“Is it anything and everything you hoped for?” Black Panther, PyeongChang, and me.

Last week, Thursday was a major holiday in my world. The atmosphere was already high from the Olympics running in PyeongChang. And it was the Lunar New Year (i.e., “Chinese” New Year, which is a fine name for it if you’re actually Chinese, but pro-tip: maybe don’t repeatedly ask an Asian what they’re doing for Chinese New Year if they’re not, you know, Chinese). And on top of that, it was opening night for Black Panther. (Thank you to the marketing folks who realized that old people with early bedtimes get very excited about movies, too.) And not only was Black Panther just, you know, Black fucking Panther, but two schoolmates from graduate school had major roles in it, one of which was their first movie role ever.

Basically, Thursday night was the night of Turn The Fuck Up.

As you might have heard by now, this was a movie event where the hype did not match the reality – because what was expected was a movie that brought a black heroic narrative into the mainstream and didn’t fuck it up, and what was delivered was many steps above that.

(And here’s where I say: if you haven’t seen Black Panther, stop reading this and go see Black Panther because spoilers and also treat yourself.)

There are plenty of people with insights and opinions about Black Panther who know a lot more about the subject matter and/or film in general than I do. Here are a few of them:

My thoughts about Black Panther don’t really matter, to be honest. But what Black Panther means to me does matter, if only to provide just one more example to illustrate how wide-reaching the effect of this movie is.

I’m not sure how many other people who were little non-black POC girls in the early 1990s had this experience, but I remember poring over the American Girl catalog and trying to decide between Revolutionary War era Felicity, the settler immigrant Kirstin, bougie Victorian Samantha, and spunky WWII Molly. The Revolutionary War was already my jam, but immigrant stories touched me in a certain way and also Samantha had the best clothes. So I hemmed and hawed as I tried to decide which American Girl would be the one that went in my letter to Santa.

Then, Addy was released. And I went full Issa Rae:

black

I did, indeed, become an Addy girl and proceeded to be a Civil War history nerd for a good five years or so, which is a lot of time when you’re in elementary school. And not just within the American Girl oeuvre, either – I’m talking As Seen On TV boxes of historical flashcards, family trips to Gettysburg, hats. I eventually shifted over to the French Revolution, but for me, growing up in a white family in an overwhelmingly white community, Addy had started my connection to Black history. This didn’t make me woke by any means but, in hindsight, it raised my awareness and investment above the sadly low mainstream level.

Now, let me pause right here and emphasize that I have no claim to either the historical trauma of Black people in the United States of America or the present-day injustices still endured. I may feel drawn to increase my awareness and knowledge not just because I believe being an educated citizen is a moral duty but also due to finding a personal resonance, but it’s just that: resonance, not identification. Is there a Black culture equivalent of “weeaboo” that’s public-use-acceptable by non-Black people? I just barely dodged the former during the anime phase my adolescence, so I hope to hell that I would not be foolish enough to pull those tricks as an adult.

The relationship between Black American culture and Asian culture, both American and abroad, has long been interesting to me. While Asian-held anti-Black sentiments are far too common and I can guarantee that you’ll pretty much always peep one East Asian motherfucker at any given white supremacist rally, Eddie Huang (of restaurant and Fresh Off the Boat fame) is a current publicly-identifiable face of a notable affinity and exchange that has been going strong for decades. Korean hip-hop artists are coming to more prominence now (the artistic and moral integrity of the commercial music industry is another topic) and, well, the Wu-Tang Clan exists. Samurai Champloo. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

But curious to me in my specific experience, I think back to lunchtime during my freshman year of high school. My elementary school was so overwhelmingly white (at its most diverse point, the 500-student population had six non-white kids, myself included) that there really was no choice when it came to demographics, and my middle school was so small that my entire class fit at only two lunch tables (boys and girls, which I still regret in hindsight). But looking back at the start of my high school career, when I came in not knowing anyone to a class of 70-odd young women who mostly also didn’t know each other, I can’t help but wonder what led me to end up at, to put it bluntly, the Black lunch table.

It certainly wasn’t a conscious decision. But when you’re the odd one out, you often gravitate toward other odd ones out. And in many parts of the U.S., there is that little voice inside of you screaming to get out of that sea of whiteness.

(Jordan Peele was, in fact, correct about Get Out being a documentary.)

There was a lot that was conscious decisions and deliberate awareness in my anticipatory lead-up to Black Panther. It was a fact that the team was good and could be counted on to do good work. It was the fact that this movie was placing Black culture to the forefront in an unprecedented way. It was a fact that the teaser trailer had more women in it than the whole of the MCU. It was the fact that I had gone to graduate school with two members of the principal cast, one of whom was actually a year-mate with whom I’d worked on a number of shows. All of this meant that I signed up for ticket sales alerts months ahead of time and bought my opening night tickets for my second-choice showing as soon as I got home from work on the ticket release day in January because my first-choice showing was effectively sold-out after only four hours. I wanted to see a good movie, and I wanted to give my financial support to it.

I think that there are things that goes further back and deeper down for me, though. Continue reading ““Is it anything and everything you hoped for?” Black Panther, PyeongChang, and me.”

In my life–

Last week, my Facebook feed was particularly frequented by a couple of different theatre-related things. One was photographs from a local (to my very-much-not-NYC hometown) community theatre production of Les Misérables. The other was people linking to the blog of bad theatre PR photos. Both of them featured a lot of people in the breed of “historical” costume that is typical of high school and community theatre, where “costume design” can mean “go to Salvation Army and find some things for yourself that matches some vague notion you have of whenever the show is set.”

Now, I’m a great lover of amateur theatre and community theatre. I differentiate between the two. I consider “amateur” to be anything not professional, the choice to spend the time one has left to spare outside of the necessaries of making a living being put toward a labor of love — the word itself literally comes from “love,” after all. What could be more noble than that? “Community theatre,” on the other hand, is specifically that classic Waiting for Guffman stereotype of overblown petty dramas, egos in no way equaled by talent, painful fifteen-minute scene changes, the same decade-old wooden flats being recycled for the scenery every year, and — the Anchorman of the stage. It also happens to be where I got my start in theatre, something I wouldn’t trade for the world, and something I believe to be of vital importance to society. Warts and all, it’s a wonderful thing.

Nevertheless, looking at the pictures, with the clothes frozen into static images and stripped of the spirit that brings that Goodwill garb to life, can inspire some second-hand embarrassment. A wonderful performance can mostly sell most stories, no matter how little the design contributes or how much the design detracts. But still, it’s a shame when the physical production becomes an element that must be overcome, that does little to assist the audience’s suspension of disbelief, or is even a source of distraction. It’s almost worse when the design earnestly tries and fails, like the painful sensation of watching a person in denial.

It was then that the idea popped into my head that I would rather see Les Mis in contemporary street clothes than with a blithely clueless, skill-less approximation of some person’s idea of “historical.” No changes to any of the words or music — just losing the trappings of some sepia-toned vision of “The Past.” Because Les Miserables is a story that doesn’t want to be contemporary. Its tragedy is that it is contemporary.

On my OkCupid profile, my “most private thing that I’m willing to admit” is “Les Misérables — the novel, the musical, the platonic ideal — has had an enormous impact on my life. Enormous.” It’s not an exaggeration. And if I’m going to give myself any credit for being personally honest at all, I can’t refrain from singing my old song of how Les Mis changed my life.

Continue reading “In my life–”

What a day! Fortune smiled and came my way–

Oh gentle reader, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’d originally had some Ambitious But Sensibly Realistic plan to write one full post per week once school started, but then allergies killed my soul for nearly two weeks, leaving me scrambling afterward as I was swept up in the relentless socializing that is the beginning of the school year. During the course of which I was roped into working a show that had lost their stage manager and ended up being an awesome, epic and absolutely huge undertaking. I was generally working straight from 4:00pm to 3:00am for that last week, with classes during the day.

It wasn’t pretty.

But we had a giant snake puppet track all the way across the ceiling of the theater above the heads of the audience. No regrets. Take that, Phantom.

Aside from being debilitatingly busy — I’ve been mildly sick ever since we closed this past weekend, running a low-grade fever at night — there has been one thread weaving its way through from orientation before classes to me sitting here now.

As I was sitting there in the audience of the theater, waiting for the next person to talk to us about IT or turning our receipts into the business office or whatever else we needed to be re-oriented about for the new school year, I saw some of my friends a bit farther down the row crowding around the screen of one person’s phone. They were all watching some video, as the owner of the phone pointed out the mechanics of the dance moves happening. I was far enough away that while I could see the brightly colored clothing and energetic movements, I couldn’t make out who was performing or hear any of the music. Ah, well, I thought, another trend that I could only hope would be performed at some party or another at some point during the year.

I didn’t give it much more thought than that, though I noted its ubiquity over the subsequent couple of weeks, with even the producer for the show I was stage managing telling how she had gone home one night only to find her 18-month old dancing that dance which is all the rage for the babysitter.

On a completely separate track, my Facebook feed had been peppered by some K-pop Youtube video that apparently a lot of people had been watching.

It was only when the “Gandalf Style” parody was posted that I was hooked by geek bait and then, that lightbulb slowly began glowing over my head. And it took a while for my brain to integrate the information that this K-pop song and this raging trend that was sweeping through my friends and across the world were the same thing, finally culminating in shock.

The reason was this: based on the limited glimpse that was my first impression, I had assumed that all of the people involved in the song were white.

Continue reading “What a day! Fortune smiled and came my way–”

In the dark of the night just before dawn–

So last night, I went with some friends to see the midnight showing of Inception: I Know What You Did Last Summer, more popularly known as The Dark Knight Rises. I promise that there aren’t any spoilers, as not only would that be incredibly discourteous, but it would probably lead to my being drawn and quartered by the remaining portion of the population who isn’t already primed to do so after I express what I fear might be some minority opinions about the movie, at least among the geek milieu.

And so first: Batman. After that: chicken.

Overall, I found the The Dark Knight Rises to be pretentious, slow and predictable. But I think that it speaks to the movie’s strengths that I also was very entertained and enjoyed it a lot. It sure was a long-ass movie for which to attend a midnight showing, let me tell you that. But despite the length, the movie never felt long. It did feel slow, though — but in a very tense, simmery sort of way. For better or for worse, the vast majority of the movie felt like lead-in, build-up.

When the story finally pulled the trigger, however, it was entirely worth it.

It’s actually pretty difficult to really talk about the movie without spoilers, I feel, as its strongest points are the content of its twists and reveals. I mentioned that it was predictable, right? Yeah, it was. But because the movie didn’t depend on the “a-ha!” or “gotcha!” of its twists, it actually didn’t hurt it. I can’t recall any other movie that I’ve seen — and to be fair, I haven’t seen a lot of movies — that have had such a satisfying slow-burn of a gradual character back story reveal.

The one purely negative part of my movie-going experience was that I never really got absorbed into the movie. I am seriously really, really easy when it comes to willingly suspending my disbelief and I get embarrassingly emotionally invested in whatever it is that I happen to be watching at the moment, but I always felt a little bit outside of this movie. Part of it might be that I’m not the biggest Batman fan, or at least not the biggest fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman. The Dark Knight for me is dominated by the Joker and Harvey Dent. The Dark Knight Rises is an incredible showcase for Catwoman — well, Selina Kyle, who is actually never explicitly called “Catwoman” and — of all people! — Bane.

It’s something that differentiates the Nolan Batman movies from most of the other comic book-based movies that have been being produced lately. Usually, we get stuck with a bland, forgettable villain — hey, can you remember anything about the villain in the Star Trek reboot except that he was played by Eric Bana? — but that’s all right because it gives us more time to pay attention to the heroes. The Avengers? Who cares about the villain! The intra-team squabbling and hijinks are where it’s at. Recent exceptions that I can think of include Watchmen and possibly X-Men: First Class, depending on how we decide to place Magneto on the hero spectrum in that specific movie. The Nolan Batman movies, however, somehow manage to entrance me with the villains/antagonists and have the hero leave me cold.

It’s a large part of why I have absolutely no interest in watching Batman Begins. I know the information that is provided by the film and my head hasn’t particularly been turned by any exclamations of masterful narrative artistry, so there’s nothing much that interests me about it. An origin movie that focuses on the Batman himself? I feel like I have better ways to spend my time.

(Speaking of Batman Begins, Ra’s al Ghul is invoked in Dark Knight Rises, which also kicked my brain out of the movie experience. It just always sat a little oddly with me that Ra’s al Ghul was played by Liam Neeson. Don’t get me wrong — I love me some Liam Neeson and I’m not commenting upon his performance. But it seems like a dude named Ra’s al Ghul from the Arabic peninsula asks, just a little bit, to be played by an actor of Middle Eastern descent. And despite my love for other actors, as well, given the back story that was presented, as much as I would sincerely like to be able to just watch a movie and not be distracted by systematic societal white-washing, well, you can’t always get what you want.)

But back to the subject of seeing The Dark Knight Rises, I remember being completely engrossed by The Dark Knight, so I think it’s fair to say that my failure to be absorbed wasn’t entirely my own apparently Batman-deficient fault.

My laughing really loudly and really inappropriately when Bane executed a classic line and action, however, was entirely me just being an inherent asshole.

Continue reading “In the dark of the night just before dawn–”