Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

tags: Hollywood, Oscars, pop culture roundup

Montage of Blackface performers and Tv shows portraying African American. Was featured in Spike Lee's film Bamboozled. This is what they thought of us then and still think of us today. It's time for a change.

Van Gogh's paintings brought to life using 3D animation and visual mapping by Luca Agnani Studio

A whooping zero Black people were nominated in the individual acting categories for the upcoming 88th Academy Awards. And the Academy’s recent pledge to double its non-White members has hardly calmed the storm of dissent surrounding the So White Oscars. Jada Pinkett Smith still plans to boycott the Oscars. Other Black stars are being courted by the Academy to appear as presenters.

It is quite imprudent if the Academy thinks trotting out Black stars to present awards to White stars will save face. It may actually deepen the antiracist hostility to the Oscars—a hostility that has been brewing for decades.

Spurned by the Academy over the years, Black actresses and actors have had to bitterly sit and watch as racist films racked up Oscar nominations and awards. Since the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, bodies and images clothed in racist ideas have found it much easier than non-stereotypical Black bodies and images to reach the White halls of the Oscars. #OscarsSoWhite is about the glaring lack of antiracist bodies and images and the glaring abundance of racist bodies and images honored in the White halls of the Oscars.

Here are the fifteen most racist films ever honored by #OscarsSoWhite....

A new documentary about the Panthers should serve to remind us that the greatest, most important athlete of the 20th Century: Muhammad Ali

Stanley Nelson’s new documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard to the Revolution is a bracing examination of the history and politics of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Given that we are living in a time when the issues that animated this revolutionary socialist organization—racist police brutality and economic injustice—still resonate and given that new movements are finding their voice, this film could not be more timely. The documentary also made me consider the ways in which boxer Muhammad Ali played a role in the inspiration of the very existence of the Black Panther Party. In many respects, the events of the sports world were not in the mind of rank-and-file Panthers because they weren’t playing games. As onetime Panther—and long-time political prisoner—Mumia Abu-Jamal said to me in an interview, “As someone who grew up, very young in the Party, I didn’t form a lot of the idolatries that many age-mates did. At 14 to 15, I wasn’t fantasizing about being a member of the NBA or the NFL. I was a member of the Black Panthers, and that was enough for me.” Yet almost in the next moment Mumia said, “But if ever there was a sports hero to us, it was Muhammad Ali.”

The Dalton Trumbo I Knew by James Lardner

Dalton Trumbo was a resolute indoorsman who avoided bears as well as harsh climates. A screenwriter by trade, his principal weapon was the typewriter, which he sometimes wielded in the bathtub. If you’ve seen Spartacus or Exodus or Roman Holiday, you know a very small part of his very large body of work. He was also a novelist, a playwright, and like my father Ring Lardner, Jr., a Communist for part of his life and one of the Hollywood Ten, who were imprisoned as well as blacklisted for refusing to answer the House Un-American Activities Committee’s questions about their political activities and associations.

The movie Trumbo takes up its hero’s story at the height of his pre-blacklist success, preparing to sign an MGM contract that will make him, as Louis B. Mayer suggests in the film, possibly the world’s best-paid writer. But Trumbo grew up poor and spent nearly a decade of his early adulthood doing heavy, gritty, and unhealthy labor at an industrial bakery in downtown Los Angeles, dutifully supporting his mother and two sisters after his father’s premature death of, as Trumbo diagnosed it, “shame at his inability to get a job.”

The man who began campaigning against #OscarsSoWhite – 74 years ago

In 1942 a man called Walter White travelled from New York to Hollywood, armed with a letter of introduction from the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. His aim was to try to persuade filmmakers to positively portray African Americans in movies.

White grew up in Atlanta. His parents, George and Madeleine White, had both been born into slavery. Many of their ancestors had been white, and they had fair skin. In his biography he emphasised this: “I am a Negro. My skin is white, my eyes are blue, my hair is blond. The traits of my race are nowhere visible upon me.” He became head of America’s largest civil rights organisation, the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Since its creation in 1909, the group had been concerned about African Americans in popular culture, believing that negative representations exacerbated racial tension and reinforced prejudice.

'Race' Movie Review (ABC News)

"Race" is a Jesse Owens biopic, focusing on the legendary athlete’s run-up – pun intended -- to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.

A wonderful young actor named Stephan James plays Owens, and he does everything right. Also good is "Saturday Night Live" alum Jason Sudeikis as Owens’ track coach at Ohio State, Larry Snyder. There’s great casting all around, but mediocre and sanitized writing does nothing to make this relationship nearly as compelling as it should be. And that’s the underlying problem with the entire movie.

Let’s face it: any well-constructed drama of Jesse Owens’ story would elicit a visceral, emotional reaction. It’s one of the greatest sports stories of our time. And in this time of Black Lives Matter and #OscarsSoWhite, we would have been better served with a more focused, grittier narrative of an earlier time where race was a far more tumultuous topic than even now, abounding with lessons easily applicable to our current climate. Alas, what we get instead is a nice set of performances that are a faint echo of a powerful story ….

Mary Beard has said she did not realize so many men dye their hair "but don't talk" about their secret

The renowned classicist and TV historian will present the significance of the hair-colour revolution in BBC Radio 4 documentary, Glad To Be Grey. The academic will investigate when and why women started obsessing about turning grey and what this says about our attitudes to women and ageing.

Talking to the Radio Times, the Shropshire-born star recalled the reaction of some TV views to her long, grey hair following BBC Two's Meet The Romans With Mary Beard in 2012.

"I got tweets saying, 'You look like a witch’." She added: "And then of course dear old AA Gill drew attention to it.” Writing for The Times, TV reviewer Gill said: "Mary Beard should be kept away from cameras altogether."

Historical board games are the subject of a British exhibit

In the 1917 board game “Suffragetto,” two players compete as either police or suffragettes to defend their political bases — the House of Commons or Royal Albert Hall, which suffragettes rented out around 30 times between 1908 and 1913 to rally for women’s votes. The strategy competition is one of nearly 1,500 vintage games recently donated by collector Richard Ballam to the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University.

“Suffragetto” is among 22 examples from this acquisition highlighted in Playing with History, a display of Victorian and Edwardian board games at Oxford’s Weston Library. Dr. Chris Fletcher, keeper of special collections at the Bodleian Libraries, told Hyperallergic that the game “as far as we know, is the only surviving copy still in existence today.” He adds that it’s “a fascinating game to have in the collection, not just for its rarity, but the questions it poses on who would play it and what it says about British society in 1917.”

Who’s the Worst Person in History?

Craig Ferguson debates the answer to that and other historical questions on his new late-night show

Who was history’s biggest douchebag? It’s not the sort of question typically asked on late-night TV, let alone in the sepia-toned documentaries that tend to to dominate historical programming. But it’s just the kind of question the veteran late-night host Craig Ferguson plans to tackle this season on his new History channel show, Join or Die With Craig Ferguson, premiering Thursday night, on which a panel of guests will debate historical superlatives.

To Ferguson, the answer matters less than the conversation it sparks. “When people say, Wait, how could you have a discussion about gangsters and not include Spatface Godzillaman?” Ferguson says of the inevitable gripes over the choices. “Well, you go and talk about Spatface Godzillaman.”

He saw the camera as a weapon in the fight for civil rights:  Gordon Parks

In 1912, when Gordon Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas, photographers didn't document the lives of people of color or the struggles they were forced to endure. Simply being seen was a fight in itself, a fight to which Parks dedicated his life.

He grew up in poverty, the youngest of 15 children. After graduating high school, he worked a string of odd jobs -- a semi-pro basketball player, a waiter, a busboy and a brothel pianist. Over time, Parks became enamored with the photography of the Farm Security Administration -- how artists like Jack Delano and Dorothea Lange captured the plights of migrant workers and Depression-era communities.

"I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs," he told an interviewer in 1999, seven years before his death. "I knew at that point I had to have a camera." Eventually, Parks visited a pawn shop and purchased a camera of his own.

From 1948 to 1972, Parks served as a photographer for Life magazine, becoming the first African-American photographer in the publication's history. During his time at Life, Parks captured images that have since become immortalized in the history of Civil Rights, his visuals piecing together a history that otherwise may have never been told.

An exhibition titled "Gordon Parks: Higher Ground" will revisit eight of Parks' most influential Life photo essays, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The images simultaneously ignited revolution and documented the process, capturing the immense power of photography as a dynamic weapon of change. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1961: "The world seldom believes the horror stories of history until they are documented via the mass media."

Why Was New York Fashion Week Obsessed With History?

Designers at New York Fashion Week harkened back to the ’40s, ’70s, and ’80s. What lies behind fashion’s endless nostalgia fix?

Are designers becoming more nostalgic? Has a fractured, angry, worried world led them to go back in time, believing what was in the past was obviously better?

The Belgium-based psycho-analyst Lieven Jonckheere told me that “fashion can never go forward,’ for many reasons, one being that fashion is a language.

Jonckheere referred to French philosopher Roland Barthes’s book, Système de la mode. “In that book, Barthes suggests that progress (in fashion) is not possible, because fashion always comes in opposite cycles. After long comes short, after tight, comes wide, after covered-up, overly sexy, etcetera. You never really make progress, because you always look back and reinterpret.”

The Witch:  Seventeenth-century horror

The Witch is the sort of horror movie that gets a ton of praise for its dogged resistance to conventional scary movie tropes. An indie hit out of Sundance last year, The Witch is the type of film that’s a success at film festivals but tends to evaporate once released into the wild; what works in the relentless hustle of a festival can feel airless when introduced to the elements of regular human audiences. The Witch is wrapped up in its own views of religion, of sin, of feminine power, but more than anything else, it is wrapped up in itself.

Ralph Ineson plays William, the head of a family of seventeenth-century Puritans, who has been kicked out of his New England village because he doesn’t believe the community is sufficiently dedicated to The Lord. Out in the wilderness, his family is immediately stricken with woe: No crops will grow, the animals grow ill and mad, and his infant son is taken away by a creature in the woods that everyone wants to believe is a wolf but we immediately recognize as some sort of witch-type creature. (This abduction, coming in the first ten minutes, is the most grueling moment of the whole film. I’d urge new parents to stay away, trust me.) William’s wife is paralyzed with grief, the family’s other children grow increasingly unstable and, seriously, those farm animals are starting to look at everybody awfully funny. This is all filtered through the eyes of the oldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is starting to “blossom as a woman” (the film’s words, not mine) in a way that is causing everyone else in the family problems, particularly her young brother. As more terrible things happen, the eye of suspicion for this Puritan family begins to fall on her.

First Exhibition Marking 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses” Presented by Minneapolis Institute of Art

This fall, the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” by presenting the first exhibition in the United States to explore the indelible impact of the Protestant Reformation through major works of art. On view from October 30, 2016 through January 15, 2017, “Martin Luther: Art of the Reformation” will feature paintings, sculptures, gold, textiles, and works on paper—many of which have never before left Germany—as well as Luther’s personal possessions and recent archeological finds from his homes to shed new light on the critical religious, cultural and societal changes of this tumultuous and transformative period. The exhibition is the first in a series of international initiatives commemorating this important moment, which will be observed around the world on October 31, 2017.

‘Bridge of Spies’: The True Story is Even Stranger Than Fiction By Tim Wiener

“Bridge of Spies,” the cold-war epic directed by Steven Spielberg, contends for six Academy Awards Sunday, including best picture. The brilliant Briton Mark Rylance is up for best supporting actor. He plays the Soviet spook who the FBI knew as Col. Rudolf Abel before and after his arrest in New York in 1957. Tom Hanks stars as the noble lawyer James Donovan, who defended the mysterious colonel up to the Supreme Court. In 1962, at the behest of the CIA, Donovan handed his imprisoned client over to the Russians in exchange for the captured pilot of a U–2 spy plane shot down over Sverdlovsk. The swap took place at the Berlin bridge connecting communist East Berlin to the West — thus the title.

The movie tries to be true to life. But it reconstructs five grim years in two hours and twenty-one minutes. As it often is, the truth was stranger than its fictional portrayal.