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Beauty Shop: DSK, Kardashian, 'Colombiana'

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Now we step into the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a woman's perspective on the things happening in the news.

This week, we decided to talk about the prosecutor's request to drop sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He, of course, is the former head of the International Monetary Fund. He was accused of sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid.

On a lighter side, we're going to take a look at Zoe Saldana's new film, "Columbiana," and we want to ask if the female led revenge film empowers women or maybe not so much.

And we also want to talk about the latest royal wedding. You didn't know? At least that's how the tabloids are treating it. Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries tied the knot on Saturday, if you don't know or don't care, and celebrity watchers are still buzzing. We're going to talk about, is it a little too much in this era when people are, you know, hurting or so what? Is it mindless fun? And we're not paying for it.

Joining us to talk about all this is our panel of Beauty Shop guests, Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief at the website the Wise Latina Club.

Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. She's now a visiting professor at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Danielle Belton is behind the pop culture and politics blog, the Black Snob.

And of course, we have Jessica Coen, editor-in-chief of Jezebel.com.

Welcome, ladies. Thanks, everybody, for joining us.

CYNTHIA TUCKER: Good to be here.



MARTIN: So, I want to start with the news that prosecutors in the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn have requested that the charges be dropped.

Before that, you know, before he was accused in this matter, he was considered a front runner to challenge French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the country's next election. This was a stunning case that, you know, made front page headlines, you know, really around the world - both in the United States and, of course, in France and really, you know, elsewhere.

But prosecutors said, Cynthia, that questions about the credibility of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, undermined the case. And I'm just wondering what is your opinion about that?

I mean, on the one hand, they say that her asylum application had flaws in it, that she said - and this is tough stuff to talk about - but it said that she had embellished her story of being sexually assaulted in Guinea, her home country. They said that her rendition of the timeline was changed, that they just didn't trust that she could convince a jury.

What do you think?

TUCKER: Well, perhaps the most damning thing was the report that she had embellished the story about being gang raped in Guinea as a way to gain asylum in this country.

Now, some immigration lawyers say that is not so uncommon. She may indeed have been the victim of rape in Guinea - of political rape, of political violence. But it's pretty clear she embellished her story.

Once his defense attorneys got wind of that, if they got her on the stand, that could be pretty difficult for her to overcome.

Still, I'm sorry that she and Strauss-Kahn will not get their day in court. This is such a controversial case and it is very clear that he had sex with her. That happened. She says it was forced. He says it was consensual.

I think that there was more to be learned from allowing them both to have their day in court, but prosecutors decided not to go forward because they thought it would just be too difficult to get a conviction.

MARTIN: Jessica, you're in New York and I just want to mention that one of Ms. Diallo's attorneys, Kenneth Thompson, was visibly upset when he talked about what he anticipated was the request to drop charges yesterday. This is what he had to say.

KENNETH THOMPSON: If the Manhattan District Attorney, who is elected to protect our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our wives and our loved ones, is not going to stand up for them when they're raped or sexually assaulted, who will?

MARTIN: I'd like to ask each of you about this. Jessica, I'll start with you because you're in New York. What's your take on this?

COEN: I think that he's coming from a very understandably emotional place. What's happening right now in New York is that we are just coming off of a really horrible case with NYPD and two officers being accused of rape and they both got off. And people were extremely worked up about that and this happens immediately after.

And it's extremely frustrating for the DA not to follow through on this case and there is probably a very political factor going on here, which is that the DA, Cyrus Vance, Jr., would be hurt more by prosecuting this case and losing than to drop it altogether and to know that that's coming into play as well is very, very upsetting. Moreover, the level of scrutiny that she's faced fairly, but the scrutiny as whether or not a woman who's not necessarily a saint could still be raped is - it's ridiculous. And it's questioning her moral character in a way that I don't think has anything to do with what happened in the hotel that day.

MARTIN: Danielle, what do you think?

DANIELLE BELTON: I think it upsets me that when it comes to sexual assault it's one of the very few crimes where the victim's personality dictates on whether you think a crime happened or not.

COEN: Exactly.

BELTON: Like if a man who has a history of, you know, starting fights and he gets the crap beat out of him outside of a nightclub, you know, they don't decide to drop the trial - well, you know, he starts fights all the time. So, you know what, we're just not going to prosecute this, even though, you know, witnesses saw that he got the crap beat out of him or he has all this evidence of being in a fight.

It's like their argument is someone who is known of giving assisted suicides, like, murders their wife and like oh, we can't bring this murder to trial because there's a chance she might have wanted to die. Like it just doesn't make any sense to me. He, you know, there's evidence that Strauss-Kahn, you know, he initially lied about whether that he had actually had intercourse with the woman or not. No one's arguing that we have to go forward with the case because Strauss-Kahn's a liar. But because there's inconsistencies on her behalf oh, then we probably should like, you know, file the...

MARTIN: But the state has a higher burden, right? I mean that's the way the system works. The state has a higher burden. The state has the burden, not the defendant.

BELTON: That's true. But it's still, you know, unsettling.

MARTIN: You think it, but there's something distinctive about sexual assault cases you see where people are required to prove their virtue. Is that the argument, as opposed to any other crime where person has a physical assault or something, you think that there's a higher standard?

BELTON: Oh, most definitely.

MARTIN: Viviana, what do you think?

HURTADO: I just think that, you know, you've got the age-old innocent until proven guilty that in this case in particular as it involves the victim has focused instead, has reverted to guilty until proven innocent. And somehow or another that turned out to be the linchpin.

What's I think very troubling for me about this is that all of the sudden this became a media circus where the focus became the sexiest and the most salacious detail. But true issues like the, for example, how it is that there is continuing discrimination and harassment of women in the workplace. And the lower down the economic wrung you go these women are of color, the women who are, you know, maids in hotels and in homes and taking care of our children, what is the plight that these women face every single day? And then, of course, there's also, you know, the parallel issue of asylum, and how it is that it is becoming more and more difficult for victims of violence, political violence in other countries, to be granted asylum and so they're almost encouraged to embellish stories.

MARTIN: I guess I found that the part that I found particularly difficult just to say that, you know, we've reported on the fact that rape is something that is experienced by people in Guinea. In fact, there was photographic evidence of people raping people in public in Guinea as a way to humiliate them at a political rally. So to say that the details as she reported them were not, you know, to, you know, that she misrepresented the number of people who raped her is I found that very troubling as a part of this story.

But I don't think this story is over. I think that there's yet more to learn about this. And so we will continue to follow it. If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're visiting the Beauty Shop, getting the women's perspective on the news of the day.

With us are author and blogger Danielle Belton, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and journalism professor Cynthia Tucker, Jessica Coen, editor of the website "Jezebel," and Viviana Hurtado of the Internet journal, "The Wise Latina Club."

On to what we hope is happier news, the American royal wedding. And Cynthia's try not to gag.


MARTIN: Yeah, we're talking about the reality star Kim Kardashian and the New Jersey Nets basketball player Kris Humphries who tied the knot on Saturday in California. Apparently, quite a lavish affair. I don't know what happened to my invitation. I really don't.


MARTIN: I don't understand it.

COEN: I'm still upset about my lost invitation to the royal wedding in England.

MARTIN: In England. So, but Jessica, "Jezebel" has been following the wedding plans for months.

COEN: Yes.

MARTIN: So much and why?


COEN: A couple of reasons. One it's obvious tabloid gossip and women do like the fluff here and there and that's fine. But also, it is so over-the-top and extravagant that it's this perfect storm of our tabloid culture and the materialistic culture and then what you see every afternoon on TLC, which is this obsession with dream weddings. And here it is all coming together in this incredibly...


COEN: ...I think borderline disgusting way.


MARTIN: Well, I guess I should ask you whether you liked the dress or not. I guess that would probably be wrong.

COEN: I, you know, I have not seen a full picture of the dress. I've only seen the...

MARTIN: And you know why you haven't? Because there will be a two-part special in October, "Kim's Fairytale Wedding."

COEN: Right.

MARTIN: I'm not sure. And Cynthia, you wrote...

COEN: And they're going to make $15 million off of that.

MARTIN: Are they really?

COEN: Yes.

BELTON: And people paid...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Danielle.

BELTON: ...$1.5 million for those photos.

COEN: Yeah, which will come out this week.

MARTIN: They paid for the photos. And as I - my understanding that many of the - did they actually pay for anything of this wedding? I mean they...

COEN: Not a whole lot.

BELTON: They made money off it.

MARTIN: They made money off it.

COEN: Yeah. They made...

MARTIN: I think everything was donated. So Danielle, well, you have a theory about why people care.


BELTON: I think things like Kim Kardashian's wedding and other reality shows are like the pornography of television...


BELTON: ....of like mainstream television. Because technically they're actors they're acting out a heightened reality. But there's no way to fake like the actual emotions and, you know, getting a marriage license and she actually had to find a guy and had to date them. Like all those things that actually happen even if maybe your agent fixed you up and your mom probably really encouraged to have this ridiculous wedding that she sold to E!. But it's still her reality. She still has to live through all those emotions.

MARTIN: But why do we care? Why do we care? Why are we...

BELTON: I think it's like a soap opera on crack. And so that's what it is.


BELTON: It's the same reason why people will watch pornography over, you know, say like a really well-scripted, you know, romantic scene from a movie while they'll still prefer the, you know, the porn because essentially you, it's people, you can't fake people actually doing it. And you can't fake, you know, the whole idea of like you have to be, she had to marry this guy. And we'll see what happens with it. You know, you can...

MARTIN: He is handsome, though.

BELTON: Yeah. He...

MARTIN: You can't give that up. Cynthia, if your eyes roll anymore they're going to roll right out of your head.


MARTIN: What did your mom say?

TUCKER: They're going to get stuck, as my mother used to say.

MARTIN: Your eyes are going to roll right out of your head. You just, are you really hating it that much?

TUCKER: I, you know...

MARTIN: Or just mindless. It's cotton candy.

TUCKER: It is absolutely mindless and it sends all the wrong signals to so many young women and quite frankly, young men because after all, Kris Humphries participated in this spectacle as well. And it's hard to imagine, but he may take this marriage seriously.

MARTIN: Wait. Wait. What are the wrong signals you think it sends?

TUCKER: That, first of all, it is possible to be famous just for being famous. As far as I can tell well, Kim Kardashian is very shrewd, a very shrewd marketer of herself. Let's remember how she first came to public notice.

COEN: Exactly.

TUCKER: She first came to public notice with a sex tape which she made on purpose. She claimed that, you know, it was a private moment and the tape had been stolen. But that wasn't true. She did it to be famous and succeeded spectacularly well.

MARTIN: How do you know that? She said she didn't.

TUCKER: Well, almost every body else involved says...


TUCKER: ...she did...

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

TUCKER: ...do it on purpose. So what it says to young women is that you can be famous and make an awful lot of money for doing the things that our mothers taught us not to do. She hasn't contributed anything productive to society as far as I can tell.

MARTIN: House wares at Sears.


TUCKER: And this $10 million wedding...

MARTIN: House wares.

TUCKER: There will be lots of young women out there who will try to get as close to this as they possibly can and they can't afford it. And they'll have to pay, by the way, whereas she didn't.

MARTIN: Yeah. Viviana, what do you think?

HURTADO: I just want to know how much Kim and Kris are going to pay for their first child's pictures. And how much they're going to pay for the exclusive if they get divorced. I mean look, I want the best for Kim and for Kris. But I feel very much like Cynthia, that this is a reflection. On one hand it's escapism and I love it as much as the next person. But it's also holding up a mirror to our reality.

The fact of the matter is that we are an excess, overleveraged credit, you know, demoted society and this absolutely captures that, you know, to the umpteenth power. I think that like Cynthia says, what kind of message is this sending to little girls? I looked up to Christa McAuliffe - not to date myself.

MARTIN: Except we were bored. We were bored and a lot of people are unemployed and we want something to do.

HURTADO: And we've got little girls looking up to Kim Kardashian.


MARTIN: OK, I'll just, I'll be that one. I thought her dress from the bridal shower was super cute. That's all I have to say.


MARTIN: I just want to mention that there is a - well, before we go, from the television screen to the big screen, I have to ask you about this. There's a new movie "Columbiana". Talk about another image of female-hood, womanhood...


MARTIN: ...starring Zoe Saldana. I'll just play a short clip from the trailer. Here it is.



ZOE SALDANA: (as Cataleya Restrepo) And knowing that my parents were killed. I will not stop until you feel what I felt all these years.



UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) She's going after us.

MARTIN: You may have guessed that this is not a romantic comedy.


MARTIN: Viviana, your folks are from Colombia. OK, but let's just tell you that the storyline is that Saldana's character becomes an assassin to seek revenge for her parent's deaths - it's probably clear from just that little clip they're. The tagline for the movie is vengeance is beautiful. But the group PorColombia has launched a campaign against the film. They're taking issue with the portrayed violence of Colombia. Your folks are from Colombia. So what you think about it?

HURTADO: Yeah, I actually call myself a, you know, a Yuban, you know, Colombian bean, but made in the U.S. Basically, this is what you've got going on. You know, be careful what you ask for. Latinas in the media, television news, if they're even there, are either sex pots, a la cuchi-cuchi Charo, or they're maids. And all of a sudden now, you've got Zoe Saldana, who is, you know, Angelina Jolie on steroids. And so, you know, there's been a lot of heat - stereotypes that it's just really more of a throwback to the stereotypes of Colombia based in reality of the very violent 1980s Pablo Escobar-ridden, drug-ridden violent Colombia.

But interestingly, a lot of women I spoke to in the blogosphere are saying, you know what? I can't wait to see it, because in the same way that Zoe doesn't speak for all Latinas, it's the same way, like, Angelina's "Salt." In - Angelina Jolie in "Salt," she did speak for all white women. And by the way, Zoe is rocking the cat suit.

MARTIN: She is cute in the cat suit. I'm sorry. Danielle, what do you think?

BELTON: Oh, I actually think it's great. I mean, I've always argued that we'll know true equality when women are allowed to take on the same kind of roles and succeed or fail and be judged based on that success and failure, as opposed to looking like, you know, oh, well, you know, we saw this one woman do a movie and it failed, so no woman can open that movie. So I think it's great that she's doing a revenge flick. It's time for lady to avenge her parents or her man or her puppy cat...


BELTON: ....you know, dog, whatever. Because men do it all the time. They're always avenging people...

MARTIN: They can avenge people.

BELTON: ...in movies. So I'm excited. I love action films.

MARTIN: Jessica, what do you think? Very quickly, please.

COEN: I'm with Danielle, there. It is so good to see a woman on screen kicking butt. These roles have been male roles forever. And I think Angelina Jolie's done a great job kind of owning that. And it's really nice to see another female star kind of get in on that beat, honestly.

MARTIN: OK. All right. All right, on that beat, Cynthia, you're going or not? Thumbs up, thumbs down?

TUCKER: Well, you know, I don't mind a woman as an action hero at all. But I also don't think we can expect that Hollywood is going to do much besides stereotypes.


TUCKER: You know, that's entertaining, I suppose.


MARTIN: You suppose. Cynthia, I'll find out what you're doing this weekend. Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. She's a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club. They were here in Washington, D.C. with me. Jessica Coen is editor-in-chief of "Jezebel." She was with us from New York. And Danielle Belton is the author of "The Black Snob." She was with us from St. Louis. Ladies, thank you all so much.

BELTON: Thank you.

COEN: Thank you.

TUCKER: Thank you.

HURTADO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.