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Links for the Day: What Empire Means for Blackness on Television, Adam Nayman Interviews Lisandro Alonso, The Woman Who Froze in Fargo, & More

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Empire
Photo: FOX

1. “What Empire Means for Blackness on Television.” Fox’s new series has broken ratings records—and it’s also broken ground in terms of its portrayal of race, queerness, and women on television. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. (Below are thoughts from BuzzFeed staff writer Ira Madison III.)

“If there’s one positive takeaway from Jamal, it’s his introduction to mainstream black America. Part of the reason the homophobia-in-the-black-community myth persists is because of representation. We’ve seen some of television’s most popular series dealing with the gay son soap archetype, and the image of gayness and acceptance of homosexuality has permeated white culture for nearly 50 years (Susan Harris’ 1977 satirical sitcom Soap introduced one of television’s first gay characters in Jodie Dallas). Black characters who appeared on these kinds of soaps were the divas like Dominique Deveraux (Diahann Carroll’s character on Dynasty) or Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams’ character on Ugly Betty). They rarely had lives of their own. And here we are now, with Jamal fighting for his father’s dynasty. If this show had existed in the ‘80s—as it should have, because black people had money in the damn ‘80s too and we loved soap operas back then—I truly believe the notion of a black community being more homophobic would be retrograde. But look at Empire’s ratings. They’re huge and growing each week. In the ‘80s, Dynasty was one of the highest-rated dramas on television. Jamal’s character, however I may feel about him, is important not just for our community but in the context of television history in general.”

2. “Dream On: An Interview with Lisandro Alonso.” Adam Nayman chats with the Jauja filmmaker.

“It’s something that was going to happen. People find their own lives. She wants her own life. She is curious. She has been seduced by another man and goes with him. That’s life. Viggo’s character feels guilty about being there. What the fuck is he doing there? He doesn’t belong there. It’s not his place. It’s another thing I really wanted to talk about in this film: where is the place that we should be? The film is called Jauja, which means a land of plenty, but who goes there? I don’t know if you ever met the couple that was murdered in the Philippines… I used to be friends with Nika Bohnic, if you know all about that. [In 2009, Bohnic, the editor in chief of the film magazine Ekran, and her partner Alexis Tioseco, also a film critic, were killed during a robbery of their home in Manila]. The whole film is based on their history. I remember that I received an email from a friend of hers, and it said: ’Nika is gone.’ I said ’what do you mean, gone?’ And it said that they had been murdered in Manila. I was shocked. I thought that it shouldn’t be that way but suddenly it is. And I thought about life. That’s how it is. You receive an email and the people you love—your brother, your sister, your lover, your wife—they’re just not here anymore. I didn’t want to write anything about it but then I started thinking about Nika’s father, going to the Philippines to collect her body. I think that’s the whole plot of the movie, even if I’ve sort of been talking about this sort of plot since I started making movies. Except in La Libertad.”

3. “How did my fellow Irish-Americans get so disgusting?” Stupid tattoos and New Age music on one hand, snarling TV right-wingers on the other. It didn’t have to be this way.

“But the end of the IRA’s guerrilla war had a less salubrious effect on the Irish-American population, and I say that in full awareness that on the surface that’s an offensive statement. What I mean is that the last connection between Irish-American identity and genuine history was severed, and all we’re left with now is a fading and largely bogus afterlife. On one hand, Irishness is a nonspecific global brand of pseudo-old pubs, watered-down Guinness, ’Celtic’ tattoos and vague New Age spirituality, designed to make white people feel faintly cool without doing any of the hard work of actually learning anything. On the other, it’s Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan and Rep. Peter King, Long Island’s longtime Republican congressman (and IRA supporter), consistently representing the most stereotypical grade of racist, xenophobic, small-minded, right-wing Irish-American intolerance. When you think of the face of white rage in America, it belongs to a red-faced Irish dude on Fox News.”

4. “The Woman Who Froze in Fargo.” The new movie Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter tells the story of a Japanese woman on a quest for riches who was lured to the brutal cold of the Midwest by a Coen brothers film. The woman was real, even if the story isn’t entirely true. And it’s been told before, by a documentarian. So where is the line between fact and fiction, and just how strong is it?

“As these renditions of Konishi and Kumiko develop and proliferate, we can watch real life jump the line into something otherworldly. Which is why it makes sense that the Zellner brothers pitched Kumiko not just as a fictional film, but as a fictional film made in the context of a larger, nonfictional event. ’There are so many different meta-layers inherent to the project that we didn’t even have to project onto it,’ Nathan Zellner says, or maybe it’s David. They didn’t learn about Konishi’s case and didn’t care to, dismissing it as what Werner Herzog called an ’accountant’s truth,’ as opposed to an ’ecstatic’ one—the small lie that helps give way to a bigger truth. Interestingly, when I ask why it took the Zellners 12 years to shoot and release Kumiko, during which time they released two other features, they say that part of the issue was needing to film in both Minnesota and Tokyo, as though movies were shot only where they were supposed to take place.”

5. “Five Ways Being a Writer and Professional Skateboarder Are the Same.” For The Millions, Michael Christie speaks to Claire Cameron about his book If I Fall, If I Die.

“I believe that if you aren’t getting bloody somehow in your work, whether opening a psychic wound, closing one, disinfecting one, or just plain jamming your finger into one to see what happens, then it’s doubtful the work will be worth anyone else’s time. There must be some kind of stakes for the writer, personally—whether they’re explicit in the book or not it doesn’t matter. Writing ought to be, at least on some level, potentially injurious. Like in skateboarding, there is always a razor-thin line between catastrophe and triumph, between falling and staying up, between bad writing and great writing, between a brilliant book and a terrible one, and I think writers ought to try to tightrope walk that line. In both skateboarding and literature, there is that sublime moment when someone pulls something off that is clearly at the very outer limits of their ability, that is even perhaps beyond their ability, but yet it somehow worked out anyway—and this is where the true magic happens. Art is risk. That’s why it captivates us. And if a writer taking this risk has left a little (metaphorical!) blood on the ground, then all the better for those watching. The spatter is how we know they meant it.”

Video of the Day: Jean Luc-Godard’s short Prix suisse, remerciements, mort ou vif (head over to MUBI for the English-language transcription):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWkOEo6VHK8
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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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Who Killed My Father Is Heartbreaking but Prone to Pat Sociological Analysis

Édouard Louis’s latest is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts.

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Who Killed My Father

Author Édouard Louis’s father has been an important figure in each of his previous works, even when he’s never seen or mostly at the periphery (as in The History of Violence). With his latest, Who Killed My Father, Louis finally turns to directly examining his most important, damaged relationship. Both in his previous books and interviews, Louis has repeatedly acknowledged this broken relationship, largely stemming from the author’s open homosexuality. Alongside this, Louis’s prior works have circled around a number of themes to which he returns here: the French political and working classes, the small-town prejudices that surrounded his upbringing and drove a closeted homosexual boy to escape to more cosmopolitan Paris, and the role of state power in producing social and physical illness.

With Who Killed My Father, Louis invites inevitable comparisons to Abdellah Taïa, another talented French writer who’s also gay and largely estranged from his place of origin, and also primarily an autobiographical novelist. Like Louis, Taïa incorporates his complicated relationship with a parent into several of his books. Taïa also connects that relationship, his writing, and his experience with the society he left behind in Morocco and the one he found in France. But what distinguishes his writing in, for example, Infidels or Salvation Army from that of Édouard Louis in Who Killed My Father is a strong sense of meaning. Taïa incorporates his relationship with his mother, M’Barka, to convey something more meaningful and developed.

Louis begins down this same road before clumsily inserting a political tract at the end of Who Killed My Father that doesn’t knit as effortlessly with parts one and two. The book situates Louis’s relationship with his father front and center as compared to his previous work. It’s clear that he’s exposing the painfulness of their relationship for the purpose of speaking about political power and its physical and social toll on those who don’t possess it, but Who Killed My Father stumbles in conveying its message adequately.

Louis’s account of his father’s suffering and violence toward those around him is both painful and sharp. Who Killed My Father is strongest when Louis is demonstrating his father’s most private acts of kindness, as when the father gives Louis a copy of Titanic for his birthday after trying to convince him to ask for a more “masculine” gift. After Louis realizes that his carefully planned tribute to the pop band Aqua at a family dinner has embarrassed his father, the man reassures Louis that “it’s nothing.” In the book’s first and strongest part, Louis expounds not only on the relationship with his father, but also excavates what might have made his father the man he grew up with. At one point, he recounts finding a photograph of his father in women’s clothes—undoubtedly some adolescent joke, but also inconceivable from the man who insisted to his son that men should never act like girls.

Regrettably, part one ends with a trite conclusion that says everything and nothing at the same time. In part two, the story attempts to braid together all the malignant threads of Louis’s family narrative. Louis recalls igniting a violent outburst between his father and older brother as a result of his mother shaming him for acting too much like a girl (“faggot” is what some others in the neighborhood more precisely call him). The insinuation hurts and angers him so much that he betrays his mother’s confidence on another family secret, setting loose a new wave of violence. Part two is short and important to moving Who Killed My Father toward some wider evaluation of the questions Louis begins the book with, but it ultimately fails to find its footing by pivoting in part three to an unearned polemic against the political classes.

Who Killed My Father is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate (except in brief moments of tenderness) through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts, but the book at its weakest when trying to ham-handedly force this narrative into some broad theorizing about power and society and structural violence. Part one aligned beautifully with a narrative of meaning more comparable to Taïa at his best. Unfortunately, the story quickly falls apart when Jacques Chirac is indicted for destroying Louis’s father’s body through changes in health care coverage. It’s not that the questions Louis ends with aren’t necessary and important ones; it’s that there’s so little threading the narrative together into anything cohesive. What was the point of the first two-thirds of the book? His father was cruel, occasionally loving, but never mind because the state is killing him? The life of the poor is one of abject powerlessness against an unremittingly powerful and callous “ruling class”?

Louis deserves credit for the attempt to tie it all together into some grander commentary on the political class and its ambivalence, but the conclusion is simultaneously glib and condescending. Perhaps Louis didn’t intend it, but the book’s conclusion drains away responsibility for the cruelty and bigotry of those like his father, and patronizes them as with a quick How could we expect any better of the noble, working poor? Is it the state’s or the ruling class’s subjugation of his father’s body that’s somehow also responsible for his inability to sympathize with gays or immigrants? Of course, the poor are subjugated by the rich and Louis has written more meaningfully about the implications of that relationship elsewhere. But in Who Killed My Father, he inadvertently demonstrates that the answer isn’t to sanctify them any more than it is to demonize them.

Édouard Louis’s Who Killed My Father is now available from New Directions.

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