By Chaya and Deni
HACKS (HBO Max)
Excellent cast (Jean Smart, Hannah Einbinder, Carl Clemons-Hopkins), good writing, funny, mostly good plots and 2 queer actors playing queer characters (Einbinder and Clemons-Hopkins). After seeing the movie Moonlight, Clemons-Hopkins said, “That was the first time I saw Black, queer representation and that character representation at that level. It truly changed my life.”
THE CHAIR (Netflix)
Excellent cast (Sandra Oh, Holland Taylor), bad writing, bad plots, bad politics. The best thing to come from it was reading that Holland Taylor is a lesbian.
NAOMI OSAKA (Netflix)
This 3-part Netflix documentary provides an intimate glimpse into what her life is like: training, family/friends and politics. In the last Mocha Column we wrote about her refusal to participate in the mandatory press conference after her match in the French Open. Since then she withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon due to anxiety and depression. She is amazingly grounded yet questioning and introspective—about tennis, being a star, coming from a Japanese-Haitian background, racism and how professional sports markets athletes. She does not give the expected boiler-plate responses to media questions. The doc showed her at a Minneapolis protest. At the US Open in 2020 she used her platform in tennis to support the uprisings against the murder of George Floyd. She wore a different mask with the name of a Black person murdered by police each day she played. In response, her mother said “brilliant idea” and her dad said, “It feels like she’s standing up for me … and on the right side of history.” With her political actions and openness about mental health challenges, the documentary shows Osaka is having a huge positive effect on professional sports.
IN THE HEIGHTS
We really wanted to like Lin-Manual Miranda’s “other” musical that he did before Hamilton. Set in NYC’s predominantly Afro-Dominican neighborhood in Washington Heights known as “Little Dominican Republic,” it’s very close to where Miranda grew up. With music and lyrics by Miranda and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, the story was supposed to have upbeat music and dancing. But we were very disappointed. Few of the songs (if any) were memorable, the women were stereotypically scantily dressed, and there wasn’t much to the predictable plot. One standout was Olga Merendiz who played Abuela Claudia. Shortly after it opened, criticism was directed at Miranda and director John Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) for casting only light-skinned actors as its main Latinx characters. Miranda quickly apologized, saying “…I hear that without sufficient dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation, the work feels extractive of the community we wanted so much to represent with pride and joy…. We fell short. I’m truly sorry.” But Director Chu insultingly said “…we tried to get the people who were best for those roles….” Long boring movie with many problems.
MASTER OF NONE/SEASON 3 and TWENTIES (Netflix/BET)
We came late to Aziz Ansari’s Master of None but enjoyed the tone, characters, humor and loved the character of Denise as fabulously played by Lena Waithe (who won a writing Emmy award for the 2017 “Thanksgiving” episode in which she comes out to her family). We were looking forward to Season 3 (though noting that Ansari was accused by a woman in 2018 of sexual misconduct). But season 3 turned out to be a big letdown, surprising since all the episodes were co-written by Waithe and the story was about her (Denise) and partner Alicia (played by Naomi Ackie). Two Black lesbians navigating a relationship in a scenic country house had definite possibilities but we found it painfully slow and the plot often annoying with very traditional relationship storylines. (Perhaps the slowness was caused by Aziz’ direction?) Mighty disappointing. But it did lead us into watching Twenties, also by Waithe, a series we really enjoyed. It’s about 3 Black women and their lives/relationships/work. The focus is on Jonica T. Gibbs as Hattie and her good friends Christina Elmore as Marie and Gabrielle Graham as Nia. Hattie is a great character, the writing is excellent and there’s lots of humor, especially as Hattie navigates her life as a lesbian and aspiring tv writer. We’re hoping Season 2 gets here soon!
FRAGMENT OF SEEKING
The TCM description of the 14 minute 1946 silent film Fragment of Seeking “A man seeks to find himself by exploring his sexuality” definitely sounded like code for queer. It’s an intense offbeat film (directed by and starring Curtis Harrington) in which a man seems to be following a woman but the electrical attraction is between him and the man she’s with. Curtis Harrington (1926-2007) was one of the forerunners of New Queer Cinema, a term coined in 1992 by award-winning scholar, author and film critic B. Ruby Rich. Harrington’s prolific directing career even included tv episodes of Wonder Woman, Twilight Zone. He worked with filmmaker Kenneth Anger, knew openly queer filmmaker James Whale (1889-1957, director of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, etc.) and was an advisor on the excellent 1998 film Gods and Monsters which tells the somewhat fictionalized last days of James Whale. (See G/M if you can with its great cast of Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave.) Curtis Harrington’s memoir Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood was published in 2013 by Drag City – maybe our book reviewer Cole will follow-up on this one!
LIES WITH MAN (book review by Cole)
Gay Latino author Michael Nava returns with a detective novel featuring his longtime protagonist Henry Rios. Two years into recovery, Henry is resurrecting his criminal defense practice during a statewide AIDS quarantine ballot initiative (sound familiar?) and agrees to provide representation to QUEER, the local AIDS activist group (gee, who is that group modeled after?). Matters become more intense when one of the group’s members is identified as a suspect in the bombing of a fundamentalist church. Henry feels compelled to assume the uphill battle of representing the activist in the face of substantial evidence pointing to his client’s guilt. This book took off a little slowly for me; the beginning chapters lacked Nava’s inimitable style and approach, as demonstrated by a remarkably unoriginal and objectifying sex scene. However, I persevered and was rewarded with one of Nava’s characteristically intriguing tales that wove the threads of police infiltration of movement groups, homophobic evangelistic churches and the challenges of working inside and outside of the system into a satisfying end. I predict Nava’s fans will find the book to be an absorbing read.
BITS AND PIECES
THE ROBOT MADE ME DO IT!
A British study found that robots may influence behavior. Pepper, a 3-and-a-half foot tall talking robot, was used in a test to see if it could get students to make risky decisions. The students were to digitally pump up a balloon as far as possible without popping it. They got one penny for every pump and kept the money if it didn’t explode. If it exploded they lost the money. When students succeeded, Pepper was congratulatory. If the balloon exploded, Pepper said, “Well, do better next time” or “It wasn’t a good balloon.” (Oh sure, Pepper, blame the balloon.) Pepper’s students burst the balloon 40% more than the no-robot control group. (Bursting balloons—not a good thing.) Pepper’s group kept bursting balloons and losing money. The non-Pepper control group learned to pump less and earn more. Whose side are you on, Pepper?
NEWS UPDATE: Pepper’s Performance Plummets!! We were stunned to learn that many companies had such big problems renting Pepper for commercial use that Pepper was repeatedly fired. In Japan, Pepper was hired by funeral homes to chant scriptures and help perform Buddhist funeral rights, but kept stopping in the middle. In Scotland, a supermarket chain hired Pepper to help customers but when asked for item location Pepper often said, “look in the liquor section.” A Japanese nursing home company hired 3 Peppers as companions and to lead songs, but these Peppers took too many unscheduled breaks. We encourage Pepper to contact Revolutionary Robots Rebel for support.
BIDEN’S CLIMATE-CHANGE SCORECARD
Biden campaigned on curbing climate-changing emissions and pledged to end new drilling on federal lands. So how’s that going? Well, since Biden took office the Interior Dept approved 2,100 permits to drill on tribal and public lands. Biden’s permit approvals now exceed Trump’s, and are on track to reach 6,000 permits by 2022. About one quarter of US oil production comes from previously existing leases of fossil fuel reserves, so no changes there. (Did Biden forget how to use his executive action?) And prior to taking office as Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal and the first American Indian cabinet secretary, staunchly opposed drilling on federal lands. Haaland now says, “Gas and oil production will continue well into the future and we believe that is the reality of our economy and the world we’re living in.” In June, indigenous women leaders resisting Line 3 (a tar sands pipeline) invited Haaland to visit northern Minnesota and learn about the impacts of the Line 3 pipeline project on indigenous communities and natural resources. Stop Line 3 and stop the drilling!
Actor/activist Ed Asner died at the end of August. He was a favorite in the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant and terrific in the animated film “Up!” A 2-term president of the Screen Actors Guild, he opposed US 1980s policies in Central America, supported the 1980 SAG strike, worked to free Mumia Abu Jamal and for single payer health care. Radical filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted: “Making my 1st film, Roger & Me, I was broke so I wrote to some famous people to ask for help. Only one responded: Ed Asner. ‘I don’t know you, kid, but here’s 500 bucks’ said the note attached to the check. ‘Sounds like it’ll be a great film. I was an autoworker once.’ R.I.P. Ed.”
MICHAEL K WILLIAMS
Extraordinary Brooklyn-born actor Michael K Williams died September 6. He often spoke of his “everyday struggle” with addiction. I was mesmerized by him first in HBO’s The Wire. He played Omar Little whose “breathtaking performance made him the ultimate outlaw: a Black, gay shotgun-carrying gangster who operates both above the law and beyond the Baltimore street codes.” (NYT) He was also amazing also in Boardwalk Empire, The Night Of, Hap and Leonard (another gay role) and Lovecraft Country. I have yet to see him in When They See Us, the Ava DuVernay series about the Central Park Five travesty. Williams brought both a deep poignancy and commanding intensity to his acting. So many words have been written commemorating him; particularly moving were those by Wendell Pierce, co-actor on The Wire: “The depth of my love for this brother can only be matched by the depth of my pain learning of his loss. A[n] immensely talented man with the ability to give voice to the human condition portraying the lives of those whose humanity is seldom elevated until he sings their truth …. The kindest of persons… We aimed to . . . say something about Black men. Our struggle with ourselves, internally, and each other….” Erica Ford, founder of an organization to reduce gun violence in NYC, said MKW “…brought “awareness to social justice issues that he cared about, including gun violence, mass incarceration, and poverty and oppression.” Dana Rachlin started We Build the Block with MKW, an organization that works in over-policed communities, and quoted him as saying, “I have never been to prison, but I’m making trips back and forth to prison my whole life. Why is everybody I know there?” He “understood the systems that were set up to help people fail.” A profound actor, a human being committed to justice, a great loss.
A month ago Matt Damon created another controversy by telling a “cute” story about how his 15 year old daughter Isabella made him promise to stop using the anti-gay “f****t” word. Apparently it came as a surprise to Matt that this word was considered insulting and offensive, he was just joking around when he said it. After much criticism, he “clarified” that he had never called anyone this word and the whole thing was kind of a misunderstanding. Like the misunderstanding 6 years ago when he implied queer actors should keep their sexuality a secret? And the misunderstanding after his MeToo remarks in 2017 when he said that “more attention should be focused on the men who don’t commit acts of sexual misconduct.” Matt has played several gay characters, describes himself as a feminist and even apologized after he explained the concept of diversity to Black producer/showrunner Effie Brown (Dear White People, Real Women Have Curves) when she raised concerns about choosing directors. (In a June 2020 interview, Brown talked about being subjected to more than 5 years of backlash after calling Matt out on this.) We like some of Matt’s movies but we think it’s best that he shut up!
OCCUPATION FOR $500
Answer: “Liberal” zionist and new Jeopardy prime-time specials host, Mayim Bialik.
Question: Who staunchly defends Israel, equates criticism of Israel with anti-semitism and says the “violence on both sides” is bad.
NO BACKS TO BEZOS!
As of July 21, the day before his flight, there were over 185,000 signatures on petitions like “Do not allow Jeff Bezos (Amazon plunderer) to return to Earth.” The MC has reached out to extraterrestrial comrades to make sure that next time he goes, they will find a place to keep him AND redistribute his wealth ($201 billion) to the masses who earned it.
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