Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. Straight Outta Culture: Sexism in Black and White. F. Gary Gray’s “Straight Outta Compton” has garnered criticism for its whitewashing of rap group N.W.A.’s career, especially their well-documented history of misogyny in their lyrics and actions. But though it’s not right to give F. Gary Gray or N.W.A. a pass for their misogyny, it’s also not right to pretend white artists aren’t guilty of the same crime, nor is it right to treat sexism like a black-and-white issue. RogerEbert.com’s Danielle Henderson explores sexism in “Straight Outta Compton” and the music industry at large, and how it’s more complicated than anyone admits.
Black artists aren’t the only ones who do this, though. The justified criticisms of “Straight Outta Compton” shouldn’t blind us to that fact. Comments made in their recent interview with “Rolling Stone” make it hard to believe that N.W.A. has changed their tune. But even if they did, would it matter, in the way that it has mattered for white artists? Most people don’t know or have conveniently forgotten that John Lennon used to beat his first wife, even though the lyrics for the upbeat “Getting Better” point it out rather plainly: “I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved / Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene” Did Lennon get to be the Subdued Hippie Dream Prophet because he later admitted he was wrong? The Beastie Boys definitely changed their scene — all have become outspoken proponents of feminist issues, including [the] speech by Adam “Ad Rock” Horovitz at the 1999 MTV Awards about the way women were groped and assaulted at the Woodstock festival that same year. The Beastie Boys grew up, and we rewarded them for it by forgetting they once had a song imploring women to do the dishes, clean up their rooms, do the laundry, and clean the bathroom. There’s also a heavy double standard that cloaks these issues of sexism, misogyny and racism entirely, and it’s rooted in the historically inaccurate persecution of black men as sex-crazed maniacs. The macho posturing running rampant in the business galvanizes the idea that women are worthless, and this is not just a problem afflicting black artists. As writer Zeba Blay points out, rappers aren’t the only musicians that have demeaning lyrics and videos. Did anyone consider Led Zeppelin’s “shark episode” when they were inducting them into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, or the fact that guitarist Jimmy Page was dating a 14-year old girl? Motley Crue’s 2001 autobiography, “The Dirt,” reads like a rap sheet of depravity, including a rape that was explained away by the presence of drugs and alcohol. Motley Crue were at the height of their popularity in 1987 when they released the album “Girls, Girls, Girls”; the titular song documents the band’s favorite strip clubs across America, and opens with the idea that sex workers are necessary to make singer Vince Neil’s Friday night complete.
2. Tarantino’s Leading Man: A Profile of Samuel L. Jackson. Quentin Tarantino is hard at work on his latest film “The Hateful Eight,” but he still took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with Vulture to discuss everything under the sun. Now, one of the most frequent Tarantino collaborators speaks about his career-long history with the director. Vulture’s Jada Yuan profiles Samuel L. Jackson and explores his role as Tarantino’s “leading man.”
Jackson tells the tale of their first encounter with the kind of affectionate shit-talking born of deep friendship; they’ve just finished their sixth movie together (“The Hateful Eight,” out December 25). It was 1991, the year Jackson, a theater veteran just getting into movies, won Best Supporting Actor at Cannes for “Jungle Fever.” He’d shown up to casting for this unknown screenwriter’s first feature having memorized a scene he thought he’d be playing with Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel. Instead, he got stuck reading with two bozos he’d never seen before, who didn’t know their lines and couldn’t stop laughing. “I didn’t realize it was Quentin, the director-writer, and Lawrence Bender, the producer,” says Jackson, “but I knew that the audition was not very good.” He didn’t get the job. “My agent and manager tell me that my expectations of everybody else being as prepared as I am is my biggest problem,” Jackson tells me. It wasn’t until “Reservoir Dogs'” notorious premiere at the Sundance Film Festival the following January that Jackson saw Tarantino again. Half the audience had fled amid all that gleeful gore; Jackson went up afterward to shake Tarantino’s hand. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I remember you. How’d you like the guy who got your part?'” says Jackson. “I was like, ‘Really? I think you would have had a better movie with me in it.'”
3. Sadie Frost Turns Academic For Her Next Film. Actress, producer, and fashion designer Sadie Frost has recently received her MA “based on researching the sometimes difficult career of female filmmakers.” As a result of her research, her production company Blonde to Black Pictures’ new film “Buttercup Bill” has employed a production team made up of 80% women. The Guardian’s Dalya Alberge examines Frost’s new film, and how her research has impacted the film’s production.
In 2011, Comley and Frost set up their own film company, Blonde to Black Pictures. “Our whole vision was to nurture new talent, give people opportunities…take risks and just to do as much of it on our own,” said Frost. Although her next two films involve plenty of men and she now has a male business partner, she criticized the industry’s typecasting of women for lesser production roles: “You’re more likely to find a continuity person who’s a woman.” With the steep cost of childcare and the nature of filmmaking as “a complete gamble,” she said she has paid herself very little in the three years since she set up Blonde to Black. “I wouldn’t have been able to survive if I didn’t have the fashion business,” she said, referring to her well-established clothing label Frost French. “The luxury of having a second career has supported this career…that’s why I set up the fashion company and have my label with Debenhams.” Frost’s academic research mirrors that of British producer and writer Stephen Follows, whose report last year revealed that women accounted for only 23% of crew members on the 2,000 highest-grossing films of the past 20 years. Just 5% of the directors were women. “We need to find out if it’s a lack of opportunity or a lack of interest,” says Follows. “Film is a major way in which we talk about ourselves as a society. If we have a select group of people telling the stories, we are influencing our culture that way.”
4. Alex Ross Perry Is Living the Arrogant, Obnoxious Film-Student Dream. In the last few years, the 31-year-old Alex Ross Perry has become one of the most acclaimed American independent directors working today. His latest film “Queen of Earth,” starring Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men” and Perry’s last film “Listen Up Philip”) and Katherine Waterston (“Inherent Vice”), is currently in limited release and will enter more theaters in the coming weeks. Vanity Fair’s Jordan Hoffman spends time with Perry and examines his future career as well as his own cinephile opinions.
Early notices for “Queen of Earth” have mentioned Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” and Polanski’s “The Tenant,” but it was Robert Altman’s somewhat forgotten film “Images” that was the biggest influence. “We showed [Elisabeth] stills from ‘Images’ and also two Fassbinder films that are single-location movies about women, ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’ and ‘Martha.'” Normally Perry is queasy about asking actors to watch other performances, but he and longtime D.P. Sean Price Williams wanted her to have a reference point for any shorthand they might have used on set. Familiarity is an increasing boon for Perry, who hopes to continue working with Moss. “It would be peculiar to make two movies 11 months apart when we’re 30 and never work together again,” he tells me. “Plus, you don’t really have to clear your schedule if you are only shooting for 12 days in one location, with no one giving you notes, no one interfering.” Perry is currently at work on two new projects. One is an option on Don DeLillo’s “The Names,” a somewhat experimental novel from 1982 about an American risk-assessment analyst based in Athens, and, in a clear and obvious complement to that, writing the screenplay for Disney’s live-action revamp of “Winnie the Pooh.” That’s not a misprint! The basic pitch is that Christopher Robin, now older, returns to the Hundred Acre Wood and sees his old pals again. Sound a tad familiar? “I am fortunate in that I don’t like ‘Hook’ and did not see it as a kid, so I am in no danger of being drawn to it,” Perry promises as I rib him a bit on the similarities to Steven Spielberg’s grown-up “Peter Pan” riff. He’s also a little cagey about whether Pooh, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Owl, and the others will be animated or live-action. “‘Winnie the Pooh’ is not about animals, it’s about stuffed animals. A common problem for Pooh Bear is that he splits his seam, not that he bleeds. It’s not ‘Doctor Doolittle.'”
5. “The Carmichael Show”: A Family-Friendly ’90s Sitcom Throwback With a Stealthy Political Edge. Comedian Jerrod Carmichael has a new family sitcom on NBC called “The Carmichael Show.” The show follows a fictional Jerrod as he moves in with his girlfriend Maxine (Amber Stevens West) and deals with his family: his parents (David Allen Grier and Loretta Devine), his brother (LilRel Howery), and his ex-wife (Tiffany Haddish). Flavorwire’s Pilot Viruet reviews “The Carmichael Show” and how it assumes the family sitcom model but also contains a subtle political bent.
“Carmichael” is such a family comedy, with the parents interfering in their children’s personal lives, lots of good-natured bickering, 20-minute-long disagreements that are solved during the last two minutes, funny over-intimacy, frustrated children, and an outsider-ish girlfriend who tries her best to win everyone over. But it’s also a stealthy comedy, one that harkens back to a traditional format while smartly including modern, important plots such as the Black Lives Matter movement. The second episode, “Protest,” is when things get really interesting. It presents a basic, simplistic sitcom plot: It’s Jerrod’s birthday, but his plans are thwarted when his girlfriend and mother aren’t around to celebrate it. The big difference between “The Carmichael Show” and your average sitcom is also the reason why they’re ditching Jerrod’s birthday: an unarmed black man was murdered by police, and they are heading out to protest. There are so many layers to the episode: Maxine wants to protest, Cynthia does too but laments that the protest seems more like a street fair than the hardcore protests she participated in as a child, Joe takes the anti-protestor position, and Jerrod just doesn’t entirely see how protesting will do anything. But there’s also a smart, poignant moment that is almost rushed through (in a good way), about Jerrod’s experience with police officers’ racism. It’s a jarring, great, and necessary thing on television: a woman in a Black Lives Matter shirt, the gallows humor of dealing with another black death, candid talk about the pros and cons of protesting (and candid talk about race in general) — all with a laugh track breaking in every now and then. It’s surreal; it’s amazing.
6. A Beginner’s Guide To Steve Martin’s Eclectic Career. Steve Martin is one of the all-time best American comedians alive today. His fantastic stand-up career along with his many film roles have solidified his position in the comedy canon. However, his sheer output may intimidate newcomers to Martin’s comedy, and they could use a little guidance. The A.V. Club’s Ryan Vlastelica writes a primer of Steve Martin’s career and guides newbies to the light.
[Steve Martin’s] comedy was dubbed “anti-humor” for the way he toyed with traditional forms of jokes and entertainment; Martin would play similar games in his movies and theater work. It can be difficult to appreciate how revolutionary this was at the time, given how his sophisticated relationship toward entertainment has since taken hold in pop culture. While conceptual comedy has largely vanished from major stages, you can see Martin’s influence in almost every notable comedy of the past 30 years. If Louis CK doesn’t owe him a debt, “Louie” does. Martin found kindred spirits at both “The Muppet Show,” which also sent up showbiz conventions, and at the then-new “Saturday Night Live,” which was experimenting with its own form of comedic deconstruction. His appearances there were the meeting of two comedy zeitgeists. In addition to “King Tut” — a single that would go on to sell more than a million copies — “SNL” was where a number of catchphrases and other creations would be popularized, most notably his half of the Festrunk brothers with Dan Aykroyd, two “wild and crazy guys” from Czechoslovakia. Over the coming decades, Martin would go onto host “SNL” 15 times, a record second only to Alec Baldwin’s. He was the fastest inductee to the “Five Timers Club,” doing it in under two years. In addition to his legendary concert performances, Martin released two Grammy-winning comedy albums — 1977’s “Let’s Get Small” and 1978’s “A Wild And Crazy Guy.” But because of the visual and physical elements to his stand-up, these — while still very funny — may not be the best representation of his act. That’s found in his first starring movie role in 1979, which used some of his signature stand-up gags and is one of the most influential film comedies of the modern era. “The Jerk” flouts cinematic standards, chucking a complex story or characters in favor of gags that ranged from wildly lowbrow to incredibly intellectual. The title itself is a nod to Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” to tell the story of Navin R. Johnson, the “poor black child” Martin plays. He and director Carl Reiner threw in slapstick and wordplay, sexual farce and social satire, absurdist detours — cat juggling! — and bits that dip into surrealism. There’s an “anything goes” mentality that many have tried to replicate, only a few successfully.
Tweet of the Day:
Dogme TV would have no flashbacks, no dreams sequences, no voiceovers.
— emily nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) August 26, 2015