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Olympic-sized “Rogue One,” “Luke Cage,” “Hidden Figures” trailers promise awesomeness

The Olympics is like the Super Bowl in that lots of big properties reveal their big trailers. Three such trailers were released during the Rio Olympics: Luke CageRogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Hidden Figures. Let’s take a look at each.

Luke Cage

First of all, it looks incredible. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve never tuned into a Marvel Netflix production, either because I didn’t know the lore or, quite frankly, I just didn’t care. But the updated ’70s blaxploitation take on Luke Cage is both reminiscent of past awesome crime fighters like Shaft and extremely timely to what’s going on today.

Everyone has mentioned the imagery of the unkillable black man in a shot-up hoodie providing both commentary and relief from the constant deluge of black men and boys being killed by police or overzealous, racist men. But seeing that imagery in motion, just in the trailer, says so much without Luke Cage every saying a word. Also, the story itself seems to be told in such a way that someone like me, who has a hot-cold relationship with keeping up with all comics except for Archie Comics, can come into it fresh. It engages the audience whether you know about Luke Cage from the comics or not. That kind of treatment of comic book lore is gold, since you can’t always assume your audience knows everything about every character, especially if that character hasn’t become part of the collective consciousness in the same way Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man have.

Overall, this is a WIN for me. I’ll check out the series once it drops, despite my own squeamishness of hearing/seeing broken bones.

Rogue One

As Marv Albert would say, “Yes!”—this is ticking all of the boxes for me. I think from now on, I’ll lessen my usage of “diversity” and starting using the word “inclusion” more, because the rebooted Star Wars series (yes, rebooted—let’s just admit that the prequels are out of canon now) is showing other movie franchises how inclusion is done. You don’t just hire actors of color to be sidekicks, MARVEL MOVIES. You hire actors of color for substantial roles and treat them just like any white actor. You create characters that actually represent and empower your audience, not just appease them with some paltry offerings. Somehow, Marvel seems to do better at inclusion with their television shows and Netflix series than they do with the actual movies. Even stranger is that Marvel and Lucasfilm are now under the same Disney umbrella, so you’d think some cross-pollination with casting tactics would have happened already. Marvel needs to take some notes from J. J. Abrams, stat.

Anyways, we’ve got talented actors doing talented things in this film. Even cooler is that the central character is a woman. Also cool is that Darth Vader finally looks cool again (once again, proof that this is a completely rebooted series). We also have some disability representation with Donnie Yen’s blind Jedi or Jedi-adjacent character. But will Yen’s character dip too far into the “mystical Asian kung-fu master” trope? Because if there’s one potential issue I see, it’s that. We just have to wait until the movie comes out. The other potential issue: Forrest Whitaker’s odd accent. But on the whole, Rogue One looks like it’ll proudly carry on the awesome legacy that began with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Hidden Figures

The film looks like it’s going to be one along the lines of 42 and Race in the sense that it’s going to be a feel-good film that also manages to teach the audience a historical lesson about overcoming discrimination to achieve excellence. But this film is also a reversal in practice for Hollywood, an industry that has ignored a story like this until now.

This role is something Taraji P. Henson should have played long before now, and its these types of roles Hollywood should have cast her in. What I’m saying is that usually, this type of “feel-good” role featuring a female character from the 1960s usually goes to a white woman, because in the ’60s as in today’s time, whiteness allows a certain privilege, meaning the character won’t have to deal with any sticky issues like race.

However, turning attention away from the history makers and achievers of the time only keeps black movie narratives stuck to the Civil Rights Movement. While that part of the ’60s is wildly important, there is more to the black experience than just misery. We didn’t exist just in the south; we existed all over the country, doing all kinds of things, including sending a man to the moon. Stories like this should have been lauded decades before now, not just now that Hollywood is slowly waking up to what many call in jaded tones the “diversity trend.”

On a much more shallower note: much like Whitaker, I’m unsure of Janelle Monaé’s accent in this film. I’m assuming she’s portraying a southerner; as a southerner, I’m always…disturbed by bad southern accents in films. There is an art to the southern accent not many non-southern actors have mastered. They always want to take it to that Scarlett O’Hara level, and not all southern accents are remotely like that. (I hated writing this paragraph, because I’m a loyal member of Electro Phi Beta…but I can’t lie about the accent.)

What do you think of these trailers? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

What do critics of color have to say about “Proud Mary”?

(Photo credit: Dana Starbard/CTMG)

I bet you wouldn’t have pegged Proud Mary as the first film of 2018 to spark controversy. The issue isn’t with the film itself; its how the film has been promoted–hardly at all.

Folks on Twitter (both regular users and big folks with blue check marks) voiced their concern and anger of the lack of promotion Sony Pictures/Screen Gems is giving this film. To be honest, I’ve only just started seeing TV spots about a week ago. Compare that to a movie like Red Sparrow, which is coming out in March, but already has a TV spot out this month.

The common thought when films try to suppress a movie is that the film must be horrible. Usually, that’s the case; if a film is embargoed to critics until its release date, that generally means the studio doesn’t have confidence in it. There have only been a few times when a film is so good that the embargo is put in place so critics don’t accidentally spoil it. But this didn’t seem to be the case with Proud Mary. 

After viewing the trailer and artwork for the film last year, I was immediately worried. Something about it told me this film wasn’t going to get the attention it deserved. Maybe it’s because the trailer focused on some heavily worn-down tropes in the female spy genre; the blond wig, the thigh-high boots, the arsenal of weapons in their home, etc. The wig really got me, to be honest. I thought the purpose of a wig was so you can’t be identified; wouldn’t a loud blonde wig like that make the character stand out even more?

Even with that said, though, how bad could Proud Mary be? With stars like Taraji P. Henson and Danny Glover headlining, the film has to at least be moderately enjoyable and profitable enough for Sony to feel like they’ll at least break even. But what do the critics say?

For this post, I’ve specifically cataloged what critics of color have to say about this film. Every blurb you’ll read in this post is from a critic of color. This is not because I don’t trust what white male critics have to say. But I specifically want to know what folks with some skin in this representation game have to say about this film and the promotion scandal surrounding it. People who are tacitly in tune with the battles actors of color face in Hollywood might have a different perspective and frame of reference than someone who doesn’t. Plus, I’d like to highlight what their viewpoints are, since 1) this is a film starring actors of color and 2) signal-boosting some of the few POC critics there is a really important thing to do. So with all of that said, let’s get into it.

Britany Murphy, Geeks of Color

“…[T]he characters of [Danny] Glover and [Billy] Brown are the typical, uninspired head-honcho types and while they provide some foil for Mary, you could have interchanged the pair with any other actors and ended up with similar results. Also, there was hardly enough Mary. I went into the theater believing the film would be something similar to Atomic Blonde or John Wick – with Mary kicking a** and taking names, but I was surprised to see that they focused more on the family drama aspect.

Now, while I did enjoy this and was glad that it delved deeper into a story than just Mary shooting up everyone in her sight, it should not have taken until the third act to get into most of the action. The progression was a bit slow to get to the boiling point and the lackluster secondary characters did not help much. However, the performances of Henson and Winston most certainly make up for the film’s slow points. As does the music – from The Temptations to Tina Turner, the soundtrack will have you dancing in your seat and while the film is set in today’s era, the throwback jams fit the mood of the film perfectly.”

Michael Ordoña, Common Sense Media

“This action film’s lack of originality and cleverness is made worse by a self-defeating visual style and overuse of music. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the main character is an ace killer who wants out of the biz after bonding with a kid. Her bosses “love” her but won’t let her go….The folks behind Proud Mary seem to have decided against character development, so there’s nothing to distinguish one person from another in terms of their behavior…The dialogue is flat and predictable, and the action scenes are uninterestingly executed, with no tension or wow factor.

All this is compounded by hyperactive editing that seems flat-out inappropriate in most scenes, especially the quieter ones. All the excessive cutting prevents the scenes from having any flow. It actually makes the film hard to watch at times — not because of the speed of the edits, but because it feels like someone keeps rhythmically hitting the “previous channel” key on a remote control…Proud Mary is a style-less exercise that wastes some talent.”

Inkoo Kang, The Wrap

“‘Proud Mary’ did not screen for critics, nor should it have. It’s a copy of a copy of a mediocre original, with the drab aesthetics of a TV movie and the emotional hollowness of an infomercial. Ostensibly about a hired killer (the Halloween wigs and running-in-stilettos kind) who decides to reclaim her femininity, the picture is sunk by its all-male writing and directing team’s narrow conception of womanhood as lipstick and maternal instincts. (“London Has Fallen” helmer Babak Najafi directs; the screenplay is credited to Steve Antin, John Stuart Newman, and Christian Swegal.) Being a mercenary has never looked so cheesy.”

Joi Childs, Black Girl Nerds

“…There are articles out there that have detailed the lack of promotion for this film, which I won’t re-iterate, but I agree with. Layer in the fact that critics, including myself, did not receive screeners for this film. Now add another layer that in the whole five borough city of New York, there were less than five theaters showing evening screenings…[But] for 90 minutes, Proud Mary delivered to me a campy, enthralling and fun movie.

Proud Mary is a solid addition to the female-led action film lexicon. What makes it even more solid is Taraji’s single-minded determination to provide a range of Black women-led roles. Make no mistake: from the characters, to the cadence, the Black mom moments and phenomenal wigs, this is a Black-ass film. While not perfect, the film still shines despite the odds (and A&M budget) stacked against it.

And that’s something to be proud of.”

Travis Hopson, Punch Drunk Critics

“Taraji P. Henson? Badass. We love her as the tough-as-nails Cookie Lyon on Empire, and when she finally received the acclaim she deserved for Hidden Figures, we all saw it as a victory. We’ve been rooting for Henson ever since her character’s transformative arc in Hustle ‘n Flow. So when the trailers for Proud Mary promised Taraji as a John Wick-style killer set to a ’70s Blaxploitation vibe, there was legit reason to get hyped. Taraji’s about to kick some ass, y’all!!!

Well, nah. Proud Mary is a disaster from start to finish, and we see why Sony has quietly dumped the movie in the middle of January with zero buzz. How could that possibly happen? Who could possibly screw up Taraji P. Henson packin’ heat with attitude to match and a soundtrack of Motown’s finest? Blame London has Fallen director Babaj Najafi and a couple of so-called writers who have foisted upon Taraji a bland, boring, and dreary assassin flick the quality of the Bruce Willis/50 Cent stinkers piling up DVD bins at Walmart. Right from the beginning there is something cheap and inartful about it, as trained contract killer Mary Goodwin does her morning workout to the tune of “Poppa was a Rolling Stone” over title credits that may have been lifted from Cleopatra Jones.”

From these reviews, the verdict is that Proud Mary is a movie that had potential, and if you’re down for some campy fun, you might enjoy it. But overall, Proud Mary seems like it’s a film that squanders Henson’s talents for something derivative.

If you’ve seen the film, what did you think about it? Do you have a different opinion? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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Exclusive Interview: “Pretty Dudes” creator Chance Calloway on the power of inclusive webseries

Calloway with Carlin James (left), Dionysio Basco (center) and Leo Lam (right) (Pretty Dudes/Twitter)

You learned a little bit about the inner-workings of Pretty Dude creator Chance Calloway in his #RepresentYourStory article; now he’s back in a full-length interview!

Pretty Dudes has recently wrapped its two-part season finale as well as filming for its theme song music video, all of which is available on the series’ YouTube page. Calloway, who is currently in the middle of casting for the second season, said he is even more consumed with the mission to cast inclusively.

“We purposefully put out a call for more actors with marginalized backgrounds and conditions,”  he said. “We want people with skin conditions or disabilities, people who you typically don’t see represented on screen. …We want everybody[.]”

I was happy to speak to Calloway about why he created Pretty Dudes, why he thinks fans are attracted to the series, and his take on the talk about representation that’s consuming Hollywood at the moment.

Go check out the webseries, which you can watch here. You can find Calloway on Twitter. Pretty Dudes releases a new episode each Tuesday, and you can also keep up with Pretty Dudes on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Facebook. You can also support Pretty Dudes through a donation via PayPal.


What was the inspiration for Pretty Dudes?

I would say probably the main thing is that I love those sitcoms where everyone lives in one house, like The Golden Girls and Living Single. But…they’re pretty much monochromatic, no matter how you look at it. So…I really liked the idea of having an inclusive environment where we’d be able to talk about a lot of different things, not just have, “Oh, this week, the Latino neighbor comes over,” or “this week, we have the gay sister.” I wanted it to be every week. I figured that would free up more storytelling, but that is also the reality for most people, myself included–we have people with different lifestyles than we have, so I wanted to really explore that and put that out there because I’m thinking if I’m…missing that, then there are other people as well.

A lot of your viewers are clamoring for that storytelling. How important was it for you to have that kind of diversity and the kind of cast that you do have? How important was it for you to cast a multicultural range of actors?

It was very important. When we were doing the initial casting, the only role we specifically requested a certain race for was Ellington because we’d set up this entire storyline of him being black. But all the other characters [ethnicities] weren’t mandatory. [For some of the characters] I specifically did not ask for any Caucasian actors because I didn’t want to be overwhelmed with a lot of white actors who could get cast in anything else and not have an opportunity for these actors of color who are working in the industry but never get to play any three-dimensional roles. I wanted to have that reality play out based on the casting, and thankfully, we were able to pull it off.

Webseries including yours are pushing Hollywood further more than the mainstream is. What do you think about the fact that there are a lot of webseries out there doing what folks have wanted Hollywood to do for a long time?

I think it’s great. The great thing and difficult thing about making webseries is that they’re often independently funded. So even though that creates a financial struggle, it allows for a freedom in storytelling and in choices of how you tell that story. So, the mainstream industry won’t greenlight something because they want something that’s safe. Whereas if I just wanted to make it, I could just make it, and a viewer out there could see it and get exposed to a whole world they never would have been exposed to before if it wasn’t for [a] particular series. There are a lot of things about the trans experience or the lesbian experience that I had no knowledge of until I started watching webseries and that’s something that you’re not going to get from Hollywood. I think that’s great because we can be bold in our storytelling and we can really do whatever we want. I think that’s huge.

What kind of response have you gotten from fans of Pretty Dudes?

Oh gosh! It’s been really positive. I’ve been really excited because you never know what you’re going to get. We had pretty much filmed the entire season before the first episode came out…So to put that much blind faith and trust into a project when you don’t know what the response is going to be is a little nerve-wracking. But the stories we keep hearing from people is “This happened to me” or “This happened to my friend,” and people who are really appreciating the inclusion in the storytelling. So, that’s positive.

The cast of “Pretty Dudes” (Pretty Dudes/Twitter)

In the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of discussion about casting, whitewashing, inclusion, diversity, erasure, all that kind of stuff.

Yes.

As someone who is trying to make stuff that is combating those issues, how have you been taking in the conversations that have been going on right now?

Two-fold. One is that over the last five years, the majority of films that have focused on whitewashing, on white savior narratives have bombed spectacularly at the box office, so that’s been so vindicating–other people aren’t just accepting what Hollywood’s putting out. But on the other hand, it’s frustrating because it reminds you that these are the tastemakers, so to speak, who keep greenlighting these things, which have bombed spectacularly, then you have wonderful content that don’t have any kind of backing who are changing the game, who are making great strides, and it makes you wonder how long it’s going to take before Hollywood wakes up and realizes [this] is where it’s at.

You have a Hollywood film like Hidden Figures, films like Moonlight, Get Out, that have done amazing things, because people are looking for something fresh; people are looking to see themselves represented. It really kind of boggles the mind that you have Death Note and Ghost in the Shell, and they’ll come up with any excuse [for] whitewashing. They’ll even bring up feminism to excuse whitewashing, as if those two things don’t overlap in the Venn Diagram of representation and where Hollywood needs to move to. Like the whole thing with Tilda Swinton [in Marvel’s Doctor Strange]–[the excuse is] it’s so powerful to cast a woman, well they could have cast an Asian woman in Doctor Strange. I don’t get why that’s when things are so quick to descend [into] whitewashing and using white as the default and expecting the rest of us to just kind of show up for it as if we’re okay with it.

And even that argument with feminism–it basically says that white women are women and everyone else is just people.

Right, right!

That doesn’t make any sense at all because like you said with Doctor Strange, if they wanted a female Ancient One, they could have cast any woman. An Asian woman preferably, but any woman could have been cast, it would have been a nod towards feminism, not just a white woman.

Right, exactly. And then they’ll bring up tropes and that they’re trying to protect from those tropes. “If we had cast an Asian man, then we would have been accused of this.” If you look at a lot of the conversations that white filmmakers are [having], they’re never, ever conflicting with people of color. It’s always them saying “People would have said.” Well, who did you talk to? Did you have a room of people with varying opinions and went forth from there? The answer’s always “No,” otherwise, that’s what they’d be referencing. They would be saying, “We had test audiences,” or “We talked to this group of people,” but it’s always like, “We know that these types of people would have said this.” Well, did you ask?

…There needs to be diversity behind the screen as well as in front of the screen. The reason why people behind the screen keep making those mistakes…is because they’re not having conversations among a diverse group. You can go back to the Project Greenlight episode where Matt Damon basically shouts down Effie Brown, just shouts her down about her being wrong instead of listening. You have room for the white guys and one black woman, and you’re not going to listen to the black woman when she’s talking about diversity in the casting, and that’s where the major problems come in.

I purposefully reach out to have female crewmembers on Pretty Dudes, because with me writing the majority of the episodes–even though I’m an at intersection [of being] a gay black man, that still has nothing to do with the fact that I’m writing women characters. So, I know that what I’m writing may be problematic, so I want as many women to read it and tell me what they think as possible because I am not a woman, and I’ll never be a woman. I don’t know what that’s like. In order for me to write a story or a character that’s not problematic, I need voices behind the screen who are going to give me a different point of view. If you look at the situation with Iron Fist or even Ghost in the Shell, you have a lot of white men who are telling you what you’re supposed to think and feel. I’m kinda over that.

Or you have Scarlett Johannson telling you what to think. I still don’t understand how she thinks we’re supposed to think she’s not playing an Asian woman.

Thank God for Black Twitter and Shaun [Lau] of No, Totally and all the other voices out there [including] Asyiqin Haron [for Geeks of Color]. I love the fact that people are bold enough to speak up on a platform that we do have, to say “No, this is not good and these are the reasons why.” If you’re still [not listening], then you are choosing not to listen. It’s just like the co-creator of[the Iron Fist comic book] when he referred to Asian people as Orientals and he said, ‘I know that’s not the word.’ Okay, so you’re blatantly being racist, you’re blatantly showing that you’re unwilling to change. That’s the reality of it all, just blatant disregard. I call it “willful ignorance” of a lot of people, to just live in this darkness because that’s what they’re comfortable with, and they feel it doesn’t impact them. White isn’t the default, and that really needs to change.

Onto a lighter topic, what shows do you watch on a regular basis?

I just started Riverdale, which is a guilty pleasure of mine because it’s just diverse enough for me to feel like, “Okay, cool.” I’m a huge Archie Comics fan. I’m still finishing up Black Mirror. I think I only have one episode left. That show is amazing. I just started Season One of How to Get Away with Murder because I’m super behind. …I feel like when this interview is over I’m going to to think of five more, but those are the ones I’m watching. I’ll always go back to my tried-and-trues, which are A Different WorldGolden Girls, and Community. I’ll watch those any day of the week.

I do want to give shout out–my friend Danielle Truett, her show Rebel just started on BET. I love that this is a show about police brutality through the eyes of a black woman, especially because black women are usually at the forefront of all social change–if you have Hollywood tell it, that’s not the case. But Black Lives Matter is started and led by black woman, and I love that Rebel is looking through those eyes as well.

My final question–with everything that we’ve talked about, where do you see the industry going as far as being more inclusive?

What I think what’s happening is that people are gravitating towards inclusive filmmakers like Jordan Peele and Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, Cary Fukunaga. You can see the people who have the…passion to be more inclusive are the ones who are getting an audience–Donald Glover with Atlanta, Issa Rae with Insecure. I think what’s going to happen is that you’re going to keep seeing people watching those shows, those channels, those movies, and Hollywood’s going to have to change or Hollywood’s going to continue to stay behind the longer they stay set in their ways. It’s likely that the industry could recover [or] the industry’s going to metamorphosize into something we don’t completely anticipate, because it’s fascinating that a film like Moonlight won Best Picture. Now, all of these other filmmakers like me, I all of a sudden thought after Barry Jenkins won that I had superpowers. …You just put in the dedication and the talent, and you can change the course.

There are a lot of upcoming filmmakers…who are invigorated by what they’re seeing and by seeing this type of representation, it’s pretty inescapable. But I think we also have to do that not just for black people and queer people, but we have to continue doing that for Asian people and Indigenous people and Latinos. We have to keep going forward and I think it’s also important that we band together, as we did with Ghost in the Shell. All of the marginalized communities have to support each other; that’s the only way we’re going to overturn how things are now.♦

Monique talks Oscar predictions on Ebony.com

These actors and actresses could have some history-making Oscar wins. (Ebony.com)

Are you interested in knowing what my thoughts are about the Oscars when it comes to films like Fences, Hidden Figures, Loving, and Moonlight? Just click on Ebony.com and read my first post for the illustrious website!

I give Ebony readers my predictions on who has the best chances of winning the coveted Oscar trophy. Overall, I think it’s going to be a very, very tight race. Here’s a snippet about Mahershala Ali’s chances at winning Best Supporting Actor:

Yes, Ali bowled critics over with his performance in Moonlight. Yes, he’s had a banner year, starring in nearly everything from Marvel’s Luke Cage to another of the Academy’s nominated films, Hidden Figures. But if there’s one thing Oscar gamblers use to place their bets, it’s the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Ali won that award, upping the ante for what could potentially happen Sunday night. If he doesn’t win, expect people to rise up in anger.

Read the rest at Ebony.com!

All eyes are on The Oscars

THE OSCARS® – Late-night talk show host, producer and comedian Jimmy Kimmel will host the 89th Oscars® to be broadcast live on Oscar® SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2017, on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Jeff Lipsky)
The Oscars are upon us, and this year in particular, all eyes are going to be on the nominees.
We’re one year out from the phenomenon #OscarsSoWhite, which actually began two years ago by April Reign. The hashtag brought to light how lopsided the Academy nominating process has been, which resulted in showcasing primarily white actors and movies over movies with diverse or majority POC casts, like “Straight Outta Compton” and “Beasts of No Nation.”
Since then, the Academy has taken strides to diversify its board members and nomination list, and this year, the results of that process are promising.
Hidden Figures, Fences, Loving, Moonlight, and Lion are among the films getting top honors, and actors like Mahershala Ali, Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Ruth Negga, Naomie Harris, and Octavia Spencer are poised top possibly go home with covetted statuettes.
With the nomination pool this diverse, it’s more of an even playing field than it’s ever been. But there’s still work to be done, chiefly with nominating women directors and highlighting actors and directors of other ethnic backgrounds. But this is just the first year in an ever-ending battle to keep the Oscars current and truly reflective of American diversity.

Amirah Vann Becomes Regular on “Underground” Season 2

Underground, Season 1, Episode 101 Photo Credit: /Sony Pictures Television
Underground, Season 1, Episode 101
Photo Credit: /Sony Pictures Television

Watching WGN-America’s first season of Underground was a delight in so many ways, and Amirah Vann was one of the main reasons for tuning in each week. Fans of Vann know her as Ernestine, the intelligent, strategic “mistress” of her master Tom Macon, whom (spoiler alert) she killed after he killed her oldest son Sam just for political gain. Last we saw her, Macon’s widow Suzanna sold her to get back at her. Now, we don’t know who what will happen to Ernestine or her youngest son, James, who is back at the plantation under Suzanna’s care.

What you might not have realized is that Vann wasn’t listed as a regular during the first season. For as much script and scenery she was given, apparently she was still just a recurring actress. During the second season, though, she’s been upgraded. Vann is now a regular on the show.

Vann’s role on the show will continue to be one of the shining lights of the series; last season, critics praised her for the levels she provided her character. To quote the release:

Vann, who portrayed the head house slave who will do anything to protect her children, was heralded for her performance by critics as “one of the breakthrough roles of the season” (Huffington Post); “captivating as Ernestine, the duplicitous and wise head house slave and Rosalee’s mother” (Essence Magazine); “spellbinding” (Wall Street Journal); and  “tremendous” (Entertainment Weekly).

Vann’s promotion to regular status comes on the heels of the official casting of Harriet Tubman, Aisha Hinds. Hinds’ Tubman will take Rosalee on as her apprentice of sorts, enlisting her to help with the trek of going back to the south to save more slaves.  Also, the upcoming season will see America getting closer to the beginning of the Civil War. “The new season of the 10-episode Underground Railroad thriller follows an unremitting struggle for freedom within a divided America on the brink of civil war, each side vying to enact their own justice,” states the release.

Here’s more on Underground:

“Underground” delivered 3 million Total Viewers weekly, and made history as WGN America’s most-watched original program ever in its freshman season.  The series was honored with screenings across the country including the White House and ranked as the #1 most discussed cable drama on social media each week it aired.  From creators and executive producers Misha Green and Joe Pokaski and executive producers John Legend, Akiva Goldsman, Tory Tunnell, Joby Harold, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius and Emmy® -nominated director Anthony Hemingway, “Underground” season two will premiere in early 2017 on WGN America.

Starring in the celebrated “Underground” season two cast are Jurnee Smollett-Bell (“True Blood,” “Friday Night Lights”) as Rosalee;  Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton, Hidden Figures) as Noah; Christopher Meloni (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) as August Pullman; Alano Miller (“Jane The Virgin”) as Cato; ‎Jessica de Gouw (“Arrow,” “Dracula”) as Elizabeth Hawkes; Amirah Vann (“Girls,” And So It Goes) as Ernestine; Aisha Hinds (“Under the Dome,” “True Blood,” Star Trek Into Darkness) as Harriet Tubman; and Marc Blucas (“Blue Bloods”) as John Hawkes.

This summer, “Underground” was featured at the NAACP National Convention, where the series and its stars received a standing ovation at the National Underground Railroad Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.  “Underground” was also highlighted at the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Conference in Washington DC with a panel discussion on the social movement “Underground” has become.

“Underground,” which tells the unflinching story of some of America’s valiant heroes—enslaved people who risked their lives to reach freedom—was recently honored with three CableFax Awards, including Best New Program, Best Historical Show/Series and Best Showrunners, Misha Green and Joe Pokaski.

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

 

Kemal Pamuk: A “Downton Abbey” autopsy of the series’ first needless casualty

Apparently, there’s a special Downton Abbey surprise coming. According to Facebook:

According to Digital Spy, it could be the long-awaited, long-rumored Downton Abbey movie. Fans of the show, which ended in 2015, will probably thrilled. If you’ve followed me for a long time, then you’ll know that I was once a fan (and eventual hate-watcher) of Downton Abbey, so I’ve got my own two cents on the idea of a movie as well. But since it seems like Downton Abbey is about to come back into our lexicon, I’d like to push the conversation toward one long-forgotten character that didn’t get the time he deserved, nor the representation he needed. No, I’m not talking about Thomas, although he needs some love too. Who I’m talking about right now is Kemal Pamuk, the diplomat from Turkey.

The sad case of Kemal Pamuk

Pamuk dies in Mary’s bed. (Downton Abbey Wikia)

Introducing Pamuk into the first season story of Downton Abbey was, I thought at the time, going to provide some much needed drama to the entire Mary and Matthew dynamic. In fact, I was hoping Mary would have ended up with Pamuk since the alternative, Matthew, was her cousin. (Social mores might have been different back then, but if an episode of Poirot, “After the Funeral,” can discuss how bad it is to have an affair with your cousin, then maybe Downton Abbey shouldn’t have been pushing it so hard.)

However, Pamuk wasn’t meant to be around for long. In fact, he was meant to weirdly coerce Mary into having sex, have a heart attack in Mary’s bed from a “heart condition,” and then get stuffed in a broom closet, never to be seen again (or discovered as a mummy by one of the poor maids).

Supposedly, Julian Fellowes, the man behind Downton Abbey, said Pamuk’s early death was inspired by real life. According to what he told an audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2011, Fellowes told the story of the man used as the inspiration for Pamuk (according to the Telegraph):

“I did enjoy the death of Pamuk because it was true. That story came from a friend of ours. He had a great house and he was looking through a great aunt’s diary in which he found an account of a visiting diplomat who died. In the house there was a passageway only to be used by single women to go to their rooms. One of them had smuggled this diplomat into her room and he died in the middle of doing it!

She was absolutely at her wits’ end–this was about 1890. She knocked on the next door and the blameless matron in there realise[d] at once that if this story came out it would touch them all and there would be a great scandal. To avoid it they woke up all the other single women in the passageway and this group of dowagers and debutantes lifted the corpse and carried it to his own bed.

Our friend looked up the diary of his great grandfather at the same period and in it he found a note simply saying ‘We had a tragedy-nice Mr. so and so was found dead in his bed.’ Those ladies got away with it! When I heard that story I thought, ‘One day this will come in handy…!”

I get that, as a bit of cheeky, macabre fun, the story of the dead diplomat is something that would work great in a show that wants to be a subversive take on the traditional costume drama. (Is Downton Abbey really subversive? You be the judge.) But wasn’t it also a waste of a character? When the episode aired, those of us new to Fellowes (like me) weren’t yet aware of how much Fellowes uses shortcuts disguised as cheek in his storytelling. In the latter seasons, the reliance on quick shock and tidy storytelling bows became an unfortunate part of the norm. Pamuk’s death is the first instance of shortcutting in Downton Abbey.

Pamuk and the “sexual exotic” stereotype

Valentino as the  sequel “The Sheik,” “The Son of The Sheik”. (Public Domain)

One of the things I’ve realized after the end of Downton Abbey is that Pamuk was basically a “hypersexual ethnic” role. Pamuk is the son of the Turkish sultan, and he does have a big role in the Turkish government. But none of that is focused on; instead, what’s the big focus is how he’s a primal, sexual character. Yes, Theo James is hot. But it’s really annoying that Pamuk’s only defining characteristic is that he’s horny.

According to the “Arabface” page of racist-stereotypes.com, Middle Eastern characters have often been seen as a multitude of negative stereotypes, including the sexually-crazed lech. “For centuries the Arab has played the role of villain, seducer, hustler and thief — the barbarian lurking at the gates of civilization,” states the site.

Arabs trying to abduct, rape, and or kill fair skinned Western maidens has been another very popular theme that dates to the earliest days of filmmaking. In Captured by Bedouins (1912) marauding tribesmen kidnap a Western girl, try to seduce her, and then demand a ransom for her return. Their plans are thwarted when the girl’s British officer fiancée sneaks into their camp and rescues her.

Several films with the same theme were popular in the 1980s; desert sheikhs abducting and threatening to rape Western maidens; Brook Shields in Sahara (1983), Goldie Hawn in Protocol (1984), Bo Derek in Bolero (1984), and Kim Basinger in Never Say Never Again (1986).

The idea of the exotic and sexual Middle Eastern man can also be used as sexual currency, or as Arabstereotypes.com so aptly describes it, as “dangerous romantic heroes.” This is seen in 1921’s The Sheik, in which the title character, played by 1920s heartthrob Valentino, saves the life of a white woman who was about to be raped by another sheik. Just so happens Valentino’s character isn’t actually Middle Eastern, but the rapist sheik actually is.

In the film, Valentino plays an Arab who kidnaps a white woman and holds her captive, waiting for her to fall in love with him. When she escapes and is kidnapped by another Arab sheik who plans to rape her, Valentino’s character becomes the romantic rescuer of women (who the storyline later reveals, is not in fact Arab).

The site also outlines how Harlequin novels also draw from the sheik stereotype to draw readers into the fantasy of a dangerous, exotic ideal.

Harlequin romance novels tend to have a common storyline of white women being abducted by Arab men and falling in love with them in the process. The Sheik, written by E.M. Hull in 1919, is the first known Harlequin novel based on a romance between a white woman and an Arab sheik, which initiated a genre that continues to the present. Many contemporary Harlequin novels revolve around the figure of the sheik as a domineering seducer and abductor of women who are either Arab or European, or Euro-American. In these storylines, Arab men are either threatening, or sites of romantic intrigue, and white men are often needed to rescue the damsel in distress.

Looking back at his death, it’s clear to me that Pamuk probably had a lot more he could have offered as a character instead of getting the short end of the stick with his awful storyline. At best, he could have been a viable threat to Matthew’s eventual love for Mary (because at the time Pamuk comes on the scene, Matthew could care less about Mary). However, he’s portrayed at his absolute worst. That is to say, he’s portrayed simply as a dick, in all senses of the word.

What about actual Turkish actors? 

(L) Theo James as Pamuk, (R) Turkish-Australian actor Deniz Akdeniz, who could have been a great Pamuk.

The stereotype Pamuk plays into is one thing. Add on top of that the fact that the character isn’t played by a Middle Eastern actor to begin with.

Theo James is British with Greek ancestry. While he might have more tan skin than the average Anglo-Saxon, a Middle Easterner darker skin doesn’t make.

It seems like his casting was consistent with lazy casting that figures that any person with a tan (natural or otherwise) can play any ethnicity and race. As I called it in my article about Henry Zaga being cast as Afro-Latinx X-Man Sunspot, being “white ethnic” grants you a specific set of privileges. In short, the amount of roles you could play are endless.

“As a white actor, Zaga could audition for–and land– as many leading roles as he wants. As a “white ethnic” actor, he can take not only traditionally white roles, but also those that call for non-white roles as well, such as Sunspot. Another example of this is Zach McGowan, a white actor who, because of his slightly darker “surfer boy” look, has been cast to play native Hawaiian historical figure Ben Kanahele in Ni’ihau.”

Granted, if a Turkish actor did portray Pamuk, the character itself would have to have been rewritten. It’d be useless to have proper representation only for the character to instantly die. But if Pamuk had a real storyline, the character could have been a great moment for Middle Eastern representation.

It’s not like Pamuk is going to come back in the Downton Abbey movie, so I’m not expecting anything great in the way of representation of any type. If Fellowes can’t bear to reprimand Mary for being a butt, then I doubt he’d bring in refreshing racial diversity or treat Thomas with any respect. But there are lessons we can learn from Pamuk and his characterization.

1) Pamuk’s death serves no purpose, therefore his character might not have even been warranted.

2) Pamuk’s characterization as a sly racial stereotype can give writers an instance of what not to do when creating layered Middle Eastern characters, even characters that only show up for one episode.

3) If you have to kill off a character, don’t stuff them in a broom closet.

Queer Coded: Dracula

Little known fact: I am a huge vampire fan. I’ve read most of Anne Rice’s vampire books, have watched tons of vampire films and specials, and I was even given a book about the history of vampires in film to review.

I love the idea of vampires so much because it’s a creative and unique way to allow humanity to wrestle with that part of life we’re so afraid of, death. What would it be like to live forever, and if you could, would you want to, or would you rather face the mysteriousness of eternity? Is there life after death? Vampire lore is a great way to come to terms with these questions that plague the human condition.

But vampire lore can be used for so much more than just debating life after death. Vampire stories, specifically Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, have been used to explain (or denounce, depending on how you look at it) “queerness” in society.

I was so intrigued by this alternative reading of vampire stories that I wrote a paper on it way back when I was in college. I had posted the paper on my old site, Moniqueblog, years ago and thankfully, I was able to find it again through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. So, if you want to read my paper analyzing homosexual acceptance and denial in Dracula and Nosferatu, here you go.

(Also, next, I’ll have to write about Carmilla. That book has some intense overtones.)

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Homosexual acceptance and denial in “Nosferatu” and “Dracula”

Dracula is thought of as a horror monster and Halloween icon rather than something more important. However, one label the character has is as a pro-homosexual idol. Author Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, was written during, and pertaining to, society’s outlaw and discrimination of homosexuality, and the multifaceted ideas surrounding homosexuality are present not only in the novel but also in films Nosferatu and Dracula. From analyzing scenes from Nosferatu and Dracula, one can draw the conclusion that Dracula and Jonathan Harker represent acceptance and denial of homosexuality respectively, as well as the views toward homosexuality during Stoker’s lifetime.

Part of the history behind Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula involves his possible intolerance to accept his homosexuality. Talia Schaffer, author of “‘A Wilde desire took me’: Homoerotic History of Dracula,” argues that the novel is Stoker’s attempt to express his true self while combating societal-as well as his own-feelings about homosexuality (“Bram Stoker” www3.niu.edu). Part of this interpretation of the book rests on Stoker’s writing influences. Stoker was known to have admired poet Walt Whitman, who is considered the father of gay culture. Whitman’s poetry often featured themes of homosexuality, spirituality, and one poem, the aptly named “Blood Poetry,” even features blood being used in a way that is reminiscent of the vampiric use of blood-as a means to explore sexuality and release:

Trickle drops! my blue veins leaving!
O drops of me! trickle, slow drops,
Candid from me falling, drip, bleeding drops,
From wounds made to free you whence you were prison’d
From my face, from my forehead and lips,
From my breast, from within where I was conceal’d, press forth red drops,

confession drops,
Stain every page, stain every song I sing, every word I say, bloody drops…

(“Character,” truelegends.info)

Whitman, along with Oscar Wilde (also Stoker’s friend), were highly influential in gay and lesbian culture and identity. Whitman was a great influence on both Wilde and Stoker, and Stoker is quoted as to have said that Whitman was the “father, brother, and wife to [Stoker’s] soul” (“Character,”truelegends.info). In fact, the appearance of Whitman and Dracula are very similar-Whitman had “long white hair, a heavy moustache, great height and strength, and a leonine bearing” (“Character,” truelegends.info), and in Stoker’s novel, Dracula is described as “a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache,” (Dracula, ch. 2, literature.org). A further description of Dracula is given in chapter two:

His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. These protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin.

(Dracula, ch. 2, literature.org).

Aside from the sharp teeth, this description describes Whitman’s appearance very well, as seen in the figure below.

walt-whitman

Fig. 1(workingwithwords.blogspot.com)

A notable fact is that a month after Wilde was convicted of sodomy (the crime that many gay men were charged with in the 1800s), Stoker penned Dracula. According to Talia Schaeffer, the motion to write the book during Wilde’s excruciating trial—a period of “safe concealment or tempting revelation…disguise, half-admission and denial”—can be seen as Stoker wrestling with his emotions as a closeted gay man (“Wilde,” accessmylibrary.com).

China's World Influence and the Rise of the Asian Male Movie Star

There have been several things that have been at play within the last few weeks. We’ve seen some new trailers featuring Asian actors, such as Blackhat, co-starring Leehom Wang and Terminator Genisys, co-starring Byung-hun Lee. There’s also Brian Tee in Jurassic World  and Takamasa Ishihara (Miyavi) in Unbroken. We’ve also have heard troubling stuff from the Sony hack, such as Aaron Sorkin saying that there weren’t any viable Asian male stars.