• annihilation c849b
    As the February 23 release date for the sci-fi thriller Annihilation has drawn closer, film critics have speculated about its quality: is it being released in the “dump month” of February, right after the box office hit Black Panther, because it’s bad? Or because it’s a masterpiece that’s too intellectual to appeal to the masses?

    Well, Annihilation isn’t quite a masterpiece, but it’s definitely an ambitious, enjoyable movie — and a creative story that we haven’t seen before. Loosely based on the novel of the same title by Jeff VanderMeer and directed by sci-fi pro Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Never Let Me Go), Annihilation follows a soldier-turned-biology professor named Lena (Natalie Portman) whose soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) suddenly reappears in her home after being missing and presumed dead for a year — with no memory of where he was or what he was doing. When Kane suddenly begins coughing up blood, soldiers kidnap him and Lena en route to the hospital and bring them to a mysterious building outside “Area X” — a wilderness surrounded by a mysterious “Shimmer,” into which many teams of soldiers have disappeared. Kane is the first person to come back from the Shimmer, and nobody knows how he did it. Worse: “Area X” is expanding, and no one knows how to stop it.

    With Kane unconscious, Lena decides to do something other than wait around for him to wake up. She joins a team of scientists going into the Shimmer. The scientists are all women, which is treated as no big deal. Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a terse, detached psychologist who is the leader of the group. Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez) is an outgoing, tough-talking medic (and yes, you read that undercut right: she’s into women). Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) is a soft-spoken, brilliant physicist and the emotional center of the group. Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) is an anthropologist and the most observant of the women — she’s the one who tells Lena that each member of the group decided to go into the Shimmer because none of them feel like they have much left to live for.

    Garland tells the story nonlinearly. We see three timelines — Lena being interrogated by a scientist (Benedict Wong) after somehow escaping the Shimmer; Lena and the team of scientists entering the Shimmer, four months earlier; and, a year before that, Lena and Kane saying goodbye before Kane embarks on his own mission.

    The world Garland has created inside the Shimmer is visually stunning, intriguingly strange, and often terrifying — as Lena soon realizes and explains to her team and the viewers, inside the Shimmer, every organisms scells mutate. That means some beautiful sights — vines covered in a variety of multicolored flowers; tiny white deer with twigs for antlers — and some terrifying monsters that threaten the group’s lives. But the monsters aren’t all external, and as the scientists go further into the Shimmer, they discover disturbing messages left for them by Kane and his team.

    Some of Garland’s sci-fi creatures are scarier and more fascinating than others, but the film is definitely a thriller — I grabbed my face a little too hard at one of the jump scares and have a small scratch below my eye now. I admire how ambitious and creative the film is, but the real strength is the cast. It’s refreshing to see an action thriller led by five women — I can’t think of a single one I’ve seen before — especially when the women play complex and very different characters. Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson especially stand out, and though they get a decent amount of screentime, I wanted even more. It's also refreshing to see Oscar Isaac play a “wife”-type character — he’s unconscious for most of the movie, his mysterious illness drives Lena’s action, and he’s primarily seen shirtless and in flashbacks.

    Garland has been criticized for casting Portman in the lead role, because in the second book of Jeff VanderMeer’s trilogy, her character is described as being of Asian descent (none of the characters' races are mentioned in the first book). In a recent interview with Yahoo, Portland said that she wasn't aware of her character's race in the books and has not read the second book; she also agreed that we need more roles for people of color in Hollywood. In other interviews, Garland has said he hasn’t read the other books in the trilogy, either — though the books had been released by the time production began, so you’d think that someone could have read them and filled him in. The supporting cast primarily consists of people of color — Thompson, Rodriguez, Isaac, and Wong, as well as David Gyasi as a hot professor and Lena’s colleague. But though Portman’s performance is a good one, I can’t blame anyone for wishing an Asian American actress had been cast as the lead — there are many who would have been excellent in the role.



     top photo: Annihilation

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  • Permission d1779

    Directed by Brian Crano
    Out on February 9, 2018

    Anna (Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) have been a couple since childhood. Just turned thirty and on the brink of starting their adult life together, they decide to put their commitment to the test, sleeping with other people for the first time in either of their lives. Simultaneously, Anna’s brother (David Joseph Craig) and his life-partner (Morgan Spector) struggle with the decision to become parents.

    Written, directed, and produced by Brian Crano, the film follows Anna and Will’s flailing attempts at maintaining their relationship while pursuing casual sex. It’s less a romantic dramedy, and more a comedy of errors as both couples struggle to communicate honestly with each other and their other partners; although lighthearted and enjoyable, at times it evoked the same cringing feeling that occurs when you watch someone wipeout.

    The type of non-monogamy Crano presents resembles what only a person deeply committed to monogamy would conceive of. (At one point, there is a heavy-handed, slightly pedantic attempt to distinguish open relationships from cheating.) While it’s refreshing to see a romance that portrays options outside of monogamy as valid, and advocates for self-autonomy in favor of commitment, it works best as a tale about what communication errors to avoid when pursuing an open relationship. It did, however, do a nice job of defying gender roles by replacing a conventional straight couple with a conventional gay couple. 3/5

    Top Photo from Permission

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  • 4 surviving r kelly 1.w700.h467.2x b9005

    R. Kelly’s reputation as a sexual predator has been public knowledge for decades. In 1994, a 27-year-old R. Kelly married a 15-year-old Aaliyah, who he was mentoring at the time. In 2002, Kelly went to court after a video was released in which he allegedly performed sex-acts including urination on an underage girl. Kelly was charged with possession of child pornography as a result of the video, but he disputed, claiming he was not the man in the tape. The young girl refused to testify, and the jury ultimately found him not guilty.

    One of the saddest aspects of R. Kelly’s court case is perfectly summarized in Madeleine Davies’ essay for Jezebel in which she states, “R. Kelly’s court case became a national punchline with most people going after R. Kelly’s urine kink rather than the true heart of his crimes.” It was easier for people to make sophomoric golden shower jokes than seriously consider that a popular artist could be a dangerous predator. Kelly seemed to face no consequences for his crimes, selling millions of records and continuing to receive nominations for awards. 

    The lack of accountability for perpetrators like R. Kelly is not unusual and it’s why the Lifetime docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, is a necessary and important watch. The six-hour series is airing in three installments. Comprised of dozens of interviews with survivors of Kelly’s abuse (all women of color, some underage at the time of their assault), the series traces his controversial past, explores how the abuses happened, and explains how Kelly has been able to persist in this behavior for so long. Showrunner dream hampton told Entertainment Weekly:

    “We wanted irrefutable evidence. Without leading any of these women, they all had the exact same stories, even if their interactions with R. Kelly were 15 years apart. All of them have stories about being physically abused, being videotaped without consent, being denied food or bathroom privileges as a punishment. All of them have stories about rules that were established early on.”

    hampton has spoken candidly about ensuring the stories of these women will be shared and remembered. An active presence on Twitter, hampton promotes and engages in the dialogue around systemic racism, the silencing of black survivors, and holding abusers accountable. 

    When the Manhattan theater hosting the initial premiere screening received violent threats, resulting in an emergency evacuation, hampton’s first priority was the survivors who were “retraumatized” by the experience, but ultimately she was not surprised. She spoke to ShadowandAct.comsaying, “When I said I’m at war with R. Kelly, this is what I meant. I don’t ever want to underestimate him. This is a man who has built systems around his abuse, which is something that you’ll see in the docuseries.” Lifetime released a statement saying the threat “was an intimidation tactic from R. Kelly to further silence these women.” Andrea Kelly, R. Kelly’s ex-wife, has said he was the person behind the threats.

    The final two instalments of the series will air Friday, January 4th at 9pm ET/PT and Saturday, January 5th at 9pm ET/PT. The first installment of the series aired January 3rd and can be viewed on “I hope that women can watch it in groups and take care of themselves. It’s going to be as triggering as triggering can be,” hampton noted in an interview with Despite the series' deeply upsetting subject matter, people are watching, engaging and tweeting their solidarity. 

    When asked if she has any final words on the matter, hampton told Complex, "Just believe black women. We tend to be the canary in the coal mine on a lot of these issues. It's no coincidence that #MeToo was founded by a black woman. Just listen to black women. That would be the last thing I want to say."

    Published January 4, 2019

    Image: Lifetime

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  • chappaquiddick 9e89e

    When Senator Ted Kennedy died in 2009 after serving in the Senate for almost half a century, obituarized memorialized him as “the Lion of the Senate,” praising his leadership among Senate Democrats and his lifetime support of universal healthcare and immigration reform. The new movie Chappaquiddick looks back at a decidedly less celebrated aspect of Kennedy’s career: that time he accidentally killed a woman and then tried to cover it up.

    Chappaquiddick opens by showing that woman, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), sunbathing in a cleavage-y swimsuit on the beach with a friend and fellow former Bobby Kennedy campaigner. The pair are discussing Mary Jo's reentry into politics: After taking a break from politics after Bobby Kennedy’s death, Mary Jo recently re-started her political career by working on a New Jersey mayoral race. Now, Ted Kennedy has talked with Mary Jo about working in politics on a higher level, and she’s considering it. In the midst of this conversation, Ted himself (Jason Clarke) walks up — and that’s the end of any hint of Mary Jo’s interiority.

    We next see Mary Jo with other “Boiler Room Girls” — a group of young women who worked on the Bobby Kennedy campaign — at a party with Ted, his cousin Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), and other Kennedy insiders. A gregarious and apparently drunk Ted takes Mary Jo for a drive — the filmmakers leave room for viewers to interpret this drive as the prelude to either a hookup or a conversation about Mary Jo’s career goals. After seeing the police approach their parked car, Ted speeds away...and drives straight off a narrow wooden bridge into a body of water. After Ted escapes the submerged car and swims to the beach, he lies back on the sand and reflects on the loss of his political career. Mary Jo is still trapped inside the car, panicking as it slowly fills up with water.

    Director John Curran, following a script written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, follows Ted as he goes to increasingly shady means to try to, at first, escape any connection with Mary Jo’s death, and then reduce the damage to his political career. The filmmakers portray Ted, his father Joe (Bruce Dern), and the rest of the Kennedys and their accomplices as single-mindedly focused on politics to the point of callousness — none of them give much of a thought to Mary Jo’s death beyond what it means for Ted's political career. But in doing so, the filmmakers also appear to have not given any more thought to Mary Jo’s death — or life — than the Kennedys did.

    With Kate Mara cast in the role and featured prominently in the trailer and marketing, I was expecting Mary Jo to appear in more than a few scenes. Yes, her character dies, but how about flashbacks to her time working for Bobby Kennedy, or showing her decision to re-enter politics? Kopechne's  Wikipieda page tells far us more about her than this movie even hints at: She was involved with the Civil Rights movement, she was a talented speechwriter, she loved softball. At the end of the movie, white text on a black screen gravely informs us that after failing to get past the primaries in 1980, Ted Kennedy never did run for president, framing the tragedy of the movie as the loss of Kennedy's presidential aspirations and not, y'know, the woman he killed. Chappaquiddick succeeds in showing the dark side of the political machinery behind the Kennedys, but there has to be a way to do that and give more value to Mary Jo’s life than the Kennedys did.


    top photo: Chappaquiddick

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  • abbi 58bf6

    Actress and comedian Abbi Jacobson, best known her role in Broad City, addressed her sexuality in an interview with Vanity Fair while discussing her new Netflix film 6 Balloons.  Jacobson is super busy with several projects — including a half-hour comedy based on the film A League of Their Own, the next season of Broad City, being a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and voicing a character on the upcoming Netflix animated series Disenchantment.She's super busy, but she is still open to dating.

    “I kind of go both ways; I date men and women,” Jacobson said. “They have to be funny, doing something they love. I don’t know — I’ve never really been interviewed about this before.”

    It was rumored that Jacobson and Carrie Brownstein were in a relationship in 2016, but this is the first time that Jacobson has publicly spoken about her sexuality. When told that by doing the interview she was setting herself up for dates, she responded, “Yeah, who knows? The world is my oyster.”

    So, folks, keep an eye out for a certain Broad City gal while you're swiping on your dating app of choice — and Abbi Jacobson, keep on being awesome. 

    Image: Broad City

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  • Brian Singer International Competition Jury at Opening Ceremony of the 28th Tokyo International Film Festival 22427114066 cropped 3e2fa

    Director Bryan Singer’s history of alleged rape, sexual harassment, and assault has been an “open secret” in Hollywood for years—but a damning Esquire expose is supposedly imminent, reports the Wrap. On Monday, Singer released a statement on Instagram saying the article will “rehash false accusations and bogus lawsuits.” The exposé is rumored to be released in the November edition of Esquire, out this week.

    Singer's statement continues, “In today’s climate where people’s careers are harmed by mere accusations, what Esquire is attempting to do is a reckless disregard for the truth, making assumptions that are fictional and irresponsible.”

    The truth, though, is that over two decades, Singer’s career has been marked by allegations ranging from inappropriate on-set behavior to accusations of sexual assault and rape—which IndieWire compiled into a timeline last year.

    The accusations begin in 1994, when production allegedly halted on Singer's film The Usual Suspects,reportedly due to star Kevin Spacey's "inappropriate sexual behavior." (Singer has said that production was not stopped.) Then, in 1997, the parents of 14-year-old Devin St. Albin and other young actors sued Singer and the producers of Apt Pupil for allegedly filming St. Albin and other young extras naked for a shower scene without permission. The suits were eventually dismissed for insufficient evidence. 

    The accusations against Singer include rape: in 2014, former child actor Michael F. Egan III filed a civil lawsuit against Singer. Egan said that in 1999, when he was 17, Singer flew him to Hawaii multiple times under the pretense of casting him in movie roles, but instead gave him alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs and anally raped him. Singer denied the accusations. In 2014, Egan volutarily dismissed his claim against Singer. Later in 2014, another former child actor, an anoymous plaintiff known as "John Doe No. 117," accused Singer and Singer's frequent collaborator Gary Goddard of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape him when he was 17; later that year, the plaintiff dropped Singer from the case. In 2017, a man named Justin Smith also accused Singer of sexually assaulting him in a series of since-deleted tweets; after Smith's tweets, Singer deleted his own Twitter account. Later in 2017, Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed a complaint against Singer saying that Singer had orally and anally raped him when he was 17. Singer denied the accusations. 

    In December 2017, Singer was fired from his movie Bohemian Rhapsody, apparently due to repeated failures to show up on set and resulting disagreements with star Rami Malek, reports Variety. Singer was replaced by Dexter Fletcher as the director in the film's later stages, but Singer still receives the directing credit and is involved with the promotion of the movie. In his statement, Singer writes that the Esquire exposé has been "conveniently timed with the release of my film, Bohemian Rhapsody" and is an attempt "to tarnish a career I've spent 25 years to build." 

    Top Image: Wikimedia Commons / Dick Thomas Johnson

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  • dolly 57480

    The queen of country is teaming up with the queen of wigs. Dolly Parton and Sia have recorded a new rendition of Parton’s “Here I Am.” The song originally appeared on the album Coat of Many Colors, and NPR describes the new version as “a bit slower, as a gospel-infused statement of purpose.” The Parton/Sia version is featured on the soundtrack for Netflix’s Dumplin’. In addition to being the soundtrack’s executive producer, Parton contributed six new compositions, which were co-written and co-produced by Linda Perry.

    Jennifer Aniston, Miranda Lambert, Mavis Staples, Miley Cyrus, Elle King, Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss also partnered with Parton on the Soundtrack. The film is a musical comedy based on Julie Muphy’s book, Dumplin’, about a former beauty queen, played by Aniston, and her plus-size teenage daughter (Danielle Macdonald), who is inspired by Dolly Parton’s music and enters into a beauty pageant. Rolling Stonereports the film is set to hit Netflix later this year. The Dumplin’ Original Motion Picture Soundtrack will be released November 30th via Dolly Records/RCA Nashville.

    Dolly photo header via RCA Records/WIkimedia Commons

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    The feature debut of Tanzanian American writer/director Ekwa Msangi, Farewell Amor, follows an immigrant family from Angola that reunites 17 years after husband and father Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) left for New York to work as a cab driver and establish a home for those he left behind. When he is finally able to bring over his wife Esther (Zainab Jah) and daughter Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) to share his small Brooklyn apartment, expectations shatter as he realizes he is as alien to them as they are to their new adopted country.

    Told in the style of Akira Kurosawa’s famous 1951 film Rashomon, this family drama unfolds repeatedly from the point of view of each character. Father, mother, and daughter all do what they can to reconnect, carefully navigating conflicts that arise surrounding familial love and duty under pressure. A recipient of multiple prestigious filmmaking fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Tribeca Institute, and the Sundance Institute, Msangi proves with this impressive first feature that she is a rising star, and definitely one to watch.

    By Logan Del Fuego
    Header image via IFC Films

    This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 print edition of BUST Magazine.
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  • Lena Dunham 2012 Shankbone 3e00d aeb25

    Lena Dunham has established herself through writing that satirizes a specific sort of individual: self-absorbed, young, white. Her resume includes Tiny Furniture (recent white college graduate), Girls (twenty-ish white college graduates) and most recently, Camping (unpleasant white yuppies). Dunham's body of work makes Variety’s recent report all the more frustrating: Dunham has been tapped by Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams to adapt Melissa Fleming’s Syrian refugee tale, A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival.

    The book tells the true account of Doaa al-Zamel, a young Syrian woman who, after a brief relocation to Egypt, attempts to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. Soon her boat—carrying 500 refugees—is attacked and capsizes. Adrift for four days, al-Zamel is one of 11 people to survive. Fleming’s is an imperfect biography, but the refugee story presents necessary questions: How can the international community recognize the humanity of brown, foreign bodies? How do ordinary individuals endure war’s extraordinary trauma?

    To tell a refugee tale well is tricky. The best biopics display a deep knowledge of, and empathy for, the country’s sociopolitical history. In this case, Syria’s complicated place within the Arab Spring. So is Dunham, a master of white privilege TV, the most apt choice to tackle this subject? The answer is no. Just, no.  

    Dunham doesn't have a long, or successful, track record of writing characters of color as anything more than accompaniment to the white cast. Remember Donald Glover's short-lived stint on the second season of Girls? Glover played Hannah's Republican boyfriend, who was dumped by Hannah after two episodes. When Dunham asked Glover over email if he felt tokenized, he responded, "Let’s not think back on mistakes we made in the past, let’s just focus on what lies in front of us."

    I can't help but feel more mistakes are ahead, though. Hollywood has long had a problem with Middle East and North African representation. A study presented in 2016 by the MENA Arts Advocacy Coalition (MAAC) titled “Terrorists and Tyrants: Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Actors in Prime Time and Streaming Television” analyzed 242 programs and found that MENA actors occupy only 1% of regular roles. 78% of guest roles were “terrorists, soldiers or tyrants.”

    Hollywood movies set in the Middle East are plagued by racist tropes: a dusty sepia tone and wide shots of war-torn cities, a score of that tired “leily ya leily” chant. Last year’s Jon Hamm-led Beirut had the tagline: “2,000 years of revenge, vendetta, murder. Welcome to Beirut.” Foreign film-viewership is low in America, so these depicitions often influence Western ideas of the Middle East. 

    There is a real need for more MENA screenwriters and the informed perspectives they offer. It’s dispiriting to imagine what an Arab author could do with the opportunity given to Dunham.

    Top Image: Wikimedia Commons

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  • JGL 83e9e

    If you're a millennial of a certain age, it’s possible you’ve been lusting after Joseph Gordon-Levitt for basically your whole life. From grade-school sleepovers in the late ’90s (10 Things I Hate About You) to date nights in the aughts (500 Days of Summer) to Oscar prepping in the 2010s (Inception), he’s always been there, upstaging higher-profile heart throbs in every genre.

    So, it is with great pleasure that I report he is every bit as charming as you’d want him to be, even on a cross-countryphone call in the midst of a pandemic that has made small talk nearly impossible. “I know that I ramble sometimes,” the 39-year-old jokes, as he explains—with an understandable amount of incredulity in his voice—that Donald Trump has just tweeted about the same anti-protest law referenced in his new film,The Trial of the Chicago 7 (out in November), which takes place in...1969. “When you watch this movie, it doesn’t feel like you’re watching history,” he says. “It really feels like you’re watching what’s going on today.”

    Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, Trial tells the true story of seven Chicago activists who were charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot after leading protests against the Vietnam War during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Gordon-Levitt plays Richard Schultz, one of the real-life prosecutors in the case. The stacked cast also includes Mark Rylance, Sacha Baron Cohen, Frank Langella, Yahya Abdul-MateenII, and Michael Keaton, among others. “It was fascinating and just invigorating, and such a deep honor to be around such talented and skilled artists,” says Gordon-Levitt, noting that the movie’s court room setting allowed for an unusual chance to watch each other’s performances. “It was an incredible moment as an actor.”

    JGL2 78b6b

    Pre-pandemic, Gordon-Levitt was also working on a new Apple+ comedy series about a California public-school teacher called Mr. Corman, in which he was playing the title character, writing, directing, and executive producing. “I was having a blast!” he says of the show, adding that the premiere is currently set for 2021. Then there’s Hit Record, his online community of artists around the world, and 7500, his airplane thriller that hit Amazon Prime over the summer.

    He’s been so busy, it’s not surprising that he has no idea what I’m talking about when I ask him if he was aware of the rampant Internet speculation that he was the Astronaut on Season Three of The Masked Singer. “My knowledge of popculture is somewhat limited,” he admits. “I am very aware of what’s happening on Shark Tank, though.” –Eliza Thompson

    Photographed by Ramona Rosales 

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  • KB2 061019 MC 0312 9d311

    “We want complex characters with multifaceted experiences.”

    These words are the resounding call of 2020 as the confluence of the Black Lives Matter protests and queer POC activism make plain our fundamental need to redesign our media—and Maisie Richardson-Sellers is making her own wish come true.

    An Oxford graduate, actor, writer, and queer WOC activist—is there such thing as a quadruple threat?—Richardson-Sellers is reshaping representation within the film industry. Although many know her as Charlie on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, she is also drawing attention for her recent appearance in the much-awaited sequel to The Kissing Booth, which dropped this past week on Netflix.

    In the follow-up to this popular teen romance flick, Richardson-Sellers plays the role of Chloe, the world-traveling, ambitious Harvard student whose brains and beauty make her the envy of Elle, the film’s lead (played by Joey King). Although the Kissing Booth movies have received criticism for portraying sexist themes and tokenized characters, Richardson-Sellers explains how she brought her perspective as a queer woman of color to the table while developing Chloe’s character. “We had great conversations,” she affirmed over the phone when I called her, a few days before the film debuted. “You know, I personally went to Oxford, and she goes to Harvard, and I know what it’s like to be in a very performative, very white world and how you have to code-switch. I think that’s what Chloe does very well. And it’s not necessarily that I like the fact that that’s what I have to do, but it’s a skill that you pick up and refine and become pretty good at it.”

    Richardson-Sellers also brings her own perspective to her work in Legends of Tomorrow, where she plays a pansexual and gender-fluid character. “She’s not your typical hero. If anything she’s more of an anti-hero,” she explains. “She does things that make you think, Of course! There’s one episode where Shakespeare asks her, ‘Is that a man or a woman on stage?’ And she says, ‘Does it matter?’ and carries on.” She makes it clear, in her acting and in her activism, that simply placing POC and queer people on screen isn’t enough. “I really want to challenge, especially with this YA genre, to really step it up with representation, and how you do that representation—not just tokenized, or just Black characters, but we want complex characters with multifaceted experiences.”

    Her advocacy for inclusive storytelling doesn’t just live on-screen. Behind the scenes, she is a whirlwind of activism and artistry. This year, she will be launching “Barefaced Productions," her very own production company that centralizes queer people of color. This is a project that has been in the works for two years now. Richardson-Sellers first got the idea after co-writing Sunday Child, a short film about a young queer woman of color on a journey of self-discovery. “It came out of me noticing how often representation was done in problematic ways,” she explains. “So, ‘Barefaced Productions’ started as a way to fill that void, and we focus a ton on marginalized stories and LGBTQ+ stories in a way whereby those who are having their stories told on the screen are also the ones telling it behind the screen.”

    One of her ideas for future projects includes the story of her grandmother, which she hopes to co-write with her mother, who is an actress and writer as well. Such collaboration is key for Richardson-Sellers in all the work that she does. “It has to be for me,” she says, “because that’s the joy in it. I love bouncing ideas off of people and challenging people and being challenged and I personally think that’s the most exciting thing: when you’re forced to push yourself that little bit further.”

    Maisie 2fa90Photo credit: Grace Pickering

    When she’s not writing, acting, or creating, she’s volunteering. Richardson-Sellers has worked with a number of organizations that centralize queer people of color, including The Triangle Project in Capetown, South Africa—a non-profit human rights organization that offers services to LGBTQ+ communities like legal support, medical care, counseling, and education. For someone so active,Richardson-Sellers' energy is abundant. “I’m looking forward to it all!” she says. “I’m excited to be here, to be able to share. I’m excited to write. I’m excited to use my voice—obviously, there's a lot of pain in the world right now, and I want to use that, you know, and find some kind of positivity in a way to push forward.”

    Top photo courtesy of Netflix/Marcos Cruz 

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  • Natalie Morales photo cred Jeremy Mackie 4653f



    Written and directed by Natalie Morales

    Out September 10

    Natalie Morales, the actor, has been gracing our screens for more than a decade (Parks & Recreation, Battle of the Sexes, Dead to Me), but Morales the director is having a moment: Language Lessons, which she co-wrote and stars in with Mark Duplass, is one of the two features she helmed during lockdown. It’s the quiet, intimate flipside to Plan B, the chaotic quest movie she directed for Hulu, and both are must-sees. Much of Language Lessons’ closeness comes from the format- it was filmed entirely over Zoom, the perfect vehicle for the touching tale of a long-distance relationship. 

    Duplass plays Adam, a guy whose husband gifts him weekly Spanish classes with Morales’ Cariño in Costa Rica. At first, Adam’s lavish home, “kept man” lifestyle, and charmingly self-centred banter rankle Cariño. But a tragedy sets their lessons on an unexpected trajectory, and with only two locations, two actors, and lots of talking, the story is carried mostly by their captivating charisma and chemistry. Audiences get to know each other, with all the awkwardness, caginess, and unexpected vulnerability an online-only relationship can foster. Watching can feel like eavesdropping, and you’ll want to keep spying on this duo after the final frame. - LISA BUTTERWORTH

    Photo courtesy of Jeremy Mackie

     This review originally appeared in BUST's Fall 2021 print edition. Subscribe today!

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    Michaela Coel joins the Black Panther family as… well, we don’t know who yet. What we do know is that Variety reported Coel is on set at Atlanta Pinewood Studios filming the sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Although details of plot and characters are currently being kept under lock and key, the mystery only adds to the excitement, with many fans eager to find out how writer-director Ryan Coogler plans to continue on without the late Chadwick Boseman. 

    Coel who first hit the scene writing, directing, and starring in raunchy comedic series Chewing Gum,which ran for two seasons. Most recently she struck gold with provocative HBO Max drama, I May Destroy You, which earned her three Emmy nominations at this year's ceremony. This is not to mention her other roles in shows such as Black Mirror and Black Earth Rising as well as the movies Been So Long and Star Wars: The Last Jedi

    The secrecy surrounding Coel’s role in the Black Panther sequel has left many on Twitter with no choice but to throw out some predictions of their own. A popular fan theory is that Coel has been brought on to play Ororo Munroe, otherwise known as Storm. This speculation is supported by the comics in which Storm and T’challa are married (she’s even listed as his spouse on Wikipedia). 



    Other fans have thrown in their two cents, wondering if she could perhaps be casted as either Aneka, a captain of the Dora Milaje, or Madam Slay, a leopard controlling supervillainess and lover to Erik Killmonger. Both were originally featured in the Black Panther comics and Michaela Coel would kick ass as either of these iconic characters. 



    Hopefully Marvel Studios will soon gives into our demands and reveals which character the British actor will play. But in the meantime keep up the conspiracy theories, and let's see who's on the mark? Regardless of the role she’s taken on, we know she's going to absolutely SLAY

    Look out for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever on July 8, 2022.

    Top Photo: Screenshot Via Youtube

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    Regina King’s movie entitled “One Night in Miami” premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Monday night. The film, based on Kemp Powers’ play of the same name, follows Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke as they celebrate Clay's win over Sonny Liston in February 1964. “One Night in Miami” made history not only as King’s directorial debut, but also as the first premiere directed by a Black woman in the festival's 88 year history. 

    The Venice Film Festival, much like their international festival counterparts, has excluded Black female talent throughout their history. One outlier is Euzhan Palcy, a female director from Martinique, who won four awards for her 1984 film, “Sugar Cane Alley,” including the Silver Lion for Best Picture. After Palcy’s festival success, and eventual Oscar for “A Dry White Season” (1989) she found it difficult to remain popular in Hollywood. Last year, she spoke to the Guardian about film executives and said, “They loved my film-making and the stories, but eventually they would say: ‘Sorry it’s too black. Our marketing department cannot sell it.’”

    Now, 36 years after Palcy’s first festival success, King is worried that not much has changed. At a Monday evening press conferenceshe echoed Palcy’s concerns and said, “It’s interesting because how this film performs will open doors or maybe close doors for more Black female directors … that’s how things seem to work.” 

    Much of the pressure on filmmakers is a result of the perceived importance of festivals. Three of the last five Academy Award winners for Best Picture opened at the Venice Film Festival and many decision-makers in the industry look to festival selections as the true test for whether a film is worth critical attention or not. The lack of diversity represented in these selections often get film festivals in trouble. 

    In 2017, the Venice Film Festival came under fire for only including one film directed by a woman in the competition categories. The next year, the festival took an amended version of the 50/50 by 2020 pledge. The original pledge, created by the Times Up movement and the Center for Cultural Power, demanded the release of statistic-based transparency reports surrounding submissions and selections, but the amendments made by the festival committed to transparency without the statistics. 

    Some festivals like Rotterdam and Berlin now release the names of those on their selection committees but the Venice Film Festival does not. Their website states,“Regarding the selection of the films submitted, the Festival Director will be assisted by his staff of experts, as well as by a group of correspondents and international consultants…”  Two years after the pledge, there are more women in competition- the number has increased from one to eight out of 18 total competitors- but there is still no reported data about the selection committee. 

    In 2019, King also took the 50/50 by 2020 pledge when she won Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes for her role in Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk.” She promised that the staff on her projects in the next two years, like “One Night in Miami,” would be 50% women. In her acceptance speech she emphasized the power of industry voices and said, “We are on our soap box and using a moment to talk about the systemic things that are going on in life. Time’s Up times two. The reason why we do this is because we understand that our microphones are big and we are speaking for everyone.”


    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/ Gage Skidmore 

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    If you’ve been following the mounting sexual assault and misconduct allegations pouring out against Hollywood and TV superpowers, you may be asking yourself, “Is there anything untainted left to watch?” The answer, of course, is yes. The new site, Rotten Apples, has made the question of how to find it very, very simple.

    The name is a spoof of the entertainment review site, Rotten Tomatoes. Instead of ranking films based on popular appeal, Rotten Apples ranks media based on if there were any sexual predators involved in its production. Simply type in a movie or television program, and it will rank it as either a “Good Apple” — no sexual predators were involved in the making — or a “Rotten Apple,” and list the sexual predators involved. Films that are “Rotten Apples” have a list of names and positions of the rotten people involved in the production, replete with links to articles detailing the claims against them. For those people that they may have missed, they provide a feedback link where folks are encouraged to send in their corrections.

    Sadly, the site only deals with sexually-based offenses by those involved in the core of the film, and does not rank the film's content. So, you may watch a film that doesn’t have anyone shitty involved, but it might feature 10 seconds of Trump as a background extra in one episode of a first season —ahem, Sex and The City—or the content itself might still be sexist, misogynistic, racist, etc. It also doesn't include accusations of domestic violence — many of Johnny Depp's movies are marked "Good Apples." Still, it beats having to search IMDB and crosscheck your findings with BUST’s monumental list for every bad Netflix film you watch.

    Top photo via Flickr Creative Commons

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    “You have to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace.”

    These are the timely words that ring in the teaser trailer for Respect, a new biopic directed by Liesl Tommy that follows Aretha Franklin’s ascension to fame and her work with the civil rights movement. Hitting theaters this December 25, 2020, Respect is set to feature the one and only Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin.

    Opening with a cloudburst of sparks, glitter, and the resounding vocals of J.Hud belting out the lyrics to "Respect," the trailer matches the excitement we’re all feeling about getting to see the story of Franklin’s life on-screen. What’s even more exciting is that the Queen of Soul herself got to hand-select J.Hud to portray her for the movie before her death in 2018.

    First paying tribute to Franklin in April 2003 when she opened for her in Merrillville, Indiana (before her Oscar-winning performance in Dreamgirls), J.Hud has had many opportunities to honor the powerhouse singer since then. One of them includes her recent appearance at the 20th BET Awards ceremony this June, where she performed Franklin’s rendition of “Young, Gifted and Black,” a protest song by Nina Simone – and debuted her new talent that she developed for her role in Respect

     “I started piano lessons,” she says in an article with People, “Aretha got me back in music school. It's still a process, but the film has made me more passionate about learning an instrument and expressing myself musically."

    We’re passionate, too – especially after getting to see not only a sneak peek of J.Hud’s electrifying portrayal of Franklin, but the numerous big-names that appear in cast list: Mary J. Blige, Marlon Wayans, Audra Macdonald, to name a few. Check it out here:


    Header image via Youtube

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    We’ve waited through one decade and twenty movies for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to give us a female-led film. Well, the first trailer for March’s Captain Marvel is here, promising all the female badass-ery the beloved character deserves.

    When we meet Carol Danvers, played by Oscar-winner Brie Larson, she’s crashing into a Blockbuster. The movie is set in the mid-nineties, a prequel to the current MCU. There are some familiar (though digitally de-aged) faces: Samuel L. Jackson is a young, two-eyed Nick Fury. Rookie agent Phil Coulson from S.H.I.E.L.D., and Guardians of the Galaxy’s memorably unmemorable villain, Ronan the Accuser.

    But the spotlight is on Danvers, as she navigates her nebulous origins and chaotic present battling Skrull (bad aliens) on the Kree (good aliens) Starforce. Also featured: her fellow air force pilot, Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau. Rambeau is a prominent figure in the comics, and their deep friendship is a welcome addition to a universe sparse of two women even sharing lines onscreen.

    Captain Marvel first entered mainstream discourse during the end credits of last year’sAvengers: Infinity War. Remember it? As Nick Fury crumbles into ash, he sends a distress call over a high-tech pager. Before the scene cuts to black, the pager alights with Captain Marvel’s vintage insignia.

    Cue frantic googling: “Who is Captain Marvel?”

    Danvers has been fighting space crime since 1968. She was written as an officer in the United States Air Force. An explosion at a high security military splices her DNA with Mar-Vell (the original Captain Marvel, and played by Jude Law in the movie), an alien Kree warrior. This gives her a multitude of powers: strength, flight, and the ability to harness solar energies. Though it’s ten years before she officially takes the Marvel handle, writer Gerry Conway intended her as an empowering figure, writing in Ms. Marvel #1 (1977) that "you might see a parallel between her quest for identity, and the modern woman's quest for raised consciousness, for self-liberation, for identity."

    Still, some gross plot developments led to wide criticism by female readers. One particularly heinous storyline in Avengers #200 involved Danvers abducted, brainwashed, and impregnated by an interdimensional rapist.

    On that storyline, maybe scholar Carol Strickland says it best: “Isn't everyone entitled to respect as a human being? Shouldn't they be against something that so self-consciously seeks to destroy that respect and degrade women in general by destroying the symbol of womankind?”

    Once at the helm, Chris Claremont rewrote Danvers’ timeline, expunging the impregnation, but its memory lingered. Female characters in comics so rarely get to be it all: independent, intelligent, sexually liberated. She is super strong, but cannot be portrayed as muscular; feminine without the “burden” of sensitivity. Danvers is canonically the strongest hero in the MCU, but her comic iteration didn’t prove to be the exemption.

    For that, the first trailer of her big screen debut inspires hope that the hero can subvert the genre’s gender trappings and inspire more solo heroine debuts.

    (Seriously though, why is the Black Widow movie not here yet?)


    Top Image: Marvel Studios

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  • TM020250 Photo Gareth Gatrell copy 80520

    A coming of age story meets The Smiths' fandom of the '80s in The More You Ignore Me. This film weaves Morrissey's legacy into the befuddled homelife of Alice (Ella Hunt), her loyal father, Keith (Mark Addy), and mentally disabled mother, Gina (Sheridan Smith) in rural England. The film is an adaptation of Jo Brand's darkly comic novel. Yet, beneath Brand's comedic writing, The More You Ignore Me tackles difficult themes like mental illness and loss as Alice is bent between her devotion to her mother and her newly found love for Morrissey of The Smiths, a symbol of freedom and vivacity away from her mundane reality.

    Buoyant yet unpredictable, the film shows us that family ties and youthful imagination are not mutually exclusive as Alice and Gina fall apart yet are brought back together again by Morrissey, whose stardom fuels them both with hopeful optimism. Upfront, Gina takes so much away from Alice: A stable maternal figure, a letter written by Morrissey himself, and eventually her long-awaited place at The Smith's concert. But Alice learns that it can all be shared, so long as her mother can still experience the joys of life through her fraught state. The More You Ignore Me taps into the hysteria of the '80s, the blissfulness of youth, and the attachments to home. As "This Charming Man" plays over Alice and Gina's reconnection, the audience can't help but fall in love with The Smiths all over again.

    THE MORE YOU IGNORE ME Poster 6ac89

    The More You Ignore Me

    Directed by Keith English

    Out October 13

    Top Image: courtesy of Gareth Gatrell 

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  • bealestreet dd98a

    Queens Sandra Oh, Regina King, and Glenn Close each won their categories and our hearts with their Golden Globes speeches last night.

    Oh made history as the first Asian woman to win the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her role in BBC America’s Killing Eve—and for being the first Asian host of the show. In her acceptance speech for her win, she thanked her parents, speaking in Korean. As sweet as it was, the real speech to watch from Oh came at the conclusion of her opening monologue with co-host Andy Samberg.

    “I said yes to the fear of being on this stage tonight because I wanted to be here, to look out into this audience, and witness this moment of change,” Oh said. “I’m not fooling myself; next year could be different, it probably will be. But right now, this moment, is real. Because I see you, and I see you. All these faces of change. And now, so will everyone else.”

    This moment of appreciation for the diverse casts of 2018 set the tone for the evening. Many award winners throughout the night spoke about their gratitude for the stories told in 2018.

    Regina King won Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for her work in If Beale Street Could Talk. Her acceptance speech added to Frances McDormand’s inclusion rider speech from last year’s Oscars, as King promised, “I am making a vow, and it’s going to be tough, to make sure everything I produce [in the next two years], that it’s 50% women.”

    King ended her speech by challenging those both in and outside of the entertainment industry to use the power they have to follow suit.

    In one of the last awards of the night, Glenn Close won Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for The Wife. The movie, about a woman who writes her husband’s Nobel-winning novel, took a long time to make—“It’s called The Wife. I think that’s why it took 14 years to get made,” remarked Close.

    Close related her mother’s subservience to the societal expectation of women as nurturers, but turned it into a call for women to find their own fulfilment in life. She received a standing ovation.

    It may feel as though these speeches, among others throughout the night and surely ones to come this awards season, are beating a dead horse. Is it necessary for everyone to still reference Time's Up, #MeToo, and the need for diversity in filmmaking?

    In short, yes.

    Filmmaking is a long process. The average amount of time it takes to make a studio film from greenlighting it to the wide release is just under two and a half years, according to data researcher Stephen Follows' "Film Data and Education." And that’s a studio film, AKA the well-oiled machine version of movie-making.

    That means we haven’t truly seen the repercussions of #MeToo and Time’s Up on the big screen yet. It also means those in power in the industry are only just now seeing the positive returns of diverse stories and casts on screen. This is exactly the right time for award accepters to emphasize the need to continue the push for more women and people of color in front of and behind the camera because in the timescape of filmmaking, those in power are still in the “testing the waters” phase, deciding if this is a trend that should become the norm or not.

    Until it is the norm, we'll continue to have awards shows like last night. Several films with diverse cast and directors of color will get nominations (BlacKkKlansman, Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther, etc.) but will walk away empty-handed, while more mild-mannered films that loosely and problematically claim progressive values (*cough* Green Book*cough*) win big.

    We stan these three Golden Globes queens and their inclusive, inspiring messages. Hollywood, please heed their requests accordingly.

    Top photo: Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

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