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):
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