“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” Review!

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost four months since the world suddenly, shockingly lost Chadwick Boseman to cancer. Despite most of us having never known or met the man personally (and I will forever regret I never had the chance), I and millions of others around the globe were left devastated by Boseman’s death, which cut short an extraordinary career and a life lived honestly by a humble, kind-hearted, man. It’s natural to think of “what would have been”: the films he would have gone on to make, the awards he would most surely have won, and so on. But Boseman’s posthumous filmography, which includes Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and numerous episdoes of the animated What If…? series for Marvel, reflects not only Boseman’s versatility as an actor, but his determination to create a lasting legacy for himself that would span vastly different mediums and genres; a legacy that stands on its own.

Ma Rainey
Levee and Ma Rainey | theguardian.com

And that’s what makes Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom so incredibly painful to watch, as the film now feels almost too cruel for illuminating the setbacks that Black creatives have always suffered due to the efforts by mediocre white people to hijack their art and culture, not because it’s wrong to depict this by any means (quite the opposite)…but because it’s Chadwick Boseman’s character, underdog horn player Levee, who is actively being cheated out of his legacy in the film by a system that rewards theft and punishes integrity. But while some may find the pain still too raw to revisit (and as always, I encourage you to decide for yourself if that’s the case), I believe that the film makes one thing clear unintentionally: that even Chadwick Boseman’s sheer ability to carve out the beautiful, incredible legacy he has is something that cannot be taken for granted, although by rights it should – because for centuries, and right up until this present day, Black art, talent, and culture has been appropriated by white folks. And it’s up to white folks and allies of the Black community to call out that appropriation, and help to protect and preserve the legacies of Black creatives.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is entirely focused on this concept of trying to build a legacy, and the harsh toll it exacts on the Black creatives who have to fight every single day to protect their work. Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis, who herself famously called upon Hollywood to stop calling her the “Black Meryl Streep” unless they were going to start paying her accordingly) is seen as a difficult and unreasonable diva by her white manager and producer, but that’s because – as she explains in a brilliant monologue to her trombonist, Cutler (Colman Domingo) – she can’t afford to be fair and reasonable, because she knows that as soon as she lends her voice to the record album her production studio is creating, they’ll have no further use for her. She has to demand better, or she won’t be treated any better; whether that means requiring that she be served a Coca-Cola (in a prolonged sequence that, let me tell you, really made me want a Coca-Cola), or insisting that her nephew, who stutters, be featured on her biggest song, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, even though it takes six tries and six vinyl records to get it right.

Davis commands attention from the moment she appears onscreen, decked out in feathery finery, and literally glistening under lighting that is somehow both deeply uncomplimentary and strangely flattering to her mesmerizing stage persona. Maxayn Lewis provides Rainey’s rich, soulful, singing voice on almost all the songs in the film, but the rest is an intoxicating blend of Davis’ physical presence, her costuming department, and the particularly noteworthy efforts of her hairstyling and makeup team, whom I predict will be the Oscar frontrunners in their category. The final result of all their contributions is a bundle of joyous, irreverent charisma – a proud Black woman owning herself, her body, and her sexuality.

Ma Rainey
Ma Rainey | detroitnews.com

Her sexuality is a particularly interesting topic because the real-life Ma Rainey is strongly believed to have been a queer woman. And although the character of her girlfriend in the film, Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige), is entirely fictional, there’s evidence to suggest that Rainey did have a romantic relationship with one of her contemporaries, blues singer Bessie Smith. Depicting Ma Rainey authentically is important for several reasons, not least of all because we’ve seen very few stories of real-life Black LGBTQ+ historical figures depicted onscreen: and even fewer in a context where their sexuality is not the defining feature of their character. Ma Rainey is queer and a great singer and a savvy businesswoman…she’s allowed to be multi-faceted, and I love that.

Boseman’s Levee, meanwhile, spends a considerable amount of time trying to seduce Ma Rainey’s girlfriend away from her, much to her annoyance. A cocky, easy-going young playboy making his own music and gradually distancing himself from his older, wiser, bandmates, Levee is an antagonist to Rainey’s ambitions, but one gifted with warmth, charisma, and humanity: all talents innate to Chadwick Boseman, and which the actor easily imbues into his character…particularly in one beautifully written monologue sequence that I imagine must be taken word-for-word from the August Wilson play upon which Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based (like the recurring motif of Levee’s yellow shoes and the closed door in the recording studio that Levee repeatedly tries to break down, both of which came off as obviously theatrical devices to me). My biggest gripe with stage-to-screen adaptations tends to be dialogue, which can feel gratingly unnatural in movies: but while I wouldn’t say Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom doesn’t sometimes have that problem, I do think the actors – particularly Davis, Boseman, and Domingo – make it work in all the scenes that count.

The one aspect of the film that has drawn criticism, however, is the one crucial scene it adds to the screenplay: drastically changing the overall tone of the story – rather like the inverse of The Boys In The Band, which added a single, hopeful scene to the film adaptation’s ending to address criticism of the original play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom adds one scene that, without context, is completely mundane and uninteresting…but with context, is haunting, deeply disturbing, and a bleak reminder of how far we haven’t come since the 1920’s, and how much further we still have to go. Without getting into spoilers, I will say this much: it directly addresses the topic of cultural appropriation, and forces you to re-evaluate the entire film from that perspective. The original play did touch on this subject too, from what I understand, but not in this manner. I get why this scene was added – it’s not merely shocking, but also extremely important to the film’s central theme.

Ma Rainey
Levee | seattletimes.com

Cultural appropriation, an extension of white supremacy and imperialism, is the ultimate act of theft: the grand robbery of an entire art-form, or fashion, or tradition, or way of life, in most cases carried out by white folks who either think they’re being funny by contributing to harmful stereotypes, or are actively stealing an idea because they’ve decided they like it so much that they want to market it as something socially-acceptable for white people to buy/wear/whatever, and don’t understand or care how their actions keep the violent spirit of colonialism alive in the modern day. The latter is the more insidious of the two, and has been deeply engrained in the music and entertainment industries for over a century. How many great legacies were set in stone by Black creatives, only to be overwritten and overshadowed by white people stealing their ideas? We’ll probably never know. But I hope that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, for many, will be the wakeup-call they need to the terrible effects of cultural appropriation, and the need to address it now, as we head into the roaring 2020’s.

Movie Rating: 9/10

“Carol” Review! Is It A Christmas Movie Or Not?

Is 2015’s Carol a Christmas movie, in the proper sense of the phrase? Some would argue it is simply by virtue of being set in the last few weeks of December (and because one of the most memorable scenes in the movie revolves around the subject of Christmas presents), but in my opinion, it’s even a bit deeper than that.

Carol
Carol Aird | cinemablographer.com

Carol utilizes Christmas for more than just pretty set dressing. The overwhelming noise and chaotic hustle of the holiday season provides the perfect backdrop to the quiet, intimate, love story at the film’s core. The crowds of confused and hurried shoppers rushing to find gifts is an unmistakable parallel to the confusion of any whirlwind romance, but particularly one shared by two women in an unaccepting era – when even the terminology for sexual orientation was still unclear and mostly derogatory. And Christmas brings with it a whole slew of constraints and restrictions on the time our heroines can spend together without being watched. But…whenever the romance finally has a moment to breathe, everything goes quiet. The noise dies down until it’s little more than a murmur in the background; Carter Burwell’s Oscar-nominated score gently reinforces the building passion; and the spirit of Christmas is discovered in simple things like snowfall on a terrace at night, a Christmas tree purchased on the spur of the moment, or an abrupt winter getaway out west.

Based on The Price Of Salt (a semi-autobiographical novel first published in 1952 by Patricia Highsmith under a pseudonym and later republished in 1990 as Carol under her real name), Carol remains a milestone in LGBTQ+ representation in film: the movie that launched a thousand awards-friendly atmospheric period dramas about introspective white lesbians. The story is small-scale on the surface – a series of electric interactions between two women that quickly becomes a fling, and then a romance – but the stakes couldn’t be higher for either character: Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is at risk of losing custody of her daughter if her sexuality is discovered, while Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is already engaged to a man for whom she has no feelings. The chemistry between the two actresses is the primary reason for why the movie works as well as it does, and for why it feels so genuine and impactful.

Carol
Therese Belivet and Carol Aird | artforum.com

Carol, the mysterious, multi-faceted woman around whom the story revolves, is the older and wiser of the two; but while her years have given her a flippant attitude towards life and a steady, self-assured command over herself, her surroundings, and her sexuality, they haven’t quieted her desire to finally live freely. Blanchett owns the role like a revelation wrapped up in an epiphany and a sensuous mink coat. And what’s brilliant about Blanchett’s performance (here and elsewhere) is that she never feels the need to overdo anything. Every one of her movements, mannerisms, facial expressions, winks, and subtle half-smiles is loaded with purpose – but so casually conveyed that Blanchett never comes off as fishing for Oscars. Oftentimes, the philosophical dialogue spouted in dramas can come off as inorganic and bizarrely forced, but Blanchett’s line-readings, delivered in that famously deep register that she might as well trademark, are equal halves relatable and enchanting.

The strength of Mara’s performance is in how clearly and vividly she expresses her love for Carol. While the extent of Carol’s feelings toward Therese Belivet are necessarily mysterious and unclear until the very end of the film (and Blanchett easily sells that aura of mystery, where you never know if something she’s said has a double entendre or a hidden meaning), the entire story hinges on Therese’s immediate attraction to Carol. It sounds quite simple – Cate Blanchett is a magnetic personality, after all – but Mara succeeds at convincing us that Therese’s devotion goes deeper than a surface-level. And although the film can’t take us into Therese’s head like the novel, it gets as close as it possibly can. Director Todd Haynes stages each romantic scene as if from Therese’s point of view, as she absorbs every tiny detail about her lover. That subtly allows us to also learn about Therese’s own self-doubt, which prevents her from recognizing her own worth until much later in the film, when the tables are turned.

Alongside powerhouse talents like Blanchett and Mara, it’s hard for anyone else in the movie to carve out much space for themselves. Sarah Paulson comes closest, playing Blanchett’s former lover Abby. Paulson, herself one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ actresses in Hollywood (and whose wife, Holland Taylor, was one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ actresses in Hollywood), has a key supporting role, holding her own opposite Blanchett as the latter’s foil. Also, her ability to slay in brown plaid is admirable, and I would totally watch the Carol prequel Paulson wants to make.

Behind the scenes, pretty much everybody deserves some measure of praise, because the film is a technical masterpiece: but I would especially point out Carter Burwell, whose score beautifully compliments the action; costume designer Sandy Powell, the mastermind behind Carol’s assortment of fur coats, headscarves, and sundresses; and cinematographer Edward Lachman, whose decision to shoot in grainy 16mm film is a large part of why the entire film feels so engrossing.

Carol
Carol Aird | bloomberg.com

But the key to Carol‘s success and popularity (and something which many of its predecessors and successors have forgotten or ignored) is its happy ending, something that stunned readers back in 1952 and viewers in 2015. Little has changed between those two dates, if a simple happy ending is still perceived as groundbreaking in stories (particularly romances) about LGBTQ+ characters, and too little has changed even in the five years since Carol came out. But onscreen representation matters: it has the power to uplift and to inspire. And that’s exactly what Carol‘s ending did for many viewers, by promising something better. Even if it’s not a traditional Christmas movie, it invokes the true spirit of the season far better than some.

Movie Rating: 9.5/10

Has Augustus Prew Joined “The Lord Of The Rings”?

Rejoice, my fellow Tolkien fans! For today we have learned about substantial new evidence to support the theory that an actor has recently joined the cast of Amazon Prime’s upcoming The Lord Of The Rings series. Although it’s not yet official, the evidence is very strong, and if nothing else it should help to fill the void in Tolkien fandom discourse that until recently was being filled by think-pieces regarding sexuality and nudity in Middle-earth, and…well, that’s a conversation I think we can probably take a break from at this point, no? I’ve made my thoughts on the matter clear, at any rate.

The Lord Of The Rings
Augustus Prew | hollywoodreporter.com

This new theory comes to us from Fellowship Of Fans, a very reliable YouTube channel that also revealed some of the first behind-the-scenes photos from the set (showing some mountainous set design), and has kept up to date with The Lord Of The Rings cast and crew’s social media, scouring for clues and hints about filming locations, characters, etc. Today, Fellowship Of Fans revealed that Augustus Prew, an English actor with a solid resume in films and TV, has quite possibly joined The Lord Of The Rings cast. Prew has been in New Zealand for some time, and his Instagram posts indicate that he’s been staying close to various filming locations for the series. Most of the other cast-members in the show, as well as director J.A. Bayona, follow Prew and regularly interact with his posts, and he follows several of them back, including Bayona and The Lord Of The Rings On Prime‘s official Instagram account. It’s not enough proof to say anything for certain, but it’s looking very likely at this point that Prew will indeed be joining Amazon Prime’s Middle-earth adventure.

The big question, of course, is who will he be playing? The Tolkien community on Twitter has speculated that he might be Gil-galad, due to his passing resemblance to Mark Ferguson, who played the High King of the Noldorin Elves for about three or four seconds in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship Of The Ring. It’s actually a pretty good theory and the attention to continuity would be admirable. COVID-19 has made it extremely difficult to discern when filming is going on and how much has been completed, but I did momentarily doubt whether such a major casting would come seemingly so late in the game, with the two-part pilot reportedly finished and the rest of the season already underway (filming is rumored to end sometime around March or April of next year) – until I realized that Prew has been in New Zealand since at least September, giving him plenty of time to film scenes for the pilot. Really, anything is possible, but Prew’s facial features do seem to suggest that he’s playing an Elven character, and Gil-galad is an obvious choice.

The Lord Of The Rings
Gil-galad | lotrfanon.fandom.com

But if he’s not Gil-galad, I’m going to throw out a different theory, for which I have precisely no evidence. I think Prew could be playing Oropher, the King of Mirkwood (before it was actually called Mirkwood, back when it was still the Greenwood). Oropher was the father of Thranduil, whom Lee Pace memorably portrayed in The Hobbit trilogy, and I can see a resemblance between Prew and Pace – with a platinum blond wig, ice-blue contacts and thicker eyebrows, I think Prew could easily pass for Pace’s in-universe father. In the Second Age, Oropher’s reign was chiefly marked by his hostility towards the Noldorin Elves, and his eventual refusal to follow the orders of King Gil-galad during the War of the Last Alliance, ultimately leading to Oropher’s unnecessary death and the slaughter of a large part of his army. Thranduil was left in control of the remaining forces, but also homeless: because the seat of Oropher’s kingdom in Amon Lanc was taken over by evil creatures during the king’s absence. That’s how Thranduil ended up in the far north of Mirkwood, and it’s also how Amon Lanc turned into Dol Guldur, the hiding-place of the Necromancer in The Hobbit. I imagine that this sort of juicy backstory is exactly the sort of thing Amazon will include, and could potentially foreshadow by having Oropher appear throughout this first season of The Lord Of The Rings (or whatever it ends up being titled), along with a younger Thranduil. Even if Prew’s not playing him, I suspect both these characters will still show up in some capacity.

The Lord Of The Rings
Augustus Prew (right) | stage13.com

As for Prew himself, I don’t know a great deal about him, except that he’s the first openly LGBTQ+ actor to join The Lord Of The Rings cast (as far as I know), and he has had notable roles in films like Charlie St. Cloud, The Secret Of Moonacre, and Almost Love (which, by a bizarre coincidence, I just recently watched for the first time on Netflix: Prew was very good in it), and TV series’ like The Borgias, Prison Break, and The Morning Show. Just based on the little exposure I’ve had to his work, I’m very excited to see what he brings to The Lord Of The Rings – if he has indeed joined its ensemble cast.

So what do you think? Will Augustus Prew be in Amazon Prime’s series, and if so, who will he be playing? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Rebecca” 2020 Review!

I went into the 2020 adaptation of Daphne de Maurier’s classic crime thriller Rebecca prepared to at least try and like it. This was partly because I’ve watched Alfred Hitchcock’s famous adaptation, and…well, I have to admit I see why Hitchcock himself later attempted to distance himself from the film, feeling it wasn’t one of his best works. It’s actually quite good right up until the third act, where I feel it just becomes rather boring. So when I started hearing that this new Netflix adaptation makes some big changes to the ending of the story, I was curious and cautiously optimistic.

Rebecca
Lily James and Armie Hammer | cnn.com

Little did I know that the ending to 2020’s Rebecca isn’t just the worst part of the film, but also manages to make a mockery out of Daphne de Maurier’s story. So, without getting into spoilers, my advice to all of you is that, if you are also mistakenly led to believe that this film has some exciting new twist at the ending, don’t fall for it. Back out now. Save yourself two hours of your time and escape from Rebecca while you still can – because I assure you that as much as the characters in the movie might be trying desperately to convince you that it’s all terribly exciting to be caught up in her web of intrigue and betrayal, it’s really not.

The biggest problem with this new version of the classic story, which follows a nameless female protagonist (played by Lily James, usually a pure delight no matter how bland the role) as she tries to outmaneuver the phantoms of her mysterious husband’s ex-wife’s phantom, is that it simply can’t pick a single, consistent tone. Clearly it thinks it’s every bit as intellectual and engaging as its source material, a suspenseful novelette written in 1938, but at the same time it really just wants to be a modern, pulpy, “don’t-think-too-hard-about-this” kind of retelling, and the clash between those two wildly different ideas (both of which would probably be perfectly valid, separately) leads to a discombobulated hybrid that never feels able to stay on track for very long. I personally think it would be absolutely fine to go a little pulpier, a little campier even, and just transfer the whole story into a modern day setting and go from there, as long as de Maurier’s message was preserved (another thing 2020’s Rebecca failed to do). At least it would be a choice. But I feel like someone behind the scenes must have decided that they couldn’t possibly do that because it would rob the film of any “credibility” or “respectability” – two things which the screenwriters have tried to forcibly inject into the film’s dull, unsubtle script…to no avail, because at every turn they undermine their own best efforts with a string of anachronistic and jarring casting choices, mannerisms, styling decisions, story beats, and even song choices (modern indie music, in case you were wondering), none of which seem to have been designed with Academy Awards voters in mind.

Rebecca
Lily James and Armie Hammer | thefilmstage.com

And because the film can’t figure out its target audience, everyone loses. Sometimes it looks like it’s trying to aim for a demographic who love sensual, sensational, addictive page-turners, and it’s at these points where it unfortunately feels like it should be most comfortable – I say “unfortunately” not because this demographic is inferior to any other (in fact, Rebecca, at the time of its publication, was widely considered as pulp fiction for the masses), but because Rebecca simply can’t give this demographic what they want without alienating everyone who loves the original story because of what it has to say about romance, relationships and gender roles – things that are, for the most part, utterly foreign to the romance genre. Rebecca (the novel, that is) isn’t a typical romance, and that’s the problem. De Maurier herself called it “a study in jealousy”. But when the screenwriters of 2020’s Rebecca were faced with the task of adapting it, they chose to adapt it as one would a typical romance…and so their creation, a ghastly chimaera if ever I saw one, dies on impact. None of the storytelling choices made in the novel even feel suitable for the kind of story that this creative team are telling.

A good example of this is the namelessness of our protagonist: as in past iterations of the story, our heroine goes through the entire story, start to finish, without a name, only going by the title “the second Mrs. de Winter”, as a cruel, cynical reference to how she is unable to carve out any semblance of identity when compared to her predecessor, the incomparable Rebecca – but this version rarely if ever feels engaging enough on a psychological level to warrant keeping this bold decision by de Maurier (who was drawing on her own unhappy relationship with her husband and his ex-wife for inspiration). Then again, it rarely feels engaging, period.

This isn’t just because the script is badly-written: unfortunately, a large part of the blame falls on Lily James and especially Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter (a character intended to be very charismatic and mysterious), neither of whom can muster much passion, fear, excitement or…well, any emotion, really. Not once in two hours does Armie Hammer manage to look even remotely interested in the supposedly very compelling and personal story unraveling at high speed all around him: mostly all he does is stand around and widen his eyes periodically to demonstrate anger or overwhelming emotion. Also, he sleepwalks…once, for some reason, because that’s a thing that apparently needed to happen.

That strange scene is only one in a series of back-to-back instances in which Lily James is repeatedly hammered (no pun intended) over the head with increasingly loud and unsubtle references to Rebecca. When she’s not being berated and physically attacked by Maxim’s elderly mother, who starts clawing at her after finding out that her dear daughter in law Rebecca is dead, she’s instead being passed handkerchiefs, hair brushes and various small household articles all monogrammed with Rebecca’s enormous initial. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but when it occurs in every scene for most of the second act, it’s hard to become hooked on the element of suspense. Jane Goldman’s script isn’t designed to cleverly lure you along on any sort of harrowing journey: it’s just a series of one character after another doing everything but breaking down the fourth wall to remind us about Rebecca. Hitchock’s script, in comparison, takes its time, spreading out these more obvious scenes and punctuating them with quieter, subtler moments that feel significant without needing to literally spell out why they’re significant. There’s even a (very random) scene with an entire swarm of birds that come dangerously close to forming the shape of a giant R in the sky.

Rebecca
Kristen Scott Thomas and Lily James | bostonhassle.com

The film’s greatest crime is what it does to Mrs. Danvers (Kristen Scott Thomas), an iconic character in literary and cinematic history. Thomas would probably be a good Mrs. Danvers in another writer and director’s hands, but her story – particularly its conclusion – are bungled this time around; a sad downgrade from Judith Anderson’s spellbinding performance in Hitchcock’s film. One gets the sense that Thomas wanted desperately to go full camp and lean far more heavily on the novel and original film’s famous queer subtext (the delicate finger caress that she and James exchange when Thomas hands her a fallen glove is the most sexually charged scene in a movie that mistakenly assumes Armie Hammer is its most attractive cast member), but was prevented from doing so by a script that seems suspiciously hell-bent on trying to strip away said subtext…and of course, insists on making Thomas act all dour and serious. When a movie made in 2020 and apparently trying to be progressive feels more uptight and conservative than a film made in 1940 under the surveillance of the Hayes Code, you’re doing something wrong. Maxim himself, also suggested by some book readers to be queer-coded and played by Laurence Olivier in the Hitchcock film, is straight through and through: not a big deal, but another instance where the writers could have done something interesting and chose not to.

Several other side characters receive the same treatment, and nobody apart from Thomas makes any lasting impression: not even Ann Dowd, who makes the least of what should have been her glorified cameo in the film – no thanks to the script, which has taken the funny, flirtatious character of Edythe Van Hopper and turned her into a grotesque, leering abuser who seems personally invested in trying to make her lady’s companion miserable: whether that’s by gaslighting her while the girl cries, locked inside her bedroom, or by amusing her equally wicked friends with stories of her awkward antics.

Rebecca
The superior version of Rebecca | telegraph.co.uk

Is there anything that redeems this Rebecca? I suppose the locations are very beautiful (though Manderley isn’t quite as lavish as one would want), and the costumes are all appropriately fashionable by modern standards. I have a bit of a hard time believing that our protagonist, who is meant to be shy and reserved, would be running around in big, baggy trousers in the late 1930’s, at a time when such a thing would still be considered eyebrow-raising if no longer totally scandalous, but it is what it is. It’s just more proof that director Ben Wheatley and Jane Goldman should not have been making a period piece, when it’s clear that wasn’t what they wanted to do.

Despite all this, I still hope that someone will someday make a better retelling of Rebecca, one that perhaps actually attempts to achieve something worthwhile and gay, and which maybe manages to finally capture throughout the haunting beauty promised by the novel’s famous opening, in which our heroine, ever the restless dreamer, revisits the ruined Manderley in her sleep…because this version’s attempts at tonal consistency are likely to haunt my nightmares.

Rating: 2/10

“The Boys In The Band” Review!

What begins as a lighthearted – albeit stressful – birthday celebration for a friend quickly devolves into chaos as a group of gay men in the late 1960’s confront their deepest fears and regrets in this haunting, yet hopeful adaptation of the hit play The Boys In The Band. It is specifically an adaptation of the recent Broadway revival, with the main cast returning for a stellar Ryan Murphy and Joe Mantello production that is benefited by being nothing like any of Murphy’s other recent projects: his flair for the overproduced and melodramatic grows tired after a while, which is why the stark simplicity of The Boys In The Band‘s single set (with a handful of other locations, such as city streets and rooms glimpsed through hazy, brief flashbacks) and small, close-knit cast is so wildly refreshing – Mantello, who directed both the revival and this film, brings the essence of the play to life onscreen with tricks learned from a long theatrical career, without needing to fall back on Murphy’s typical tools; a kaleidoscope of colorful costumes, eccentric set design, juicy yet nonessential plot filler, etc. Instead, The Boys In The Band strips everything back, peeling away layers just as harshly and honestly as lead character Michael (Jim Parsons) does to his unsuspecting friend group.

The Boys In The Band
Jim Parsons, Robin de Jesus, Michael Benjamin Washington and Andrew Rannells | ew.com

The Boys In The Band was written during – and takes place in – a very uncomfortable period of the LGBTQ+ community’s history, in the year or so before the infamous Stonewall riots, and that information is intensely important for anyone who plans on watching or reviewing the film, in my opinion. When it was first released, the play was supposed to be a stinging, cynical depiction of the pain within the gay community; pain that, at the time, was often internalized, resulting in feelings of self-loathing…but in retrospect, I believe it can now be looked at as an expression of how that pain and anger grew within the community until it could no longer be contained, and was instead channeled into the creation of the Gay Liberation Movement after the events at Stonewall – a movement that tried to undo decades of emotional damage, by emphasizing self-pride and celebration of one’s sexuality. Thus, while the original play struck a bitter tone and ended on a note of abject hopelessness, the film doesn’t quite do that. Although it shines a harsh spotlight on pain and hatred and the way in which a straight-passing lifestyle was (and occasionally, still is) often held up within the community as an ideal even at the expense of personal happiness or comfort, it also cleverly finds ways to depict how the gay community was growing slowly stronger, self-reliant and independent at the same time. Even though the characters in The Boys In The Band can’t see or even begin to imagine the monumental changes happening all around them, the audience can understand that the feelings of connection, loyalty and trust they develop over the course of that one night in Michael’s apartment are the same feelings that would go on to empower the LGBTQ+ community in positive ways. Particularly connection with others, which, while healthy no matter who you are, or what your sexual orientation is, has always been especially valued in the LGBTQ+ community because of how critical it was during the early days of the movement. In just a couple of added scenes near the end of the film, Mantello gets this point across perfectly.

It is also, in my opinion, a far more genuine method of weaving hope into a bleak narrative than Ryan Murphy accomplished with his recent series Hollywood, which made the bold decision to just completely rewrite the entertainment industry’s history, giving fairytale endings to a mostly imaginary cast of characters and steamrolling over the real trailblazers who fought to make change and progress happen.

Aside from its cultural significance, The Boys In The Band is worth watching for its outstanding cast alone – an all-LGBTQ+ cast, I might add. There’s still a fervent debate over whether or not only gay actors should play gay roles, but no one can convince me that it’s not exciting and inspiring to see so many openly gay actors bringing their all to these roles and having a great deal of fun in the process (and yes, this movie is a great deal of fun: not only is the element of suspense entertaining – up until it’s intentionally not – but the humor is witty and playful throughout the first act).

The Boys In The Band
Zachary Quinto and Robin de Jesus | playbill.com

Jim Parsons, fresh off Murphy’s Hollywood, is back again playing another cold-hearted yet strangely hypnotic force of nature: his Michael is a fearsome, anxiety-ridden character who eases his own pain by passing it on to others during the infamous telephone game he proposes about an hour into the film – the rules are simple: call the one person you believe yourself to have truly loved, and tell them you love them, and you win points for how well you do and how many of Michael’s criteria you meet. The results, on the other hand, are anything but simple, as characters go into the game energetic and optimistic, only to end up feeling betrayed, ashamed and wracked by guilt. And as for Michael, he seems to feed off these feelings, all while he eagerly tries to guide the game back around to the one person whose opinion he actually cares about: his seemingly straight friend from college, Alan (Brian Hutchison), who has come into the city for unknown business and whom Michael is convinced is secretly gay. Jim Parsons fills the character of Michael up to the brim with emotion that threatens to spill over at any moment, as he initially attempts to sterilize the mood of the party in an attempt not to offend the fragile Alan, only to then do a heel-turn and actively try to force Alan to out himself.

Zachary Quinto excels in the coveted, enigmatic role of Harold, giving his character a slinky gait and commanding presence; though, for all his outward confidence, he too is wounded within. Robin de Jésus is a pure bundle of joy as the proud, unabashed Emory, probably the only character who seems happy because he is happy – and who is thus subjected to the most verbal and physical abuse throughout the film. Michael Benjamin Washington’s Bernard is quiet, understated, and has one of the best scenes in the entire film as he is the first to participate in Michael’s telephone game and the first to suffer the consequences – a reflection of how Black people and people of color in the LGBTQ+ community have always suffered discrimination both from without and within the community, despite historically always being at the forefront of the movement for LGBTQ+ liberation. The only actor I never felt strongly about one way or the other was Matt Bomer as Donald – his character is important to the story, but Bomer doesn’t really have a chance to do all that much with him.

Credit has to be given to everyone who designed, decorated and lit Michael’s charming, two-story apartment. The entire set is vivid and clearly lived-in, as it has to be since we spend almost the entire film in this one small space, exploring virtually every nook and cranny from the bathroom to the kitchen to the inviting terrace decorated with balloons and string-lights – never once does it feel cramped or enclosing. And never once does it feel like Ryan Murphy stepped in and demanded anything had to be bigger, or flashier, or more lavish: Joe Mantello, who worked with an abstract set for his The Boys In The Band Broadway revival, has brought an effectively simplistic sensibility to the production design for this film that nonetheless comes off as organic and appropriate rather than a gimmick meant to turn the film into an imitation of the theater experience.

The Boys In The Band
Jim Parsons | latimes.com

What is there left to say? Only that, with The Boys In The Band, Murphy and Mantello have crafted something hilarious, haunting and hopeful: a poignant restoration of a story that has immense significance to the LGBTQ+ community. While the play presents a contemporaneous account of a group of men suffering trauma embedded deep in American gay culture, the film has the benefit of being able to assure us that, even though not everything would be solved with the Stonewall riots or the creation of the Gay Rights movement or the legalization of same-sex marriage or any of a hundred other landmarks, the world would begin to change, both for the characters in the story – and for us, the audience, who find ourselves in another dark time, where human rights (including those which the LGBTQ+ community have fought for and won) are being threatened and actively removed by the current Presidential administration. At this moment, The Boys In The Band is just as necessary and relevant as it was back in 1968, as a reminder that your anger at injustice is your greatest weapon against divisive forces, and that, even when the whole world is trying to get you to direct that anger inwards at yourself, you have the power and the right to use it for good.

Movie Rating: 9.5/10

“Ammonite” Trailer Review!

Director Francis Lee managed to make the lives of English sheep-herders look downright sensual in God’s Own Country, so it’s somehow no surprise that his next feature film project, Ammonite, stars two 19th Century English paleontologists passionately courting each other in between long walks on the windswept beaches of Lyme Regis, searching for fossil fragments. Despite how seemingly bizarre the concept might be, it’s the chemistry between Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan (moving from one period piece, Little Women, to another) that is going to carry this film to what could easily be a slew of Oscar nominations.

Ammonite
Kate Winslet & Saoirse Ronan | wmagazine.com

Winslet plays an actual historical figure, English paleontologist Mary Anning, one of the most remarkable women working in science during her era: though she made numerous important discoveries during her lifetime, she was undermined at every turn by men who took her work and gave her little to no credit, and she suffered from financial difficulties until her death in 1847. To make ends meet, she opened a fossil and seashell shop for tourists – but the fossil-hunting business was surprisingly risky (she was nearly killed during a landslide on one occasion). Her hard work and perseverance eventually won her the respect she deserved after her passing. Ammonite follows her during her bleak later years. Ronan, meanwhile, plays Mary Anning’s younger apprentice, the real-life Charlotte Murchison, who suffers from “melancholia” and hates the sea, at least initially. The two women couldn’t be more different, but eventually find themselves falling deeply, hopelessly in love with the other. There is no concrete evidence that Anning and Murchison were lovers in actuality, or that either was a lesbian, as Ammonite suggests, but when the topic came up last year (after one of Anning’s distant relatives expressed her displeasure with the idea), Francis Lee wrote that: “After seeing queer history be routinely “straightened” throughout culture, and given a historical figure where there is no evidence whatsoever of a heterosexual relationship, is it not permissible to view that person within another context?”. Lee is correct that Anning never married, and is not known to have had any relationships with men, whereas her close and long-lasting bonds with the women in her life are well-documented.

Ammonite
Mary Anning | independent.co.uk

Whether Anning and Murchison were or were not lesbians and/or in love, Ammonite still looks like an excellently made film with a clearer vision and a tighter, more well-written story than God’s Own Country: and it’s sure to be a big hit amongst fans of the “cottagecore” aesthetic. For those unaware, “cottagecore” refers to the escapist fantasy of living harmoniously with nature by enjoying a simple life that can include past-times such as baking, gardening, knitting, and, yes, living in tiny cottages, and it is particularly popular with LGBTQ+ folks, especially lesbians and queer women. If there’s a “maritime cottagecore” subgenre of the aesthetic, then Ammonite conveys it perfectly: brisk walks along the beach; houses perched on cliffsides; lots and lots of fossils and shells (interestingly, although it’s never been confirmed, Mary Anning is sometimes said to be the inspiration for the “She Sells Seashells” nursery rhyme; just something to keep in mind); and, just as importantly, a lesbian romance. Those interested in learning more about “cottagecore” and its prominence in LGBTQ+ culture should definitely check out Rowan Ellis’ deep-dive into the aesthetic’s origins and meanings.

Ammonite
Twitter | @FilmUpdates

Basically, it’s a good time to be alive if you’re a fan of “cottagecore”, LGBTQ+ friendly content, historical fiction, romance, women in science, paleontology, geology, Kate Winslet or Saoirse Ronan (who isn’t a fan of Saoirse Ronan at this point?). Somehow all of those elements work together very nicely, and I’m excited to see if Francis Lee has progressed enough as a director (I really didn’t like God’s Own Country) that he can make this understated romance pop onscreen and attract all the media attention it will need to start a strong Oscars campaign. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, a French film from last year which followed a very similar concept (two women meet on a beautiful coastline and fall in love while bonding over art) was a fan-favorite but failed to score even a single nomination from the Academy. Ammonite, luckily, has Winslet (an Oscar winner and six-time nominee) and Ronan (a four-time nominee) as its secret weapons. Fingers crossed that their fossil-hunting expedition proves fortuitous for everyone involved!

Trailer Rating: 9/10

A She-Ra Movie Needs To Happen – Here’s Why.

SPOILERS FOR SHE-RA SEASON 5 AHEAD!

She-Ra
She-Ra | latimes.com

The animated She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power series on Netflix ended a few months ago, bringing five seasons to a close with one epic, super emotional finale. It was, in my opinion, a great conclusion: the fifth season raised the stakes higher than I would have ever thought possible, but still kept audiences firmly rooted in the emotional core of the whole series – the suspenseful will-they-won’t-they romance between heroine Adora (better known by her alias She-Ra) and the antiheroine Catra, which eventually ended with the two characters confessing their love for each other while the world came crumbling down around them. The power of that love was enough to activate the Heart of Etheria and in turn save the entire planet from being decimated by Horde Prime’s alien hordes; and so at last Adora, Catra, and their squad of friends and allies got to enjoy what seemed to be a mostly happy ending for everybody involved (well, except Horde Prime).

But it didn’t take long before the She-Ra fandom rallied behind a new hashtag on Twitter, #SheRaMovie, which has consistently become a top trend on social media for the past several weeks. And while some might dismiss it as dissatisfied fans hungry for more content, the truth is that there are many good reasons for why a She-Ra movie could and should happen: not only because it’s a smart business move to tap into such a large and clearly motivated audience, but because (a) there’s never been a better time for fan-driven campaigns and LGBTQ+ representation in animation, and (b) there are plenty more stories left to tell in the She-Ra universe.

She-Ra
Scorpia & Catra | syfy.com

Fan-driven campaigns have often been seen as foolish or vain endeavors: there have been times where they’ve succeeded in changing the minds of studio executives (Sonic the Hedgehog’s redesign, for instance), but 2020 has really made the sky the limit in terms of what a fan-driven campaign can achieve, and that’s all thanks to Zack Snyder’s never-before-seen cut of Justice League. Fans asked for it for years, and insisted that it would be better than the disastrous box-office flop that actually got released in theaters back in 2017; they trended #ReleaseTheSnyderCut whenever they could; and most importantly, they never gave up. They kept the movement going, they got support from the film’s cast and crew, they made the simple hashtag become a household phrase – and this year, they were rewarded for their efforts with the news that Warner Brothers will indeed soon release Zack Snyder’s Justice League. #SheRaMovie is in part inspired by the success of that movement, and as long as fans continue to make it trend regularly and continue to receive support from insiders (She-Ra showrunner Noelle Stevenson never fails to express her admiration for the fan campaign, which in turn motivates the fans to keep up their efforts), they will attract attention from the higher-ups at Dreamworks Animation and Netflix, and could soon share in the happiness that Snyder Cut supporters are feeling.

The need to see more strong LGBTQ+ representation in entertainment media is likely going to be another important factor in greenlighting a She-Ra movie. She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power was one of several animated shows and films this year that made a place in the narrative for well-rounded LGBTQ+ characters (and Noelle Stevenson’s wife Molly Ostertag is in fact responsible for writing several episodes of another of those shows, Disney Channel’s The Owl House, which features Disney’s first bisexual lead character) which earned the series plenty of well-deserved praise, including from my blog. With so much progress happening so quickly, my question for Dreamworks is…why stop now? When you have an established LGBTQ+ friendly franchise like She-Ra already perfectly positioned to continue leading the charge for diversity in animation, why not utilize that advantage?

She-Ra
Adora & Catra | tor.com

And moving away from the business perspective for a minute, let’s take a look at in-universe reasons for why a She-Ra movie should happen: obviously, the movie needs to have a reason to exist. But luckily, She-Ra ends with plenty of set-up for an eventual spinoff – in fact, the very last scene features the entire main cast of characters already planning to embark on a new adventure to share their planet’s abundant magic with the rest of the galaxy. A spinoff movie could partly follow that plotline, which would take us to new locations and introduce us to new characters. Besides that, there are still several questions left unanswered after the finale, particularly questions about the First Ones and their forgotten technology, the origins of Horde Prime and of She-Ra herself, the universe outside Despondos, and the character of Madame Razz, who, despite not having and not needing a large role in season five, could be a major player in a She-Ra movie if her mysterious backstory ever gets explored in-depth.

Most of the characters have room to grow post-season five, no matter what else happens. Adora and Catra finally got together, but now both young women need to keep working to maintain the bond of trust and understanding they established after basically rebooting their entire relationship. They’re starting over from scratch, which makes their dynamic all the more fascinating. Glimmer, still Queen of Bright Moon, is going to have to return there eventually and rule alongside her best friend/boyfriend Bow and her recently-returned father, Micah, who was King before he went missing (I love some political intrigue). Scorpia and Perfuma will be rebuilding the Fright Zone side-by-side. Mermista and Seahawk should be commanding their own pirate fleet by now. Entrapta will be trying to convince her friends to trust Hordak, which won’t be easy considering he (checks notes) plundered and pillaged all of Etheria, robbed Scorpia of her birthright and brainwashed her into thinking she never had one, destroyed Mermista’s entire kingdom, kidnapped Adora and Catra as babies, employed Shadow Weaver to emotionally abuse his soldiers, personally tortured Catra, started a decades-long war with the Princess Alliance, paved the way for Horde Prime’s takeover, and never apologized for any of it. And the shape-shifter Double Trouble will be living their best life on a theater stage, even though we still don’t know what happened to their last disguise, the prophetic Prince Peekablue – in fact, finding him could be another potential subplot.

She-Ra
flickeringmyth.com

My ideal She-Ra movie would tackle all of these storylines, but, since the ending of season five perfectly sets up a space-based adventure, that’s where I’d want the film to start out, with Adora, Catra, Glimmer, Bow, Entrapta and Hordak (and Wrong Hordak, just for fun) either just setting off on a quest across the stars or returning from one. Most of the film, however, could still be set on Etheria. As for the conflict, with Horde Prime and Shadow Weaver both dead and Hordak a good guy now, who’s left to challenge She-Ra? Easy: the First Ones. The technologically-advanced, semi-mythological figures who created She-Ra and programmed Etheria to be their own superweapon may have been defeated during Horde Prime’s war of conquest, but it’s not implausible that some survived – and if some did, they’d want nothing more than to finally deactivate She-Ra, their experiment gone wrong. And they probably wouldn’t be too keen on the notion of Etheria spreading its magical resources across the galaxy, come to think of it. While Adora and Horde Prime had a fairly impersonal conflict, it would be hard to get more personal than a fight between Adora and the First Ones, who literally designed her super-sized avatar (well, Adora fighting Catra would be more personal, technically, but we’ve been there, done that).

To conclude, my message to all of you is to keep pushing for a movie because it could very well happen – but only if Dreamworks and Netflix both see that the demand is there. Don’t let a week go by where the hashtag doesn’t trend. Don’t stop calling for better, stronger LGBTQ+ representation in all media, but especially in animation where it’s currently on a roll. If you’re active in the She-Ra fandom, you know all this already, but it’s important to reiterate. Let’s make this movie happen!

How do you feel about a She-Ra movie? Do you think it’s smart from a business perspective, and do you think it’s wise to continue the story? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Howard Ashman’s Story Is Brought To Life In “Howard”!

Howard is yet more proof that one of the Disney+ streaming platform’s greatest strengths, despite an overall lack of original content, is its catalog of documentaries – not all of which, to be fair, were created exclusively for the service. Between this, Into The Unknown: The Making Of Frozen II, The Imagineering Story and Waking Sleeping Beauty, viewers are in for a treat if they ever seek out this particular genre on Disney+. Unfortunately, it remains one of the service’s better kept secrets that all these films and miniseries’ are even on there at all. Howard, which explores the life and times of one of the studio’s most celebrated songwriters as well as the impact he had on the Disney Renaissance, is neither the most illuminating nor the most well-made of these documentaries, but it is a welcome addition to the collection – and like the rest, it affords us a much-needed glimpse behind the curtain into the making of Disney magic: particularly the blood, sweat and tears that goes into the creative process.

Howard Ashman
d23.com

Now, if you’re already familiar with many of the details of Howard Ashman’s story (and/or if you are subscribed to the superb Dreamsounds channel on YouTube, which examines Disney music through an LGBTQ+ lens and as a result focuses several video essays around Ashman), then Howard probably won’t be anything too groundbreaking. The film goes over all the pivotal moments in Ashman’s life, from his youth to his accomplishments in musical theater and film, to his tragic death from AIDS, before closing off with a look back at his legacy – accompanied by a montage which includes footage from Disney’s live-action remakes of Beauty & The Beast and Aladdin – but while it does also dig a little deeper into his personal life it still feels distanced and a bit cold until the very end: though this could be because the film only uses voiceover from the people who knew and loved Ashman to narrate a long string of old photographs, snippets of footage, etc, rather than allowing us to attach faces and, most importantly, real emotions to the names of the interviewees.

Probably the most important element of the film is how it tackles the latter period of Howard Ashman’s life, while he was simultaneously turning out some of his greatest work for Disney and also suffering from AIDS. The documentary appropriately doesn’t make the whole story about Disney (though you might think that’s the case early on, as Ashman’s sister recounts how as a child he used to create fantastical stories about magic and made-up characters), nor does it gloss over the horrors of the AIDS epidemic: the 1980’s was a terrifying and extremely dangerous place for gay men, which the documentary makes very clear by recounting how Ashman kept his illness a closely-guarded secret until near the end of his life for fear of losing his insurance and being fired by Disney. Just because he was working for a studio with a reputation for charming, happily-ever-after fairytales doesn’t mean he was oblivious to the reality that at the time (and even now, to some extent), there was no surety that Disney was an LGBTQ+ friendly company or that they would accommodate his needs (they did, much to Ashman’s relief; sending their teams of animators and writers to his home in upstate New York rather than requiring him to fly back-and-forth between the East and West coasts, and continuing to involve him in the songwriting process for Aladdin while he was hospitalized).

Howard Ashman
medium.com

The gay subtext that Ashman is believed to have put into the music he wrote for Disney is also addressed (though again, if you want to know more about it, I recommend the Dreamsounds channel, which covers this topic in much greater depth). Both Part Of Your World, the iconic “I Want” song from The Little Mermaid that Ashman fought for despite Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg’s objections (the “I Want” song wasn’t Ashman’s invention, but he certainly popularized the term) and The Mob Song from Beauty & The Beast are often believed to have LGBTQ+ themes, though only The Mob Song is brought up to prove this point in the film, with parallels being drawn between the townsfolk’s fear/hatred of the Beast, which results in them marching with pitchforks, gun and torches to kill him, and society’s fear/hatred of the LGBTQ+ community, which expressed itself in similar, and no less brutal, violence. A counterargument is provided that Howard Ashman wasn’t projecting his own experience into the lyrics of his songs, but was instead stepping into the shoes of the characters with the help of his remarkable amount of empathy, but it can’t be argued that a large part of his empathy with the struggles of misunderstood and mistreated characters like Ariel and The Beast is likely to have stemmed from his own struggles being accepted in a homophobic society.

Following the course of one man’s real life story leads us inevitably to Howard Ashman’s last days on earth, with his working partner Alan Menken, The Little Mermaid star Jodi Benson and others sharing their last memories of him, including a prophetic dream of the lyricist wearing black robes which Menken had on the same morning as Ashman’s passing. It goes without saying that the last couple of minutes of the documentary are an emotional ride.

Howard Ashman
syfy.com

Howard Ashman was able to get a lot done in his life, and several of the interviewees note that his frustration at having so little time left often motivated him to work even harder during his last years. Despite only working on a handful of films for Disney, Ashman shaped the future of the studio, its storytelling and its music, and he continues to impact the way they craft their animated films to this day. The whole Disney Renaissance is largely because of him and the way in which he was able to seamlessly reinvent the studio’s formula to closer match that of the Broadway musicals which he loved. On the stage, of course, he was responsible for the legendary Little Shop Of Horrors musical and was involved with the subsequent film adaptation, which is itself getting a remake sometime in the near future. And he is particularly notable for being able to accomplish so much of this while working as an openly gay man, no easy feat in any time period. In the documentary, he is heard humbly admitting that he doesn’t think of himself as a trailblazer – but there is no question that he was one of the most brilliant minds in music during his time, and that his influence will continue to be felt for a very while.

Movie Rating: 7.5/10

For Pride Month 2020, Let’s Discuss The Year’s Biggest LGBTQ+ Moments In TV And Film!

SPOILERS FOR HARLEY QUINN SEASON 2 AND SHE-RA SEASON 5!

Happy Pride Month! As we begin to celebrate the history and culture of the LGBTQ+ community, I thought it would be interesting to look at what the community has accomplished already in 2020, through the mediums of TV and film. Though coronavirus has prevented many inclusive films from making it to theaters this year, there are still plenty that did get there before the world went on lockdown, and many more that have released on streaming. For this breakdown, we’ll be looking at the setbacks the LGBTQ+ community suffered early in the year, and three outstanding breakthroughs in representation that both occurred just last month which could signal big changes in the industry.

Of course, I should note that this is not, by any means, a comprehensive list of every film or TV series released this year that touches on any of these issues – this is merely a discussion of some especially significant incidents spanning the course of the past several months, which I feel present a fairly accurate depiction of the year’s many ups and downs as a whole.

She-Ra LGBTQ
She-Ra rescues Catra | tor.com

2020 opened on a promising note with Marvel President and head producer Kevin Feige boldly announcing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would welcome its first ever transgender superhero in the very near future, at a Q&A where he used the words: “Yes, absolutely. Yes.” Unfortunately, the moment was irreparably tarnished when it was revealed that Feige hadn’t realized the question was specifically about transgender superheroes, and only meant an LGBTQ+ superhero was coming very soon. That doesn’t necessarily mean that transgender heroes aren’t going to appear in the MCU at some point (there are rumors that a transwoman superheroine, Sera, could appear in either the Loki Disney+ series or Thor: Love And Thunder), but it does cast doubt on when that will ever happen. It was a bad omen, heading into the new year.

Marvel LGBTQ
Marvel Comics’ transgender heroine Sera | mcuexchange.com

In February, Marvel’s rival DC had a golden opportunity to explicitly confirm that one of their most major characters was canonically LGBTQ+ – but instead, their hyped-up zany comedy Birds Of Prey danced around the issue of sexuality, giving only eagle-eyed viewers a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to lead character Harley Quinn’s bisexuality in an animated sequence, while simultaneously hinting through stereotypical mannerisms that flamboyant, misogynistic villain Roman Sionis and his partner-in-crime were a gay couple. A lesbian character in the film, Renee Montoya, did play a large role and had an ex-girlfriend who also showed up, which makes Birds Of Prey something of a “one step forward, two steps backward” sort of situation.

Around the same time, the Disney+ streaming platform came under fire for a slew of reasons, most of which involved the service’s attempts to whittle down their roster of upcoming original content in a manner which many saw as discriminatory towards series’ with a focus on LGBTQ+ issues. While Disney+ didn’t do this with all of their shows (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and Diary Of A Future President both featured openly LGBTQ+ characters), they did make the decision to move their hotly-anticipated Love, Victor (a spinoff of 20th Century Fox’s successful gay romance Love, Simon, obtained during the Disney/Fox merger) to Hulu, deeming it too mature for their own platform. One of the service’s most high-profile original series’, a sequel to the Lizzie McGuire Disney Channel series, was shut down entirely – with some sources saying that it was due to the way in which the story tackled matters of sexuality. It didn’t take long before the whole situation had raised a very interesting discussion about what is “family-friendly”, but that hasn’t saved Love, Victor from heading to Hulu, nor has it resurrected Lizzie McGuire.

Love, Victor LGBTQ
Love, Victor | deadline.com

In March, as the world started falling apart thanks to coronavirus, the Pixar film Onward was lost in the catastrophe, and moviegoers barely had any time to acknowledge the fantastic animated feature or its moment of LGBTQ+ representation – a moment that would have been great, had it not been leaked to the press by eager journalists prior to the film’s release and subsequently massively overhyped. In the film, a cop played by openly lesbian actress Lena Waithe briefly mentions her girlfriend in a single line of dialogue. Despite how brief the moment was, the film was still boycotted by conservative groups like One Million Moms and banned by several Middle Eastern nations.

Within a few weeks, the coronavirus had already caused major shifts in the film industry: films were being reshuffled across the board, movie theaters around the globe were shutting down and studios were hurrying to push all their upcoming or recently released content onto streaming. Unfortunately, one notable victim of all the release date rearrangements was Marvel’s The Eternals, a film already remarkable for its diverse cast. The superhero epic directed by Asian-American indie icon Chloe Zhao is set to feature the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first gay couple, and was supposed to release in November of this year. Sadly, the film has now been pushed back to February of 2021, meaning we will have to wait even longer before we can find out what Lebanese actor Haaz Sleiman was talking about when he said that there’s a gay kiss in the film that’s so emotional it made people on-set begin crying. Another Disney film, Jungle Cruise, was delayed an entire year, and will now be opening in summer, 2021: though it’s been invisible in the film’s marketing so far, Jungle Cruise is supposed to introduce Disney Studios’ first openly gay character – which is already somewhat controversial, as Disney couldn’t even be bothered to find an openly gay actor to play the role, rumors say that the character’s depiction is “hugely effete”, and test screenings apparently revealed that the character has a coming out scene in which he never actually states that he is LGBTQ+. Perhaps a delay for that movie wouldn’t be a bad thing, as it could allow them to do some much-needed reshoots.

But not everything has been all gloom and doom. The past month has introduced a wave of new representation: some of it from DC Universe, some from Netflix, some, most shockingly, from Disney+ – all of it through the form of animation.

In the first instance, DC Universe’s Harley Quinn animated series rectified Birds Of Prey‘s glaring omission by adhering to comics canon and having Harley Quinn and fellow Gotham City supervillain Poison Ivy begin a tentative relationship, which has even resulted in the two sharing a kiss. The duo now have to sort out their messy, complicated feelings for each other, and that’s great. It’s the first time the relationship, which was wildly popular in the comics, has been represented onscreen – and fans are already enjoying the canonization of the pairing, which they have labeled “Harlivy”.

She-Ra LGBTQ
Adora and Catra | polygon.com

However, something that sets Harley Quinn apart is that the series is exclusively for adults, meaning that its audience is necessarily limited. That’s not a problem that faces Netflix and DreamWorks, whose collaboration on the animated reboot of She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power is something that can be enjoyed by all ages – the fifth and final season premiered on the streaming service just recently, and made the hopes and dreams of the series’ many LGBTQ+ fans finally come true when lead characters Adora (a.k.a. She-Ra, Princess of Power) and Catra rekindled their friendship: which turned into a slow-burn romance, which culminated in the two confessing their love for each other in the series finale, kissing, and saving the world with the power of love. That, my friends, is representation done right – because as much as I enjoy seeing “casual” representation (such as the cop from Onward, who simply mentions her girlfriend without making it a big deal), I infinitely prefer seeing characters whose sexuality or gender identity is something that actually helps to define who they are. And with Adora and Catra, whose relationship has been at the heart of She-Ra for all five seasons, it made complete sense that their love would play a huge part in the conclusion to the story – and it did, because showrunner Noelle Stevenson is a brave, brilliant genius, who fought to make sure that she wouldn’t have to pull a Legend Of Korra on her fans and just have Adora and Catra hold hands and/or gaze platonically at each other.

Out LGBTQ
Pixar’s “Out” | nytimes.com

Finally, we have to talk about Out. Though Disney+ is still new and working out many of its flaws, they did just recently make a big step forward – or rather, Pixar did it for them and Disney+ gets to take the credit: Out, the newest of Pixar’s animated Sparkshorts which debuted exclusively on the streaming platform, follows a gay man in an interracial relationship as he struggles to come out to his parents. Even though the story involves an unpredictable magical mishap and a lot of dog humor, it never loses sight of its true focus, which is a heartwarming message of acceptance. The short, which clocks in at around nine minutes long, is an understated milestone, becoming the first Pixar story to star a gay lead – and much to its credit, enjoyed a spot on Disney+’s top trending section, which shows that audiences are curious and eager for more content like this.

And so, as we head into Pride Month coming off of small successes like Harley Quinn, She-Ra and Out, I must ask of all my readers that you keep fighting for change in any way you can: whether that means demanding more LGBTQ+ representation from Hollywood, or protesting police brutality because black lives matter – or, preferably, by doing both. One day, we will see that change, and it will come from people like you. 2020 is a wake-up call for all of us: to fight harder. To do better.

“She-Ra” Season 5 Review! No Spoilers!

Would it be too much of a hot take to say that everything Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame did, the fifth and final season of She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power did just as well – if not better in several instances? I’ll let you decide.

Now, to be fair, She-Ra has the advantage of being a Netflix series, with up to thirteen-episode seasons, so it’s probably not entirely right to compare it to any movie, even ones that are three hours long. However, considering that She-Ra‘s final season, whether intentionally or coincidentally, lifts a great deal of material straight from the closing chapters of the Infinity Saga, it seems fair enough to compare the two storylines, and how they are executed, and how the Netflix/Dreamworks cartoon sometimes gets it right where the Marvel Studios blockbusters falter.

She-Ra
ew.com

But first, a little background. I was not a She-Ra fan until Friday morning, when I decided it was high time I watched the entire series as quickly as possible, in order to catch up with the final season which had just dropped on Netflix. I had tried once before, several months ago, but I never even got past the opening credits. I forced myself through on this occasion, however – and before the first episode was over, I was already very thankful for that decision, because….wow. But don’t even get me started on the four previous seasons. This is strictly a Season 5 review.

Though I do think a little bit of Season 4 finale recap is in order – if you haven’t caught up, be warned: SPOILERS for that season up ahead! In the aftermath of Queen Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) recklessly deciding to use the Heart of Etheria – a magical superweapon which lies embedded deep within the core of the planet – a great many things have changed in the status quo: first of all, Etheria itself has been carried through a portal out of its empty pocket-dimension and back into the larger universe; Adora (Aimee Carrero) has lost her connection with the ancient warrior She-Ra, and the Sword of She-Ra is broken and useless; and Hordak (Keston John), once the greatest enemy of the Princesses of Power, has been revealed to be nothing more than the puppet and defective clone of a far greater evil – Horde Prime (also Keston John), an alien overlord who has now launched a massive invasion of Etheria, and has simultaneously captured Glimmer, Hordak, and Hordak’s former second-in-command, Catra (AJ Michalka).

She-Ra
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Season 5 picks up after a small time jump. Horde Prime’s invasion is well underway now, and Adora, the archer Bow (Marcus Scribner), and all the remaining Princesses of Power are leading a futile rebellion against him. But on Horde Prime’s flagship, Glimmer and Catra are forced to establish a delicate trust bond with Prime and with each other as they plot a way to escape from imprisonment. Prime is essentially Thanos, and with less clever writing he might just have been that: his agenda (to destroy worlds across the universe in order to achieve cosmic balance and bring about a lasting peace) is much like the Mad Titan’s plan to end world hunger by wiping out half of every planet’s population; even more specifically, he too is the long-awaited mastermind behind the plans of an earlier antagonist in the franchise, who arrives on a gargantuan starship from the depths of space, whose army of mindless bodyguards start almost all their speeches with the word “Rejoice”, and who also has a tendency to meaningfully snap his fingers. Like Thanos, he has arrived on Etheria with the intention of claiming a superweapon that just so happens to come in the form of a magical link between a set of multi-colored crystals.

But unlike Thanos, Horde Prime has time to elaborate on his plans, and the characters have time to get to know him, to witness firsthand his strengths, and to begin to understand his weaknesses while they wander his ship. His special abilities, cloning and mind-control, aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, but they do also differentiate him from Thanos. And in one of my favorite scenes from early in the series, we get a chilling look at the devastation Horde Prime has wrought when he serves Glimmer and Catra a dinner consisting of various rare delicacies from worlds he destroyed in the past. Being the last person in the universe to know an entire planet’s recipes may not seem too dramatic, but it instantly makes the fight to save Etheria more personal, and conveys the horrors of Horde Prime’s conquests far better than any war-torn planet or battlefield.

She-Ra Catra
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And that’s the thing: whenever She-Ra strays dangerously close to imitating the Marvel films, it immediately veers away again with the help of some clever, quirky twist that makes it feel fresh and invigorating. The final season may have all the same scope, scale and – occasionally – story-beats as Endgame, but it puts its own unique spin on that story. There is only one instance I can think of where this isn’t the case, when several of our heroes (I won’t say which) are left stranded in space on their way to Etheria, but the fuel they need for their own ship is actually crystals in the exact shape of Captain Marvel’s eight-pointed star – Captain Marvel being the one who rescued Tony Stark from being stranded in space after his ship ran out of fuel – so they touch down on a desolate planet only to run into a motley crew of space pirates led by a woman called Starla (Melissa Fumero) and a bald purple cyborg woman with trust issues, in an interaction that plays out almost identically to a similar meeting between Tony Stark and Star Lord’s motley crew of space pirates – which also includes a bald purple cyborg woman with trust issues – in Avengers: Infinity War.

But there’s a not-so-secret weapon at the heart of She-Ra, and that’s the series’ core cast of characters and the relationships between them, which are constantly evolving in new, unpredictable directions. Avengers: Infinity War‘s greatest problem, in my opinion, is how it sacrificed character for plot: it’s a problem that unfortunately carries over into parts of Endgame – but She-Ra doesn’t have that problem: every major character has room to grow, and all their development happens onscreen, so it doesn’t need to be exposited to the audience. The cast is also small enough already that everyone can get a meaningful role: whereas in Endgame, it sometimes felt like certain characters had only survived the Infinity War snap so they could provide comedic relief.

She-Ra
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The story’s focus is still on Adora and Catra, as the couple navigates their fragile relationship with some difficulty. But for the first time, it’s not Adora putting in all the effort: Catra, for her part, is finally trying to stop pushing people away from her every time they show her any affection – though, much like Marvel’s Loki, she still plans on exploiting the current chaos for her own advantage, even if it means hurting others. Their relationship goes through some very surprising ups-and-downs this season. Separately, they’ve both changed as well – Adora is busy over-exerting herself as she tries to match the strength and stamina she possessed when she could turn into She-Ra, while Catra is a quieter, less aggressive shadow of her former self.

Catra’s reluctant interactions with the imprisoned Queen Glimmer are also surprisingly fun to watch, as Glimmer too has to make an effort to trust her former enemy, the woman responsible for her own mother’s death. Glimmer has had a rough time these past couple of seasons, losing people she loves and watching as her close circle of friends gives up on her when she needs them most – something which is partly her own fault, as her stubbornness manifests itself in increasingly dangerous decisions. Much like Catra, she is descending into a dark place, and it’s both thrilling and scary to join her on that journey.

Back on Etheria, Bow has also made some changes to his own lifestyle – though not quite enough to make him give up crop-tops, which he still wears proudly even in circumstances where one would think it impossible: such as the crushing void of space. His arc in this season is more understated than others, but it gives him a number of deeply satisfying revelations about his purpose in life, and also briefly reunites him with his two dads, who are still just as charming and witty as ever.

She-Ra
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My personal favorite character in the series, the geeky tech-genius Entrapta (Christine Woods), is given plenty of material to work with (quite literally) this season. Lost and lonely without her lab partner Hordak to turn to, she once again has a hard time reminding herself that she can’t just join the bad guys because they have cooler technology.

The other Princesses each get more time to shine, especially now that She-Ra herself isn’t around to steal the spotlight from them in action sequences. Shy, sensitive Scorpia (Lauren Ash), having just recently regained her Princess status after living her entire life severed from the powers of her Runestone, is the most compelling to watch – but then, she’s always been compelling. To no one’s surprise, she gravitates most toward Princess Perfuma (Genesis Rodriguez), who is battling her own insecurities and finds a kindred spirit in Scorpia’s gentle personality. The two more brusque Princesses, Frosta (Merit Leighton) and Mermista (Vella Lovell) have smaller roles this season: though the latter does get some very interesting development later in the season, and, as always, has adorable banter with the boisterous pirate captain, Sea Hawk (Jordan Fisher). A pleasant surprise is the upgrade of guest stars Spinnerella (Noelle Stevenson) and Netossa (Krystal Joy Brown) to recurring characters: they’ve come a long way from the time when Bow couldn’t even remember what their powers were.

Several villains find themselves joining with the Rebellion against Horde Prime’s power – the Horde itself has dissolved, while Hordak is trapped between his loyalty to his maker, and fidelity to his friend Entrapta (is there something more to their peculiar relationship? You’ll just have to watch and find out). Shadow Weaver (Lorraine Toussaint), meanwhile, still maintains that she is loyal to Queen Glimmer, even though her meddling with dark magic, which resumes early in the season as the Rebellion runs out of other options, makes her vulnerable to the temptation of evil.

She-Ra
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The dark magic itself is still fairly vague, but it is used in a greater capacity than ever before, and there are several fights which utilize it very well – especially those which also involve Glimmer’s father Micah (Daniel Dae Kim), who has had a little time to regain his strength since his decades-long sojourn on Beast Island. All in all, the action has been upgraded significantly this season: in particular, the fight scene which closes out Episode 5 is appropriately epic, and another fight soon after has one character literally leaping across an asteroid belt and blowing up starships with their bare hands. That’s all thanks to the incredible animation, of course.

A She-Ra review wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to the series’ commitment to diversity – an area in which it wipes the floor with Endgame. While that film mustered up one nameless gay background character, She-Ra ends queerbaiting critiques once and for all with definitive, powerful LGBTQ+ representation.

For me, She-Ra beats out Endgame because of how undeniably right the payoff for every story thread and character arc is in the end. While Endgame leaves room for argument and debate over several characters’ fates, She-Ra ties everything up neatly, in a way that is brave but satisfying – at least for me. There’s no room for the sort of unending, roundabout discourse that plagues other fandoms. This feels like a conclusive, fitting ending for characters I only just met yesterday and for whom I would already sacrifice everything.

Series Rating: 10/10

“Hollywood” Review!

I never reviewed The Politician, Ryan Murphy’s last big, melodramatic Netflix spectacle. For the record, I thought it was actually fairly good – a bit oddly paced, but not a bad series to binge-watch, and it was bolstered by a last-minute cameo from Bette Midler which served as setup for that series’ upcoming second season. But I made the choice not to officially review it, and, occasionally, I regret that decision. I will not make that same mistake with Murphy’s Hollywood, all seven episodes of which dropped on the streaming service yesterday. And that’s because Hollywood isn’t just a soapy drama about cutthroat political activists trying to outsmart each other in a Californian college campus Game Of Thrones – it actually is saying something. It has a hard time saying that something, a lot of the time, and it basically takes a sledgehammer to its own message, but it is trying. It is important, which The Politican never was, in my opinion.

Hollywood
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It’d be hard to miss what that something is, to be quite clear, considering that, to put it nicely, the story’s themes are unmistakably interwoven into the plot (to put it not quite so nicely, the theme is a giant neon sign flashing in your face every couple of seconds, from beginning until end). It’s a good theme, thankfully: basically boiling down to the idea that movies and media can change the world, and that that’s why representation in those areas matters, because introducing audiences to what they would think of as “radical” ideas – such as, for instance, a black actress starring in a Hollywood blockbuster, or two men walking down the Oscars red carpet hand-in-hand – can help, subtly, to undermine bigotry and forms of prejudice wherever they lurk. In fact, it’s a really good theme – representation is something I have always tried to fight for, using what little platform I have, because I too understand the power of movies and TV. It’s the way in which Murphy goes about expressing this theme – by looking at an alternate reality in which a small group of diverse, idealistic dreamers and free-thinkers worked to radically change the structure of Hollywood in the late 1940’s or early 50’s, placing women, LGBTQ+ individuals and people of color in charge of the corrupt studio system – that can feel uncomfortably idealistic, as if Murphy is diminishing the stories of the real-life heroes and heroines who fought for social justice and equality in favor of his fictional cast. Murphy does get it right on multiple occasions, but it’s a very mixed bag, as you’ll see.

The series’ greatest asset is its all-star cast, which makes it ironic that its greatest weakness is its refusal to trust in their talents. Instead, an all-too-large number of scenes lean on clunky, hammy dialogue and monologuing, even though the actors delivering said dialogue are perfectly capable of conveying what they’re being asked to say with simple looks and gestures. Murphy’s fictional cast got the memo – one character in the show even directs her star to act with his eyes rather than using excessive hand-flailing – but somehow his real cast didn’t. For instance, one particularly cringy scene (which, let me emphasize, is cringy not because of what’s being said, but because of how it’s being said) involves a main character, black actress Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) turning to her white costar Claire Wood (Samara Weaving) and telling her “I don’t need you to fight my battles for me”, after experiencing racism from an auditorium usher. Such a sentiment could easily have been spoken with a single, meaningful glance: but the unnecessarily stilted language makes the scene fall flat, meaning that the good message gets lost or overshadowed. Far more powerful are the tense, largely silent scenes of diverse families across America tuning into an Oscars ceremony via radio to hear the winners announced, waiting through long lists of nominees (something Murphy gets right is poking fun at the ceremony for its excessive length and slow, pondering pace) to hear the names of their favorite movie-stars.

Hollywood
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Speaking of the stars, let’s talk about them. David Corenswet’s Jack Castello, despite being a lovable and charming character, is, as a straight white male, probably not the best choice to lead a series that (a) aims to be all about diversity, and (b) has plenty of diverse supporting talent who could easily have been upped to the lead role: Laura Harrier, for instance, is often sidelined despite having the intriguing responsibility of playing a character playing a character playing a character, and many of her most exciting opportunities for development never even happen on camera – for instance, Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah) counsels the young actress at one point to fight a tooth-and-nails campaign for her first Academy Award, which sounds like it would be a lot of fun to watch and pretty empowering: but we never see it. Michelle Krusiec plays Anna May Wong, a Chinese actress who, in real life, lost out on a pivotal lead role in The Good Earth to a white actress who would go on to win an Oscar for the part: Krusiec’s take on the historical figure is promising in the first couple of episodes, and she’s set up to be a major character – but then she just disappears into the background cast. Other members of the ensemble include Darren Criss as white-passing, half-Filipino director Raymond Ainsley; Jeremy Pope as an idealistic young black, gay screenwriter named Archie Coleman; Jake Picking as closeted gay actor Rock Hudson; and Patti LuPone as Avis Amberg, the Jewish wife of a movie mogul (played by Rob Reiner in just three epiodes) who unwillingly settles into a position of power after her husband has a heart attack, only to discover she has a talent for business – Amberg’s small group of advisors, most notably Joe Mantello’s Dick and Holland Taylor’s Ellen Kincaid, are also lovely additions to the cast, and bring a good deal of genuine warmth and good-natured humor to the series. But I’d be lying if I said that one of my favorite cameos, for purely personal reasons, wasn’t an unexpected performance by The Lord Of The Rings‘ Billy Boyd as one of many closeted gay film executives at a party where we also meet notable Hollywood celebrities such as Tallulah Bankhead and Vivien Leigh (the former portrayed as flighty and fun-loving, the latter as a woman struggling with bipolar disorder).

So the cast is fantastic, of course. So is the series’ production design, costume design, cinematography – everything feels historically accurate…well, except for the actual story. If you ignore everything else, the series is actually a really fun look into the workings of the studio system, and what went into the casting process, and the making of movies. And there’s plenty of fun references to contemporary events and characters – one character derides Disney’s Song Of The South for its racist overtones; we meet the editor who secretly stowed away a copy of The Wizard Of Oz with the iconic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” musical number intact after a producer insisted it be cut from the film; former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Sansom Harris) shows up to make a characteristically memorable speech; the movie that Raymond Ainsley and his crew are making is a story about Peg Entwistle, an actress who committed suicide by throwing herself from the H in the Hollywoodland sign – though I find it very strange that, despite how prominent the story is and how frequently it gets referenced, despite the fact that the movie crew even builds a giant version of the H for their film set, despite the fact that the series intro even features all the main cast frantically climbing the Hollywoodland sign…in all seven episodes, no one actually attempts to commit suicide by jumping off the H. They build the entire set, and no one so much as threatens to climb to the top. I call that a wasted opportunity.

Hollywood
stylecaster.com

But now for the bad. In any story about Hollywood, #MeToo issues have to be brought up, and this series has a peculiar, even disturbing way of handling them. Jim Parsons delivers an unquestionably good performance as predatory talent manager Henry Willson, but that’s also part of the problem – he is unquestionably good. No matter how many times he sexually assaults and abuses his clients, manipulating, demeaning and blackmailing them, preying on people powerless to stop him, he is always portrayed as a good character, someone who finds himself on the right side of history because…why? Because he has a sob story that he monologues to Rock Hudson? Is that seriously all he had to redeem himself? Not to give away too many spoilers, but the fact that this series has the audacity to end with the resolution of Henry Willson’s storyline is repugnant: did no one behind the scenes think about what they were doing? Did no one stop and realize that the series cast also includes Mira Sorvino, herself an outspoken victim of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein? Did no one think before making Henry Willson a major, sympathetic, character in a story about fighting Hollywood’s corrupt system? The fact that the jury is (at least according to some historians) still out on whether or not the real Willson actually abused his clients possibly makes it even worse: because that means Murphy made the choice to depict Willson a sexual predator in his series, and still decided to redeem him.

It’s an especially upsetting situation sad because so much of Hollywood is actually good and important: especially right now, with setbacks occurring every day.  Representation in mainstream media is crucial, if we are to progress as a society – watching Hollywood reminded me of that, not only because we need more quality content with messages like the one in this series, but also because we need more quality content that doesn’t willfully undermine its own message by inexcusably apologizing for sexual abusers.

We’ve gotten to the point where a black woman can, potentially, win the Oscar for Best Lead Actress in a major studio production – but only one, Halle Berry, ever has, in the ceremony’s entire history. We still have a long way to go before it happens again, and I don’t know if a romanticized, fictionalized look into the past is the best way to ensure that it ever will.

Series Rating: 6.3/10

Rosario Dawson Is Ahsoka Tano In “The Mandalorian”!

By a bizarre coincidence, the same day that Ahsoka Tano made her hotly-anticipated return to The Clone Wars in the series’ final season, news also broke that the former Jedi warrior would make her very first live-action appearance in the second season of The Mandalorian on the Disney+ streaming platform. The report, since verified by a number of other sources and trades, states that actress Rosario Dawson will portray Tano in the Star Wars spinoff, which will find Pedro Pascal’s titular Mandalorian and his adorable sidekick Baby Yoda hunting for the few living Jedi spread out across the galaxy in the aftermath of the Empire’s fall.

Ahsoka Tano
polygon.com

Obviously, Ahsoka Tano is exactly the type of character one would expect to run into the duo, so the fact that she’s showing up isn’t surprising at all (especially considering that Dave Filoni created Ahsoka’s character for The Clone Wars and is now part of The Mandalorian‘s creative team). Along with Luke Skywalker (and possibly the oft-forgotten Yaddle), Ahsoka is one of only a couple of Jedi who were still around during the time period between the fall of the Empire and the beginning of the sequel trilogy. But now that she’s supposedly making her live-action debut, the reaction has been…mixed, to say the least.

That’s not because people dislike Ahsoka. The optimistic, idealistic Jedi started out as Anakin Skywalker’s opinionated apprentice and went on to become a nuanced, introspective character betrayed by her own faith. Forced to survive on her own without friends or family, Ahsoka quickly became one of the Star Wars franchise’s most beloved heroines. The controversy surrounding this casting has everything to do with the actress chosen to play the coveted part.

Rosario Dawson, best known for her roles in Daredevil, Rent and Alexander (and for being the girlfriend of 2020 Presidential hopeful Cory Booker, whose campaign she endorsed), was the subject of a shocking lawsuit last year: an openly transgender man employed as a handyman by Dawson and her mother, and charged with renovating the family’s Los Angeles home, claimed that both women subjected him to verbal and physical abuse, which included repeatedly misgendering and mocking him. Their harassment of him apparently culminated in Dawson and her mother restraining the man while beating him up and threatening to kill his pet cat, before allegedly stealing his cellphone. The victim claims all of these events had to do with his gender identity, and the case, if verified, would incriminate Dawson as a violent aggressor guilty of a serious hate crime.

Rosario Dawson
slashfilm.com

As of yet, there is no other evidence to suggest that Dawson is transphobic, and we only know a little about her views on the rest of the LGBTQ+ community. The alleged victim was said to have been close with the Dawson family before coming out as transgender, when they only knew him as a lesbian woman, and this year, Dawson appeared to come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself. However, the allegation has had long-lasting impacts, and has made the casting of Ahsoka Tano a tumultuous and hostile occasion rather than a joyous one, as it should have been (and probably could have been, with any other actress). Unfortunately, even (or perhaps, especially) if no further evidence comes out against her, there’s simply no way of determining whether Rosario Dawson is transphobic or did commit a hate crime, and so this case will loom over The Mandalorian like a dark cloud. What with the show having just recently united Star Wars fans in their love for Baby Yoda, it would be a shame to disunite the fandom once again over something as serious as this.

What do you think of the casting of Rosario Dawson? Would you have cast someone else in the role of Ahsoka Tano, and how would you feel if the gentle, lovable character was played by someone who may or may not have committed serious crimes (for reference, I’d be really angry and disappointed)? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments below.