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Citizens of The Year

Meet the actors, advocates and activists of the Class of 2017

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"Auld Lang Syne," sung by many at the strike of midnight on New Year's Eve, is a reminder of the people who have touched our lives. In the spirit of the season, we celebrate some of the old (and young) acquaintances who became our Citizens of 2017. Living legends, heroes, heroines and provocateurs, you name it—we were honored to have spent a bit of time with some of the people we thought were worthy of your time. Let's give one last tip of the glass to toast the class of 2017.

When we spoke to Arianna Huffington's representatives about a possible interview, they made it very clear that the person that Forbes magazine once declared to be one of the most powerful women in the world didn't want to talk about President Donald Trump. That didn't deter us from asking. After all, Ms. Huffington has known Trump for decades. Huffington was slated to be the keynote speaker at the Sun Valley Wellness Festival this year. OK, we thought, let's ask about Trump's health, particularly his rather unhealthy habit of tweeting at all hours of the night.

"I can definitely say he's not a role model of sleep," said Huffington, taking our bait. "Regardless of what you think of him politically, we know that sleep has a huge effect on decision-making, problem-solving, impulse control and judgment."

Anita Hill, who famously spoke truth to power during the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas, wasn't shy at all about talking about her concern over Trump, particularly how Trump's White House has dialed down its collection of critical data.

"I'm very concerned... starting at the first removal of information from the White House website about LGBTQ people," said Hill. "The second indication was the removal of information about sex assault from the White House website. Since then, the administration has released businesses from a fair pay pledge."

Anne C. Richard was the guest at this the Frank Church Conference on Public Affairs this year. Richard, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration for the Obama administration, spoke about the tenuous state of the U.S. State Department and the ongoing global refugee crisis, and expressed her growing concern about Trump scaling down future refugee resettlement in the U.S.

"I thought most Americans were very proud of the fact we're a nation of immigrants and refugees. I thought that was well-established," said Richard. "The change from the Trump administration seems to go counter to our history of immigration, and a ban on Muslims coming to the U.S. is certainly counter to our history of freedom of religion and an insult to Muslim Americans."

In the age of Trump and his insistence that he is the victim of so-called "fake news," we sat down with Dr. Seth Ashley, associate professor in the Department of Communication at Boise State University and author of multiple studies on media literacy. We were particularly interested in Ashley's take on more high-profile news organizations turning to "sponsored content"—advertisements disguised as news stories.

"It's a desperate time for some organizations," said Ashley. "People are trying everything they can think of to cover the gap to get them through to whatever a better business model might be. I hope it's not the new normal."

Asked if media should be a willing partner in improving media literacy, Ashley said it wasn't part of media's purview to make things any better.

"Listen to the way our phones ping at us constantly. It's not an accident. It has us salivating like Pavlov's dogs," said Ashley. "That, for me, comes back to the classroom, to getting students to think critically about content and how it's produced. A lot of this is basic sociology."

Sociology was the last thing millions of Americans who bought a ticket to see Get Out last February, but there was a deep sociological drama lying beneath one of the scariest, funniest, genre-busting films of the year. During the Sun Valley Film Festival, we spoke with Allison Williams, whose co-starring performance in HBO's Girls made her a break-out star on the small screen and her role in Get Out added a major big-screen credential to her growing resume.

"I knew that when I first read the screenplay for Get Out, [writer/director] Jordan Peele had tapped into something very special, using a genre that for a long time hasn't been used for a greater social commentary," said Williams. "I leapt at the opportunity."

Get Out has landed on most critics' top-10 lists of the year's best films and is very much a part of the conversation over which movies might land a Best Picture Oscar nomination. As for Get Out being some kind of whacked-out house of horrors mirror image of American society, Williams said the film continues to be incredibly relevant.

"We had just finished filming and it was right after Trump's election in November 2016. I texted Jordan, 'I wish this could come out right now.' He said, with great sadness, that there probably wouldn't be a time anytime soon when this movie wouldn't be relevant and important. And indeed, the film became relevant in a whole new way as our country seemed to be increasingly bifurcated."

One of the most anticipated movies for 2018 is a film called Red Sparrow, which will star Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence as a ballerina who becomes a Russian espionage agent. Idaho native and prima ballerina Isabella Boylston gave us an inside scoop on Red Sparrow. "I can't say too much about it, but I can say that I'm Jennifer's dance double in the film. It was a crazy awesome experience," she said.

Boylston, now a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, was the producer of a world premiere ballet in mid-August at the Sun Valley Pavillion. It was a homecoming for a girl who grew up in a Wood River Valley trailer park.

"My dad was a drummer and basically a ski bum, so we spent all of our time on the mountain. My first memory is of skiing when i was a toddler," said Boylston. "We lived just south of Ketchum in the Meadows Trailer Park. I just went back there to look. Believe me, it looks a lot nicer than I remember. It's been upgraded."

Rock and roll legend Melissa Etheridge has also traveled a long way from when she first picked up a guitar at age 8 to her honors, which include multiple Grammy, Juno and ASCAP awards, and an Oscar. Etheridge's home isn't on a stage; it's on the road, and she said she still loves to visit every corner of the U.S. to perform live.

"All across this amazing nation, I see people who care, but they're a little afraid. I see people trying to overcome fear of 'the other' or fear of change," said Etheridge. "Yes, I see people saddened by a lot of the current rhetoric, but I still believe that all of this makes us a little bit stronger."

Derrick Davis knows something about "the other." He's only the third African-American actor to wear the mask as the lead in The Phantom of the Opera, which visited the Morrison Center in Boise this past June.

"We were in Atlanta when a mother, an African-American woman, brought her son to the stage door. The mother was in hysterics and grabbed her son by the shoulder and said, 'Look at him. Look at his face. Now you know, you can do anything,'" said Davis. "Moments like that constantly remind me of the responsibility that I have, not only to tell the story but to be an example to generations that will come after me."

Comedian Louie Anderson, who has been making us laugh for more than three decades, said when he first walked out on the stage for Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in 1984, "It was like an anointment, meeting with the pope of show business." Anderson performed in Boise this past March, just after turning 64 years old.

"I'd love this to my second act, but I've already had a couple of second acts," said Anderson. "I don't ever want to be preachy or too serious. More than anything, I want people to leave their daily grind, as if they were riding down a snowy hill on a piece of cardboard. We couldn't afford toboggans when I was a kid."

Anderson promised to slide down Camel's Back Park Hill on a piece of cardboard the next time he's in Boise.

It was the height of summer when Dennis Doan discussed his 27 years as a firefighter, nine of which he has spent as Chief of the Boise Fire Department. Doan is still hot under the collar over what he says is the continued allowance on the part of the Idaho Legislature to sell illegal fireworks inside Idaho—in spite of the recent conviction and sentencing of Taylor Kemp, who admitted to setting off a Roman candle that sparked a massive wildfire in the Boise Foothills.

"I'm still upset with the Legislature. I can't think of anything that's illegal sold openly in Idaho," said Doan. "Especially something this dangerous. What are we teaching our children?"

Perhaps the most optimistic person we sat down with in 2017 was Holli Woodings, who won a landslide victory in her race for Boise City Council. Even more impressive was the fact that Woodings ran her campaign while shuttling between Boise and her mother's bedside in Bend, Oregon. Woodings' mother suffered a broken neck, broken back, broken ribs and broken clavicle, and by year's end, she was transferred to a Boise hospital to be closer to her daughter.

The citywide issue Woodings said she's most anxious to address when she's sworn into office in the New Year wasn't a baseball stadium, downtown circulator, new library or affordable housing. Those were all extremely important issues to be addressed sooner, rather than later, she said, but Woodings said the time is long past due to address a mounting public transportation dilemma in the City of Trees.

"We need our buses to run on Sundays and evenings. I heard this time and again from citizens throughout my campaign," said Woodings. "I kept hearing that our transportation system isn't reflective of the size of our city and the needs of our residents."

Beginning with transportation, Woodings will have plenty to work on in 2018.

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