The Freedom To Marry Documentary

Recently, I saw the documentary Freedom to Marry and was thoroughly underwhelmed. A part comes from my own doubts around the now finished fight for marriage equality but another part comes from just how predictable the documentary was. Jay Weissberg reviewed the film for Variety and wrote that:

Despite a small theatrical run, “The Freedom to Marry” feels designed for TV in every way: It does its job more or less efficiently (we could do without Wolfson’s parents’ friends talking about what a bright boy he was) in cookie-cutter documentary fashion. Rosenstein, a childhood acquaintance of Wolfson’s, is unable to disguise the artificiality of certain “spontaneous” conversations before the cameras.

And that’s exactly what it felt like. The message and theme of the documentary oversaturated the film in a way that felt like you were being hit over the head with what the filmmakers wanted you to take away from it. That doesn’t mean it was completely terrible or anything – there were some great moments and the film does hark back to how gay people have been treated in the United States. But I ultimately left the theater feeling underwhelmed by the production.

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The Gilmore Girls Reboot.

I am a big Gilmore Girls fan – I initially watched the show episode by episode on ABC Family, where one episode would play every weekday at 5pm. For a few years, my mom, sister, and I watched a few episodes each week and bonded over the adventures of the mother-daughter duo. Being able to watch the entire series on Netflix was so great and like many other fans, I was very disappointed in the seventh and final season.

But hearing that there would be a reboot and seeing all the trailers and videos is really exciting. This show is far from perfect and has its own flaws but I have such great memories of watching it with my family that I’m really excited about what’s to come.

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Pokemon Go.

As I’m writing this, Pokemon Go has been out for close to two weeks but for the most part, remains really popular. Some have complained about the game, saying that it’s just another annoying reason for people to be looking at their phones and not their surroundings. And it is another reason people have been looking at their phones but I’d argue against the notion that the app is annoying, childish, or a waste of time. Although the stampede in Central Park trying to catch Vapereon seemed like a little much.

There are many others, myself included, who have expressed gratitude for Pokemon Go because it has given us a reason to get out of bed and go out. Getting out of bed and interacting with strangers is often really hard for me – between depression wanting me to stay in bed and anxiety making it very difficult to interact with strangers, Pokemon Go has provided at least one reason to go out and walk around. I haven’t played it much but it’s still been so much fun and incredibly helpful in combating some of my struggles.

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Inconsistent Death in Television Shows.

I watch a lot of television shows and many of them do have that superhero/sci-fi element to them. I’ve written at length about all the Marvel productions I love (both television and film) and for awhile I was really into Supernatural and Doctor Who. With the genre of sci-fi, superhero, and fantasy overall, you do have to suspend belief in order for the shows to really be enjoyable but there’s one trend that I can’t quite get behind.

**Spoilers ahead for a couple different shows and some of the articles I link to are also spoiler heavy. Some are a couple years old but still – just a heads up!

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Media Monday: Queer and Trans Artists of Color – Interviews by Nia King

4659300I finally got around to reading through Nia King’s book “Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives” and I honestly could not love and recommend this book enough. There are so many honest and amazing stories from queer and trans artists of color who share their experiences of trying to or making it as an artist. The spectrum of jobs and experiences are amazing to read through and it’s refreshing to read through the stories told by the people living through them.

Not only that but Nia is a really great interviewer – each conversation always covers an amazing array of topics. And each conversation often talked about similar issues (struggling to make it as an artist, gender, sexuality, the person’s story) but reading through each interview still felt fresh and nothing seemed repetitive. In addition, every interview reads really organically (props to the co-editors for helping the words go from the way people talk to paragraphs and sentences that are easy to read).

One of the things that I also really love about this book is being able to read and understand the stories and beliefs of the artists in their own words. They are the ones controlling their own narratives and that is so often missing from mainstream media. (Hello lack of diversity in so many mainstream things.)

I also know how much work Nia has and continues to regularly put into this project – from getting other queer and trans people of color to write transcripts (and compensating for the work), to having the interviews in audio form, to getting a wide range of people with different backgrounds and art forms to talk with. Her book comes from the interviews she does on her podcast We Want the Airwaves and if you have the ability to, I definitely recommend supporting her work!

Aloha (movie)

Okay so full disclosure: I haven’t seen this movie and actively plan to avoid watching it for so many different reasons. Rather than reviewing then, I wanted to share the many criticisms that have been thrown at the movie over the past few weeks. These criticisms are incredibly important because many highlight the whitewashing nature of Hollywood and the tendency of the US to use the Hawaiian islands as some white person tourist spot.

One of the biggest criticisms to come out of the movie is the fact that one of the main characters is multiracial (Chinese/Hawaiian/Swedish if I remember correctly?) but is played by the very white actress Emma Stone. This is of course a huge problem because it helps to erase Asian Americans from the big screens, a diversity problem that repeatedly occurs for many people of color. There have been many critiques of Emma Stone’s casting, not because she is a terrible actress or anything like that but that people of color are regularly overlooked and underrepresented in the media (even in stories that are supposed to include/be about them). Some of the critiques include:

There are more criticisms following the movie, including the fact that there are some native Hawaiians who disapprove of the movie’s title:

The concerns are based largely on a trailer that depicts a military-themed love-story that appears devoid of a genuine connection to Hawaiian culture.

“If you have a romantic comedy about the military in Hawaii … but a title that says ‘Aloha,’ I can only guess that they’ll bastardize the word,” said Walter Ritte, a Native Hawaiian activist on the island of Molokai. “They’re taking our sacred word … and they’re going to make a lot of money off of it.”

And it’s not just the casting and complete whitewashing of Hawaii that draw criticisms. One review from the Associated Press wrote about the incoherent story line, saying that even with a star studded cast:

…in execution, “Aloha” is a meandering, needlessly confusing cacophony of story, performance, and spiritual blather. Not only does it feel inauthentic, it’s often downright alien.

Overall, I haven’t heard any good things about this movie. And the reactions from Sony regarding the criticisms have also been really problematic. I’m definitely planning to avoid seeing the movie.

Web Series and YouTubers

To be completely honestly, part of the reason I love web series is because I usually have the attention span slightly larger than a goldfish and the videos of web series tend to be the perfect amount of time before I move on to the next thing. So for this week, I thought I’d write about some of my favorite web series and regular Youtubers.

Ackee & Saltfish is a comedic web series that follows around the everyday interactions of two friends, Olivia and Rachel. There’s a short film in addition to the web series (for which the trailer is for above) that highlights more of the everyday experiences and conversations of two young black women raised in a quickly gentrified London.

Qraftish by Cristal is a (relatively) new part of the site Black Girl Dangerous and so far, only has a few episodes. But each episode takes on a different issue faced by Cristal, an 18 year old black queeringly.

The Peculiar Kind is a show I was introduced to by accident a few years ago and when I first found it, I watched all of the episodes on repeat for like two weeks. It’s a refreshing take on different aspects and issues of the LGBTQ+ community from mostly LGBTQ+ people of color.

WeHappyTrans is slightly different from the ones above but still so important. WeHappyTrans is a collection of videos of trans identified people talking about positive experiences they’ve had. And that’s exactly why I love it – the videos show a different side of the trans community, one of positivity and depth and context. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the violence faced by trans individuals (which is an important aspect to remember and fight against) so having a place of a bunch of trans individuals talking about other aspects of their lives is so great. The one above is just one of many videos that exist for WeHappyTrans!

Kina Grannis is a beautiful singer who posts original songs and covers on YouTube. The video above is just one of many that she has posted on her channel and was made using stop motion and a ton of skittles! Her voice is so beautiful and generally, I love her covers significantly more than the original version. Plus, her own songs are just wonderful.

All of these videos are a few of the many that exist from not only the same people I’ve written about but just some of the numerous creative ventures that are currently out in the world.

What We Do in the Shadows

*trigger warning of blood, body gore in the movie and the videos I’ve posted*

Last week, I had the lovely pleasure of seeing the mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. The movie comes out of New Zealand, from one of the Flight of the Conchords duo Jemaine Clement, and follows around a few vampires that all live together in the modern world. The movie does center on vampires and a few other members of the undead nature so there is some horror/blood/body gore throughout the movie, just as a warning.

Where do I even begin with the things I love about this movie. The mockumentary style has been done so much over the past few years and can easily be done wrong but not here – the style works so well with the story and writing and is very well paced. The movie also brings this dry sense of humor to the extremely overdone vampire trope, allowing the movie to be funny rather than annoying. And there’s enough of a modern humorous twist to the characters and story that allows for this movie to be a refreshing parody than repetitive.

The characters are each hilarious and wonderful in their own ways, with the supporting cast of characters just as wonderful as the main trio. There is the massive downside that most of the cast are white men (with very very few exceptions of a few ladies and far fewer people of color in any regard). As a sidenote, I’ll eventually write about representation and how a lack of diversity within media is incredibly annoying but that’ getting slightly off topic for today. And the mockumentary style allows for some history and context of the vampires, giving each a little more humanity (if possible). Plus, the rivalry between the vampires and werewolves is yet another hilarious aspect of the movie.

Overall, I really liked this movie – it’s definitely a refreshing parody of the vampire genre and great use of the mockumentary style. I definitely recommend seeing it if you have the chance!

Agent Carter

For this week’s media Monday, I thought I’d write about Marvel’s newest limited television series, Agent Carter. I know I talked about the Marvel Cinematic Universe a couple weeks ago but hey, thought I’d focus in a little more on Marvel’s latest production.

The setting of the show is post World War II New York City, with Agent Peggy Carter working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve and struggling to be noticed as an actual agent rather than the secretary her coworkers seem to think of her as. The eight episodes in this season follow a single overarching plot of Carter being asked by Howard Stark to work as a double agent and clear his name from accusations of treason.

I do love a few things about the show, most importantly being how the episodes follow an overarching plot and come out to be more like a long movie than a television show. I also love many of Peggy’s outfits (oh how I wish I could pull off and/or afford that wardrobe).

There is, of course, a lot to critique about the show – from the cast being almost completely white to an underdeveloped Peggy Carter to the writing focusing too much on the 1940s sexism and not at all on the racism of the time. H. Shaw-Williams wrote an article for ScreenRant about how the first (and possibly only?) season of Agent Carter should not be praised as a feminist triumph, articulating the phenomenon of stereotype threat and wrote that:

It’s a common problem that female characters – particularly in male-dominated genres – are obliged to be Strong Female Characters who carry a standard for their entire gender, while male characters get to just be characters. Peggy Carter doesn’t get to have personality flaws like Thor’s arrogance or Peter Quill’s dumb brashness, because she’s too busy trying to prove that women are just as good as men. The closest she comes to being flawed is crying over pictures of Steve Rogers and going through the five thousandth iteration of the “It’s dangerous to get too close to me,” superhero story arc.

And Peggy Carter is just that in her own show – a seemingly flawless character with almost no back story and the feminist messages of the show are more standard issue and simple 1990’s White Feminism than anything else. On one hand, it’s great that Marvel is (very) slowly starting to branch out from it’s usual lead demographic of attractive white men. But as Shaw-Williams points out, having a female lead is a rather low bar for something being praised as a triumph for feminism, one in which Agent Carter barely meets.

The show being hailed as a feminist triumph that it fails to live up to is not the only problem – the complete lack of diversity within the show is appalling, especially since it is set in New York City. Not only are most of the characters white, but many are white men. Ube Empress makes a ton of really great points regarding the incredible erasure and white washing of the time period done by the writers and producers of Agent Carter. Ube Empress makes the point that people of color existed during that time in a multitude of different careers, from actors to health professionals to lawyers and having people of color within the show would have been historically accurate. (With that note, we can have Captain America be an actual man made superhero but people of color can’t really exist in some capacity that same universe?! This seems to be a growing problem within sci-fi and fantasy – like Lord of the Rings, Frozen, etc. I mean, there were people of color in a variety of roles during that time, allowing for historical accuracy to actually be a thing with representation but still. If gamma radiation can turn Bruce Banner into the Hulk, I think we can handle more diversity in the characters and story lines without having to have historical accuracy.)

One of the great points that Ube Empress brings up is that:

It’s hard to understand why the writers didn’t think to include a single thing that indicated how race was playing a role in society at that time. Just imagine all of the POC who contributed to the war effort, only to return home to and be subjected to terrible wages, racial slurs, discrimination, hate crimes, and little to no government or legal protection. Imagine how that tension would influence the world around Peggy: the city, the thing she sees on TV and in newspapers, the conversations she overhears, the people she interacts with. Talking, thinking about, and/or seeing race would be unavoidable.

Ultimately, I want to like Agent Carter a hell of a lot more than I actually do because the show had incredible potential to be amazing but fell really short of an already low bar. And it’s important to keep critiquing and analyzing things that come out – blindly praising a production because it barely meets a few criteria won’t fix the rampant under representation, complete lack of diversity, and overall problematic nature of mainstream media.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

There are plenty of things that I’m an absolute nerd for: Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Warehouse 13, Supernatural, and several others. I grew up reading and rereading Harry Potter (practically damaging a couple of the books because I read them so much) and read so many other fantasy/sci-fi books. Mugglecast (a podcast about Harry Potter) was the first podcast I ever listened to and I’m about halfway through knitting my own fourth doctor scarf.

But as nerdy as I was (and still am in so many ways), I never really got into comic books or the comic world. A part of it was no one I knew was into them so I never really had an introduction to them growing up. Another part was I really didn’t see comics being marketed to or being made for me – I didn’t fit into the stereotypical demographic of comic book nerds and going into a comic shop was intimidating. (Which I now realize is complete bs.)

My introduction to the Marvel universe really came from watching the Avengers in mid 2012. I had seen Iron Man and Iron Man 2 before watching the Avengers and knew some random things that bled through popular culture but a lot of the universe was very new to me. So watching the Avengers opened a completely new door for me. Since that summer, I’ve watched all three Iron Man movies, both Captain America movies, both Thor movies, Guardians of the Galaxy, a couple of the X-Men movies, the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and Agent Carter. (Although, I’m a little behind with Agent Carter unfortunately.) While I’m not big into comics still, there is so much I love about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and of course, so much I don’t like).

captain-america[GIF image of Captain America in the Avengers saying “I understood that reference”]

One of the things I do love about the cinematic universe is how the movies and shows tie into one another in subtle and not so subtle ways. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has several episodes that tie in with Thor: The Dark World, the Avengers, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Plenty of the movies reference/flash back to each other and rely on a single universe for context. The characters and stories exist in a world with each other. Marvel has created a world that is interconnected and complex and for me, there’s something so satisfying about how there is so much that ties in together. (Although, different studios working on different Marvel character movies makes the shared universe a bit more difficult.)

My least favorite thing about the Marvel cinematic universe (unsurprisingly) is the almost complete lack of diversity among the characters in the movies and shows. There are so many white men in the movies and shows and I just want to flip tables over every time I think about it. We have three Iron Mans, two Thors, and two Captain Americas that are all played by white men but god forbid Peter Parker might be black in a future movie?? (Fully on board for Donald Glover to play Peter Parker. The video below is from his stand up hour and he starts talking about #DonaldForSpiderman roughly a minute into it.) Or that there be more diversity and media representation in the movies and shows?!? Nerdy white boys aren’t the only people who love the comic book world – it’s definitely time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to follow the Marvel comics and have more representation. (Ms. Marvel movie maybe??) (And even the comics aren’t 100% great.)

Diversity and media representation is definitely not limited to just the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are so many shows and different media mediums that are so white washed and lacking in diverse/complex characters. And of course, a big corporate business like Marvel isn’t always going to get diversity and representation right.