Month: March 2017

Are Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez an item in “Annihilation”?

Sci-fi is getting a little bit more diverse thanks to Annihilation. This movie has been low on the radar, but it’s about to blow up with the first images of Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez exploring a beautiful, yet certainly dangerous, world, making the rounds again thanks to POCCinema.

Fans have already endeared themselves to Rodriguez and Thompson’s characters, with several excited that Rodriguez’s character is also a lesbian.

As far as I know, we haven’t gotten word on if Thompson’s character is also lesbian or at the very least, not straight, but we do have a lot of suggestive tweets and social media activity between Thompson and Rodriguez that are leading fans to hope that Rodriguez and Thompson’s characters are, in fact, an item.

What kind of relationship do you think Rodriguez and Thompson’s characters have in the movie? Leave your speculation below!

Annihilation is directed Alex Garland and stars alongside Thompson and Rodriguez Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sonoya Mizuno, Tuva Novotny, David Gyasi, Crystal Clarke, Bern Collaco, Honey Holmes, Kola Bokinni, and Mairead Armstrong. The film follows a team of female scientists on a secret expedition where “the laws of nature don’t apply.” The film will be in theaters September 2017

The “Justice League” trailer has hit, and the reaction is mixed at best

Warner Bros/DC Entertainment

The internet went wild over the release of the official Justice League trailer, and it seems like the reaction has been all over the place. If the official Twitter Moment gives you any indication, there’s a camp that’s all about the movie, and a camp that’s not about Zach Snyder’s penchant for muddy blues and dark tones.

If that last sentence didn’t let you know, you can probably tell that I’m in the latter camp. Look, I want to like the movie a lot, but this color scheme doesn’t do anything for me. One thing I learned in art school was that if you take a picture you’ve drawn and you squint your eyes and all you see is one monochromatic color, then you don’t have enough light and dark tones in your piece and you need to add some differentiation STAT. You can do the same with this entire trailer, especially the fight scenes, and all you’d see is blue. I really don’t know what Snyder is trying to pull with this “color palette.”

Three good things we’re getting out of this film are The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. I’ve been a fan of Ezra Miller since The Perks of Being a Wallflower, so I’m excited to see what he’s going to do with this character. I’m also excited to see what Hollywood newcomer Ray Fisher will do with Cyborg who was best defined for me during the character’s role in the Teen Titans cartoon show. And of course, if you’re a person who’s attracted to men and you have a pulse, your probably in the camp that wants that Jason Momoa Aquaman movie to come yesterday. As Jamie of Black Girl Nerds summed up:

Want to see the trailer for yourself and form your own opinions? Here you go:

Now let me know what you think in the comments section!

“Power Rangers” shows the superhero genre how representation is done

Photos: Kimberley French/Lionsgate

If you told anyone that the movie that was going to shake up the superhero genre in the best way would be the film adaptation of Power Rangers, they would be shocked and probably, in some strange, elitist, I’m-too-old-for-Power Rangers way, appalled. But Power Rangers has come out of the blue as the film when it comes to portraying a diverse group of people in a way that is both organic and makes sense for today’s world and today’s multicultural and diverse audience.

The two characters that have set Power Rangers apart from other films are Trini (the Yellow Ranger), played by Empire star and pop singer Becky G., and Billy (the Blue Ranger), played by Me and Earl and the Dying Girl‘s RJ Cyler. Trini is the first LGBT character in the Power Rangers universe and her story includes her coming to terms with her sexuality and her “girlfriend problems.”

“For Trini, really she’s questioning a lot about who she is. She hasn’t fully figured it out yet,” said director Dean Israelite to The Hollywood Reporter. “I think what’s great bout that scene and what that scene propels for the rest of the movie is, ‘That’s OK.’ The movie is saying, ‘That’s OK,’ and all of the kids have to own who they are and find their tribe.”

Cyler talked to ScreenRant about how he got into character as Billy and what he learned about respectfully playing a person on the autism spectrum.

“I wanted to show a different…viewpoint of people that are seen as bieng on the spectrum…Or people dignosed with autism, ’cause it’s like I feel like us being outsiders looking in and I take that, I cast my own stone when I say that, ’cause there’s a lot that I didn’t know before,” he said.

“I actually sat down and shut my mouth and actually just listened and you know, accepted every bit of information with no judgement,” he said. “I know that it was my job to show, you know, that people that are on the spectrum are just regular people, literally just how we talk, how me and [Becky G] talk, they feel the same way, they have the same emotions, they wanna be loved…they want relationships; they want, you know, connections, and it’s just like I was really excited to be able to play tthat ’cause I know it means so much to so many people, ’cause all of us are affected by it…and it’s something I feel like we needed to have in this movie to be honest.”

If you’re an O.G. Power Rangers fan, then you know that the show has always included a diverse cast, which, in retrospect, might have been kinda daring for the time (despite the fact that the black and Asian cast members were the Black and Yellow Rangers…) I know for sure that, despite for the subject color naming, I was positively affected by Power Rangers, since I saw myself in both Zack Taylor (Walter Jones) and Trini Kwan (Thuy Trang, RIP), who was the only woman of color on the original season, I should add. It seems like we’re seeing another generation of action fans being positively influenced by Power Rangers again, if Twitter is anything to go by.

In short Power Rangers has shown all of these other blockbuster films how it’s done when it comes to representation. There’s no time to worry about box office returns or any other political machinations when it comes to showing people as they exist in the world. I’ll definitely have to check out Power Rangers for myself, because it might just help me with my own increasing knowledge about where I sit on the autism spectrum (since, from research I’ve done and from personal anecdotes I’ve heard about myself, I believe I’m a prime candidate to be diagnosed with ASD). Growing up during a time when your own vision of autism was Rain Man, it’ll be refreshing to see a different portrayal of a condition that affects all of those affected in many different ways.

What do you think about Power Rangers? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“RuPaul’s Drag Race”/”Untucked” Season 9 recap: Mother Monster has arrived

Vh1

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 | Episode 1, “Oh. My. Gaga!” | Aired March 24, 2017

First, I’m SO GLAD RuPaul’s Drag Race is back! This is one of my favorite shows of all time, and even though I’ve never really recapped it because, frankly, I was selfish. I wanted to keep the magic and the glamour of the show to myself and just have something fun for me to enjoy. BUT, I also feel it remiss to not recap it when Season 9 looks to be the most polished season yet.

By now, most hardcore fans have seen the first 18-20 minutes of the first episode, so we already know that Lady Gaga walked into the workroom with the rest of the queens as one of them until she took off her mask. She’s inspiring to the queens, yada yada yada. I’m not trying to sound flippant about it; it’s just that I’ve seen the first 18 minutes about three to five times before the episode aired so that part of the episode is already passé for me.

Instead, let me show you the video of how Eureka was moved to tears by how Gaga helped her in her darkest times.

Since we’re talking about Eureka, why is she living out all of her insecurities through mild bitchery? If there’s one thing that annoys me, it’s when a big queen inadvertently plays into the “bitter big woman” stereotype. I think Eureka is funny and I’m sure she’s a lovely, witty person, but come on, girl, stop cutting people down right out of the gate. Also: stop with the “I’m a big girl” jokes. Again, another thing that annoys me is when a big queen makes all of their comedy based around their insecurities about their fatness. It makes me sad and, frankly, uncomfortable, if I’m being honest. Speaking from a personal place, I know what it’s like to have body insecurities. I think a lot of us get that. But for me, if you’re a big queen, you’ve got to show that you’ve got more up your sleeve than self-deprecating jokes. Rant over.

So the theme of the episode is a Gaga-centric Miss Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent Pageant Competition! The queens had to give two looks: one repping their home town, and the other one being their favorite Gaga look. Also: No queen is getting eliminated this episode! Hooray! We get to know the queens more!

So let’s get into my favorite looks.

Hometown

Shea Couleé–Chicago

I like how, even though she’s a beauty/makeup queen, she still gives you humor. Her reference to Mystique Summers’ “Bitch, I’m from Chicago!” line and her sexual hot dog jokes, coupled with that headpiece and the commitment to the Chicago-style hot dog theme really set her apart for me.

Aja–New York City

I know several reviewers hated this look, particularly since she and Peppermint both dressed literally as Lady Liberty and Alexis Michelle had the Statue of Liberty on her peacock fan-thing. But I just like this look. Maybe I’m just being biased, but it just looks cool to me, and I like the idea of seeing an edgy Lady Liberty wearing an orange wig.

Valentina–Los Angeles

The sombrero, the hair, the makeup, the flowers, the thigh-high garter-belt boots that are also tights??? I don’t need to say much more about this, do I? The look speaks for itself. It’s all so expensive, and that’s what I love about Valentina’s aesthetic; it’s rich and luxurious and I want to live that life.

Nina Bonina Brown–Atlanta

Again, do I really need to explain why this is amazing? JUST LOOK AT THIS PEACH HEAD! IT’S MADE OUT OF CARDBOARD! It’s simultaneously the freakiest and most creative, artistic thing I’ve seen on this show. I like the way Nina’s mind works.

Lady Gaga

Nina Bonina Brown

What I love about this look isn’t just that it’s clearly Gaga; it’s also the winning look. Eureka thought this wasn’t going to win Nina the pageant crown, and lo and behold, it did. I think what Gaga identified with was the originality that still came through Nina’s looks despite having to adhere to a theme, especially one as limiting as dressing as someone else. However, Eureka’s look was also one of my favorites.

Eureka

It’s very clearly Telephone, and it’s very well made. What Eureka does best is give body queen looks, showing you don’t have to be skinny to wear skin-tight or form-fitting clothes. I do like Eureka’s aesthetic and what she’s trying to do with her drag.

Aja

Kimora Blac was saying that picking Gaga’s red carpet looks were boring, and that she wanted to do one of Gaga’s everyday looks. Well, this is how you do one of Gaga’s everyday looks. While Kimora picked yet another black strappy number, Aja chose one of Gaga’s more daring silhouettes. For me, the Commes de Garcons look played very well into the Aja brand, which is simultaneously about pushing the boundaries and just being fun and accessible.

Valentina

I’m used to seeing Valentina in elaborate wigs, so this wig was kind of a letdown for me. But, the look is still one of my favorites because everything is so put together and fashion modely. Her walk was catwalk-ready.

Sasha Velour

It’s funny that Sasha Velour is already being clocked for being the artsy queen, as in that perhaps she’s probably relying too much on artsy-ness. Perhaps it’s the Brooklyn in her; I only visited New York for about a week, but for the time I was in Brooklyn, I definitely got the sense that it was an enclave all about art and expression. Also, having been in the art world for most of my teenage life, I know this type of artist all too well. I’m not saying she’s not great; she’s one of my favorites of the season. But I can already tell that her biggest challenge will be if she can switch from niche artsy-ness to clsasic drag camp. Versatility, if you will.

Having said all of that, I think the ARTPOP look suited Sasha to a T and she sold it expertly. However, ARTPOP itself also suffered from being too artsy, so it’s kinda ironic that Sasha would pick a look that shows both the strength and flaw of being the Artist Queen.

Final notes:

• Poor Jaymes Mansfield. I’ve seen her on YouTube and she’s great on her channel. But she’s coming off as shellshocked on this show, and it’s understandable. But I hope she’s able to get herself together through the season. I really don’t want her to go home early. She’s got tons of talent, and I think she has the potential to go far. But if I can get into my Untucked review, the biggest part I hated about the first Untucked episode is that Eureka decided to come for Jaymes just because she’s quiet. Unlike the other queens, who seemed actually genuine in their concern about Jaymes’ emotional state, Eureka just seemed like she wanted to cut at the person she felt was the weakest. Again, I feel a little personal about this because I’ve been cut at for being quiet or shellshocked in some situations. Not everyone’s got a loud personality and it seems like Charlie was among the queens who understood this. In fact, it was Charlie who inquired about Jaymes in the first place. Perhaps its because he’s acquired tons of wisdom, since he is, in fact, the oldest queen. But Eureka needs to chillax on this and let Jaymes gather herself.

• Gaga needs to become the Tim Gunn of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I feel like she has a deep respect for the art of drag as well as for the lives of drag queens themselves, and I like that she put herself on the mat when it came to discussing the line between appropriation versus appreciation. I know she gets a ton of flack for what she does for the gay community because to some, it comes off as weaseling her way into the a life she doesn’t understand. I admire that she discussed her own hesitancy to appear that way and her sincere desire to uplift the community, not try to selfishly insert herself as one of its members. I think that bit of self-awareness is refreshing, since I’ve also wondered about Gaga’s intentions on that front. I don’t think we see a lot of music celebrities exhibit that kind of self-awareness, and I responded well to it. I also came to admire how she told the queens how she felt about their looks to their faces during Untucked and not just keep it all nice on the runway, then kill them behind their backs. She kept it 100, but she also kept it encouraging. I like that. Good show, Gaga.

• I’ve listened to several reviews as I wrote this recap, and I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one not getting Kimora Blac. Do I think she’s snatched and beat? Yes, of course. But do I think she’s got a limited range as of right now? Completely. As other reviewers have said, she hasn’t varied her look much, if at all, and I feel like she could give us a lot more. I think she’s got the potential to do that; she’s just stuck in a rut.

• I know Peppermint is a seasoned performer, so it’s kinda astonishing to me how she let herself go out there on the runway with her lacefront visible like that. Sure, they don’t have a lot of time backstage, but everyone else had their wigs together! As Gaga said, it’s the details that Peppermint has to focus on, and her lack of focusing on the details seems to be consistent, from what I’ve seen of her in the “Meet the Queens” segment, her RuPaul’s Drag Race premiere red carpet look, and the looks she’s given us in this episode.

• My mom doesn’t watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, but if she did, her clear favorite would be Valentina. When I showed her Valentina’s entrance into the workroom, she said, “She’s gorgeous! And her body looks good, too! That’s amazing!” I completely agree. For your consideration, Exhibits A-D:

• I’m also going to just say this now: I’m a huge Valentina stan, so there might be some favoritism in this recaps, but who isn’t biased when they’re writing recaps of shows? I just love Valentina so much. Can they make a Valentina Barbie? I’d buy that right now.

• I’m also an Aja stan, and I can’t wait for a challenge that will allow her to dance her competition into the ground. As I showed in my predictions article, Aja can dance to literally any music you put before her, and she said as much in this episode. There’s a reason she’s the number one name in Brooklyn; she’s so exciting to me. And the fact that she gives big ups to John Leguizamo is awesome too. It must be true that sexuality is a construct since I’m attracted to Leguizamo both in and out of drag. (Heck, the only reason I liked the terrible Super Mario Brothers movie was because of how cute Leguizamo is in it.)

• I’m also a big Nina Bonina Brown stan as well. I love her originality, and I really identified with her statement in Untucked, in which she revealed that she was at her lowest point when she auditioned for what was going to be her last time. Everything she said about doubting if your dream is something that is actually meant for you hit home, so it encourages me to see that if Nina can make it and achieve her dream after crippling doubt, then I can, too.

The mystery queen!

The internet is saying it’s Cynthia Lee Fontaine, which would be major if that were true, because I, like tons of people, love the Queen of Cucu. Also, the hair, the covered-ness of the outfit, and the closeup on the queen’s butt seem to point in Cynthia’s direction. But some other guesses floating out there include Lynesha Sparx, Coco Montrese, and Jasmine Masters. All we know is that the queen is either Latino or black, has a big booty, and loves short hair, which means it could be any one of these queens since they all fit the bill. Who do you think it is? Vote here:

 

Who is the mystery queen?

Lynesha Sparx
Coco Montrese
Cynthia Lee Fontaine
Jasmine Masters

Poll Maker

What did you think of the inaugural Season 9 episode? Who gave you your favorite looks? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“Into the Badlands” Season 2 recap: Quinn’s back and creepier than ever

Sunny needs to get back to Veil as soon as possible! Antony Platt/AMC

Into the Badlands Season 2 | Episode 2, “Force of Eagle’s Claw” | Aired March 26, 2017 

Let’s start at the ending this time around: Quinn is a creepy mo-fo.

I don’t think I have words that express just how twisted Quinn is. He’s like any twisted plantation owner turned up to 11. Heck, I think he rates even higher than 11. Quinn has serious problems and he needs some help. But at the end of the day, I don’t think he wants help: I think he’s forgotten about the existence of his soul for decades and now all he uses to fill his empty space is power. Right now, that power comes from having Veil and baby Henry at his side. Veil and Henry feed his ego and that empty, sad space inside him much more than all of his loyal clippers and revenge plan do, which says a lot about the power and strength of Veil herself, but it also says a lot about how, as twisted as Quinn is, one thing he seems to desperately want, in his own way, is a family to call his own.

This duality is probably why Martin Coskas loves playing Quinn; there are always a lot of layers to explore with the evil characters because the challenge is finding their humanity. I’m no actor, but I know that to play or write a good villain, you’ve got to find and honor that small kernel of humanity they still have somewhere.

Enough of my Actors Masterclass. Let’s get back to talking about how creepy Quinn is. What’s upped the creep factor this go-round is just how much he’s into Veil. Look, Veil is a woman everyone who’s in their right mind should love. I’ll even go so far to admit that the lengths Quinn will go to protect Veil and the baby is…cute?? Maybe I’m the one going a bit out of my head right now. Don’t get me wrong; seeing him kill that dude through his eye was horrifying. But seeing Veil taken care of, whether by Sunny or by Quinn, hits at a place in my mind that realizes that black women aren’t usually put in this kind of damsel position. That alone is something noteworthy. HOWEVER, Quinn’s adoration over Veil is just as unwanted as it was to see Scar make Sarabi his queen in The Lion King (or, for the Broadway fans, see Scar lust over Nala, which was even creepier since he watched her grow up). Sunny can’t come back for his woman soon enough.

Meanwhile, Veil’s just gotta bear it. She’s got tons of resolve, I’ll tell you that. But I sincerely hope she uses that sunroom as an escape. She needs get her climb on and get out of there ASAP!

Also, let’s talk about the fact that she’s the one that saved doggone Quinn in the first place. I mean, there’s a reason he’s head-over-heels for her; after all he’s done to her family, she still found it in her heart somewhere to save him. While that’s really frustrating for us as viewers who want nothing more than for us to see Quinn dead in the ground, that also says a lot about her character, and I don’t think Quinn takes that lightly. Again, she feeds his soul in a way absolute power can’t; she’s the light he’s probably been seeking for longer than he can remember or even realized. He wants to do whatever he can to keep that light around, which includes him hoping that he can keep her captive long enough for her to start having feelings for him. But Beauty and the Beast this is not. She’s going to escape. It’s just a matter of time now.

Speaking of a matter of time, Sunny’s doing his best to make it back to the Badlands, despite having his “ball and chain” Bajie stuck with him. While Sunny’s journey is at the crux of this show, this episode was much more about where everyone else is in their own personal journeys. We know Sunny’s going to make it back to the Badlands; wherever Veil is, he’s going to make sure he’s there. But aside from Sunny and Bajie’s escape from the head slave fighter, it was a little uneventful on the Sunny front. The one thing of note from his and Bajie’s time in the outskirts was that out of everything’s Sunny’s been through, out of every neck Sunny’s cracked and every heart he’s stabbed, the one thing that freaks Sunny out is having a dead rodent wiggled in his face, as well as the idea of eating said rodent. Really, Sunny? I mean, we all have our phobias…I’m afraid of butterflies, for example, but don’t really mind bees. But if you’re a killer, seems like your fear for things like rodents would be the last thing going on in your mind. But it’s funny, so it’s yet one more fact we know about our favorite Clipper. If you want to defeat Sunny, just throw a hamster in his face.

Antony Platt/AMC

Meanwhile, poor M.K. is battling himself, literally. The Master is taking him under her wing because she knows he’s a special boy, the one who will answer everything. What exactly he’s “the one” for, I’m not sure yet; I don’t think we’ve been told. But he’s special, and in order for him to leave the Master’s care, he’s got to do battle with and conquer himself. However, his dark side is a force to be reckoned with, and he doesn’t give up easily. In fact, right now, he’s capable of killing M.K. The Master has to bring M.K. back before his dark side kills him. M.K.’s got a long way to go before he defeats himself.

One thing I like about M.K.’s time in training is that it highlights how his constant training isn’t so much about being able to defeat others; it’s about being able to bring the mind in concert with the body. I’ve been taking meditation more seriously, so I’m sure these platitudes are things others have known forever, but the art of movement is less about the external and more about the internal. What M.K.’s learning on the outside is supposed to help him on the inside, and usually, all of that training just results in learning that in order to calm the mind and really conquer it, you have to just let it do it’s thing. You can’t fight the mind; you can only observe it and accept it for what it is. That’s all M.K.’s learning—how to become one with himself.

Antony Platt/AMC

Okay, my Iron Fist moment is over.

Finally, we see Lydia’s Baroness past come back to haunt her when she has to defend her father’s religious enclave from attackers. However, her father is acting very ungrateful. Or is he?

I mean, he is acting ungrateful from our point of view, but he’s also a staunch believer in his way of life, and that includes letting things happen as they are wont to do. If it was his destiny to die that day, he was ready to meet it. He also doesn’t believe in killing, something he said is a privilege only allowed to the gods. So, Lydia has struck out on two fronts, all because she tried to save her father. Kinda messed up.

She tries reasoning with Ryder to have him protect his grandfather’s people, and he…agrees?? In any case, he definitely doesn’t want Lydia’s help in his life anymore. According to him, he’s a great baron and has lasted longer than Lydia gave him credit for. But I’d say he’s only lasted as long because of whatever help he’s received from Jade, who’s crafty in her own way. He’s not ruling things all by his lonesome. I say we can expect a truce to happen between him and his mother at some point. He’s going to need her help at some point, and I can’t wait for the groveling to happen.

Final notes:

• Can we talk about how attractive Sunny looks as a wanderer?

Antony Platt/AMC

Between the Clipper look and this look, I’ll take this look any day. I’ll also take this look with the durag.

Antony Platt/AMC

Knowing Daniel Wu’s intense love for hip-hop culture, did he have any say on the this sartorial decision? There are several types of head coverings people wear when working in boiler rooms or while doing ironwork, and Sunny just so happens to be wearing the durag version? Interesante, show. Muy interesante.

Of course, I won’t say no to a clean-cut Sunny, either. But he could clean up and keep the hair. That’d be great.) All of the men look good on this show, though, even Quinn (yes, I said it).

• I hope M.K. sports his monk-trainee hair for the rest of his life. I need to learn how this hair is done.

• Do you think Sunny would ever make a pact with The Widow once he figures out what she’s trying to do? I think he’d go along with a Baron-free world after everything he’s been through.

• There was a wall at the end of the episode. Does this mean that America finally built Trump’s wall after all? Or has Into the Badlands been set in China all this time?

What did you think of the episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“Into the Badlands” Season 2 premiere is a masterclass in inclusive TV

Daniel Wu as Sunny (Antony Platt/AMC)

It’s already a cliche to say this, but Into the Badlands Season 2 showed up Iron Fist in nearly every way possible. If there Hollywood needed an example of how to make an inclusive martial arts-based action show that doesn’t appropriate cultures but actually respectfully melds cultures together into something new and original, then Into the Badlands is that much-needed example.

Did that sentence confuse you? Let me just break down what I’m trying to say in some bulleted points while telling you what you need to know about the jaw-dropping Season 2 premiere.

• The beginning didn’t linger. 

 

I hope you had your Into the Badlands DVDs or On Demand players handy to catch up on the first season, since the show didn’t waste any time jumping back into the story and the action, and that’s great, because while the show’s story is fantastic, the biggest selling point are the extensive, thought-out, creative fight scenes.

We’ve  dropped in on Sunny (Daniel Wu, who is also one of the show’s executive producers) after being transported to a slave colony to work in the mines. Gone are the days of being a Clipper (aka an upper-tier slave), and now, all Sunny cares about is getting out of the mines and back to Veil (Madeleine Mantock) and his new baby. And hopefully to get back on the right terms with Veil, since his role in her parents death is…dubious.

(Look, let’s get this out of the way right now in this huge aside; Sunny didn’t kill Veil’s parents. BUT, he did stand by while Quinn (Martin Csokas) killed them with Sunny’s sword. BUT, Quinn also threatened to kill Sunny. BUT, Sunny can totally take down Quinn, and he didn’t. BUT, Sunny was just waking up to the system as it is and he didn’t realize he was a slave until he realized he wanted more for his life, particularly because of his relationship with Veil. As you can see, the circular argument can go on and on. But bottom line is that he didn’t kill Veil’s parents, but he didn’t stop Quinn due to self-preservation and, to be blunt, selfishness. He wanted to be around to be with Veil, and he didn’t really think enough about Veil’s parents to realize he needed to stop Quinn from killing what could have become his own extended family. However, how did he think he could go explain this to Veil??? Not to be glib, but he didn’t think the “I’ll stand by like my hands are tied” thing through at all.)

At any rate, Sunny wants to get his family back and find his redemption. Right now, it seems like he could and he couldn’t; his new bunkmate frenemy Baijie (newcomer to the show Nick Frost) sold him out in order to try to secure his own freedom, but Sunny already had a plan before Baijie ratted him out; Sunny wants to try to take out the big wrestler of the group in order to become the new head of the slave food chain and, possibly, get his chance to escape.

HOWEVER, before we even get to Sunny making a plan, we immediately see Sunny try to escape from the first few minutes of the show. IT WAS INTENSE! THIS IS HOW YOU START AN ACTION SHOW!

• The diversity and badassery of the Into the Badlands‘ women

I can honestly say that this is one show that treats its women with respect. (Except for that one woman Baijie straight-up punched unconscious just to get a ring to buy his freedom. Baijie should know better than that.)

Overall, the women on Into the Badlands have thoroughly impressed me, even more so this season. One criticism that some, including Mediaversity Reviews, pointed out is that despite the presence of Veil and the awesomeness of The Widow, the show was centered around white feminism. (Li of Mediaversity Reviews also breaks down just how diverse the main cast is, which is that it’s pretty diverse and more multicultural on an individual-by-individual basis than I initially gave the show credit for. For instance, Mantock is black, Hispanic, and white, not just black as I alluded to in my recent Into the Badlands article. My bad.)

However, one of this season’s mission statements seems to be to correct that oversight, since this season, we’re seeing a much more diverse range of women, including The Master, played by Chipo Chung, who is Asian and black and the most powerful person on the show, period. As many online have noted, the show seems to be a masterclass for Marvel on how to 1) create a show with a POC Iron Fist and 2) how to simultaneously make an Iron Fist with Asian heritage and a proper female Ancient One that doesn’t appropriate the culture she’s supposed to be a part of (and, again, is an Ancient One with Asian heritage). She’s everything we wanted both Iron Fist and the Ancient One to be.

Chipo Chung as The Master  (Antony Platt/AMC)

And Tilda (Ally Ioannides), who was just The Widow (Emily Beecham)’s daughter, has now been elevated to Regent. And her crew is also amazing.

And another upcoming new baron, Baron Chau, looks like she can f*** some people up good-fashioned. I can’t wait to see her fight scenes, especially if she has fight scenes against The Widow. (She’s got to have some fight scenes against The Widow.)

• A diversity masterclass for other shows

Yes, the show’s Season 2 premiere had a serendipitous moment by coming on during the same weekend as Iron Fist‘s premiere, simultaneously one-upping it and showing it how it’s really done when it comes to the martial arts game. But the show is a masterclass for any new series looking to infuse cultures together without appropriating or otherwise offending its audience.

This is something that was taken seriously last year, as evidenced by the whole spiel Wu had about rewriting Romeo Must Die through Sunny and Veil, but this year, the crew has taken their commitment to diversity even more seriously than before. We have the examples of the women above, but we also have just the worldbuilding in general. In every scene, you have a multicultural world which reflects the show’s multicultural audience. The world itself doesn’t particularly rest on whiteness as a default or as a power play, something I originally thought the show was using in the first season with Quinn’s family, coupled with the fact that Quinn and The Widow were the only barons we saw until the introduction of Edi Gathegi’s Jacobee (I still wish we saw more of Jacobee).

We’re also getting yet another baron; along with Chau, we’re also getting Baron Hassan, and the two of them together have opened up the baron game in the vein of Jacobee; anyone can be a baron, and knowing that anyone can attain that kind of power is refreshing, and in its own way, subversive, since the power everyone’s battling over is the same original sin that started America in the first place–slavery. It’s interesting that even though the America Into the Badlands inhabits is a post-apocalyptic type of America, it’s still a country that wrestles with the concept of power through owning others.

• Surprises on surprises on surprises

We had the surprise of the Master being who she is, the surprise of The Widow upping her game this season (her big set piece was amazing to view, and I could watch that over and over again), and the surprise of Veil finally having her baby. But the biggest surprise was seeing QUINN AS VEIL’S CARETAKER! What kind of Frankenstein nonsense is happening right now?! We all thought he was dead! What is he doing with Veil and Veil’s baby?! Also, is he trying to seek redemption as well, or is he trying to regain his power to take on his son Ryder (Oliver Stark), who is now the new baron?

Overall, I’m PUMPED! I can’t wait to see where the rest of this season is taking us! What did you think of the first episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

5 of the best transgender books for kids

The need for transgender books is great, and the need is only growing, especially as children become more aware of themselves, their bodies and how they identify with gender. Jazz Jennings, a transgender teen girl who was the subject of TLC’s I Am Jazz documentary series, summed up why books on transgender characters and narratives are important.

“Having transgender characters leads to more visibility which creates education,” she told USA Today. “Education can hopefully lead to everyone treating our community with acceptance and love.”

With such a need for representation, the fiction world is now beginning to cater to the underserved market of transgender kids and teens. Here are five of just a plethora of books for kids out there focused on transgender characters and experiences.

All summaries from Amazon.com. 

I Am Jazz  by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas (ages 4 to 8)

Summary: From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.

Why I like the book: I really like what fellow ASFA-ite Laverne Cox wrote about the book:

“This is an essential tool for parents and teachers to share with children whether those kids identify as trans or not. I wish I had had a book like this when I was a kid struggling with gender identity questions. I found it deeply moving in its simplicity and honesty.”

George by Alex Gino (by ages 9 and up)

Summary: When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Why I like the book: The review by the School Library Journal points to what makes George a must-buy for parents–it’s a book that focuses on the power of pronouns and visibility.

…George offers more than the novelty of an LGBTQ coming-out story, however. Here, what is most remarkable is the use of pronouns: While the world interacts with George as if she is a boy, the narrator only refers to her with female pronouns, which gives her girl-ness a stronger sense of validation. In addition, George comments on the fact that, in past years, gays and lesbians have achieved a certain amount of visibility and acceptance, while the trans* community is still largely ignored and misunderstood. George’s mother remarks that while she can handle having a gay child, she simply can’t accept her as “that kind of gay.” For George, as is the case for many LGBTQ youth, coming out is a process that she must repeat until she is properly recognized. There is pain in George, but not without the promise of a better tomorrow, even if tomorrow doesn’t arrive as soon as it should.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (ages 11 and up)

Summary: Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?

Why I like the book: Gracefully Grayson has been lauded by readers and reviewers as being a thoughtful story that has helped teachers and tutors better understand their students. According to one Amazon review:

“Gracefully Grayson is a must read for middle school teachers and parents. Ami must have been a wonderfully insightful and compassionate teacher. I found myself weeping many times throughout this story. Learning who you are, who you want to be is a lifelong process. No one said it is easy, especially for children who have life issues to deal with. Books like this offer all readers the opportunity for thoughtful introspection and meaningful discussion or just the experience of broadening ones horizons. I am recommending an immediate read for my former colleagues, grandchildren and their parents.Kudos to Ami. Well done.”

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (ages 12 and up)

Summary: The groundbreaking novel from critically acclaimed author Ellen Wittlinger that tells the story of a transgender teen’s search for identity and acceptance has now been updated to include current terminology and an updated list of resources.

Angela Katz-McNair never felt quite right as a girl. So she cuts her hair short, purchases some men’s clothes and chose a new name: Grady. While coming out as transgender feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reactions of his friends and family. Why can’t they accept that Grady is just being himself?

Grady’s life is miserable until he finds friends in unexpected places—the school geek, Sebastian, who tells Grady that there is a precedent for transgenders in the natural world, and Kita, a senior, who might just be Grady’s first love.

In a voice tinged with humor and sadness, Ellen Wittlinger explores Grady’s struggles—universal struggles any teen can relate to.

Why I like the book: Parrotfish gives readers a look at gender identity on an intimate level. According to Booklist‘s review:

“…[Wittlinger has] done a superb job of untangling the complexities of gender identity and showing the person behind labels like ‘gender dysphoria.’ Grady turns out to be a very normal boy who, like every teen, must deal with vexing issues of self-identity.”

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (ages 12 and up)

From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong―why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?
In Freakboy‘s razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

Why I like the book: Freakboy has been called a “must-have for library shelves” by Booklist, citing its verse, multiple main characters, and an in-depth exploration of gender identity.

When Brendan Chase types “Want to be a girl” into his Mac’s search engine, one word pops up: transsexual. In Clark’s raw, honest debut novel, told in verse, three voices capture a few experiences of teens on the transgender spectrum. Brendan is “not one of those people / who’s always wanted to wear a dress. / Who’s always known / he should have been born female.” Sex with girlfriend Vanessa, although confusing, feels good, and Brendan questions throughout whether or not he’s trans. Fortunately, there’s an angel in his life—literally. Angel, trans without sex-reassignment surgery (“My junk doesn’t dictate who I am”), fights against demons of her own and struggles to reconnect with her younger brother. She’s a volunteer at Willows, a center for queer teens, and eventually introduces Brendan to terms like gender identity, gender attraction, genderqueer, and gender fluid. Meanwhile, the third voice belongs to Vanessa, a girl on the boy’s wrestling team, who can’t understand why her boyfriend, Brendan, is suddenly so distant. Unlike many novels that deal with one transgender character, this movingly explores so many gender identities, from the three main characters (each appears as a different font) to Angel’s roommates. A must-have for library shelves, this will be popular with fans of Ellen Hopkins. Resources and further reading conclude.

What books do you recommend? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Background research: Huffington Post

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 9 predictions: Who will be the top 5?

Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race is upon us come March 24 on VH1, and I can’t even figure out who will be the first queen sent home. All of this season’s queens seem like they could easily take the win, but even still, I have a couple of predictions as to who will be in the top five. Join me on a journey and see if you agree.

Nina Bonina Brown

 

Nina Bonina is someone who is a true unique force. That’s tough to say that with this list is because all of these queens on this list are true unique forces who are bringing something new to the art of drag. But what Nina brings is a truly different way to paint. She doesn’t just “beat a face” in the traditional beauty queen way; she literally becomes the characters in a hyperrealistic, yet very painterly way. It’s astonishing. (Case in point: her Transformations episode in which she made James St. James into Minnie Mouse.)

Also, her performances are wildly entertaining as well. Maybe the use of “wildly” is a bit of a pun, since this particular video is of her Season 9 premiere party performance as an ape. (As a Planet of the Apes superfan, it’s giving me visions of what an Ape City nightclub must be like and I love it.)

Sasha Velour

Sasha Velour is the performance art queen to beat. Sasha is probably the most avant-garde queen I’ve seen, and she definitely embodies that artsy New York spirit. She also has given herself the unique trademark of an artistic unibrow, which takes from further still from the traditional beauty makeup and presentation of what the mainstream might think of as a drag queen. Overall, Sasha’s elevated drag to a fine art level.

Shea Couleé

Shea Couleé has the makeup skills down and her own set of avant-garde references, as she showed in her episode of Transformations:

But she also has some amazing dancing skills, too, particularly with her Beyoncé performances.

I think she’s probably the most conventional on the list, but she’s got tons of stage presence, and she seems to be in line with the RuPaul mold of Young, Gifted and Black supermodel queens. RuPaul does like her Black Barbie queens, as evidenced by the wins of Bebe Sahara Benét, Tyra Sanchez, and Bob the Drag Queen (who does fall in line with that description for me–wouldn’t you count Viola Davis as a Barbie?), so Shea Coulee could certainly end up following in that tradition.

Valentina

I hope one day Valentina’s fans start calling her La Valentina, because she’s a true Diva in every sense of the word. Well, except for being mean; of course I haven’t seen the show, but she doesn’t strike me as a malicious queen. What she does strike me as is humble, graceful, and gracious to her fans, which is how our Divas used to be back in the day (if, for some Divas, only in their outward appearance to the public).

Valentina really embodies that Diva persona in the best possible way, so much so that it does take me back to my childhood in the ’90s, when you would see these larger-than-life singers like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and Celine Dion and say, “Yes, that’s how a superstar is supposed to be!”

Of course, I’m using examples from my very narrow perspective; clearly, Valentina’s true love lies in showcasing the divas of her childhood and of her background, like Yma Sumac, Isabel Pantoja and Selena Quintanilla, to name just a few. Valentina said in her “Meet the Queens” interview that she tries to bring that telenovela, over-the-top dramatic style to her drag, and she certainly does, and for me, it’s the most comforting thing ever.

Also, she’s Boulet Brothers approved: She won a live stage version of “Dragula” two years ago, so if she can get the Boulet Brothers’ stamp of approval, then that means she’s definitely got some skills up her sleeve.

Aja

For me, it’s really going to come between Valentina, Sasha Velour and Aja for the crown. That’s my prediction and I’m sticking to it. Aja really has something special that gives her the X factor, and I think it’s her ability to tie today’s drag trends and direction to past influences, like The Fifth Element, singer La India and John Leguizamo’s drag-filled one-man comedy acts from the early ’90s. We haven’t even talked about her intense voguing yet, or her ability to perform to any song, whether it’s by a man or woman, whether it’s rap, R&B, salsa, what have you.

Many have tried to read her for looking a lot like Naomi Smalls, but could it be the no breastplate thing is just coming into vogue now? As I wrote above, Aja’s just as much about trends and trendsetting as she is about showcasing her varied pop culture influences and knowledge in her performances. I think she’s been able to combine everything we’ve seen from recent seasons and make something one-of-a-kind. It’s that alchemical ability that just might allow her to snatch the crown.

And just for good measure, here’s the act Aja was referencing in the John Leguizamo mix, “Manny the Fanny.”

Aja not only entertained me, but she taught me something new and increased my love for John Leguizamo ten-fold. Of course I’m going to root for her.

Who do you think will be in the top five? Who do you think will win? Give your opinions below!

Fans sound off on their love for “Into the Badlands” couple Sunny and Veil

Daniel Wu as Sunny and Madeleine Mantock as Veil – Into the Badlands, Season 1, Epsiode 2. Patti Perret/AMC

Into the Badlands is coming into its second season March 19, and even though we’re psyched about the level of action and and suspense, we’re also focused on the family aspect of the show, which is worrying about how Sunny’s going to get back to his family, Veil and their newborn baby. Check out the trailer for an insight into what we can expect this season:

One of the elements I’ve loved the most about Into the Badlands is the relationship between Sunny and Veil, especially the backstory behind why Daniel Wu specifically wanted Sunny and Veil (Madeleine Mantock) to be an interracial Asian man/black woman relationship.

As he told Slate:

“…[I]t felt especially important to show an Asian male as having a sensual side. We all know the story of Romeo Must Die, how Jet Li is the movie’s hero, and the whole time you see this connection developing between him and Aaliyah, who played the female lead. And in the last scene, Li was supposed to kiss her, but when they showed the movie to test audiences, people said they found that disgusting. In the version they released, you just see them give each other a hug. So I don’t want to say this is groundbreaking, because we need to make this a success yet, but it’s cool that we were able to right that wrong too. It’s been 15 years since Romeo Must Die, and 40 years since Kung Fu. That’s just ridiculous. But it’s Hollywood, so I’ll take it.”

This point comes up a bit on this site, but Wu’s insistence on redoing Romeo Must Die in his own way is important, since the only other times (at least in my memory) that we’ve seen an interracial AM/BW relationship on TV was during Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 1997, with Brandy as the titular character and Paolo Montalban as the prince:

And 2009’s Flash Forward with John Cho as Demetri Noh (who I believe saw his own death??) and Gabrielle Union as his fiancee Zoey Andata:

And until the recent boom in shows featuring Asian American men like Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the most recent example of an Asian man as the love interest on a show was, once again, Cho in Selfie. 

In short, Into the Badlands is super important to the discussion of representation for interracial relationships, particularly interracial relationships between two non-white individuals and, of course, relationships between Asian men and African American women.

There’s a whole host of other things that makes Sunny and Veil great, so to list them all, I asked the good folks on Twitter why they love Sunny and Veil’s relationship.

Why do you love Sunny and Veil? Give your reasons in the comments section!

Lewis Tan teases new film “The Fire Born” with director Lexi Alexander

Lewis Tan Twitter

If you listened to the Black Girl Nerds podcast episode featuring Iron Fist star Lewis Tan, you might have heard him tease an upcoming film project he’s working on with director Lexi Alexander. This week, Tan has finally released the film’s title and some behind-the-scenes photos on Twitter.

The fact that the film’s name is The Fire Born is about all we know right now, save for the fact that Tan is very clearly the star of the film. Along the lines of #StarringJohnCho, but it’s good to see a film finally in the works that features an Asian man as the leading man. Also great is that both Alexander and Tan are not just aware of the issues facing minority talent in Hollywood, they are working on the frontlines to make things different for all actors and directors in Hollywood.

Okay, I’ll quit writing now since, if you’re anything like the hoardes of men-loving folk who are watching Iron Fist only for Tan, you just want to see these pictures. Enjoy.

If you’re still reading, check out what other folks have been saying about The Fire Born. 

Are you an unabashed fanboy or fangirl for The Fire Born? Leave a comment with your ideas of what you think The Fire Born is going to be about!