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Daily Reads: Why ‘Tangerine’ Could Be a Turning Point for Transgender Actors, Bill Cosby and the Fight Against Rape, and More

Daily Reads: Why 'Tangerine' Could Be a Turning Point for Transgender Actors, Bill Cosby and the Fight Against Rape, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Why “Tangerine” Could Be a Turning Point For Transgender Actors. Sean Baker’s new film “Tangerine” features two first-time transgender actresses, Sin-Dee and Alexandra. In “Tangerine,” neither character justifies their identity to the audience, but instead it accepts them at face-value so as to tell a story. Could this be a turning point for transgender representation in the film industry? Over at The Dissolve, Andreas Stoehr explores “Tangerine” and its potential influence on transgender actors.

The question now, and over the coming years, will be whether other filmmakers can follow “Tangerine’s” lead and get more trans performers onscreen. Critic Willow Maclay optimistically calls “Sense8” a “springboard moment,” explaining that “in the last few years there have been significant strides in the mainstream media regarding our lives, but things still have an exceedingly long way to go.” It may take some imagination about what movies can be like, who can be in them, and how to fund them. It may take sustained cooperation between artists, audiences, and critics. But the payoff will be tremendous: movies that can show a broader, richer world within the confines of their frames. Eventually, “Tangerine” could become one movie among many — good, bad, happy, sad, mainstream, or experimental — building an expanded onscreen picture of transgender life. It may be a small, speedy, low-budget feature, but that’s exactly the type of movie that can spark a revolution.

2. “Rectify’s” Third Season Explores the Gulf Between Getting Out of Prison and Being Free. 
The quiet, intimate SundanceTV drama “Rectify,” a series about a man who returns to society after spending 19 years on death row, returns this Thursday for its third season. Time’s James Poniewozik reviews the series’ new season and its exploration of how people live on after trauma and tragedy.

The Daniel we meet, soft–spoken and tentative, might be an innocent man adjusting after 19 years of prison brutality. (A few locals connected to the case become nervous once Daniel is released.) He might be guilty, or guilty in part, but repentant. He might be a quiet enigma with a dormant monster within. At the end of the first season, he snaps during an argument with his stepbrother and knocks him out with a sleeper hold, leaving him to regain consciousness with his pants pulled down, a dominance move Daniel learned in prison. “It wasn’t rape,” he later confesses, “but it was violent and unhinged.” Season three, for those of you already on board, picks up with the immediate aftermath of Daniel’s confession deal at the end of the second season, as he faces probation and possible exile from his hometown, which, for all his problems there, is the one thing he knows outside jail. The investigation into the killing continues, but, like this introspective series, it grinds slowly. In a way, the show is both complement and antithesis to the true-crime phenomena “The Jinx” and “Serial;” rather than attempt closure and a solution, it cares far more about how people live with the unknown.

3. Bill Cosby and What We Need To Win the Fight Against Rape. 
Two days ago, the Associated Press reported that “[Bill] Cosby testified in 2005 that he got Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to young women he wanted to have sex with,” adding fuel to the fire of all of the recent Cosby allegations. However, a major problem still remains: there isn’t a clear legal or national consensus on the definition of rape. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg argues why that consensus is necessary to win the fight against rape culture.

It’s always going to be exceptionally difficult to convince people to see themselves as rapists, just as it’s extremely hard to get people to redefine themselves as racists. And we can’t take a pause in prosecuting alleged rapists, covering them in the media, or talking about sexual assault in order to convene some sort of national conversation, standardize our laws, and get every single American to agree on what counts as rape. But as tiresome and as unfair as it might seem, we have to keep pushing for consensus even as the campaign against sexual assault pushes forward on other fronts. If citizens – no matter how famous – legislatures and law enforcement officials can’t agree on what rape is, then why should Bill Cosby feel like he’s done anything wrong?

4. “Jurassic World”: Pure Entertainment or Commentary on Animal Protection? 
“Jurassic World” entered theaters last month to mixed reviews, but the film has sparked plenty of interesting criticism, such as whether or not “Jurassic World” is actually a commentary on animal captivity. The Liberty Project’s Noah Gittell examines “Jurassic World’s” perspective on animal protection.

Over at “The Guardian,” Steve Rose sees “Jurassic World” as a subversion of movies such as “Jaws” and its endless imitators because the humans are the bad guys — particularly the park’s directors, who see the dinosaurs as financial assets instead of sentient beings. I’m not so sure about that. However positive the explicit messaging may be, the audience’s experience, as constructed by “Jurassic World’s” filmmakers, is still harmful to animals. The film may present the objectification of animals as archaic and destructive, but the person who espouses that view — the park director played by Bryce Dallas Howard — is the film’s hero. When her life is in danger, only the most fervent animal-rights activists would actually find themselves rooting for the dinosaur. In a pitched movie battle between man and animal (or dino), it is our natural instinct to root for the person’s survival and, ultimately, the animal’s destruction. And while “Jurassic World” formally opposes the commodification of animals, its entertainment value is built on just that. Consider the film’s climax, during which the human characters essentially stand by while several dinosaurs tear each other apart. The violence is pornographic, and the film frames the violent destruction of several animals as something awe-inspiring.  There is something hypocritical about a film claiming a mantle of animal protection, but using the visual language of violence against animals to depict it.

5. A Tribute to Jerry Weintraub: 1937-2015. 
Jerry Weintraub, an award-winning film and TV producer, died two days ago of heart failure at the age of 77. His life-long career in show business included a stint as a music talent agent for acts such as Elvis Presley and Bob Denver, a producer for Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” and briefly serving as a CEO of United Artists. RogerEbert’s Matt Fagerholm pays his respects to the legend.

For a five-month period in 1985, Weintraub served as chairman and CEO of United Artists, before forming his own short-lived company, Weintraub Entertainment Group. He won Emmys for 1975’s “An Evening with John Denver,” 2013’s “Behind the Candelabra” and 2014’s “Years of Living Dangerously.” He was also named Producer of the Year in 1986 by the National Association of Theater Owners and a member on the Kennedy Center board in 1991. And in 2007, he became one of the first independent film producers to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His 2010 memoir, “When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead: Useful Stories From a Persuasive Man,” written with Rich Cohen, and the aforementioned film “His Way,” provide an in-depth portrait of the man’s distinctive charm, which led him to make a rich array of connections in both the political and Hollywood realms (he was a longtime friend of President George H.W. Bush). Among the impressive array of talent assembled in McGrath’s documentary are Ellen Barkin, James Caan, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Elliott Gould, Ralph Macchio, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and Bruce Willis.

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