[Warning: this article contains spoilers]
The hype for Divergent, well … it was somewhat less than that for The Hunger Games – just saying. Perhaps it was too premature, in the wake of its predecessor’s shadow? So let us delve deeper into this dystopian abyss…
Somehow there’s always a next hit for teen romcom junkies to ease the pain of the post-[insert novel] depression. In the case of The Hunger Games (2008) it was Divergent (2011) and following this I predict Lauren Oliver’s Delirium (2011). But what do we actually mean by dystopian? Having read all of the above here are some observations, (in no particular order): DEATH, sass, action, some form of forbidden/triangular love, fermented feelings of frustration, chips hit the fan, victory dance! Fin. If we want to split hairs about it, the OED defines it as, ‘An imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible’ true story. Which is basically what I said.
“But why would anyone feel the need to assess these seemingly pop-tastic novels?” I hear you ask! Well perhaps revision for 0th week collections has finally worn me down but as I read over an essay on postmodernism, having watched Divergent the night before, I couldn’t help but see the wider implications present in these novels….
Postmodernism attempted to eradicate the division within culture and acted as a ‘specific reaction against the established forms of high modernism, against this or that dominant high modernism.’* This was achieved by looking forward but also by reaching back to tradition. As much as Divergent represents a hyper reality of a post-apocalyptic world, the nature of the serum that Erudite develops to control the other factions can be linked back to biblical structures. It brings our attention to the very sanctity of free will and by extension the power and potential of free thought, which Divergents possess. This shows that even on a level branded as pop culture, this dystopian novel strives to reach further by reaching back.
A further similarity is the elements of postmodern faction in Divergent. This is when the novel’s subject material is based on actual events, but writers tend to blur the boundaries between fact and fiction. Perhaps this is just coincidence but its interesting Roth names the different groups within Divergent ‘Factions’. Why? In the novel, the segregation of the world into five groups leads to the singling out of what is considered to be the weakest – Abnegation. Abnegation is then targeted by the majority, which is led by the so-called intellectual elite – Erudite. Now while the events in the novel are fictitious, they are reminiscent of many historical injustices. It’s nothing new to hear of the weakest group in society being targeted by those considered dominant.
A third and final feature is the use of magic realism in postmodern work. Dystopian novels, by the very existence of their imaginative landscapes, are a construct of magical realism. There is often a moral or didactic element attempting to challenge and convey the universal truths of literature (love, fear, hope, honour, good vs. evil, death) through a microcosm of reality. In Divergent it begins with the different attributes each faction has. The message to take away at the end is that all qualities are necessary in a person’s character; they should never be defined by just one thing. This extends to society – in order to achieve a functioning and fair system, it requires all these qualities. A segregated society results in the isolation of individuals, who in time will begin to resent what is different. Instead, a society where people are multifaceted will be much stronger, like the Divergents. In The Hunger Games it is the depiction of humankind when they are pushed to their limit and enter a primal stage of being. Here their actions in the games force us to question blind faith in systems of power. It is plausible to read the framework as a critique of a totalitarian state. Or perhaps a warning about the desensitivity of the young and how they can become easily corrupted?
On a macroscopic level we should take a holistic position and consider the roles such texts have on literature – how it is now presented and received. Does the dystopian novel highlight the changing landscape for women writers in the literary field? In his book, Branded Male, Mark Tungate cites research by UK academics in 2005, who conducted a survey and found men were more likely to read books by male authors, whereas women were open to both male and female authors, including a greater genre diversity. Nine years on and now a younger generation is being exposed to popular and highly successful female writers – J.K Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and now Veronica Roth. Not only this, but the protagonists in the most recent popular franchises have been strong female figures – Katniss in The Hunger Games and Tris in Divergent. Yet the gender of the main protagonists for the last ten winners of the Booker prize would challenge this. Out of ten, eight books had male protagonists, one had a female and one had both male and female protagonists.
Nonetheless, in this wonderful instant age, in which the readership experiences these make believe role models on a different level, rapid popularity means instantaneous film adaptions – cue JLaw and Shai! Both these leading ladies are the epitome of the strong, fresh, hard-working folks Hollywood has to offer the world. With quick wit, vibrant personalities and bucket loads of talent, roles like these are examples of why texts such as Divergent and The Hunger Games are valuable. Hopefully now we are beginning to see a change in the phallocentrism of writing, at least on a commercial level that can reach a generation that will have a better outlook for the future and won’t judge a book based on its author.
*Fredric Jameson, in “Postmodernism and Consumerist Society”. (p.1961)
Quick warning for those who haven’t seen the show, spoilers for this article run right the way up to and including the first episode of Season 4 – don’t say you weren’t told!
It’s hard not to recognise the historical influences on Game of Thrones, ranging from broader phases in English history like the War of the Roses to more specific events like William II’s death in a hunting accident in 1100 under dubious circumstances. But often George R R Martin lifts his events straight out of the history books with great flourish, and it’s worth going into detail about these moments to see why they make such compelling material.
There will undoubtedly be some missed (even since writing this article I think of the madness of George III and that of King Aerys Targaryen) but if you have your own suggestion why not put them below?
1) Elia Martell’s children
One of the big introductions of Season 4 was that of Oberyn Martell, brother to the murdered Elia Martell (see the clip below for greater clarity). Elia Martell was the former wife of heir-apparent Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (killed during Robert’s Rebellion at the Battle of the Trident) and mother of Rhaenys and Aegon, who were but babes at the time of the Revolt, hidden in the seemingly impenetrable tower of Maegor’s Holdfast during the Sack of King’s Landing. Under orders from Tywin LannisterGregor Clegane and Amory Lorch scaled the fortress, stole into the chamber of the children and supposedly brutally slaying both infants alongside their mother, thus killing two descendants of the Mad King, Aerys. To bring this long exposition full circle, it was because of this act that Oberyn Martell turns up in King’s Landing with a vengeance.
The historical parallels are obvious – two claimants to the throne being hidden away in a tower before their supposed murder. The young Edward V and his brother Richard were, during the run up to Richard III’s famous reign, held in the Tower of London and later supposedly murdered. Chief among the suspects include Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, and James Tyrrell (a surprising coincidence with the similarity in name!) who was servant to the King and later confessed to the crime. Just like the events in Martin’s books, we may never know the full story of what happened in the Tower, but the resonance is clear – when power is contested, it is the innocent that are the first casualties.
2) Lyanna Stark
It is arguable that the actions of Rhaegar Targaryen (capturing and running off with the famously beautiful Lyanna Stark (sister to dear old Ned)), started Robert’s Rebellion and in the process caused the bloody and still-ongoing events of ‘present day’ Westeros. Lyanna had, at that point, been betrothed to the famous Robert Baratheon, creating a large love quadrangle involving Lyanna, Robert, Rhaegar and Elia.
Replace Lyanna with ‘Helen of Troy’, Rhaegar Targaryen with ‘Paris’ and Robert Baratheon with ‘Menelaus’ and the comparisons are easy to find. Interestingly both Robert and Menelaus were famous for their bastard children through other women. No doubt the series of classic poets responsible for bringing the Trojan War to life would be proud to see their work recreated in this fictional universe, with both that war and the events in Westeros claiming thousands of lives and being suffused with mythical and magical qualities. Though Helen had the face to launch a thousand ships, Lyanna seemingly had the face to launch a series of bestselling novels and a huge fictional world.
3) Everything to do with The Wall
Big Wall in the North of an island, constructed in an ancient time to keep out an ancient race, which just became useful to keep out other races as it fell into decline over the course of a few thousand years, and those who live above it are usually seen as pagan or godless, wild things. Hadrian’s Wall or the Wall in the North? The two are almost synonymous. That said, Hadrian’s Wall may have been slightly more successful if it had been over 700 feet tall, and perhaps been a slightly more popular tourist attraction (see the video below for a bit of context).
Even so, both are examples of ‘extreme’ features, and the trope of ‘going over the wall’ into the unknown is one well used in many different forms across many different mediums. In the case of films like King Arthur or Centurion, Hadrian’s Wall was the distinguishing barrier between ‘civil’ and ‘savage’, showing the strength of the structure not only as a military barrier, but also as a cultural one, and is still seen in that light to this day.
4) The Battle of Blackwater Bay
One of the greatest visual moments of the second season of Game of Thrones comes with the destruction of Stannis Baratheon’s fleet in Blackwater Bay and the use of Wildfire supplied by a dummy ship (again, use the video for some sort of context). The naval tactic devised by Tyrion was, as it turned out, a classic technique employed by many naval forces through the centuries.
Fireships, as they were called, were particularly effective during the Spanish Armada. As the Spanish Forces rested at Calais in July 1588, the English fleet sent eight of its warships, filled with pitch, brimstone and gunpowder downstream into the closely packed Armada. What is surprisingly is that, unlike the Battle of Blackwater, no Spanish ship was destroyed, yet the real tactical damage came with the now scattered ships being unable to reconfigure before the rest of the English fleet attacked. A more appropriate comparison may instead be the Siege of Antwerp in 1585, where 800 Spaniards were killed by Dutch ships containing large gunpowder charges, perhaps just as vicious as the wildfire Tyrion employs.
5) Cersei Lannister’s Regency
Joffrey’s minority serves as a perfect atmosphere in which Cersei Lannister can exercise her claim on the throne of Westeros; her steady alcoholism and attempts to dispute the newly festering influence of the Tyrells were captivating to watch through the last season. Maternal influence has had a huge impact on the nature of minorities throughout the last thousand years of the English throne, though perhaps never more so than in the case of Isabella of France, mother to Edward III.
It was Isabella that, conspiring with the Lord Mortimer, eventually had her husband Edward II imprisoned along with many of his more loyal followers, as she believed her son would be far easier to control. Edward II eventually died (under, yet again, suspicious circumstances, though the more famous being the insertion of a red hot poker into his anus would be an ending perfectly at home in George R R Martin’s world) leaving the throne in the hands of Edward III, a boy of only 15 at the time. Edward III then managed to undermine his mother’s authority and take control of the throne for himself at the age of 17. He went on to reign for 50 years and conquer huge swathes of French land – we can only see if the same fate awaits Joffrey in the episodes to come!
The announcement by the Director-General of the BBC that BBC3 will be cut from our screens met with instant Twitter campaign, celebrity backlash and a petition with over 50,000 signatures. Lord Hall confirmed this week that Snog, Marry, Avoid, Ja’mie: Private School Girl and other programmes adored by students everywhere will soon only be available on iPlayer as part of the BBC’s cost-cutting drive.
On one hand, the move makes perfect sense. Constantly scrutinised as the renewal of the BBC Charter in 2016 looms closer, Lord Hall is under pressure to save an extra £100 million. With BBC3’s annual budget stretching to £85 million and commanding only 1.4% of total monthly TV audiences, it’s easy to see how the channel seemed ripe for the chop.
The decision also reflects the ever-changing nature of TV. The BBC is often accused for being out of touch, as if the license fee detaches it from the popular awareness brought about by reliance on advertising. However, in this case, they are demonstrating that they have their fingers on the pulse of new trends in broadcasting.
TV is moving away from a fixed schedule and towards on-demand viewing – when was the last time you postponed pre-drinks to catch a programme in the JCR? Radio 1 has just announced it will launch a channel on iPlayer in an attempt to entice the Internet generation with exclusive performances and interviews. Transferring BBC3’s combination of comedy, documentaries and reality to online is just another step to capture the youth audience.
However, as Lord Hall recognised in a speech in Oxford last week, 90% of all television is still watched live. Removing BBC3 from the air will play straight into the hands of other broadcasters. Last month ITV launched ITVBe, a new channel catering to the predominately young female audience clamouring for TOWIE and other entertainment series. The youth market that BBC3 serves is highly lucrative – Joey Essex has his fragrance, for goodness sake – and closing one avenue of attracting young people as other channels expand their live viewing is a risky strategy.
I’m not saying that the BBC should just copy its rivals. What makes the Corporation so special is that it is different from commercial stations, and the commitment to documentaries that strike a chord with its 16-34 year old audience means that BBC3 was never the direct competitor of ITV2 or E4.
However, the BBC does need to think of the wider consequences, not least the fact that, in the wise words of Whitney Huston, ‘children are the future’. To create a devoted viewing base in an age where brand loyalty matters and consumers are fickle, the BBC needs to appeal to and represent the youth audience. After drawing in children through CBeebies and CBBC, moving teenage viewers to Internet could exclude a chunk of young people raised on BBC content.
The power of TV as a cultural force comes from the fact that, unlike a high-speed broadband connection, it is present in all our homes. TV provokes conversations and can create stereotypes because it is so available. Rather than scrolling through the swathes of catch-up options and making a choice, we only have to press a button to see people just like us instantly represented on the screen. Moving a chunk of BBC programming to the Internet will dent this power and potentially marginalise many groups of viewers.
Of course, it is not true that Lord Hall’s announcement will eradicate the BBC youth’s audience. As a generation, we are adaptable and will sniff out good telly wherever it is available. However, it is clear that TV has moved on far more quickly than we could ever appreciate; power is rapidly slipping from the channel controllers and into the hands of the viewers.
The news last week that American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of a suspected drug overdose devastated Hollywood and left the international community mourning the loss of an extraordinary talent.
Hoffman first truly entered popular consciousness playing insecure microphone-operator and repressed homosexual, Scotty J, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic Boogie Nights. Whilst only featuring as a member of the supporting cast, his was a character perfectly realised, with a remarkable and a poignant depth. Unequivocally, it was his astonishing gift of imbuing his portrayals with an inherent sense of tragedy, that not only made him incredibly watchable but evoked unprecedented sympathy – even for some of his least sympathetic roles. Notable amongst these is Allen, the loner who satisfies himself making anonymous and perverted phone calls, in Todd Solondz’s unashamedly bleak black-comedy Happiness.
Notwithstanding the garnering of wide critical acclaim, it wasn’t until 2005 that Hoffman would be celebrated with his first major award, winning Best Actor at The Academy Awards, the Baftas and the Golden Globes, for his beat-perfect portrayal of Truman Copete in the eponymously titled film.Despite being vastly dissimilar physically to Capote, he produced an uncanny likeness to the literary icon.
Arguably, however, his most memorable, and perhaps his greatest role was that of Lancaster Dodd, the insidiously mercurial cult-leader in 2012’s exceptional film The Master. An incredibly distilled character piece, Hoffman and Phoenix’s execution was mesmeric, each actor playing off one another like athletes at the peak of their game.
In the year that followed he endeared himself to audiences of a new and younger generation, charging the relatively one-dimensional Plutarch Heavensbee with Hoffman’s own dynamic charisma in the Hunger Games franchise – the final instalments of which will be released posthumously.
True artisan, termed an ‘actor’s actor’, Hoffman, managed throughout his career to slip seamlessly between American independent cinema, and the big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. In addition to his on-screen performances he enjoyed spells on and off Broadway, where he gained further critical accolades, as well as receiving three Tony nominations. His performance as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman is amongst his most celebrated.
Fans of his work may find some small comfort in the knowledge that there are still Hoffman films yet to make general release: along with the aforementioned Hunger Game franchise, both God’s Pocket and A Most Wanted Man premiered at Sundance this year.
Few actors can boast the same credibility or unquestioned reliability of Hoffman’s name and his talismanic gift; we are at liberty to surmise that he never produced an off day or a bad film. That the fact he will never get a chance to is what makes this so hopelessly sad.
Philip Seymour Hoffman will forever be the subject of doting adoration and his sheer wealth of work lauded as that of genius; he was and always will be an actor first and a star second.
Ralph Fiennes, one of British acting’s most respected names, has little directorial experience, having only ever taken the helm once before, for his reimagining of the context of Coriolanus. He cited a number of directors as influences to an audience (who woefully neglected to ask Fiennes anything related to his noseless time as Voldemort) at the Phoenix Picturehouse on Saturday: from Anthony Minghella (“he was inclusive and very gentle… he nurtured performances”), István Szabó (who felt that “cinema was about the closeup”) and Fernando Meirelles (“he was very freeing”) to the mainstream auteurs like Cronenburg (“wonderfully simple”) and Spielberg (“he had such forward momentum, and keenly felt the need to get that moment”). He clearly learnt from his interactions with some of these, as his Coriolanus won great praise for the brutality and relevance of its revised setting, and now Fiennes is behind the camera for another film – one he says he was “surprised” to find himself attracted to. It is an adaptation of Claire Tomalin’s celebrated book, The Invisible Woman, centring around Nelly Ternan, the young woman who became Charles Dickens’ mistress in his late life, and who was for too long totally absent from the biographical history of one of England’s greatest writers. Fiennes says he was “swept up” by Tomalin’s book, and felt that the story needed telling.
The story is of a young woman becoming enraptured with an older man’s aura, and Felicity Jones is marvellous as Nelly, playing the woman both at age eighteen when she meets Dickens, and later, after the author has passed away, as a hardened teacher. Fiennes emphasised that part of the casting process was finding an actress who would not require trite “aging makeup”, “a road we didn’t want to go down”, and Jones does without such aids well. Her mannerisms are worlds apart between the two time-settings, and the contrast between the two states of her character is notable. Fiennes described Jones as having “an extraordinary talent, a thing, a gift that the camera loves”, and his praise for her performance was manifold, citing the “interior heaviness” and “self-possesed… toughness” that she brought to the older Nelly. It was key to the film, says Fiennes, that it charted “moments… where we feel the breakage in Nelly”, and no moment encapsulates the anger the young woman conjures on the steps to her home after realising the potential social ruin of her situation, when the director felt a “bang! She’d broken something”.
After “dipping in and out of all twelve volumes of [Dickens’] letters”, and reading a variety of learned biographies, Fiennes felt he had enough of a handle on the great author’s character to take the responsibility of portraying the man himself, and to his credit does a tremendous job. When Dickens first enters the film it is with ebullience and energy, endearing and bouncing, and he opens up a world of connections for Nelly and her family of actresses. Matriarch Catherine, mother of the three daughters, is played by the ever-excellent Kristin Scott Thomas, who brings a tender concern to the role which is perfectly balanced. She is aware of the many boons that could follow for her daughter if she should cavort with Mr Dickens, but also of the potential for disaster that is obviously present. That this will prove to be one of Scott Thomas’ last roles, after the announcement of her retirement, is a genuine pity, depriving the film industry of one of its most reliable performers.
The film’s main theme is the tension between marriage and love, and how the louche men of the film’s early segment seek to deal with it. Tom Hollander is dry and superb as Wilkie Collins, and his extra-marital relationship with Michelle Fairley’s Caroline (Game of Thrones fans will recognise her in a snap) is one which Dickens introduces Nelly to in an attempt to normalise their own relationship, to disastrous effects. As the film goes on, and the story evolves, the initially rosy impression Dickens gives starts to crack, and his behaviour becomes increasingly questionable. His extensive family is largely ignored, and Joanna Scanlan is terrific as his deprived and lonely wife; the lack of intimacy between husband and wife is depressing and affecting, and the move Dickens eventually takes to distance himself from her is not dressed up as anything except the horrifying cruelty it is. Nonetheless one my few criticisms of the picture as a whole is that is does not do quite enough to represent Dickens’ family’s side of the story. While Fiennes was clear that he felt the story’s focus was specifically Nelly and Dickens’, it feels lightly disingenuous when at a certain point his children and spouse are simply gone from the narrative, after having provided so much strain to that point. Even if Dickens successfully escaped them, Nelly’s guilt on his behalf is suspiciously erased as well.
In the Q&A session, Fiennes at one point joked that Dickens, were he writing today, would most likely be doing so for the Daily Mail, such was the occasional vitriol which he occasionally summoned, but would nonetheless be producing wonderful works. This contrast, between the easy-to-believe portrait of Dickens as one of the fathers of English literature, a national treasure and advocate of prison reform and equality, and the private figure who was nowhere near as morally spotless as one would wish, is a fascinating one. It drives the picture only when the main story is lagging, though, and it is ultimately Nelly’s film, not Dickens’. Fiennes has come up with the goods, and made an impressive, reserved and beautiful film. It could perhaps do with some pace in the latter stages, but the drama of Nelly’s young life is well worth the time taken to tell it.
The Invisible Woman is now showing at the Phoenix Picturehouse.
These days, the auteur director is a dying breed – Soderbergh has retired to pursue his painting (lol); Tarantino, who once said he would stop making movies as soon as he could no longer achieve erection, might well be heading in a similar direction; and Scorsese has moved away from older tropes in favour of a more dynamic style (compare Taxi Driver and The Wolf of Wall Street, for example). Rarely now, at least in terms of popular cinema, can one recognise a filmmaker by his or her choice of actors, or music, or even broadly, by aesthetic or tone.
But though the auteur is an endangered species, it’s not yet totally extinct: observe one ‘Wes Anderson’. Marvel as he habitually casts Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and the Wilson brothers, loads his films with overtly stylised costumes, sets and colour schemes, and employs the use of the Helvetica font in pretty much every end credit sequence he’s ever directed. His eccentric approach to cinema is so well-established that it’s easy to parody, but that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that his extensive back-catalogue is joyful, smart and intricately layered.
As a filmmaker, Wes Anderson is at his best when depicting the dysfunctional: his signature neat, ordered aesthetic is perfectly at odds with the unravelling lives of the people he portrays. Rushmore’s Latin-speakin’, bee-keepin’, play-writin’, remote control helicopter-flyin’ Max Fischer would be, in the hands of a lesser storyteller, one of the most irritating characters ever committed to screen, but Anderson endows him with a spiky likability that has rendered him beloved to an adoring cult audience. The same goes for Steve Zissou, and Mr. and Mrs Bishop, and Herman Blume, and basically every character in The Royal Tenenbaums (which is a film that contains the line “I think we’re just gonna have to be secretly in love with each other”, and is, therefore, up there with the best of this century so far). Anderson’s gift is that he can present us with human characters who are innately flawed, and have us see ourselves in them.
But his genius does not stop short of live-action cinema: in 2009, he directed Fantastic Mr. Fox, a feature length stop-motion animation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book of the same title. Fantastic Mr. Fox is, to put it bluntly, dope as hell. It is a children’s film which appeals to adults, without trying to pull the laborious DreamWorks trick of slipping in a few jokes for the grown-ups alongside more child-friendly slapstick and sight gags. It works because Anderson does not patronise his audience, approaching Mr. Fox and his family just as he would characters physically played by human actors: with sympathy and attention to detail, so that, simply, we root for them. And, you know, we really do.
Wes Anderson is a filmmaker whose obsessive love of movies shines through his every directorial choice. In that sense, he’s a real, proper auteur, and I think – with his brand of silly, stylish, clever cinema – he’ll be around for quite a while.
The Phoenix Picturehouse in Jericho is currently running Wes Anderson retrospective, in preparation for the release of his new film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. Visit http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/cinema/Phoenix_Picturehouse/Whats_On/ for more information.
With broadsheet opinion pieces unveiling the groundbreaking news that slavery was “not very nice”, it seems that mainstream cinema’s representation of people of colour remains tied to narratives of noble suffering.
I think of James McBride’s open letter on Spike Lee’s ‘40 Acres and a Mule’ website begging the question of whether a black woman can get an Oscar nomination without playing maid to white ladies. Make no mistake, representations of white brutality matter and I’m both excited and curious to watch 12 Years a Slave. But when these stories are mainstream media’s only understanding of people of colour we run into problems. Well meaning white liberals shaking their head at plantations and wiping tears for Mandela can be just as limiting as that creepy woman at the bus stop who kept asking my mother if she could speak English.
This is what the author Chimamanda Adichie describes as the “single story”, a pre-set narrative designed to limit people of colour, holding them in a crude A to B storyline. It’s all getting rather repetitive. So when I want my fix of screen culture I have found myself looking outside of mainstream cinema (because no one needs to watch The Help more than once) and onto YouTube.
The Internet is no post-racial paradise but I am very grateful for a collection of rad vloggers and directors who are sharing their work with us and killing the single story one upload at a time. The following are a handful of highlights. They are not big or dramatic or sad. They just are. And that is more than enough for me.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
You can’t really talk about people doing cool stuff on YouTube and not mention Issae Rae’s web series ‘Awkward Black Girl’. I don’t know why, you just can’t. I didn’t make the rules okay? Whilst I don’t think Rae’s work is perfect (her non-apology after being called out for transphobia was wholly unimpressive) this is a genuinely funny and relatable show. It’s also proof that, hey, its not just white people who are anti-social, awkward weirdos, we all are! Or at least I am? I don’t know you guys…I guess anything that doesn’t fall under the tagline of ‘adorkable’ is cool with me.
Hey Fran Hey
If, like me, you are a mixed bb with kinky hair and an absent Daddy, hair care matters. It is history and heritage and that hairdresser who broke my lil ten-year-old heart when she told me that I had to go to a ‘special’ salon for ‘people like me’. (Gotta love those friendly neighbourhood racists!) But it’s also the simple act of looking cute, and no curly haired girl should be deprived of that. I learned to do my first twist out through online tutorials and I see that as a very small, yet very important, act of resistance. There are tons of awesome black hair and beauty vlogs on YouTube but ‘Hey Fran Hey’ is my favorite resource for dealing with natural hair.
When people say ‘South Asian pop culture’ and proceed to give a longwinded lecture about Madonna giving Malala Yousafzai a get well soon card (this actually happened to me!) you know something is seriously wrong. In this sense, I feel so blessed that vloggers like IISuperwomanII exist. Her videos tackle a wide range of interesting topics like the difference between brown girls and white girls, Punjabi families and just genuinely how to be a functional human being. Also I want to set up her ‘just get up’ speech as my alarm.
Chesca created ‘Shit White Girls say to Black Girls’, making her the greatest person in the history of the universe. But she’s done way more than that. Her uncompromising video pieces on topics such as slut shaming and the George Zimmerman verdict are truly powerful pieces.
YouTube isn’t exactly lacking for nerd culture. But black nerd culture is still a weirdly misunderstood area. It makes me think of this Junot Diaz quote: “You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of colour in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest.”
So it’s great we have vloggers like Chris Sanders taking down weird belief systems surrounding ‘authentic’ blackness, like getting called out for ‘talking white’ or ‘acting white’ (what does that even mean?). He also makes videos about Pokemon. Therefore, he is awesome.
Movie awards season is the best. I know that we’re all supposed to be a bit disdainful of the whole thing – groups of old white men voting to congratulate slightly younger white men (and sometimes, *whisper it*, a black woman) amid ridiculous displays of opulence – but I think that even the most hardened sceptic has to admit that there’s certainly something seductive about the glamour, and something wildly entertaining about watching these extravagant events unfold. For every painful Ryan Seacrest red carpet interview (“who are you wearing?”) (who am I kidding I LIVE to hear who they’re wearing), there’s a Jennifer Lawrence falling up the stairs on the way to collect an award, or a Melissa Leo saying “fuck” in her acceptance speech: these things are – admit it – the most entertaining debacles on planet earth, and no debacle is grander than the Academy Awards, for which the nominations were announced last Thursday.
Some were as expected: 12 Years A Slave – a take on American slavery by the British director Steve McQueen which is often described as ‘unflinching’ and ‘courageous’ but is, more simply, just completely brutal viewing in a way that every thinking human ought to experience at least once or twice – is a sure thing for Best Picture. Its star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, also looks set to take home the Best Actor prize, but faces stiff competition from Matthew McConaughey, whose physical transformation in Dallas Buyers Club (as well as his recent transformation into a great actor after years of bad romcoms – who’d have thunk it in those halcyon days of The Wedding Planner?) is radical enough alone to attract attention. It could also be the year of the perpetually fantastic, perpetually overlooked Leonardo DiCaprio: with The Wolf of Wall Street and its director Martin Scorsese behind him, it wouldn’t be a shock if voters finally recognised his consistently great work.
There were also some pretty big surprises, the most glaring being the ineligibility of the Cannes Palme d’Or winning Blue Is The Warmest Colour in the Best Foreign Language Feature category, and its lead actress Adéle Exarchopoulos, in the Best Actress race (she is the only person who has ever moved me to tears by eating spaghetti, and, put frankly, she’s better than Amy Adams who will probably take the Actress statuette for American Hustle). 23 year old person Jennifer Lawrence received her third Oscar nomination in four years (think about that and then think about how little you have achieved) for her hilarious supporting turn also in American Hustle, and actually-quite-good-actor-turned-absolutely-properly-mental-rock-star Jared Leto got the nod for his performance as a transgender AIDS sufferer (has anything ever sounded more Oscars?) – both are great and should take home the trophies.
The ceremony is on Sunday March 2nd, and will take place, as always, at Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre. Join me and other fans of quality cinema the world over – we’ll be sitting in our beds, swearing loudly when our dodgy live streams freeze, and caning Diet Red Bull so that we don’t fall asleep whilst making very important tweets about Meryl Streep’s dress (I say “we” but I’m really just speaking to personal experience). It’s glamorous, this Oscars business.