Watch This: Red Band Trailer for Spy

In Spy, Melissa McCarthy teams up again with writer and director Paul Feig in a comedy featuring McCarthy as a CIA Analyst. She works with agents played by Jude Law and Jason Statham.

Miranda Hart
Miranda Hart image from BBC

I’m more than a little excited to see that McCarthy is working with British comic Miranda Hart in Spy. These two should be fabulous together.

Here’s the G-rated version of the trailer, followed by the Red Band trailer.

Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson also star in the Fox release, which opens in theaters May 22.

Spy image © 20th Century Fox

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Netflix Doc: What Happened, Miss Simone?

Available later this year only on Netflix will be Liz Garbus’ documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? about the life of singer Nina Simone. Here’s the publicity blurb about the film.

Classically trained pianist, black power icon and legendary recording artist, Nina Simone lived a life of brutal honesty, musical genius, and tortured melancholy. In the upcoming Netflix original documentary, Academy Award® nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus interweaves never-before-heard recordings and rare archival footage together with Nina’’s most memorable songs, creating an unforgettable portrait of one of the least understood, yet most beloved artists of our time.

There’s another film about Nina Simone in the works – a biopic starring Zoe Saldana. This Netflix documentary will show Nina singing her own songs and shouldn’t be confused with the other film.

The two films will bring the attention of young people who might not be familiar with Nina Simone into her fandom. It seems to be the moment to rediscover the wonderful talents of the singer who died at age 70 in 2003.

Here’s the first official trailer for the documentary.

Learn more about the film and about Nina Simone at ninasimone.com.

Another Dead Lesbian and the Question of Representation

Warning: Last Tango in Halifax spoilers.

My mission on this blog is to mention, support, and promote things I like. I usually don’t mention things I don’t like. Today is an exception. I want to talk about something I don’t like: the kill-the-lesbian trope.

This subject is fresh on my mind because Kate McKenzie was killed off on Last Tango in Halifax in episode 4 of season 3, but I could have written about the topic once a month since the birth of the blog and still have plenty of subject matter.

When I recapped the episode in which Kate died, I did it as a straight report on the story as writer Sally Wainwright wrote it. It’s her story, her creation. She can write it as she wants. (I took to heart a tweet from Shonda Rhimes about fans who think they can tell her how to write her stories.)

I don’t want to tell Sally Wainwright how to write a good story. She knows. She’s written wonderful female characters in Scott & Bailey, in Happy Valley, and in Last Tango in Halifax. I thank her for all of them.

I think this character is part of a larger discussion about media in general and LBGT / woman of color representation in particular.What I do want to explore are the implications of picking this particular character, Kate McKenzie – played by Nina Sosanya – to die. I think this character is part of a larger discussion about media in general and LBGT / woman of color representation in particular.

Kate’s death means that a story about this lesbian couple – one of them a woman of color – is over. There will be no married life struggles, no child raising drama, no representation of two brilliant successful lesbians living a normal life in modern day Britain.

Kate’s death means that a woman of color in a leading role as a lesbian is gone. Her presence in this story, not just as a lesbian but as a woman of color, was significant to many people and to society as a whole. The number 1 search term that brings people to this blog is “Nina Sosanya.” The number 1 post on this blog week after week is about Nina Sosanya. This says to me that she represents something to a majority of people interested in Last Tango.

Kate’s death means that Celia – played by Anne Reid – doesn’t have to grapple with her homophobia, her racism. Kate is gone and with her an important and much needed character arc for Celia.

Kate’s death means that Caroline – played by Sarah Lancashire – will live without love from now on, will grieve for what she’s lost from now on.

Interviews, Quotes, and Comments

Sally Wainwright

Sally Wainwright’s first interview after the episode was with Diva Magazine. When asked why she killed off Kate she said,

It was a really massive decision. And it just felt it wasn’t as… [long pause]. It didn’t give the series as much emotional impact as we normally like to give the audience. I suppose that’s why we made that decision. But I am sad, and I’m really aware that I’ve upset a lot of people.

Later, she was asked why Kate and not John (played by Tony Gardner)? Her answer,

The narrative was that Caroline and Celia had fallen out so badly with Celia not going to the wedding. They weren’t going to speak to each other ever again. Narratively, nothing can ever bring this mother and daughter back together again. And then of course when there’s this huge, massive catastrophe in the family, people do rally round. People do get back together. So it was a narrative decision. It was more about the relationship between Celia and Caroline, and what that gave us.

Celia and Caroline fight regularly and viciously. And make up. That’s been part of their narrative all along. I find it hard to believe that someone had to die for them to make up.

When asked if Caroline would meet another woman, Sally Wainwright answered,

No. And she’s not going to meet another man either.

Nina Sosanya

Nina Sosanya’s first interview after Kate’s death was with Cultbox. When asked for her reaction when she heard about Kate’s death she said,

I was warned before I read the script – which was kind of them – and my honest initial reaction was ‘oh that’s a good idea!’, because the drama is great, but then slowly it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be in it anymore! So that was a bit of a slow burn, but it was off for me because from an outside opinion I could completely see why that’s a great story turn.

But it was quite devastating to have to say goodbye to that relationship, particularly with Sarah, because you build up a working relationship that’s quite unique. It was really sad.

Nina didn’t know at the start of series 3 that she was going to be off the show is how I read that. Assuming she really is off the show. In episode 4 – the funeral episode – she was there as she appeared in Caroline’s grieving visualizations. She may be around for a while in Caroline’s imagination.

When asked about playing Kate as a ghost she said,

Yes, that’s quite an interesting thing to play, because you’re not really playing the character anymore, you playing it as imagined by someone else. So that was a challenge, it was quite good really.

 And would she work with Sally Wainwright again? Yes, definitely!

Lady Parts

A powerful post on Lady Parts deserves a reading. It’s titled Lesbian Lives Matter. Read the entire post, please. Here’s a bit of particular interest.

There is great division in the lesbian fan community right now. Some people are very angry from years of disappointments and have banned the show, much like they did with “The L Word,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Chicago Fire” and countless other shows that let us down. Some do not want to bite the hand that feeds us and are worried that the show might be canceled and Caroline might never get another chance at happiness.

Well, I don’t want the show canceled, but I do want this to be a teaching moment, for Wainwright and everyone who follows her. I want us to scream loud enough, I want them to hear, and I want to finally earn their respect. Lesbian lives matter. Queer lives matter. Stories on television matter. They give voice to those who are struggling to be heard, and they give a face and a familiarity to the Other.

I Want to Have Them Here

A Tumblr blog called “I Want to Have Them Here” posted an piece called In Memory of Kate McKenzie.  They suggest an action that would be an example of what Lady Parts called a teaching moment.

. . . it wouldn’t be right to let this wonderful couple and all that they represent, simply fade away without their significance being recognised therefore we are proposing a highly visible demonstration of our gratitude for the gift that is Kate & Caroline and our appreciation of the two sublime actresses who portrayed them so skilfully and honestly.

We are co-opting the phenomenon of Lovers’ Locks, a symbol of everlasting love. It says a lot about how we would have preferred the script to have gone as well as a warm embodiment of our feelings for the characters and their relationship as lesbians.

The suggestion is to put lover’s locks in a fence near the Red Production offices at in Salford in England. (The address is in the article.) I think this is a quiet, gentle act that could build into news that many writers and producers would notice and think about.

After Ellen

The final quote comes from a piece on After Ellen by Elaine Atwell. Elaine is mad as hell and doesn’t want to take it any more, as are many fans who are fatigued by the kill-the-lesbian trope. Here’s a quote:

. . . writers, producers, and showrunners have no qualms at all about taking our faith and our love and our loyalty and shoving it right back in our faces. Sure, they love us when we offer nothing but praise. They collect the GLAAD awards like Greek gods courting temple sacrifices. They eagerly repeat the stories of how their characters gave real life people the courage to come out. They pat themselves on the back so hard and so often it’s a wonder they’re not all in a constant state of cramp. But when we dare to object, when we express fatigue or frustration with being force-fed the same tired cliches again and again, then the same queer women who formed a vital part of their fan base become a nuisance. When we complain, they call us shrill. And when we try to sneak the characters under our T-shirts and spirit them away to the worlds of Tumblr or fan fiction, places we know we can at least keep them safe, they call us crazy.

Shows with lesbian characters should all be bowing before “After Ellen” and thanking them for all the support, the articles, the recaps, the free publicity, the interviews. When “After Ellen” gets mad, much of the lesbian population gets mad with them. A teachable moment.

What is the kill-the-lesbian Trope?

There’s a wiki called TV Tropes. It has a page called Bury Your Gays. This page, with it’s links to other similar pages, is an education in the frequency with which the trope is used to kill off gay characters. Read and get educated. A quote (emphasis mine):

Please note that sometimes gay characters die in fiction because in fiction sometimes people die (this is particularly true of soldiers at war, where Sitch Sexuality and Anyone Can Die are both common tropes); this isn’t an if-then correlation, and it’s not always meant to “teach us something” or indicative of some prejudice on the part of the creator – particularly if it was written after 1960. The problem isn’t when gay characters are killed off: the problem is when gay characters are killed off far more often than straight characters, or when they’re killed off because they are gay.

Under that are examples from anime, comic books, fan works, film, literature, TV, music, theater, video games, web comics, web original, and western animation. Open and look at all of them. If you’ve heard of this trope before but never really seen it documented, open and look at all the examples. An educational moment.

In the TV section alone, examples come from Chicago Fire, True Blood, Will and Grace, Ally McBeal, The Andromeda Strain, Battlestar Gallactica, Bramwell, Cold Case, Damages, Dark Angel, Dirty Sexy Money, Foyle’s War, Hex, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale, House, Lost, The Sopranos, Supernatural, Veronica Mars, Warehouse 13, Boardwalk Empire, The Tudors, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hemlock Grove, The Killing, American Horror Story and more and more. Now Last Tango in Halifax can be added to the ever growing list.

The Issue of Representation

Pop culture and representations of society and its multitude of individuals in our media matter. LBGT representation, women’s representation, men’s representation, the representation of the handicapped, the disabled, the old, the representation of people of color, the representation of races, religions, belief systems: it all matters.

Television, film, YouTube, advertising, media of any kind teaches us who we are. Teaches us what our culture believes we are. Teaches us what we can and cannot be.

Taking the route of killing off yet another gay character teaches us that gay people are expendable and not worth keeping around. It’s a plot device that needs to be examined by every creative person who writes for TV, film or any other medium. It matters how LGBT characters are handled in the media. Representation matters.

Why Are We So Attached to Kate?

Update: 8/20/2015: Why do we mourn so angrily when our favorite characters are killed off? Here’s a fascinating article at The Mary Sue called The Psychology of Fandom: Why We Get Attached to Fictional Characters that explains what’s happening in our brains and thoughts when a favorite character departs suddenly.

Bessie Release Announced by HBO

HBO’s biopic about Bessie Smith, Bessie is scheduled for release in the spring. The film stars Queen Latifah as the legendary blues singer.

Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith
Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith

The HBO synopsis of the film:

Queen Latifah stars as legendary blues singer Bessie Smith in this HBO Films presentation, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Dee Rees from a screenplay by Dee Rees and Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois. With a story by Dee Rees and Horton Foote, the film focuses on Smith’s transformation from a struggling young singer into “The Empress of the Blues,” who became one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s and is an enduring icon today. BESSIE also stars Michael Kenneth Williams, Khandi Alexander, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Tory Kittles, Oliver Platt, Bryan Greenberg, with Charles S. Dutton and Mo’Nique.

Queen Latifah and Dee Rees were at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, where they discussed the film.

Queen Latifah and Dee Rees at Television Critics Association winter press tour.
Queen Latifah and Dee Rees at Television Critics Association winter press tour.

Rees, who wrote and directed the film, commented that Bessie Smith is part of a long line of women of color who reached success as female artists in a world dominated by men. Starting with Ma Rainey (played in the film by Mo’Nique) and moving through singers like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and many others up to the present day, Bessie Smith represents women oppressed by the world around them, but triumphant in spite of it.

Queen Latifah said she was first offered the part when she was 22. She didn’t even know who Bessie Smith was at that time. She’s obviously learned since and will probably do a much better job playing her now than she would have at 22.

Here’s Bessie Smith, who was bisexual, singing the blues about a man.

As you can hear, Bessie Smith had a particular style, timber, and cadence to her singing. I hope Queen Latifah doesn’t try to match it exactly, but simply creates a sense of the truth of who she was as a woman.

Review: Selma

Selma manages to take the microcosm of the marches in 1965 in Selma, Alabama to tell a sweeping saga that remains painfully relevant today. By focusing on this singular moment in a long battle, a vast epic is revealed.

Much that is in the news today shouts unfinished to the battle fought by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his courageous supporters in Selma. For example, several members of the cast appeared on the red carpet for the opening of Selma wearing tee shirts emblazoned “I can’t breathe.”

A large crowd of African Americans attempt to register to vote.
A scene from Selma. David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands in the center.

David Oyelowo stars as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He managed to portray King as very human with doubts and fears and failings while painting a portrait of King as a brilliant organizer, an astute politician, a moving orator, and an inspired showman. It is a stunning performance giving us a very real man who managed to achieve greatness. It’s a portrait both intimate and historic.

The story alternates between quiet moments and horrific moments of violence. The two opening scenes are good examples of this contrast. There’s Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) attempting to register to vote in an act of quiet determination. Then there’s the church explosion that killed 4 young black girls as they scampered down the church stairs discussing their hairdos. Mixed with these types of gut wrenching scenes are strategy sessions and arguments between civil rights movement leaders and meetings between Dr. King and government leaders.

I was impressed by the careful way King picked Selma as the perfect place to stage a massive demonstration for voting rights after President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) refused to take action on the issue with the speed King needed.

There were actually 3 marches in the attempt to go from Selma to Montgomery. The first became known as “Bloody Sunday.” About 600 people arrived for a demonstration march on Sunday March 7, 1965. State troopers met the demonstrators at the edge of Selma on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and chased, clubbed, tear gassed, and terrorized the demonstrators into a retreat.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, by the way, was named for a head of the KKK. It bears the same name today.

The Bloody Sunday demonstration was televised. Thousands of people flocked to Selma in support. The second march was much bigger because of the publicity. When this group walked across the bridge, the state troopers moved aside. King stood looking at the situation for a long moment. He knelt to pray. As one, the marchers behind him did the same. Finally he stood up and turned back. He was waiting for a legal ruling that would protect the marchers and he got it the next day.

The third attempt was the one that made it over the bridge and all the way to Montgomery, where Dr. King gave a speech on the steps of the capitol. Finally, President Johnson was forced to act to remove restrictions on voting such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and other impediments meant to keep black citizens from voting.

The horror was visceral: the bodies of dead children amid the concrete rubble of a bombed church, the thuds of clubs and the screams of pain and terror as white men on horses attacked fleeing black men and women on the bridge.

The hate filled words of men like Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth) and Sheriff Jim Clark (Stan Houston) were as terrifying as the scenes of chaos and attack. They are the same words we hear today. They are a reminder that for each victory like this one in 1965, there are still white men fighting to deny certain Americans their civil rights.

The music chosen as background in certain scenes was completely apt. The lyrics told the story as the story was being told.

The cast of the film was very large. There are many real people in this story whose names we know: Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, J. Edgar Hoover, John Lewis, Malcolm X. Many other characters whose names are not so famous were also in the story. All were played by actors whose faces I’m sure you recognize. I’m not going to list all the actors in these parts, but I do want to acknowledge those excellent performances.

The film was written by Paul Webb and directed by Ava DuVernay. Cinematography was by Bradford Young. All 3 deserve Oscar nominations, as does the film for Best Picture.

The Trailer

Watch This: Woman in Gold trailer

Woman in Gold stars Helen Mirren (and Tatiana Maslany) as Maria Altmann. Based on a true story about how Altmann fought the Austrian government to get back several paintings by Gustav Klimt that were stolen by the Nazis from her family during World War II. Ryan Reynolds plays her attorney.

Maria Altmann might have been called a “spitfire” in her day. She felt no restrictions on her behavior because she was female. Taking no for an answer from a bunch of male bureaucrats was not an idea that even crossed her mind.

Woman in Gold opens April 25, 2015.

Brain Dump: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, The Good Wife, Covert Affairs, Person of Interest

A brain dump about this and that. Join in with a comment.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in and action scene from  Undercovers
Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Undercovers

Why do articles about Belle or Beyond the Lights refer to Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a “newcomer?” Are people blind? Or just blind to black faces? She was the star of the TV series Undercovers in 2010. She was in Larry Crowne in 2011. She was in Touch in 2012. She has, in fact, been acting in parts on our TVs since 2005. If so many media critics and reviewers haven’t noticed her before now, maybe they should get their vision checked.

The Good Wife

Cary and Kalinda
Cary and Kalinda

Whew, Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) is putting herself in so much jeopardy to keep Cary (Matt Czuchry) out of jail. Every time Kalinda does anything I wonder if this is foreshadowing the way they plan to write her out of the show. The rate she’s going, she could end up in jail herself.

Covert Affairs

Piper Perabo in Covert Affairs

I’m sad to hear that Covert Affairs was canceled by USA. This is a great show with fantastic female parts including Piper Perabo and Kari Matchett as CIA operatives. Personally, I think their ratings fell because they kept the show on Thursday night. The number of quality shows competing for eyeballs on Thursday is through the roof. I’ve been watching 3 or 4 of them on Friday and Saturday, the slate is so full on Thursdays. If they base eyeball counts on live views and not delayed views, their numbers look bad. But that doesn’t mean the fans gave up on the show.

Sarah Shahi Leaving Person of Interest – For Now

Shaw and Root kissing
Shaw finally plants one on Root – right before she sacrifices herself.

Shaw (Sarah Shahi) and Root (Amy Acker) actually kissed on Person of Interest this week. All it took for Shaw to give Root the kiss she’s been wanting was for Shaw to: A) want to save Root, and B) need an excuse to make a grand sacrifice so she could be gone from Person of Interest.

Why be gone? Sarah Shahi is pregnant and needs to leave the show – at least for now. She’s having twins! The decision to end Sarah’s current involvement in the show in this way is explained by executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman in an EW article.

Extra has an interview with Sarah and the cast about her exit.

Join the Demand for Better Media

You can join this movement and take the pledge here. I did. It’s easy.

There is so much good information on The Representation Project website. I hope you’ll take a look around.

After I signed the pledge, I received an email listing ways individuals can take action to change the media representation of men and women. One of them was to use your consumer power to support good media. I’ve been doing that for a long time.

Since I started this blog about 18 months ago, I’ve used words to support better media. My approach is to mention good things, bring attention to movies and TV that do represent women in non-stereotypical ways. One thing I have not done yet is to add the #mediawelike hashtag to a Pinterest board. I occasionally use the negative approach on Twitter with the #notbuyingit hashtag to mention media I don’t like.

Brain Dump: A Wife’s Nightmare, Annie, On My Way, Into the Woods

It’s time for a brain dump. My brain is teeming with thoughts about this and that – mostly movies I watched over the holidays. Short thoughts. Thoughts so short that combining them into one post seems like a grand idea.

A Wife’s Nightmare

Jennifer Beals in "A Wife's Nightmare"
Jennifer Beals

A Wife’s Nightmare gave us a Jennifer Beals who was unsure, compliant, nervous, and worried. The gaslighting part of the story was a new acting challenge for Jennifer Beals and she did it very well. I was happy she found her way to some backbone by the end of the story, however. Jennifer Beals is always a pleasure to watch. Here’s a full review.

Annie

dancing and singing on a rooftop
Rose Byrne and Quvenzhané Wallis in Annie

Annie is a wonderful update to the familiar story. The new songs were perfect contemporary music. The cast was excellent, particularly Quvenzhané Wallis. Hat tips to older versions of the story were well done.

I had the pleasure of going to the movie with a friend and her two grandchildren who danced in their seats and sang along. Afterwards they agreed that the movie was really good. These two biracial youngsters – ages 3 and 6 – wanted their hair freshly washed for the movie so it would look like “Annie hair.” The importance they placed on looking like Annie reminded me again how critical it is that we see someone who looks like ourselves represented on screens as smart, successful, talented, and worthwhile human beings.

On My Way

Catherine Deneuve and Nemo Schiffman in On My Way
Catherine Deneuve and Nemo Schiffman in On My Way

On My Way (French title Elle s’en va) is a French film with English subtitles I found on Netflix. Catherine Deneuve is the star, which is what caught my interest. It has 4 stars on Netflix, always a good indicator it’s worth watching. Catherine Deneuve is 71; she’s put on some weight. But whatever it was she had – she’s still got it. She’s still got ALL of it.

Into the Woods

Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods
Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods

When you start with talent like Stephen Sondheim and Rob Marshall, add in a screenplay by James Lapine, and cast fantastic people like Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt as the players – well, you end up with something utterly brilliant. That is all I have to say: brilliant.

Annie photo ©Sony Pictures. Into the Woods photo ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Review: The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch as English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing. Turing helped crack the Enigma machine, a Nazi encryption device. He developed a code breaking machine which has come to be known as the computer.

Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Review: The Imitation Game”