remote fitness challenge. Encourage your family, friends, and colleagues to get 30 minutes of activity a day.

o   Work on your push-up game. Stay strong by working on those exercises that require minimal equipment—think push-ups, planks, wall-sits, squats, and crunches.

o   Take online yoga classes. There are many platforms online and you can join Rockefeller’s listserv by contacting You can also join Rockefeller’s yoga group on Facebook and get access to regular videos of yoga classes.

o   Go for a walk. If you are feeling healthy, it’s ok to get outside and take a walk. Just make sure to social distance–stay at least 6 feet from others and wash your hands regularly.

  •         Stay connected

o   Video chat with your friends and family. Now is the time to connect with your favorite people that you are normally too busy to sit down and have a long conversation with. Try cooking a meal or sitting down for a cup of tea together.

o   Pick up a new hobby. Now is the time to focus on your knitting, instrumental, and baking skills. YouTube has tutorials on everything!

o   Play games remotely. Steam is an online gaming platform that has a play with friends function.

o   Watch a movie together. Use the Netflix Party extension for Google Chrome to watch a movie with a friend. The extension will synchronize playback and includes a chat function while you watch.

o   Blog. Write about your experiences, your science, or anything else you care about and share it on the web.

And above all, give yourself a break. It’s normal to feel anxious, and stress can make it difficult to concentrate. Don’t expect to be as productive as you would be in the lab. Do what you can and leave the rest.

New Member Guide to Campus

The Natural Selections Editorial Board

We welcome all of the new members of our community to The Rockefeller University! Here are resources you may find of interest:

Markus Library

Located in Welch Hall (enter the Founder’s Hall lobby and walk down the stairs), the library provides resources for scientific research at the university. In addition to providing access to scientific articles, the library has public computers, meeting spaces, a lounge with current magazines and newspapers, and Kindles loaded with popular books that are available for checkout.


Classifieds are posted by members of the community looking for scientific items, selling items, searching for housing, or submitting announcements. You can subscribe to receive RU classifieds alerts here:

The Faculty and Students Club

Located on the B level of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Hall and open from 4-11 p.m. Monday through Friday, the Faculty and Students Club is a place for social interaction, thesis celebrations, barbecues, parties, and meetings. The club provides discounted drinks to members of the Rockefeller community who have an account. To set-up an account, contact Human Resources.

Resource Centers

Rockefeller has many collaborative resources centers with specialized equipment and expertise. Find the complete list here:

Information Technology

IT maintains a safe and secure campus technology network and aids in technical support for computer issues. Their website can be found here:

Occupational Health Services

Located in Room 118 of the Hospital Building, OHS provides free health care services to Rockefeller employees covering physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Services provided can be found here:

Office of Sponsored Programs Administration

OSPA aids with the compilation of research grants in compliance with the correct policies and regulations, the identification of available funding, and any issues with obtaining funding (

Athletic Facilities

There is a tennis court, squash court, and gym on campus. To access the gym (6th floor of Founder’s Hall), you must sign a waiver at the security desk in Founder’s Hall. The tennis and squash court must be reserved at and

People at Rockefeller Identifying as Sexual/Gender Minorities

PRISM fosters a community of support for LGBTQ+ individuals at Rockefeller. PRISM co-hosts Friday breakfasts with seminar speakers, organizes talks and social events, and provides resources for the Rockefeller community. Find out more here:

Women in Science at Rockefeller

WISeR is a professional development and advocacy group for women scientists at Rockefeller. WISeR co-hosts Friday breakfasts with PRISM, organises lectures, outreach and a mentorship programme. Check out their activities and resources here: and sign up to join.

Science Education and Policy Association

SEPA gives scientists the ability to be engaged in policy-making and see how scientists affect policy and policy affects science. SEPA provides training, hosts career panels, and allows for engagement with policy at local and national levels. Check out the website here:

Rockefeller Inclusive Science Initiative

RISI is a student-run group that serves as a support system for Underrepresented Minorities on campus. RISI organizes seminars, mentoring programs, and training. Follow RISI on Twitter here:

Science Communication and Media Group

The SCM team ( is comprised of a group of students and postdocs who bring interesting lectures and film screenings to campus throughout the year. If you are interested in bridging the gap between scientists and the public, you can consider joining the SCM group by emailing

Postdoc Association

The PDA provides social and career development resources for postdocs and research associates at Rockefeller. In addition, the PDA holds a retreat every year, communicates with the administration about the needs of the group, and hosts seminar series and social events throughout the year. You can learn more here:

RockEdu Science Outreach

RockEdu is Rockefeller’s outreach initiative aimed at students K-12 in the New York City community to foster awareness of science and hands on lab experiences. If you are interested in volunteering through RockEdu, you can sign up here:

Tri-I Biotech Club

The Tri-I Biotech Club is for members with a shared interest in biotechnology. Find out more here:

Tri-I Consulting Club

The Tri-I Consulting Club is for members with a shared interest in consulting. Find out more here:

Art Studio

There is an art studio available on campus for community use. If interested, contact Zachary Mirman (

Weill Cornell Music and Medicine

The Weill Cornell Music and Medicine group fosters balance between medical and musical interests of the Tri-I community. For more info, go here: Also, of note, there are 2 music rooms on campus in Scholars and the Abby. Contact the Founder’s Hall security desk for access.

Bronk Fund

The Bronk Fund is available to students in their first through fifth years on campus. Students can be reimbursed half of receipts for fitness activities, language/art class, or theater/concert/sporting events, up to $125 total per year. The fund also provides a lottery of free tickets to students for various events throughout the year.

Editorial Note

This month, the Natural Selections Editorial Board bids farewell to Jim Keller. We would like to thank him for his interminable dedication to Natural Selections over the past seven years. Jim first joined Natural Selections as a contributor and copy editor in October 2011, and he became Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor in July 2013. Jim’s love of film is evident if you’ve read his “For Your Consideration” column that has shed light on contentious Oscar races and given us insight into the best performances each year; luckily for our community, this column will have future editions. For the past five and a half years, Jim has been the fearless leader of Natural Selections as Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor, making the publication the success that it is today for the Rockefeller and Tri-I community. Jim has made a permanent impact on the Editorial Board, and we will do only our best to try to emulate his success in the years to come. We wish him all the best and will miss having him on the team!



Editorial Note

This month, the Natural Selections Editorial Board bids farewell to Chew-Li Soh and Stephanie Marcus. We would like to thank both for their dedication and for helping Natural Selections to become what it is today.

Chew-Li joined Natural Selections in May 2016 as a Copy Editor and served as Associate Editor beginning in December 2016 where she has left a permanent mark on the Editorial Board. She leaves us this month to begin a job at BlueRock Therapeutics as a Senior Scientist studying stem cell therapies for regenerative medicine.

Chew-Li Soh

Stephanie joined Natural Selections in October of last year as a Copy Editor and served as Associate Editor from March to October 2018. She leaves us to focus her attentions on Women in Science at Rockefeller (WISeR) where she serves as the group’s president. She is looking forward to future collaborations between WISeR and Natural Selections.

Stephanie Marcus

We wish Chew-Li and Stephanie all the best. They will be greatly missed!

Grappling with Mental Health

Sarah Baker

Photo Courtesy of Lavoz Magazine

The past few weeks have highlighted the mental health crisis that our society is facing. Two high-profile and esteemed celebrities, fashion designer Kate Spade and Chef Anthony Bourdain, were found dead just days apart.  These perplexing suicides remind us that success does not make one immune to unhappiness. Spade and Bourdain were far from alone in their struggles with mental health, but their deaths do stress a public health issue that has long been set aside. Suicide rates have risen in the past ten years, and this increase has not been addressed adequately by our society, our policies, or our institutions. It is time to destigmatize depression as a society, and especially here in our own circle at The Rockefeller University.

The realization that important figures in society face the same mental health challenges that many of us do has the ability to start a movement to combat this crisis. Spade and Bourdain gave the appearance of mental stability to the outside world, though people close to them admitted that they were both struggling with depression. These tragic suicides have resonated with people who have realized how they themselves have been grappling with anxiety and depression and has also motivated others to reach out to their loved ones, friends, and acquaintances who may also be struggling. The Twitter hashtag #MyStory has gone viral as many people, including celebrities, address their mental health struggles in a public forum.

Why have people suffered in silence for so long? And why do we still have so far to go in preventing these tragedies? The Center for Disease Control recently released a report indicating that 54% of people that have committed suicide in the past decade are people who were not known to be suffering from a mental illness like depression prior to their death. But many of these people were struggling with relationship or job problems, addiction, physical illnesses, or other immediate crises in their life. While people facing physical illness are often readily supported by friends and acquaintances, those suffering from mental illness usually feel that they must cope by themselves. Society regularly brushes off depression as mere sadness and suggests that, if someone just controls their thoughts, they will get over their feelings of misery.

Photo Courtesy of Graham Briggs Photography

We need to make mental health a priority. People who suffer need access to affordable and accessible mental health services. Adding more barriers to treatment deters the people who need it the most who are already overwhelmed and who we should nurture rather than push aside. The Trump administration is trying to strike down a provision of the Affordable Care Act that prohibits insurance providers from discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions, which include any history of depression or anxiety. If this is passed, it could be devastating for people who need mental health services, making them essentially unaffordable. Empathy for those suffering from mental health conditions is also lacking. Depression and anxiety are not a choice—they are real conditions derived from physiological changes and our health system needs to address them as such.  Pharmacological and behavioral therapies do make a difference when treatment is done properly.

In the type of academic environment that I work in, a shift in focus on mental health is paramount, because it has been shown time and time again that individuals in academia suffer greatly. A recent study published in Nature Biotechnology showed that graduate students experience depression and anxiety at rates six times higher than the general population. Sleep deprivation, stress, and the scarcity of tenure-track positions all play a role. Young trainees put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform well, and often face many internal mental challenges even though outwardly they may appear incredibly high-functioning. Females and non-gender conforming individuals suffer at higher levels than cis-males, and the relationship of the trainee to the principal investigator also contributes greatly to anxiety and depression, suggesting that mentorship is a crucial factor in student health.

Photo Courtesy of Mario Kociper

I am now almost three years into my PhD and I fully understand how this environment can breed depression and anxiety. At breakfasts and lunches with prominent scientists hosted by the University where we have the chance to discuss career development, I have repeatedly heard that to make it to the top, you have to be tough. You have to battle to move up and not be affected too greatly by the challenges along the way. Although it is easy to suggest that resilience is the most important trait, I am often left with the feeling that success in academia is largely a solitary pursuit. Yet not everyone can just ignore an assault, or struggle on their own to come out on the other side stronger. Without a reliable network of mentors, friends, and other people you feel are facing the same things, it can be easy to get lost. Feelings of isolation and despair can be overwhelming. Yes, resilience is crucial, especially when failure is inherent in scientific research, but, as a community, we need to be better at developing this resilience in our trainees and showing them that they do not have to weather their struggles alone.

There is no one factor that leads to depression, anxiety, or suicide, but there are steps that we can take to cultivate mental health in our community. This must go further than sending out an e-mail once a year listing the mental health services available. Some things that can help are stress and mindfulness workshops as well as events that promote physical, mental, and social health among the trainee population. Students should feel as if they are able to talk to their mentors to gain advice about career opportunities, especially if they are interested in careers outside of academia, in order to alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with reaching post-graduation goals. At the University of Minnesota, students are required to fill out annual evaluations that address both research progress and also overall well-being. Principal investigators then look over these self-evaluations and discuss the reports with their mentees. Simply having this formal system in place has led to increased communication between mentors and mentees about expectations and continuing steps in the training process. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, we must cultivate a culture that makes individuals who are struggling with mental health feel as if they can speak up and ask for help rather than suffer alone in silence.

Recent celebrity suicides have shed light on mental health issues. Now society needs to step up and address this public health crisis. Change can be made at the community level, and institutions should assess how they can prevent similar tragedies. Graduate students are a particularly vulnerable population and because the system of graduate education is a known risk factor for anxiety and depression. It needs to be addressed head-on. We must shift towards more openness in the ability to discuss these issues. Our communities do have the choice to increase access to mental health services and to promote cultural change. At Rockefeller, a vibrant institution full of some of the best scientists in the world, no one should have to go it alone.


Rockefeller University Counseling and Mental Health Care Resources:

Confidential access to personal counseling and mental health care for all students is available through the Tri-institutional Employee Assistance Program Consortium (EAPC). If your life seems to be getting harder to deal with, do not hesitate to contact EAPC. In an emergency, they are available at (212) 746-5890, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Employee Assistance Program
409 East 60th Street, Rm. 3-305 (between York and 1st Ave.)

Regular hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

Phone 212-746-5890

EAPC provides short-term counseling to members of the Rockefeller, Cornell, NY Hospital, Hospital for Special Surgery, and Sloan-Kettering community—students, their families and significant others included. The service is provided at no charge to individuals.

EAPC is a confidential referral service geared towards short-term problems-solving for any personal problem you may have—depression, loneliness, relationship or family issues, substance abuse, legal or financial problems, child care services—anything. The social workers on staff will first help you evaluate what your situation is, and then discuss all possible avenues for resolving the situation to your satisfaction. There is no long-term counseling offered at EAPC, but they can set you up with counseling if it is needed. Referrals for counseling include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists of other types, and social workers. A few visits to EAPC (maybe only one!) may be all that is necessary for you. Appointments may be made during normal business hours and there is a 24-hour emergency cover given through the number given above.

On site counseling services are also available. Dr. Daniel Knoepflmacher, M.D. is available two days a week to meet privately with members of the RU community. If interested in scheduling a confidential appointment, please contact Occupational Health Services at (212) 327-8414.

For those who prefer a more holistic approach to mental health, Rockefeller Wellness has got you covered:

Mindfulness Practices for Stress Reduction

Stress is one of the biggest contributors to poor health. Its effects can cause physical illness, damage relationships, and negatively impact work performance. Mindfulness meditation is a means to reduce stress, boost the immune system, improve attention, and promote well-being. Try Sitting Meditation or the Body Scan on your own with a guided audio clip of Dr. Patricia Bloom.

Patricia A. Bloom, MD is a Clinical Associate Professor of Geriatrics at the Icahn Medical School of Mount Sinai and the past Director of Integrative Health for the Martha Stewart Center for Living at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. Her main interests include the promotion of healthy aging, integrative health, stress reduction and Mind Body Medicine. She teaches meditation and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for patients and conducts stress reduction workshops for professional and workplace groups. Dr. Bloom has been listed as one of New York Magazine’s “Best Doctors” for 15 years. In 2012 she was honored by the New York City Zen Center for Contemplative Care for her work advancing integrative medicine in academic settings.

Mindfulness Resources in and around New York City.

Editor’s Note: Access to the URLs in the above Rockefeller Wellness section is restricted to those within the Rockefeller community.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Guide:

Warning Signs of Suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

 If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional


For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 2 Edition

Jim Keller

The storm of film festivals galore began at summer’s end with the one-two punch of the Venice (August 31 – September 10) and Telluride (September 2-5) film festivals. In recent years the former has been credited with birthing our eventual Best Picture winner into the world and so begins the Oscar race. In the second of a three-part series, we discuss the performances that are likely to feature in the Best Actor race.

billy-lynns-long-halftime-walk-joe-alswynThis year’s race feels peculiar in that at September’s end the festivals have not yielded any consensus of frontrunners. By this time last year we had already seen the performances of Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) by way of Telluride and Venice, respectively, and Matt Damon (The Martian) via The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Currently, we have little to go on because the films that have been shown have centered on a female, not a male, lead. Considering the Academy’s history of mostly nominating films for Best Picture that have a male lead, this is a very good problem to have. One thing is certain: in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, there are high hopes for Denzel Washington (Fences) and Dev Patel (Lion). This isn’t to say that there aren’t performances already out there that could become consensus decisions (Casey Affleck, Joel Edgerton, Ryan Gosling), just that it’s too early to tell what critic groups might circle back to.

Before we get to this year, let’s recap last year’s awards.

Of the eight roles that were discussed here, three went on to secure Best Actor nominations. The biggest story was that after 22 years, the Academy finally broke down and awarded the top prize to Leonardo DiCaprio for his searing performance in The Revenant. There really wasn’t much of a competition, given how overdue DiCaprio was for a win. But outside of Fassbender’s performance in Steve Jobs and Redmayne in The Danish Girl, Bryan Cranston (Trumbo) and Damon (The Martian) managed to sneak in. There was a short snub list comprised of Johnny Depp (Black List) and Michael Caine (Youth) as Fassbender’s other performance (Macbeth), and Ben Foster’s in The Program were not able to find early footing. Mark Ruffalo, the last actor discussed here, wound up being nominated in the supporting actor for Spotlight.

THE HEE-RO: Joe Alwyn – Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (director: Ang Lee):

FYC: Based on the novel of the same name by Ben Fountain, this drama concerns infantryman Billy Lynn (newcomer Alwyn) who recounts at a Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboys halftime show that he and his squad members made an appearance in during the final hours before the soldiers return to Iraq. Alwyn is as green as they come, with only a single screen credit to his name for the TV series documentary short, A Higher Education. As one of Lee’s many directorial strengths is getting brilliant performances from his actors (see Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain), there is reason to expect the same here. Having been shot at 120 frames per second, the highest frame rate for a film to date, all eyes will be on Lee’s film when it bows at New York Film Festival later this month.

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Zika Virus

By Aileen Marshall


Rash on a arm due to Zika virus. FRED / Wikimedia Commons

What should you know about the Zika virus? It’s been around for over 50 years, but it’s only recently that it’s spread has increased around the world, especially in South America. The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, but for most people it only causes a mild infection. However, an infection in pregnant women can cause a birth defect called microcephaly, in which the skull and brain don’t fully develop. At this point, there’s limited diagnostic tests and no cure, so labs are scrambling to develop these products.

The Zika virus was discovered in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda. It was isolated from the blood of a rhesus monkey there, as part of a Yellow Fever monitoring program. It was then found in an Aedes africanus mosquito from the same area, a year later. The first human infected was found in 1952 in Uganda and Tanzania. A study in India that year found a significant number of Indians who had antibodies to Zika, an indication that it had been prevalent in that population. There were sporadic outbreaks of Zika over the later years in equatorial areas of Africa and Asia. Then in 2007, an outbreak of what initially appeared to be dengue or chikungunya occurred in the French Polynesian island of Yap. It was later confirmed to be Zika, the first outbreak outside of Africa or Asia. By 2013 it had spread to other South Pacific islands with some patients who also had neurological effects and there were some cases of microcephaly. In March of 2015, health officials in Brazil noted an increase in Zika-like symptoms and rash in the northeast part of the country. By that summer, there was a great increase in the number of children born with microcephaly, especially in that same area. By later that year, there were confirmed cases of Zika infections in other South and Central American countries, and the Caribbean. On February 1 of this year, the World Health Organization declared it a public health emergency of international concern.

The Zika virus belongs to the same family, Flaviviridae, as dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and West Nile viruses, which is why the antibodies often cross-react in diagnostic tests. It has a single strand positive sense RNA genome, which means it replicates in one step. The strain in this recent outbreak has been sequenced and it has found to be the same strain from the South Pacific outbreak.

It is transmitted by a couple of species of mosquitoes under the Aedes genus of mosquitoes. These tend to be relatively aggressive biters who bite during the day and like to stay indoors. If a mosquito bites someone with an active Zika infection, the insect can then pass it on to the next person it bites. Evidence of the virus has been found in blood, semen, saliva and urine. There have been some cases of person-to-person transmission by blood and semen. It is not known whether it can be transmitted by a person’s saliva, or kissing. The mechanism of maternal to fetal transmission is also not known. According to Claudia Dos Santos of the Instituto Carlos Chagas/Fiocruz in Brazil, it is found in Hofbauer cells, a type of white blood cell found in the placenta. “It’s possible that Zika virus can cross the placenta and infect the brains of fetuses” says Melody Li, of our own Rice lab.

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Quotable Quote

One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.

(Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929 – 1968)

For Your Consideration – And They’re Off! Edition

By Jim Keller

As I’ve said many times, one can liken the Oscar race to a horserace where each studio bets on its thoroughbreds and hopes that they can place at the end. The studio is the owner, public relations is the jockey, and the horse is the actor or film in the analogy. Here we thrust those roles I’ve discussed, in the three-part Ones to Watch edition, under a microscope to separate the nominees from the contenders and to identify the power players for each studio. I’ve also included my rankings as they stood on Oscar nominations eve. I chose nine nominees for Best Picture. I had planned to choose only eight, but The Big Short was an unexpected player announced by its studio, Paramount Pictures, in November. All other categories reflect five nominees. The picks that appear in black text within the table were my nominee picks, those in red represent actual nominees that I had not picked.

In the July/August issue, I delved into my favorite race, Best Actress. Here are the roles I discussed and where the ladies ended up half a year later:

THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – Ricki and the Flash (director: Jonathan Demme, studio: TriStar Pictures ):

FYC: When the film premiered in August, it became clear that Streep’s role was not the kind Oscar campaigns are built on. A muted critic response also kept that door closed.

THE ACTIVIST: Carey Mulligan – Suffragette (director: Sarah Gavron, studio: Focus Features):

FYC: The drama became the first casualty of the season when co-star Streep was labeled a racist (by the internet collective) for wearing a t-shirt bearing the phrase “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” to promote the movie. Never mind that the phrase is a real quote by Emmeline Pankhurst, a leader of the British feminist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whom Streep portrays in the film. Despite a British Independent Film Awards nomination, it was this incident that curbed early frontrunner Mulligan’s campaign along with any screenwriting, directing or Best Picture hopes—all of which, the film is worthy of being recognized for.

THE DARK LADY: Marion Cotillard – Macbeth (director: Justin Kurzel, studio: The Weinstein Company):

FYC: Truth be told, I’m not sure what happened to neither this film nor its once promising awards season chances, but suffice it to say the Weinstein Co. put all its weight behind Carol and The Hateful Eight. Macbeth started off strong, having wowed audiences at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d’Or, and ended with a slew of British Independent Film Awards nominations, including one for Cotillard.

THE PERENNIAL: Jennifer Lawrence – Joy (director: David O. Russell, studio: 20th Century Fox):

FYC: This awards season was such a wild ride that even J-Law was in jeopardy after the film, saddled with the highest of expectations, failed to deliver. Still, she managed to stay on-board the bucking bronco with Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and Golden Globe nominations as it zigged and zagged to the finish line—even as its other awards chances faded to grey. A win is not likely for Lawrence.

THE MULTI-TASKER: Kate Winslet – The Dressmaker (director: Jocelyn Moorhouse, studio: Universal Pictures):

FYC: The film adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name came and went quietly. While it snagged Winslet a win from the Australian Film Institute, it did not register with other awards bodies. No matter, Winslet cropped up in the supporting race thanks to her role in Steve Jobs. More on that below.

THE IMMIGRANT: Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn (director: John Crowley, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):

FYC: After the film adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s novel bowed at the Sundance Film Festival last year, Ronan was considered the de facto frontrunner by some for her wonderful turn as 1950s Irish immigrant Eilis. Like current frontrunner Brie Larson (Room, A24 Films), she secured nominations from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and a slew of critics’ groups. She is a threat for the win and while Larson won the National Board of Review (NBR), the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, the BFCA and the SAG, Ronan won The New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC) Best Actress award and was runner-up for the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) Best Actress award. This award was taken by fellow Best Actress nominee Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years, (Artificial Eye). While Larson appears to have the upper hand, anything could happen—especially since the Academy is apt to sidestep a darker film (Room) for a light-hearted one (Brooklyn).

THE LESBIAN: Cate Blanchett – Carol (director: Todd Haynes, studio: The Weinstein Company):

FYC: Blanchett’s role as an older, married woman who falls for a department-store clerk (Rooney Mara) in 1950’s New York is like catnip for the Academy. But considering that she won the Best Actress Oscar only two years ago, she isn’t really in this race to win, but a nomination was inevitable. She matched Ronan and Larson with Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and BFCA nominations, but two of the biggest (and dare I say controversial) snubs of the year occurred when the Academy passed over the film and its director. From the outset, the drama, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, was expected by many pundits to do well across the board. Indeed, it earned six nominations, including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (Mara) and Adapted Screenplay. In fact, its nomination haul tied with Best Picture nominees Bridge of Spies and Spotlight, and surpassed three others: The Big Short (five) Room (four), and Brooklyn (three). This left many people (including yours truly) scratching their heads and crying foul on the Academy, even using #JusticeForCarol on Twitter to show their outrage. After all, Carol was the only film in contention with a gay theme and Haynes is an openly gay director who was snubbed by the Academy 12 years ago for his film Far From Heaven. Surely they would take this opportunity to right that wrong? Nope. If there is any justice for Carol, Mara, who took home the Best Actress statuette at Cannes, will take home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year (see below).

The leading men were covered in the September issue. Let’s see where they stand:

THE ARTIST: Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl (director: Tom Hooper, studio: Focus Features):

FYC: Last year on Oscar night, the Internet erupted when a picture of Best Actor nominee Redmayne, dressed as Danish artist, and one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery, Lili Elbe, made the rounds. This ignited huge buzz for the star’s 2016 Oscar chances and placed an unachievable level of expectation on Redmayne who would go on that evening to win Best Actor for The Theory of Everything. By the time August’s Telluride Film Festival rolled around, bloodthirsty critics were more than ready to take the film, based on David Ebershoff’s novel of the same name, and its star down.

Fortunately, Redmayne delivered in the role and despite pundit grumblings, secured the requisite Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and BFCA nominations, keeping him firmly in the race. Redmayne has now earned his second Oscar nomination, but like his counterpart, Blanchett in the Best Actress category, don’t look for him to win. Even though his portrayal of Elbe is far better than pundits would have you believe. Instead, it’s newcomer Alicia Vikander as Elbe’s wife Gerda who represents the film’s best awards chances and who could take home gold over in the Best Supporting Actress category (see below).

THE MOGUL: Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs (director: Danny Boyle, studio: Universal Pictures):

FYC: This biopic of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs (Fassbender), adapted from Walter Isaacson’s biography of the same name, also had its bow at Telluride. Like The Danish Girl, it wasn’t long after that critics and pundits alike turned their noses at it in favor or something fresher and therefore sweeter. Unlike Redmayne, who held on through a maelstrom of naysayers for his nominations, Fassbender became everyone’s number two throughout the majority of the race. This allowed him to stack up the same nominations as Redmayne while keeping a target off him and on everyone’s number one (Leonardo DiCaprio). In fact, as Oscar night approaches, Fassbender remains many pundits’ number two. But it seems preordained that this is finally DiCaprio’s year and his number two slot may as well be lightyears away.

THE MURDERER: Michael Fassbender – Macbeth (director: Justin Kurzel, studio: The Weinstein Company):

FYC: As I previously indicated, following a wonderful reception at Cannes, this film adaptation was a non-starter awards-wise and Steve Jobs is Fassbender’s lone and far shot.

THE WILDMAN: Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant (director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, studio: 20th Century Fox):

FYC: This drama, based in part on Michael Punke’s 2003 novel of the same name, follows 1820s fur trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) as he sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling. DiCaprio won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, the BFCA for Best Actor and the SAG. He has all the trappings (read: requisite nominations) to finally take it home. In a year where his closest competitors can’t touch him, look for DiCaprio to make a much-deserved, clean sweep from here all the way to the Oscar podium.

THE MOBSTER: Johnny Depp – Black Mass (director: Scott Cooper, studio: Warner Bros.):

FYC: Despite critics’ division on Depp’s portrayal of Whitey Bulger, he earned BFCA and SAG nominations. Bulger was the brother of a state senator and the most infamous, violent criminal in South Boston ‘s history, who became an FBI informant to take down a turf-invading Mafia family. But the film culled from the book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, showed weakness in its campaign with Depp as the sole awards nominee. It wasn’t altogether a surprise when Depp was replaced on the Golden Globe and eventually the Oscar ballot by TV golden boy Bryan Cranston (Trumbo).

THE RETIREE: Michael Caine – Youth [director: Paolo Sorrentino, studios: Medusa Film (Italy), Pathé (France), and StudioCanal (U.K.)]:

FYC: Youth is the third Cannes film that couldn’t score in the major categories— Original Song is its lone Oscar nomination. Still, Caine won the European Film Award for Best Actor. This along with his age (he’ll be 83 next month), and his long charted history with the Academy, prompted many pundits to pencil him in, but he failed to garner any major nominations stateside.

THE DRUGGY: Ben Foster – The Program (director: Stephen Frears, studio: Momentum Pictures):

FYC: While the biopic of the famed athlete Lance Armstrong (Foster), and the uncovered truth about his use of banned substances, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall and was released in both France and the U.K., the film has not yet been released in the U.S. With a March release date, it doesn’t seem likely that the film will figure into next year’s race, but we’ll have to wait and see.

THE REPORTER: Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight (director: Thomas McCarthy, studio: Open Road Films):

FYC: As I mentioned earlier, this drama, based on the true story of how the Boston Globe “Spotlight” team uncovered the massive child molestation scandal and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, is a Best Picture nominee, so too is Ruffalo, but in a Supporting role (see below).

Matt Damon (The Martian), who won the NBR and the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical and who was nominated for the BAFTA and BFCA, is the fifth nominee in this category. I’m happy to report that he doesn’t stand a chance for such an awful movie.

The Ones to Watch series concluded in the December/January issue with a look at the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races. Let’s see how their contenders have stacked up following January 14th’s Oscar nominations:

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Natural Selections wants your art!

Whether you can’t stop drawing while waiting for the bus, or taking a walk around the city; if photography is your passion, or if you’re more of a painter, this is your chance to share your art. Beginning in 2016, Natural Selections will publish a picture of the art we receive every month. To take advantage of this opportunity, email us your work with a title, a brief description, and your name. We’ll make sure to include it in a future issue. We hope to receive several images to create an open space for art! We’ll be delighted to receive your artwork, please email hi-res jpg files to :<>

Photo by Nan Pang

The History of the Thanksgiving Holiday in America.

By Aileen Marshall

The weather has turned pleasantly crisp recently. It turns our thoughts to sweaters, leaves turning colors, apples and pumpkins. Along that line comes the Thanksgiving holiday. Most Americans today think of it as a day to have a turkey dinner with family, along with pumpkin pie and watching the parade and football. We decorate with dried ears of Indian corn, various gourds and cornucopias. It wasn’t always that way. Various forms of the American holiday go back almost 400 years.

Central Park

Picture by Nan Peng

When the Pilgrims first came to this country in the 17th century, it was a new experience for them, trying to survive in a completely undeveloped environment. They didn’t know what or how to hunt or plant for food. The winters in the colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts, were a lot harsher then they had encountered in England or the Netherlands. During their first winter of 1620-21, 46 of 102 Pilgrims died. They encountered the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans. They established communications with them and befriended one called Squanto. The Wampanoag showed them how to plant corn and squash and other vegetables, and how to hunt for wild game and fish. They were so grateful for a plentiful harvest in the fall of 1621, that they invited the tribe to celebrate with them. They feasted over three days. That first dinner included corn, cranberries and pumpkin, venison and fowl. The turkey is native to North America, but it is not known if the fowl included turkey. The act of thanksgiving was a part of their Puritan religious tradition, to celebrate what they saw as an act of divine providence. The Native Americans also had a tradition of celebrating the harvest. Edward Winslow wrote in a journal called Mourt’s Relation, a record of the Plymouth settlement, “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

There are other claims of a first Thanksgiving. Virginia, Florida and Texas all have claims to an earlier event. But historians say that our current tradition came out of the Pilgrims celebration in 1621. The other claims were not known until the 20th century, and it was common practice in those days to hold a celebration in thanks for some fortuitous event.

From the time of the Pilgrims, until the Civil War, Thanksgiving was celebrated by different states and on different dates. Each state or colony would pass a declaration for its own celebration. At first it was considered a New England holiday. But it slowly migrated as the country grew. In 1777 the Continental Congress declared a national Thanksgiving for all thirteen colonies. This continued until 1784. In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation for a national Thanksgiving. Only Presidents Washington, Adams and Madison made Thanksgiving declarations. This tradition continued until 1815, after which, the individual states still declared a Thanksgiving holiday. By the 1850s, almost all states had an annual tradition of having a Thanksgiving holiday. Although it would be on different dates, it was mostly celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

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Halloween in New York

By Aileen Marshall

Dave Bledsoe/FreeVerse Photography

It’s that time of year again, goblins and ghouls abound, the real and the fictional. If you are too old to go trick or treating, what is there to do? Luckily, you live in New York, where there are always options for something to do.

The most iconic New York Halloween celebration is the Village Halloween parade. It was started in 1974 by puppeteer Ralph Lee. In that very first year, people on the street got caught up in the mood, and jumped into the parade. It has grown over the years from 1500 revelers marching from West Street to Washington Square, to the present day parade of sixty thousand marching along Sixth Avenue from Spring Street up to 16th Street. This parade is known for its elaborate and outlandish costumes.

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Dave Bledsoe/FreeVerse Photography

Besides the costume contingents, there are floats and bands and large puppets. People tend to compete to have the most noticeable and impressive costumes. Sometimes they will coordinate and march as a group of a certain character. (How many Elvises can you fit on a block?) Since the parade is at night, people often incorporate some sort of lighting in their costumes. Anyone wearing a costume can enter the parade by waiting at the staging area on Spring Street. Each year the parade has a theme. The theme this year is “Shine a Light”.

The Village Voice gave it an award the first year to encourage it to continue. Now the parade committee works with the city, Community Board 2 and the NYPD. In 2001 the theme was a phoenix rising from ashes as a tribute to the victims of the World Trade Center attack. The only year it didn’t run was during Hurricane Sandy since lower Manhattan had no power. The parade this year starts at 7pm.


Dave Bledsoe/FreeVerse Photography


Dave Bledsoe/FreeVerse Photography

There are a number of haunted houses in the city. There is the reputed kind, considering the city is over 300 years old, and there is the entertainment kind, for your Halloween fun. The best known is Blood Manor. Located at 163 Varrick Street, it is a 5,000 square foot maze of gore and freights. Blood Manor is reported to go through 37 gallons of fake blood each night, hence the name. Tickets are $30 online or $35 in person. Be warned that this attraction is known for its long lines. For more information, go to Another entertaining haunted house is Times Scare, located at 669 Eighth Avenue, the only haunted house open all year long. Tickets are $27 but the associated Kill Bar is free. There are also various theatrical performances such as magic and burlesque shows. Go to for more details. The Jekyll and Hyde Haunted House is located at 91 Seventh Avenue South. The famous story is performed while you wander through the house. There is also a restaurant attached. Their website is

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Kykuit, The Rockefeller Family Estate – For a Very Special Day Trip

By Susan Russo

810867_seThe 3,000-acre estate of four generations of the Rockefeller family is nestled in the lovely area of Pocantico Hills, New York. The name of the estate, Kykuit, means “lookout” in Dutch, an apt name, since the vistas over the Hudson River are magnificent. John D. Rockefeller had the six-story mansion built in 1913. The architects were Delano (cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and Aldrich.

The house’s interiors are beautiful, but not overly ornate, as were many grand mansions of the time. The designer was Ogden Codman, Jr., who rejected the cluttered decors of the turn-of–the-century, and created a more modest yet graceful style. Codman, who designed novelist Edith Wharton’s home in Newport, collaborated with her on a book published in 1897, called “The Decoration of Houses,” which introduced this more livable style.

You will notice on your tour of the house that there is no ballroom, a main showplace of many U.S. and European mansions. John D. Rockefeller, a Baptist, did not allow dancing or alcohol in the mansion. Mr. Rockefeller, did, however, have a small pipe organ, later removed, in a family room. In this room now reside portraits by the American painter, John Singer Sargent. A Sargent landscape painting also depicts the huge Fountain of Oceana in front of the mansion, a replica of a fountain in Florence, Italy.

810869_seNelson Rockefeller’s collection of mostly modern artwork is exhibited in the subterranean art gallery, where the ceilings are covered with ingeniously-designed Italian tiles made by the Guastavino family, originally from Spain. These elegant ceramic tiles can also be seen outside the Grand Central Terminal Oyster Bar, in the New York City Municipal Building, in Grant’s Tomb, and in the City Hall subway station. In the Kykuit gallery are amazing tapestries designed by Pablo Picasso, commissioned at Nelson’s request, and woven in France. Throughout the house and estate you will see artwork by, among others, Constantin Brancusi, Louise Nevelson, Henry Moore, Joan Miró, Andy Warhol, Jacques Lipschitz, Alberto Giacometti, and Alexander Calder. Cynthia B. Altman has been curator of the art collection for the Rockefeller family, the Kykuit estate, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and our own Rockefeller University campus for over twenty years, and she also serves as an advisor to the National Trust for Historical Preservation, the International Center for Photography, and the Empire State Plaza Art Commission.

The gorgeous landscaping, designed by William Welles Bosworth, includes peaceful settings such as the rose garden, the Japanese garden and teahouse, a replica of the Greek Temple of Aphrodite and grotto, more elegant fountains, an Italianate loggia, and the swimming pool garden. On the “Classic Tour,” you will be taken by bus to the Coach Barn, which features a charming collection of the Rockefellers’ horse-drawn carriages, saddles, and classic “touring” and other luxurious cars.

Some of the private parts of the estate are “The Playhouse,” still a family retreat, and the nine-hole reverse golf course, where only the family and their guests are permitted to play.

If you have a car or can manage a fairly long walk, you can visit the family-built church, the community’s Union Church of Pocantico Hills, which is free to all. On Sundays, services are held at 9:00 and 11:00am year round. This charming stone building was enriched by the Rockefeller family with thirteen amazing windows designed by Marc Chagall, and a rose window designed by Henri Matisse. I was told by a guide that M. Matisse came out of retirement in his 80s at the request of the Rockefellers to design that window. Since the church is near the surrounding towns, one special event is a Harvest Church Fair, this year on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 16-17, from 9:00am to 4:00pm, and on Sunday, October 18, from 12 noon to 4:00pm.

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For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 2 Edition

By Jim Keller

I usually wait until after the Telluride and Toronto International Film festivals to discuss the second of the three-part Ones to Watch series, but I’ll be in Hawaii honeymooning for half of September, so I moved it up. I admit I’m at a bit of a disadvantage without the critics’ feedback from the summer’s end festivals to consider, but it could be fun to navigate this without a flashlight for a change. By my count the Best Actor race currently has about 40 men in contention for the five slots. Who will be the true contenders? We can only speculate at this juncture. But there’s no greater way to seek out the ghost of Oscar future than by looking at the past. Here’s how the men of last year’s Best Actor race stacked up against Oscar.

Four out of nine leading men discussed in last year’s column (including our winner) went on to earn Best Actor nominations: Michael Keaton (Birdman), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game). Eddie Redmayne won the Best Actor Oscar for The Theory of Everything. By year’s end those names were foregone conclusions and only Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner) was snubbed, as he was eclipsed by Bradley Cooper (American Sniper). Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice), Brad Pitt (Fury), Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up), and Jack O’Connell (Unbroken) didn’t make the cut.

THE ARTIST: Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl (director: Tom Hooper):

FYC: This biopic, based on David Ebershoff’s novel of the same name, depicts the true story of Danish artists Lili Elbe (Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) whose marriage is tested after Lili becomes one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery. The road to Redmayne’s Oscar was paved with Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) wins, a Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nomination, and a slew of critics’ groups nominations, all for his portrayal of famous physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Given that the transgender topic is everywhere in the media, it could be just the timely role to land him a second nod, or even a win.

THE MOGUL: Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs (director: Danny Boyle):

FYC: The biopic of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs (Fassbender) was adapted from Walter Isaacson’s biography of the same name. It explores the modern day genius’s triumphs and tribulations and how they affected his family life and possibly his health. Fassbender has had a bit of a rickety relationship with the Academy as evidenced by his Best Actor snub for 2011’s Shame, a film that netted him Golden Globe, BAFTA, and BFCA nominations. It wasn’t until 2014 that Fassbender earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for 12 Years a Slave after requisite nominations from those bodies as well as SAG. One might say that he’s overdue for a win, but Fassbender’s three other films due out this year give him four Oscar opportunities: Macbeth (see below), The Light Between Oceans, and Trespass Against Us. Any of these could lift him into the upper echelon. With 12 Years, the actor sidestepped the Academy’s tendency to not nominate unlikable characters and he did so without campaigning. But it could be his refusal to campaign that ultimately keeps him out of the winner’s circle.

THE MURDERER: Michael Fassbender – Macbeth (director: Justin Kurzel):

FYC: Fassbender plays the titular character in this drama, based on Shakespeare’s play about the ill-fated duke of Scotland who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become King. At once consumed by ambition and goaded by his wife, Macbeth later commits regicide and takes the throne. See Steve Jobs, with four shots on goal, it seems the Oscar is Fassbender’s to lose this season.

THE WILDMAN: Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant (director: Alejandro González Iñárritu):

FYC: This drama, based in part on Michael Punke’s 2003 novel of the same name, follows 1820s fur trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) as he sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling. I’ve written at length in this column about DiCaprio’s previous nominations (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Aviator, Blood Diamond and last year’s The Wolf of Wall Street), as well as his six Academy snubs (The Titanic, Gangs of New York, The Departed, Revolutionary Road, J. Edgar, and Django Unchained) so I won’t repeat myself. Pretty much the whole of the Oscar-watching world concedes that the actor will someday win an Oscar, it’s just a matter of time, and the right timing. This looks like a meaty role to get ‘er done.

 THE MOBSTER: Johnny Depp – Black Mass (director: Scott Cooper):

FYC: This crime drama depicts the true story of Whitey Bulger—the brother of a state senator and the most infamous, violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a turf-invading Mafia family. It’s based on the book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. It’s been a while since Depp’s name has come up in the Oscar conversation. He earned back-to-back Best Actor Oscar, SAG, and BAFTA nominations for 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and 2004’s Finding Neverland, and his third and final nomination three years later for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Depp earned BFCA nominations for all three films. The trailer for Black Mass features a decidedly more down-to-earth Depp, who appears to have disappeared into his character. Can the actor come back from playing fanciful characters and prove himself to the Academy? Time will tell.

 THE RETIREE: Michael Caine – Youth (director: Paolo Sorrentino):

FYC: The film sees two old friends on vacation in the Alps discussing their careers and the lives of those around them, when retired orchestra conductor Fred (Caine) receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to perform for Prince Philip’s birthday. Caine’s history with the Academy is long and fruitful. Beginning in 1967 with Alfie he has earned four Best Actor nominations: 1972’s Sleuth, 1983’s Educating Rita, and 2002’s The Quiet American, and two Supporting Actor wins: 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters and 1999’s The Cider House Rules. At 82, Caine’s repertoire cannot be denied. Will the Academy want to give him that elusive Best Actor statuette? You can bet on it.

THE DRUGGY: Ben Foster – The Program (director: Stephen Frears):

FYC: This biopic of the famed athlete Lance Armstrong (Foster) is told through Irish sports journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd), who is convinced the bicyclist’s Tour de France victories were possible via the use of banned substances. With this conviction Walsh hunts for evidence to expose Armstrong. The film is based on Walsh’s book Seven Deadly Sins. Foster has been on an uphill climb since his work in 2007’s 3:10 to Yuma. He has yet to earn any nominations from major awards groups for his individual work, but that could change this year. It’s still too early to tell, but there’s a chance that O’Dowd may be the lead, in which case Foster would be supporting.

THE REPORTER: Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight (director: Thomas McCarthy):

 FYC: This thriller is based on the true story of how the Boston Globe “Spotlight” team uncovered the massive child molestation scandal and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. The Globe won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its investigation, and its coverage is among the most celebrated journalism projects of the 21st century. The team is the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative unit in the U.S. Ruffalo has two Best Supporting Actor nominations under his belt for 2010’s The Kids Are Alright and last year’s Foxcatcher. He earned BAFTA, BFCA, and SAG nominations for both (he also won the SAG for Best Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries for The Normal Heart), and a Golden Globe nomination for Foxcatcher last year. It seems fair to say that the actor is a club member of those preordained to win an Oscar, but the film’s trailer suggests that the film is more of an ensemble piece, making it difficult for anyone to earn individual recognition.

 As I mentioned earlier, several men have irons in the Oscar fire this year. It’s too early to tell what will hit and what will hit hard. If Jodie Foster’s Money Monster lands, George Clooney could find himself in the mix. The same can be said for Warren Beatty and his as-yet-unnamed Howard Hughes project. Meanwhile, could Christian Bale shrug off last year’s Exodus: Gods and Kings pitfall and muscle in via Terrence Malick’s long-gestating Knight of Cups?

Each of these men is a past winner and none of them should be discounted. FYC returns in November. So until then, keep your ear to the street and your eyes on the screen.


For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 1 Edition

By Jim Keller

This month we begin our four-part series that will take us all the way up to Oscar nominations in January 2016 by discussing the leading ladies of the Best Actress race. While it was slim pickings for last year’s crop, this year’s appears to feature some strong, bona fide leads out of the gate, but still pales in comparison to the Best Actor race. Last year’s narrative was a tale of three actresses overdue for a win (Amy Adams, Julianne Moore and Jessica Chastain). The category was so underrepresented in Hollywood that a supporting actress (not a lead) took one of the top spots. What will this year’s story be? Will our top five be true leads? These are the questions we will be looking to answer in the next couple of months. So let’s first examine last year’s Best Actress nomination results and see who won over Oscar.

Although Reese Witherspoon and Rosamund Pike received Best Actress nominations for Wild and Gone Girl, the Best Actress Oscar went to a very deserving Julianne Moore for Still Alice. Meanwhile, Oscar queen, Meryl Streep, originally discussed in the lead category, earned a Supporting Actress nomination for Into the Woods. Among those performances snubbed by the Academy were Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Amy Adams (Big Eyes), and Hilary Swank (The Homesman). Rounding out the top five were Felicity Jones for a supporting role in The Theory of Everything and Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night). Both Streep and Cotillard are discussed again this year.

THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – Ricki and the Flash (director: Jonathan Demme):

FYC: This comedic drama focuses on a rock-and-roller who gave up everything to reach for stardom and who returns home to make things right with her family.

Streep has been discussed every year in this column. As of last January the actress has 16 Oscar nominations under her belt and three Oscar wins—two in lead (Sophie’s Choice in 1983 and The Iron Lady in 2011), and one in supporting (Kramer vs. Kramer in 1980). Whether the film ends up being nothing more than summer fun fodder, omitting Streep from consideration is a fool’s errand.

THE ACTIVIST: Carey Mulligan – Suffragette (director: Sarah Gavron):

FYC: The drama centers on early members of the British feminist movement of the late 19th and 20th centuries—a time when such women were forced underground to pursue a dangerous cat and mouse game with an increasingly brutal State. It is the first film in history to be shot at the Houses of Parliament in the UK and was done with full permission of members of parliament (MPs). Mulligan earned Best Actress nominations from the Academy, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) for 2009’s An Education. The same role won her the Best Actress award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), which also nominated her for its Rising Star award that year. 2011 yielded two supporting nominations from the BFCA (Shame) and BAFTA (Drive). The film’s trailer suggests a strong performance from Mulligan and showcases her range. This film is one of my most anticipated of the year.

THE DARK LADY: Marion Cotillard – Macbeth (director: Justin Kurzel):

FYC: The latest adaptation of Shakespeare’s play wowed audiences at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it competed for the Palme d’Or. For those living under a rock, the story unfolds when an ill-fated Scottish duke receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become King. Consumed by ambition and goaded by his wife, Macbeth murders the king and takes the throne. Cotillard (Lady Macbeth) continues her hunt for a second Oscar after a Best Actress win in 2008 for La Vie en Rose and her aforementioned nomination this year. It’s worth mentioning that in 2013 she narrowly missed her first opportunity for a second nomination with Rust and Bone—a role that netted her a slew of pre-cursor Best Actress nominations including SAG, BAFTA, BFCA, and France’s answer to the Academy Awards, César. Judging on her performance’s reception from Cannes, it would be surprising not to see Cotillard in the top five this year.

THE PERENNIAL: Jennifer Lawrence – Joy (director: David O. Russell):

FYC: This biopic chronicles the life of Joy Mangano (Lawrence) the struggling Long Island single mom who invented the Miracle Mop and became one of the most successful American entrepreneurs. In 2012, Lawrence won the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook (also directed by O. Russell) after earning her first Best Actress nomination in 2011 for Winter’s Bone. Last year, she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for American Hustle.

With this kind of track record we can expect that Lawrence will feature prominently in this year’s race. Whether or not she’s due for a second win is another question.

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Where have all the bees gone?

By Aileen Marshall


Photo: Böhringer Friedrich

Perhaps you’ve heard in the news about the mystery of the disappearing bees. It seems no one knows exactly why, but we do know that it’s serious. While bees may be an annoyance that can mar your outdoor activities, they are very important for pollinating crops. Some estimates say the drop in the bee population has cost as much as $200 billion in increased costs of produce, according to a United Nations study in 2005. The USDA has found an average cost per year to farmers to have bees pollinate their crops around $15 billion. One blueberry farmer claimed that his pollination cost used to be about $250,000 a year, now it’s about $750,000. Almonds are particularly dependent on bee pollination, and many nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables are also reliant on pollination. This increased cost gets passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.

There has been a growing business in beekeepers providing pollination services for farmers, since there has been a decrease in wild honey bees. These businesses are mostly migrant, moving with the seasons. Some have speculated that the constant moving has also put a stress on bees. This also makes it difficult to study this disorder.

The current phenomenon of disappearing bees is called colony collapse disorder (CCD). It is characterized by a hive where there are no live adult bees except for the queen and larvae, and there is plenty of food. With few dead bees found, it is difficult to find a definitive cause. It seems the bees don’t come back to their hives. Normally when a hive is abandoned, nearby bees will loot their food, but in CCD, the food remains untouched.

While there have been episodes of bees disappearing in the past, this one is notable in that there has been a sharp decrease of an average of 33% per year since 2006, primarily in the Americas. While it is normal to have attrition in colonies over the winter, CCD has been notable in the sharp decrease that occurs in the summer.

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For Your Consideration – Crystal Ball Edition

By Jim Keller

The early part of the Oscar race is a moving target. There are a few awards stops along the way: Sundance, SXSW, and Cannes, to name a few, but by and large spitballing what may come down the slippery slope of the Oscar pike is tricky. For one, a lot of the films do not have distributors yet or have soft release dates. This makes it easy for films to be pushed to the following year. Second, the films discussed here haven’t screened, so it’s really impossible to know what kind of film they are—all we have to go on is the log line and the talent attached. Sometimes we get lucky and the films stick the Oscar nomination landing (FYC’s Crystal Ball Edition covered four of nine 2014 Best Picture nominees), but out of the eight 2015 Best Picture nominees only one was featured. Here are some films of interest debuting this year that could wind up in this year’s Oscar conversation.

The Danish Girl (director: Tom Hooper):

Why you might like it: Based on David Ebershoff’s novel of the same name, the film depicts the true story of Danish artists Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) whose marriage is tested after Lili becomes one of the first known recipients of sexual reassignment surgery.

Why I’ve got my eye on it: Redmayne is on fire after his Best Actor Oscar win for last year’s The Theory of Everything. What’s more, early pictures of Redmayne as Lili are intriguing and the transgender topic has been gaining steam. After helming 2011’s Best Picture winner The King’s Speech and winning Best Director for it, Hooper is always on the Academy’s radar.

Steve Jobs (director: Danny Boyle):

Why you might like it: This biopic of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs was adapted from Walter Isaacson’s biography of the same name. It explores the modern day genius’s triumphs and tribulations and how they affected his family life and possibly his health. Michael Fassbender plays Jobs and could figure prominently in the Best Actor race.
Why I’ve got my eye on it: Like Hooper, Boyle is permanently on the Academy watch list ever since his go for broke Slumdog Millionaire swept the 2009 Oscars and won eight awards including Best Picture and Best Director. Here he is paired with Aaron Sorkin, an Oscar perennial since his 2011 Best Adapted Screenplay win for The Social Network. And of course, there’s the aforementioned Fassbender, who always gives deserving performances and who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for 2013’s 12 Years a Slave.

Joy (director: David O. Russell):

Why you might like it: The biopic chronicles the life of Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) the struggling Long Island single mom who invented the Miracle Mop and became one of the most successful American entrepreneurs.

Why I’ve got my eye on it: Russell has been after the Oscar since his Best Director nomination for 2010’s The Fighter. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in almost everything she does (RIP 2014’s Serena) and with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro on-board, the chemistry exhibited between the three since 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, which landed all three Oscar nominations, thrives.

The Witch (director: Robert Eggers):

Why you might like it: It’s a horror film that takes place in a devout, Christian 1630 New England homesteading community. When a series of strange events start happening a family begins to turn on one another. It’s a chilling portrait of family unraveling within their fear and anxiety, leaving them vulnerable to inescapable evil.

Why I’ve got my eye on it: This is one of my most anticipated films of the year. Eggers won the Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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