(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: it’s time that talent of color get their own narratives, not white hand-me-downs.)
I don’t know why Hollywood continues to ignore us (AKA people of color) whenever we throw free ideas up into the air about great original narratives centering on minority characters that can easily be adapted for TV or film. They know these stories exist. They know they already have built-in audiences. Still, they choose to not even consider it. They’d rather take an already existing white film or TV show and remake it with minority actors in roles immortalized by white talent — like they’re planning to do with the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, which will star a black actress in the title role.
This is not okay.
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(Welcome to The Dark Knight Legacy, a series of articles that explore Christopher Nolan’s superhero masterpiece in celebration of its 10th anniversary.)
There has always been a strange appeal to Heath Ledger’s The Joker in The Dark Knight, a playful yet formidable villain capable of making you laugh uncomfortably just as easily as he could throw you off a roof and skip away without so much of a second glance. It’s a fascination propelled by the fact that he not only walks around in a wrinkled purple suit and a face caked with melted clown makeup, but he has a long jagged red scar where his smile is supposed to be. Because as absurd as his maquillage and attire are, The Joker’s scars hide something far more sinister and tell a story about him that, until The Dark Knight, we hadn’t heard before.
But The Joker doesn’t simply recall a haunting tale from his past to appease his curious victims. Rather, he captivates them with the comforting sense that his maniacal behavior is not ungrounded — right before he turns that on its head in the most brutal way.
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The greatest trick The Purge (2013) ever pulled was convincing us at first that it is your run-of-the-mill home invasion thriller, directing us to think that the protagonists are the typical wealthy white family in the suburbs and the villains are the hoodlums in the streets who’ve waited all year to terrorize them without consequences. Sure, there is a moment early in the film which establishes that the Sandin family — led by mom Mary (Lena Headey) and dad James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) — may not be the most liked in the neighborhood, but we’re generally still supposed to root for them. Especially when on the night of the annual Purge, when all crime is legal for 12 hours, they intentionally choose not to participate.
But as the movie progresses, we learn that things are not so black and white — at least not when it comes to the morality of our protagonists versus that of the street thugs. Because the annual Purge — a law established by the nation’s political New Founding Fathers (NFFA) in efforts to dissolve crime by murdering the poor and weak and elevating the rich, privileged, and usually white — has allowed the affluent Sandins the choice to simply lock up their home with the most expensive security system around and remain oblivious to the terror outside. As James even says early in the film, if their family was still poor, they’d definitely participate “because it does work.”
That’s what’s so great about The Purge; it challenges our perceptions of right and wrong and how that’s impacted by a broken yet highly functional society — one not unlike our own.
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It was just last summer when Halle Berry’s Karla Dyson took matters into her own hands when she jumped into her minivan and chased down a pair of villains who abducted her son in Kidnap. That marked the first time in far too long that we saw a woman of color — and “of a certain age” — centralized as a badass hero and a mom on the big screen. She was no longer merely the sidekick or the villain the main character (usually a white actress) knocks off within the film’s first 30 minutes. She was the star.
I felt a similar sense of progress while watching Breaking In, the new thriller starring Gabrielle Union. In it, she plays a mother who stops at nothing to fight off armed criminals (Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Levi Meaden, and Mark Furze) who break into her home and threaten her and her children.
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The merit of most sequels is hard to evaluate without bringing up their predecessors — especially when it’s The Strangers. The 2008 horror film written and directed by Bryan Bertino that had all the makings of a rudimentary home invasion thriller ended up being a statement on the weaponization of idle behavior among seemingly innocuous young adults. It remains brutal, unsettling, and remarkably relevant.
So director Johannes Roberts’ The Strangers: Prey at Night has big shoes to fill. But that’s okay, because it doesn’t ever really seem concerned with besting the original film. Instead, it moves with the confidence of an entirely separate narrative, one that just so happens to not only pay homage to the 2008 film, but also successfully present its message to a 2018 audience.
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Shelley Duvall’s frantic, desperate face throughout almost the entire runtime of director Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining will forever be burned in my memory. Not only because it’s brilliant and deeply unsettling (as is the film). It’s also because amid that is the actual terror and sheer exhaustion Duvall experienced while having to deliver and re-deliver countless takes of her character being emotionally battered to the point where, to the actress’ own admission, it had become “excruciating.” Further, she felt no vindication for all that effort as the conversation around the film later centered on its male auteur. “The reviews were all about Kubrick, like I wasn’t there,” Duvall told Roger Ebert back in 1980.
This is an all too familiar position that many actresses find themselves in for the sake of authenticity, a sense of suffering that almost always serves as an impetus for the female character’s eventual empowerment. While the character’s self-actualization is an important one — apparently at whatever cost — there is much to be said about how a male filmmaker interprets and navigates female characters whose bodies are first consumed by audiences before they utter even a single line of dialogue. That said, they are either weaponized, brutalized, lusted after or a combination of all these things.
But those aren’t conditions that a male filmmaker often considers when it comes to his female muse, which indicates a lack of partnership in the portrayal that is more prevalent between a male filmmaker and a male muse. As a result, the character is at risk of becoming compromised through the male gaze. With all of this in mind, let’s explore some of the most renowned female muse/male director pairings on screen.
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Black Panther is a film that celebrates blackness…and that should become the new normal.)
For some, the Black Panther movie may be a new phenomenon, a perhaps radical showcase of black talent in which both the men and the women are centered equally — and where they stand tall like royalty as accolades continue to pour in far and wide. It’s supposedly an anomaly, a moment to celebrate. And that it is; an important example of black excellence taking center stage.
The red-carpet presentation at its January premiere was by itself a sight for sore eyes, black decadence at its finest, accessorized with deep hues and pops of gold. It was that rare mainstream occurrence in which our beauty literally radiated in a space historically dominated by the likes of Greta Garbo, John Wayne, and Frank Sinatra. And finally, FINALLY, others saw in us what we’ve seen in ourselves since the dawn of time.
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As far as unlikable characters go, Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding has always been in a league of her own. She’s got a potty mouth. She’s never really cared about making friends. She’s generally just not nice. And oh yeah, she was kinda sorta involved in one of the biggest sports scandals ever — a criminal plot to literally attack the America’s sweetheart of figure skating, Nancy Kerrigan. Folks might get past the sharp tongue and cold stares, but if there is anything that will turn them off faster it is when a high-profile figure comes for the girl next door (just ask Kanye). Top that with the brazenly conservative ’90s media takedown of the supposed black sheep of figure skating, who had frizzy hair, a bad attitude, smoked, and whose mom made her costumes — all of which were strictly taboo in the elite world of pretty upper crust young women who could twirl on ice.
So Harding didn’t really stand a chance in that world, especially during that time. And it has left such a deep stain on her image that, even to this day ,she remains written off. But the new film I, Tonya sees to it that her story gets told anyway and in her own words, whether people want to hear it or not.
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It was the last panel of New York Comic Con, but The Exorcist panel — consisting of actors Ben Daniels, Alfonso Herrera, Kurt Egylawan, John Cho, Zuleikha Robinson, with executive producer/writer Jeremy Slater and showrunner Sean Crouch—still commanded a packed room that was bursting with superfans of the small screen adaptation of the classic horror film. Despite the show’s shift to Friday nights, each and every audience member was clearly a dedicated fan (especially proven by how they raised the roof for each panelist announced on stage), and was psyched to see what they were going to reveal about the new season. Myself included. Just two episodes into the season, I can already tell that the show is moving into some interesting territory—especially with priests Tomas and Marcus (Herrera and Daniels) going rogue together.
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This week brings the release of the second movie to tackle the origin of Wonder Woman this year, but unlike the superhero movie released this past summer, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is about how the Amazon warrior princess came to existence on the pages of DC Comics.
A panel at New York Comic-Con took a closer look at the movie starring Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote, and that included releasing a new trailer for the movie arriving in theaters at the end of the week.
Watch the new Professor Marston and the Wonder Women trailer and find out what happened at the NYCC panel below. Read More »