Legion

have come to shake up and reinvent; Legion is inspired by a character from Marvel Comics’ X-Men universe, but it’s at pains to avoid anything that looks like traditional comic-book iconography. Hawley loves his classics, both rock and film, and he wants you to know it. (Have you seen The Babadook? The show seduces you with style and self-assurance like a friend with a flashlight leading you down a dark hallway: You won’t know where we are going, but trust me, when we get there, you’re gonna love it. He’s railing against the mind-numbing boredom of life in a mental institution, where he’s been placed after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but David’s imperative is also, nakedly, a statement of purpose from the show’s creator, Noah Hawley. (It practically begs to be dissected and fan-theorized in a way that’s as much marketing gimmick as narrative strategy.) But as Hawley pushes from jazzed-up origin story to psychodrama, it starts to feel like a show with a Rubik’s cube where its heart should be. Let’s go get him!” school of filmmaking.) “Deconstruct” is a word Hawley uses with the fervor of a dewy-eyed graduate student but it doesn’t seem like an accurate description of what the series is doing, or even trying to do. (This surely won’t be the only review that quotes it.) Its target is the purportedly inertial state of the superhero genre, which Hawley and Co. Where’s the bad guy? Stevens is shouldering a tremendous weight here, responsible for getting viewers to invest in David’s emotional crisis whether he’s fleeing mortal danger or talking with the sarcastic ghost of a dead friend, and he sometimes buckles and twitches under the strain. The series begins with an impressionistic montage set to the Who’s “Happy Jack,” a succession of shots that take David from a beaming baby in his crib, to a sullen teenager calmly strolling away from a flaming storefront, to an anguished young man attempting to hang himself with an electrical cord, finally depositing us at the Clockworks psychiatric hospital in what might be the present day. As he explained in an interview:

What a television show can do that a movie can’t do is it’s not just a plot delivery device. Exactly what it is trying to do remains unclear, even after watching the three episodes (out of eight) provided to critics in advance. The similarly superpowered Clockworks patient he meets, played by Rachel Keller, is named Sydney Barrett—a Pink reference that’s less a nod than a spasmodic jerk. This particular version of David Haller may or may not have multiple personalities, but Legion itself does, and it can’t seem to decide which one should take the lead. After David and Syd escape the asylum, they come under the supervision of Jean Smart’s Melanie Bird, an enigmatic authority figure who’s gathering together like-empowered mutants to protect them from the secret government agency that wants to either control or destroy them. So we’re left for now to imagine the precise nature of the childhood trauma David is obviously repressing, and how much of what’s presented as reality is actually a fiction he’s created to keep those memories hidden. “Something new needs to happen soon,” says David Haller (Dan Stevens) in the first episode of FX’s Legion, which premieres Wednesday night. Whereas in a two-hour movie, it’s “What’s the problem? Like Fargo, Legion is a well-appointed show: It’s handsomely shot, and smartly acted, and ingeniously constructed enough to suggest there’s something mind-blowing lurking at its center. (The combination of vintage outfits and near-future technology seems designed to prevent our pinpointing when, or perhaps if, this is all taking place.)
Given that the comic-book version of David Haller, created by writer Chris Claremont and artist Bill Sienkiewicz, is an all-powerful X-Man with hundreds of distinct personas, one might have expected Hawley to opt for something off Quadrophenia instead, but the choice of an early single from a time before Pete Townshend got into writing songs about childhood trauma and mental illness is like a subliminal heads-up that we’re effectively coming into the story before the beginning. The second and third episodes drop some of the pilot’s more rococo touches, which include a dance number set to Serge Gainsbourg’s “Pauvre Lola,” trading psychedelic phantasmagoria for encroaching horror. As he sifts through them, a shoulderless creature called “the devil with yellow eyes” keeps turning up in the corner or between strobe-light flashes, sometimes accompanied by a trumpet blast that’s meant to jolt you out of your seat, and we keep circling back to a scene of David’s father, whose face we never see, reading him a children’s book about a boy who chops off his mother’s head. Where’s the bad guy? Although David’s flight is abetted by a telekinetic mutant who flicks away armored troops with a wave of his hand, the two fellow mutants who get the most screen time have more internally focused abilities: There’s Cary (Bill Irwin), a nattily attired scientist who’s sometimes also a young woman named Kerry (Amber Midthunder), and Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris), a “memory artist” who allows people to explore their own memories as if they were talking through the rooms of a house. Noah Hawley has.) There’s no trace of David’s parents in the present day, only a sister (Katie Aselton) who quickly falls into the government’s clutches; in the comics, he’s revealed as the son of the X-Men’s Professor Xavier, but for both contractual and artistic reasons that’s unlikely to be the case here. David’s memories turn out to be a uniquely forbidding place full of dark patches and impassible zones of a kind neither Ptonomy nor Melanie have ever seen before. (Lest there be any confusion, the Fargo to which he refers is the Hawley-created TV series, not Joel and Ethan Coen’s movie, a famous example of the “What’s the problem? It’s not about action, it’s about character and theme and as we see in
Fargo, you can really play with structure and you can deconstruct the story in a big way. Clockworks is named for one Stanley Kubrick film and patterned after another, with gleaming white 2001 hallways that flash HAL 9000–red when David loses his temper. And television is, by Hawley’s lights, the perfect medium in which to do so. Like Westworld, Legion seems to be building to its premise rather than starting with it; even three hours in, we’ve only scratched the surface of David’s powers, which begin with telepathy and telekinesis but don’t seem to end there. Let’s go get him!”

Leaving aside the persistent-but-fruitless debate over whether the TV series or the theatrical feature is the superior format—are knives better than forks?—this has to be one of the most reductive and self-serving descriptions of the motion picture medium in its century-plus history. Hawley’s Fargo was a pastiche by design, a mix-n-match fan edit of the Coen brothers’ entire oeuvre, but unless there’s a Usual Suspects–type twist in the works revealing David’s entire story was made up while scrolling through a Spotify “Hits of the ’60s” playlist, the dorm-room name come off as a sophomoric affectation.

Ghost in the Machine

On her first day sorting through Bradlee’s files in his Georgetown mansion, she was so intimidated by his wife, society journalist Sally Quinn, that she refused Quinn’s offer of lunch despite being famished. Bob Kerrey’s war memoir When I Was a Young Man. For Feinman—who came up with the title, based on an African proverb—the book was the culmination of over a decade of playing literary handmaiden to Washington luminaries, people who, in their initial meetings, often inspired her with so much awe she could barely speak. Understandably, seeing herself described in this way made Feinman cringe, and yet she was thrilled to work with such distinguished and powerful clients, to be invited to spend the night in the White House, and to dine with the president. “She would have died and gone to heaven,” Quinn told the New Yorker, simply to have been thanked in the book’s acknowledgements. “He sounded slightly sheepish,” she writes of the phone call in which Woodward confessed, “but at the same time he didn’t seem to regret what he had done. Reflecting on the stalled political career of Bob Kerrey, who became a genuine friend (when she was holed up in a Wyoming hotel room during the final stretch of writing It Takes a Village, he sent Feinman a care package containing, among other things, one of his famous handmade collages), she concludes that his “proclivity for being who he really was” kept him from making a credible run at the White House. The ghostwriter labors, discreetly, at the center of a web of contradictory American beliefs and desires. Hillary Clinton had invited Feinman (for reasons that remain unclear) to a meeting with a New Age author, Jean Houston, during which Houston encouraged Clinton to engage in imaginary spiritual communion with Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi. In 1996, the ghostwriter Barbara Feinman endured the worst year of her professional life. In particular, the furor centered on why Feinman had not been mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements, the standard method of recognizing a ghostwriter’s contribution. Ghostwriters crank out novels for reality TV and YouTube stars and whip celebrity-chef cookbooks into publishable shape. “People in Washington,” Feinman writes, “rarely write books because the writing muse visits them; rather, they have a campaign to win, a cause to lobby for, a scandal to overcome, or an image to fix.”
It Takes a Village was meant to remind the public of Hillary Clinton’s work on behalf of women and children in the aftermath of her disastrous attempt to overhaul the nation’s health care system. She portrays herself, in her ghostwriting heyday, as a conscientious if overly eager-to-please naif navigating her way through a Beltway landscape populated by charismatic but flawed titans. Feinman (who has published this memoir under her married name, Barbara Feinman Todd) felt so rattled by White House imputations of her inadequacy that she couldn’t bear to read the published version of the book for 20 years. “The act of writing in the voice of others,” she explains, “in addition to being taken away from my own writing, meant that I was being taken away from myself.” By marinating in the lives, outlooks, language, and even mannerisms of her subjects, she found that “their problems became more important than mine, their dreams more alluring. They were the leading players, and she had, at best, a supporting role. William Morrow. Early on, she describes a walk she took with Woodward, her onetime employer and mentor, shortly after she finished work on It Takes a Village. “To become commander in chief, there could be no unscripted or unedited moment,” she writes, in one of the passages that makes Pretend I’m Not Here read like a dispatch from a bygone age. Yet she was ambivalent about the career she had fallen into when, as a copy aide at the Post, she applied for a job as Woodward’s researcher. This, of course, made it clear to Clinton and her staff that Feinman had broken the confidentiality agreement that was part of her contract. It’s a fixation that has culminated in an electorate so dazzled by the theatrics of a reality TV star that it has placed him, despite his evident lack of both expertise and basic human empathy, in the highest office in the land. Although she castigates herself for her own foolishness in confiding in Woodward, Feinman has never quite gotten over what she describes as his “breathtaking betrayal.” (It’s also worth noting that if Clinton and her staff had leveled with Feinman about her transgression instead of practicing the wagon-circling and communication shutdown for which she would become notorious, everyone might have been saved a lot of trouble.)
For Feinman, Woodward’s expedient duplicity came to epitomize a Washington culture she had grown to detest, with its ruthless scrabbling for inside information and access to power. He seemed focused on the big splash he was about to make. A splash in the same pool in which I was drowning.” As piranha-infested as that pool once appeared to Feinman, it looks, from the nostalgic perspective of 2017, to be positively genteel. Above all, she is the servant of fame, because publishers bring in a ghost when the ostensible author has a name celebrated enough to sell books but a career too demanding to permit writing one. But more to the point, at least some part of Feinman agreed with them. Depending on who you asked back in 1996, Feinman had either provided modest research assistance on first lady Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village or had written most of Clinton’s book herself and then been stiffed on due credit for her work. Feinman can blame her own travails on a combination of old-Washington culture and the peculiar self-abnegation demanded of ghostwriters, but the truth is that similarly nasty dramas transpire in New York and Hollywood every week. —
Pretend I’m Not Here: How I Worked With Three Newspaper Icons, One Powerful First Lady, and Still Managed to Dig Myself Out of the Washington Swamp by Barbara Feinman Todd. Clinton was used in the published version—some parts intact, other parts edited or moved around.” To “dismiss” her role in writing It Takes a Village was, she concludes, “dishonest.”
By the time you get to that conclusion, on page 209 of this very likable book, Feinman is just about the only figure in Pretend I’m Not Here who seems trustworthy. Although Feinman has never published a novel of her own, she has certainly learned how to apply a novelist’s storytelling skills to real life in eking out the root of this mystery. She’d been caught up in the never-ending whirlwind of the Clinton scandal complex, and she had no idea why. Almost every autobiography published by a politician or a celebrity is actually written by a ghost. Most of these projects are naked attempts to capitalize on celebrity, but political books can have murkier directives. Ghostwriting certainly pays better than writing novels, but for Feinman, it wasn’t always worth it. Read the rest of the pieces in the Slate Book Review. Instead, she had tabloid TV crews camped on her lawn, was portrayed as a wronged underling in the national press, and was called to testify before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. (She has since become an English professor at Georgetown University and the founder of the university’s journalism program.) Among the books she helped to research and write in the 1980s and ’90s are Bob Woodward’s Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, Carl Bernstein’s Loyalties, former Washington Post executive editor Benjamin Bradlee’s A Good Life, and former Nebraska Sen. In the eyes of Clinton and Woodward, they were important, and Feinman was not. Although Woodward promised Feinman he would not pursue this story in the book he was writing on the 1996 presidential campaign, he nevertheless sought to confirm it with other participants in the meeting. If Feinman lost herself for a while in the larger-than-life escapades of people who treated her as little more than a means to an end, if she became a ghost in more ways than one, then today she must feel that she has plenty of company. Her job—as the title of her memoir, Pretend I’m Not Here, indicates—was to fade into the background. Their mental stuff took up all the room in my head and my heart, pushing mine to the periphery.”
The big reveal in Pretend I’m Not Here is Feinman’s theory about why Hillary Clinton—who had previously treated her cordially, with never “a single cross word spoken between us”—suddenly turned on her, removing her from the acknowledgements of It Takes a Village and even, at one point, instructing her publisher to withhold the final installment of her fee for the job. As a ghostwriter, her relationship to fame and power became a more consuming version of many Americans’ fixation on celebrities, people whose lives can seem so much grander, so much more real, than our own. The two women later became friendly, but when Quinn spoke up on Feinman’s behalf during the It Takes a Village fracas, she portrayed Feinman (condescendingly and incorrectly) as desperate for both cash and recognition. Woodward, she soon realized, was treating her not like a friend or a protégée but like a source, and against her better judgment she shared with him a story that she felt reflected the embattled mood at the Clinton White House. (The exceptions, like Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father, are regarded as objects of wonder in the industry.) Occasionally a dispute over the ghost’s work highlights the absurdity of this practice, as when the basketball star Charles Barkley attempted, in 1991, to halt the publication of his own autobiography because he claimed it misquoted him; he not only hadn’t written it, but he hadn’t even read it before it went to press. When she finally did, as research for Pretend I’m Not Here, she found that “at least 75 percent of the draft that I produced with Mrs. A former English major, she dreamed of becoming a novelist, not a journalist, but her nascent run at the form—the sort of book that might have been sold as chick lit but back then prompted her agent to dub her the “Jewish Amy Tan”—never got off the ground.

The Color Purple Star Cynthia Erivo Will Play Harriet Tubman in an Upcoming Biopic

The very idea was ludicrous. Most recently, she was selected as the new face of the $20 bill, booting Andrew Jackson to the back of the bill. Starring a middle-aged woman? Erivo will also be performing with John Legend at the Grammys on Sunday, as part of the night’s In Memoriam segment. And yet, here we are in 2017 with not just one but two Tubman biopics now in the works. She also spied for the Union Army during the Civil War and later fought for women’s suffrage. Tubman seems to finally be getting her due, and it’s nice that Hollywood is taking notice. Just four years ago, 30 Rock joked that making a Harriet Tubman biopic was the riskiest script a movie executive could possibly greenlight. Of course, if a third Tubman biopic does crop up, we know exactly who we’d cast: Hidden Figures Best Supporting Actress nominee Octavia Spencer, who has already had plenty of practice with the role. An expensive period piece? Erivo won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical last year for her role as Celie in The Color Purple and will make her big-screen debut in 2018, in the Steve McQueen thriller Widows, co-starring alongside the other Harriet Tubman, Viola Davis. Tubman, for those who weren’t paying attention in history class, was born into slavery in the 1820s, escaped, and led an effort to lead hundreds more enslaved people to freedom. An HBO movie starring Viola Davis was announced back in 2015, and Deadline revealed Wednesday that Tony award–winning actress Cynthia Erivo has been cast in another upcoming film about the Underground Railroad conductor, titled Harriet.

Kate McKinnon Will Play Ms. Frizzle in Netflix’s Magic School Bus Reboot, Of Course

McKinnon is set to voice the main role of Ms. According to Variety, this Magic School Bus will be produced with CGI effects as opposed to traditional animation, a choice surely to be met with some debate and scrutiny among fans who’d prefer the original’s spirit not be lost. And in keeping with the supernatural theme, she’s just signed on to another enchanting project: Netflix’s Magic School Bus. Frizzle in the upcoming reboot, and she’s the perfect spiritual successor for the character, taking the reins from another ingenious sketch comic, Lily Tomlin. The Emmy-winning actress has spent the new year developing new characters on SNL, including the recent debut of her excellent Betsy DeVos impression, and she’s also building on the success of her breakout Ghostbusters performance. Kate McKinnon is having a busy few months. Netflix seems to have high hopes for this particular effort, at least. There are still many creative choices yet to be announced, but one thing’s for sure: The hiring of McKinnon means its heading in the right lane. The streaming service first commissioned it in 2014, conceiving the project as a 26-episode reboot. In December of last year, McKinnon was confirmed to play the main part of a magical lunch lady in Amblin Entertainment’s The Lunch Witch. The animated series originally ran from 1994-97, making this update only the latest in a long line of Netflix-engineered exercises in nostalgia—which may or may not be necessary, depending on whom you ask.

A Dry Soul

The way things are cannot be absurd.”

This sort of dialectical tension between reason and passion is a major theme in Schooldays. Like everyone else in Novilla (a name that we can read as “no town,” in reference to the Greek “no place” of utopia and that also happens to sound a lot like the English word for book-length fictional narrative), the pair has arrived by sea from former lives elsewhere, all knowledge of which has been entirely wiped away. (Simón’s utter bafflement and vexation tends to stand in, throughout the books, for the bafflement and vexation of the reader, except on the not-infrequent occasions when Simón is himself the cause of the reader’s bafflement and vexation.) When Ana Magdalena, one of the teachers at the school, is murdered by a caretaker named Dmitri––with whom she may or may not have been having an affair but who was certainly sexually obsessed with her––a Dostoevskian shitstorm of discourse is unleashed on the topic of passion and whether it’s a pernicious influence over human life. In the first book, for instance, Simón’s tentative advances (framed by him as a “tribute”) toward a civil servant named Ana quickly lead to a powerfully unsexy colloquy on the topic of desire:

“And as a tribute to me––an offering, not an insult––you want to grip me tight and push part of your body into me. Here’s how he put it in a 1992 interview: “Writing is not free expression. The apparent subject of the interviews emerged only obliquely. There is a true sense in which writing is dialogic: a matter of awakening the countervoices in oneself and embarking upon speech with them. It is nature speaking in us. (This is not, needless to say, a work of psychological realism.) At the end of the book, the trio are fleeing Novilla, having gotten into hot water with the municipal officials over their decision to home-school Davíd, who has clashed with his teachers over his unorthodox approach to reading and counting. The children are instructed in “calling down” the numbers from the heavens through specialized interpretive moves, an educational practice Simón finds utterly baffling and vexing. The staple diet in the arid utopia that is Simón and Davíd’s new home seems to be bean paste on bread, which, in the first book, Simón professes to finding a little samey—a self-reflexive joke on Coetzee’s part, perhaps, albeit one so dry you might find yourself lunging for a glass of water. I’m a Coetzee booster of long standing, but I’ll admit there were times, reading both of these books, when it felt like I was working my way through a 12-course tasting menu, prepared by a multiple Michelin-starred chef, composed solely of ingeniously arranged crackers. His own, obscure intuition––that, far from lacking in passion, his soul aches with longing for it knows not what––he treats skeptically as just the kind of story that someone with a dry, rational, deficient soul will tell himself to maintain his self-respect.” The manner in which his thinking briefly gives way to a quiet swell of yearning, before quickly foreclosing against the possibilities of that yearning, is sad and quietly moving. There’s a moving moment toward the end in which Simón admits to himself that he is “not on close terms with his soul.” Unable to see it, he thinks, “he has not questioned what people tell him about it: that it is a dry soul, deficient in passion. To me the whole business seems absurd––absurd for you to want to perform, and absurd for me to permit.”

“It is only when you put it that way that it seems absurd. Viking. The ingenious conceit of that autobiographical fiction (or, if you prefer, fictionalized autobiography) was to present itself as raw material for a planned biography of the recently-deceased Coetzee––a series of transcribed interviews conducted with people who knew the author in his mid-30s. And it offers, too, a kind of miniature representation of Coetzee’s strange and frequently confounding fictional project, with its ceaseless negotiation of countervoices. Read the rest of the pieces in the Slate Book Review. It is some measure of a writer’s seriousness whether he does evoke or invoke those countervoices in himself, that is, step down from the position of what Lacan calls ‘the subject supposed to know.’ ”
The Jesus novels (which––spoiler alert!––have nothing to do with anyone named Jesus, biblical big shot or otherwise) are relentlessly dialogic, in the literal sense that they proceed mainly in the form of Socratic exchanges about all kinds of philosophical and ethical questions: the true nature of numbers, the conflict between reason and passion, and (mercifully only briefly) the straight-up chairness of chairs. In the first installment, The Childhood of Jesus, we meet a middle-aged man named Simón and his 5-year-old charge Davíd, as they begin a new life in a city named Novilla, the capital of a Hispanophone socialist utopia which may or not be the actual afterlife. It is the way things are. “The only story involving John that I can tell,” as a former neighbor of Coetzee puts it, is “the story of my life and his part in it, which is quite different, quite another matter, from the story of his life and my part in it.” The major project of Summertime, in this sense, was a displacement of the author as centralized authority, of Coetzee as sole guarantor of his own biography. (Ostentatiously Russian character names like Dmitri and, most tellingly, Alyosha, land as overbearing hints at the Dostoevsky influence at work.)
Such discourse is pretty dry material, even by this author’s formidable standards of dryness. Despite his image as a paragon of austere literary authority––the Nobel Prize, the air of almost comical seriousness, the sense of preternatural restraint and control that emanates from everything he writes––it’s the dismantling of this sovereignty that has long been one of the most interesting aspects of his work. As a tribute, you claim. But Coetzee is transparently unconcerned with these events as anything other than occasions for discussion between his characters––characters who are, for the most part, realized only through the presentation of their speech. —
The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. When reading The Schooldays of Jesus and its 2013 predecessor The Childhood of Jesus, it’s worth bearing in mind that the author of these books passed away some years ago. Davíd attends an academy in which everything––including, most bizarrely, mathematics––is taught through dance. It cannot be absurd, since it is a natural desire of the natural body. When we rejoin the trio at the start of this new book, they are still on the run, working as itinerant farm laborers on their way to a new life in the city of Estrella. There’s an impromptu parent-teacher meeting, for instance, that somehow happens on a nudist beach, in which the fact that Simón encounters the school principal for the first time while both men are balls naked only exacerbates the formality of their exchange. In itself it is not absurd. I don’t mean this in the mundane sense of literal death (the man named John Coetzee is still alive and well and residing in Adelaide, Australian) but that he killed himself off imaginatively, in an act of Barthes-style authorial suicide, in the book that preceded this strange diptych, 2009’s Summertime. Coetzee. (There’s an equally absurd scene in Childhood, where Simón is driven by loneliness and desire to visit a brothel in Novilla but is so overwhelmed by the paperwork necessary to become a member that he gives up in despair.)
The book’s structuring opposition between reason and passion is never resolved into any kind of satisfying synthesis but plays itself out as an ongoing exchange of points and counterpoints. I did occasionally find myself wrong-footed by moments of outright humor in The Schooldays of Jesus. It certainly wouldn’t be true to say that these books are plotless, as such, because an awful lot of plot-type stuff undeniably happens in them: There are thwarted loves, workplace accidents, unofficial adoptions, clashes with government authorities, and even an honest-to-goodness murder trial. It’s countervoices all the way down. And they are relentless discussers, these characters; they spend most of the books tirelessly back-and-forthing on whatever topic comes to hand. Simón, acting in loco parentis, spends the early part of the book trying to reunite Davíd with his mother, and although he has no clue as to her identity, he becomes convinced, for absolutely no good reason, that he has found her in the form of a woman named Inés, who, just as mysteriously, allows herself to be likewise convinced.

Watch the Stunning First Trailer for Sofia Coppola’s Southern Gothic Film The Beguilded

The Oscar-winning filmmaker has gathered quite the cast around Farrell, including Nicole Kidman as the school’s headmistress, Kirsten Dunst as a teacher, and Elle Fanning as a student—all of whom begin developing romantic feelings upon Farrell’s arrival. Sofia Coppola’s first feature since 2013’s The Bling Ring is almost here: The Beguiled is based on Thomas Cullinan’s 1969 novel A Painted Devil, and turns back the clock to Civil War-era Virginia, where a secluded women’s boarding school is thrown into chaos after a lonely Union soldier (played by Colin Farrell) makes an untimely appearance. “I liked that [the costumes] had been washed a million times and left out in the sun. It just felt very feminine, almost like they were ghosts left behind.”
The Beguiled will be released in select theaters on June 23. Clint Eastwood starred in a previous cinematic adaptation back in 1971, but it’s safe to say that Coppola’s aesthetic vision appears to stand on its own. “It’s just trying to create that atmosphere, so you can feel these long, hot days when not much is happening,” Coppola told Entertainment Weekly, of her approach. But the real star here is Philippe Le Sourd’s dreamy cinematography, with his images unfurling to create a hauntingly Gothic sense of time and place alongside Coppola’s simmering erotic tension.

John Oliver on Trump’s Immigration Crackdown: There’s a “Non-Zero” Chance I’ll Be Deported

I have an American wife and an American son now, but who knows what’s enough? “It was just being tied to a train track watching the train coming. “Until inauguration day, nothing was really happening,” said Oliver. “So yeah, I am slightly concerned. And then of course inauguration day is the train hitting you and you think, Yep, that felt pretty much how I thought it would feel.”
When asked about Trump’s recent crackdown on immigration, Oliver, a longtime Trump critic and current green card-holder, admitted to Colbert that while it’s very unlikely, he’s still a little bit worried about being “tossed out like tea” in the wake of Trump’s immigration crackdown. “The crazy thing is, it’s probably not going to happen, right? “This president has done neither of those things, so it’s a little hard to swallow him telling people whether they should be a benefit to America or not.”
Oliver’s wife, Kate Norley, is a veteran of the Iraq war. “We held up translators, Afghan and Iraqi translators, at the border, who have bled for a country they’ve never visited, have sacrificed family members for this country,” said Oliver. The two comedians talked about new education secretary Betsy DeVos and commiserated over the exhaustion of covering the Trump administration, with Oliver comparing the experience to being run over by a train. Having a green card used to be enough.”
Oliver reserved his harshest criticism for Trump’s controversial "Muslim ban" executive order, which prevented foreign military interpreters from entering the U.S., blasting Trump for not having personally served or sacrificed for his country while blocking those who have. Ahead of the long-awaited return of Last Week Tonight this Sunday, host John Oliver popped by The Late Show to catch up with fellow Daily Show alum Stephen Colbert. But there is a non-zero chance of it happening now,” Oliver said.

Brick

Having had that insight (and having secured permission from the Time Warner licensing czars to deploy it), the movie had the wit to position Batman not as the protagonist but as a romantic rival to its regular-Joe hero. (The writer-directors are replaced here by Robot Chicken’s Chris McKay and a five-man committee of comedy writers.) The animation looks less like a meticulously staged CGI recreation of the stop-motion “brickfilm” aesthetic and more like an ordinary digital cartoon. The first 40-odd minutes of The Lego Batman Movie are exactly what you want them to be: a dense, hilarious spoof of Batman, superheroes, and the clenched idea of masculinity that informs them. Lego is a brand that is increasingly tied up in its own ambivalent relationship to other brands and to the way in which corporate-owned intellectual-property franchises are colonizing increasingly vast swaths of human consciousness. Will Arnett’s Dark Knight is a preening braggart with a fragile ego who basks in public adulation then returns to his mansion to eat microwaved lobster and watch Jerry Maguire alone. That 2014 phenomenon sprung from the unusually deep thematic tension at the heart of Lego (a brand described by some experts, implausibly, as “the world’s most powerful”): the opposition between making a cool, imaginative structure through the improvisatory agglomeration of blocks and making an intricate model of the Millennium Falcon by following the instructions. In a sequel to The Lego Movie, that’s not just a letdown, it’s a betrayal. This thematic opposition, extraordinarily, was at the crux of The Lego Movie, which, in its casual smashing together of figures from across the pop monoculture, felt like actual childhood play. Meanwhile, the performances, apart from Arnett’s reliable Christian Bale impression and Michael Cera’s winsome Robin, feel rushed. Lego Batman was an asshole at the beginning of The Lego Movie and an asshole at the end, and the movie’s love plot was basically “How can we get him out of the way?”
The Lego Batman Movie can’t do that because, by law, every movie has to have a protagonist who goes through an emotional arc, even a movie about Batman in which Batman is made out of Lego. For the duration of that joke-packed first act, it’s possible to believe that the miracle of The Lego Movie is repeating itself. There are winking references to 80-odd years of Batman history, but they’re all in service to a coherent, plausible, and profoundly unsympathetic portrayal of the character. Maybe this is a joke about how every superhero movie now revolves around a giant portal in the sky, but if so, it’s an extremely subtle joke, and you’re still watching a boring-ass movie about a giant portal in the sky. (For every brooding Tim Burton goth opus, there’s a Joel Schumacher to come along and draw nipples on the costume.) The Lego Movie’s refreshingly contemporary insight into the Caped Crusader was that a man who’d spent his life striving to achieve physical and mental perfection in order to perform solitary acts of redemptive violence would almost certainly be a narcissistic asshole. It was less a story than a jailbreak. And throughout, many of the incidental pleasures from Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s original film are diminished. It went so deep into the Hellmouth of licensing that its head emerged, smiling cheerfully, on the other side. (I have no idea what Zach Galifianakis was going for as the Joker, besides a paycheck.)
But the greatest disappointment is how much of the script seems to have been assembled from a kit by someone afraid to deviate from the instructions. Batman, the breakout character of The Lego Movie, has a dialectic of his own: He’s a fascist, and like all fascists, he periodically crosses the line into camp. Which is why that genuinely hilarious first act degenerates into a by-the-numbers superhero movie in which Lego Batman finally learns to shed his defensive exterior and open himself up to the people who care about him. The overplotted second act revolves around “the Phantom Zone,” a giant portal in the sky.

Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig Will Star in the American Remake of Toni Erdmann

Still, a huge part of what makes the original such a pleasurable viewing experience is how surprising and unexpected it is throughout—the last 45 minutes in particular are brilliantly executed as both a comedy of errors and a dramatic emotional gut punch that seemingly comes out of nowhere. As Variety reported on Tuesday, Nicholson will star alongside Kristen Wiig in the American remake of Toni Erdmann, a German comedy-drama about a strained father-daughter relationship that topped the year-end lists of Cahiers du Cinéma and Sight and Sound in 2016, and is up for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars. For those who have already seen Toni Erdmann, that enjoyment will likely be impossible to replicate if the script remains mostly intact, no matter how great the new cast. Now, the legendary actor, who turns 80 this year, has announced his return to acting, and though it’s still in the early planning stages, it seems safe to say that his latest project will probably turn out to be more intriguing and memorable than either of those aforementioned titles. (It’ll also be interesting to see if he adds an undercurrent of menace to the role in a way that isn’t there in originator Peter Simonischek’s own delightful and endearing, if sometimes unsettling, rendering.) And Wiig, as the unhappy and uptight work-a-holic daughter he seeks to reconnect with, seems like the ideal choice to step into actress Sandra Hüller’s shoes—in previous films like The Skeleton Twins and Welcome to Me, she’s shown her range as an actor who can deftly toe the line between tragedy and comedy, something that writer-director Marion Ade’s script certainly required of Hüller. And for those who haven’t, it seems silly, and even blasphemous, to recommend that they skip the original and hold out for the American version knowing as little about it as possible—Simonischek, Hüller, and Ade’s storytelling combined are all just that good. If you’ve already seen Toni Erdmann, which is at turns sobering, hilarious, terribly awkward, and touching throughout its near three-hour running time, it’s hard to deny that the remake casting here feels utterly irresistible. There’s no word yet on who will direct or adapt the screenplay of this remake, though Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, and Ade are among a few of the many producers and executive producers. The last time Jack Nicholson could be seen on the big screen—jumbotrons don’t count—was seven years ago, when he appeared in Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre-o mockumentary I’m Still Here and the forgettable ensemble rom-com How Do You Know. Nicholson’s quirky, mischievous persona aligns perfectly with that of the wacky father who gets a kick out of pranking both strangers and family alike with his off-kilter disguises.

How Trump Has Changed the Way the Daily Show Writers Work

We’re also always looking for anything to give us a break from our full Trump diet. There’s so much to choose from in terms of news events, and everything is happening so fast. The bowling ball with the yellow ribbon around it? We can always connect through a conversation. Yeah. Within a single event, there are five things that could conceivably be a Daily Show segment. On the day of the show, you have a morning meeting and usually have the scripts locked down for rehearsal in the early afternoon, right? You can drink a bit more water, but you’re still consuming all that water. This interview has been edited and condensed. I don’t know how I would handle it otherwise, to be exposed so constantly to everything that’s going on, if I had no other way to joke out all that nervous energy that’s built up. When it comes to domestic policy, Congress and the party system tend to present a measure of checks and balances to Trump. Just yesterday, after rehearsal, we threw in an extra update to the Black History Month meeting, where that pastor walked back his statement that he had talked to the top gang thugs. we have rehearsal, so the scripts are usually in around two o’clock. The nation really came together. you go with what you’ve got? Otherwise, it would be even more of a nightmare than it is. or 3 p.m. What is it about these six different things that happened do want to talk about? You guys don’t come back to air until Monday. Even the Beyoncé segment you did came back to Trump, with the Star Wars references. His style is, let’s talk. On Tuesday night, we all were watching the Supreme Court announcement and preparing a script for it on Wednesday morning, assuming that, of course that’s going to be the major story of the day. If a writer or producer comes with a really great idea for a response or a joke, that alone might carry the decision to talk about it. This article originally appeared in Vulture. We’re very lucky: We have a very efficient team that can turn things around very quickly. But it’s a blessing and a curse. the night before is going to be anything like the show that’s ultimately going to air the next day. Has anything changed in terms of how you decide which stories merit airtime? In the weeks since Donald Trump assumed the presidency, the pace of the news cycle has gone from relentless to utterly overwhelming. It’s refreshing to be hit with a firehose constantly. You and your colleagues can’t take a mental-health break from this stuff. Are you still adhering to the schedule, where after 2 p.m. To me personally, I would say the Trump administration’s relationship to the fight against terrorism is going to be the most concerning aspect of the next four years. He does so much stuff and finds so many new ways to make news, whether it’s alienating allies or passing astonishingly inept executive orders or saying something on Twitter that blows something up. Yeah, especially because, during the last two weeks, it’s hard for any news story to not involve Trump in some way. To learn how The Daily Show has adjusted to the Trump era, Vulture checked in with head writer Zhubin Parang last Friday afternoon, the two-week anniversary of the inauguration. I’m not even watching a new episode. Trevor is a very good host to his guests. How do you decide when to veer off the political stuff? The pace of the day is dramatically sped up. It’s always fun to have some dynamism in the news that we cover. I’m not sure. Yeah, usually around 3:30 p.m. The show recently opened with a piece about Beyoncé’s pregnancy announcement. So this Bowling Green thing is a talking point on Thursday night and Friday. Yeah, let’s write that up.” So we grab a writer, we grab a studio guy and a graphics guy to find the clips. Even though we decided to hit that after rehearsal, we just crammed it in. But when it comes to foreign policy, he has so much more leeway and the potential for irreversible damage is so much higher. I guess it depends on whether something happens over the weekend that kicks it off the radar. What’s the most important Trump story that The Daily Show will track going forward? But you haven’t invited them at this stage? It ultimately goes down to: Does Trevor want to talk about it? It also helps with fun, smaller stories—for example, Beyoncé’s pregnancy—that we have great jokes for but we want to get them out right now. Honestly, news that can break through the Trump noise is always welcome. or 4 p.m. I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure if the administration officially wanted to come on and have a discussion, we would definitely—I don’t see why we wouldn’t. I’m giving my heart a lot of generosity. Things have definitely sped up. That’s the area where he has the most power and he’s the least equipped to handle it. It definitely helps that we have that catharsis of joking about it and gathering together multiple times a day to make fun of what’s going on in the news. But who knows? When you look at the past week, with the refugee ban, with the ban on these seven countries, with the new Iran sanctions, it doesn’t seem like he has any kind of nuanced grasp about this massive thicket of weeds that the Middle East represents. That’s ultimately a visceral feeling Trevor has. In the interview below, he explains how he and his colleagues are handling the onslaught of executive orders, Trump’s nonstop tweet storms, and the last-minute changes to every show. You saw in the Tomi Lahren interview. As we’re talking this morning, people are discussing Kellyanne Conway and the “Bowling Green massacre,” which, how could any of us have forgotten it? At this point, I’m very confident it will. So that’s definitely helped. Trevor is a very firm believer in talking to everybody and having a conversation with everybody. So it’s like, God, we can’t even have the Super Bowl without this becoming politicized, or without it becoming a Trump event? Any time we can talk about something that’s fun and interesting that doesn’t relate to Trump is great. This is our new world order now. I’m not sure they would, but they are always welcome to. Right now, I doubt that by the time it comes to Monday, it won’t have just washed away by some new news. Which is how I assume the Trump White House itself runs. If they want to come on the show, we’d be happy to have them. In terms of your routines, has anything changed under President Trump? Our booking department would know that. Journalists are racing to keep up with it all, and so has the staff at The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. A few weeks? We always are watching TV and have our ears to the ground, just in case anything new comes up and we have to kick something in the script to make room for it. Then I was like, what am I talking about? I remember we all updated our Facebook profile pictures to include that overlay. Within three or four hours, we had to start rewriting, frankly, because [Trump] had a meeting with various African-American leaders because of Black History Month, and that itself created this hilarious story about the pastor who said he had met with the top “gang thugs” in Chicago, and that they respected [Trump] and wanted to make a deal with him. I was watching an old Seinfeld episode.This is a week ago. We’re two weeks into this administration, but it already feels like five years …
And how. It’s very exhausting to be so overwhelmed by everything that’s happening all the time. Yeah, it always comes back to Trump. Is that something you want to happen? But these past few weeks, there are a lot more impromptu meetings where three or four of us meet in the hallway, like, “Should we do this now? How is that affecting you? The potential for danger and a misstep is so enormous. Do you do anything with this? Do you consider factors that you weren’t considering when Obama was president? Have you tried to invite the president or any administration officials to appear on the show since the inauguration? It’s exhilarating, in a way. It is a slight advantage that we are able to consume a bit more water from the firehose than weekly shows. So even on days when we are positive that something is going to be a major story, he keeps surprising us. … so I wanted to take the temperature of The Daily Show. Or if there’s a really great joke or a pitch off that event. Even within the context of that day, Trump’s statement about Frederick Douglass also was a story. Or again, is that up to Trevor? That’s what keeps me up at night. You have to constantly be recalibrating. For a moment I forgot when it aired, and I thought, maybe that’s a commentary on Trump. And how. Then, when the next event has six more things to talk about, which of those is important enough to kick back the two things that you thought were important from the last one? Do you feel that viewers need that? You’re being optimistic. Instead of one nice, organized morning meeting where everyone gets on the same page, it’s a lot of frantic hallway meetings that allow for a lot more chaos and confusion. It could be that something reignites it or brings it back into the news. With respect to his understanding of, for example, Islam and the relationships that the United States has with Middle Eastern countries, I think he has the potential to do damage on a generational level. But having a bunch of the funniest people in the entire world sitting with you, making fun of it, it does wonders to alleviate your anxiety. Speaking of Beyoncé, obviously there is other news outside of the Trump administration. It’ll be very energizing until we all have heart attacks in a few weeks. Our expansion team also addresses all this stuff. [Note: The expansion team is the group responsible for The Daily Show’s digital presence.] As we’re pitching stuff for all these events, the stuff that we don’t address on the show, expansion will take and run with. Otherwise, it’s always up to Trevor and whether he feels personally connected enough to that story to want to say something about it. Or do you let that one go? No, even then we still are able to shift stuff around. See also: Jon Stewart Has a Long History With Anthony Weiner and 11 Other Things We Learned From The Daily Show Book Even the Super Bowl right now, I feel like the dominant story is that Tom Brady calls Donald Trump all the time. We used to be able to predict what the show would be the afternoon before the day, and now we just can’t ever assume that the show we have planned at 7 p.m. That’s something we can’t not talk about. Like, Yeah, that’s important, I want to say something about that.

These 12 Women Should Fill Out the Trump Administration on SNL

Jessica Lange as Jeff Sessions (Attorney General)
The portrayer of Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama Senator with a transparently racist record, needs to be a chameleon, an actress with the ability to seethe and charm both convincingly and extravagantly. Now that we know Trump has a particular hang-up about seeing his staffers portrayed by female comedians, which he allegedly thinks makes them “look weak,” we decided to double down. He’s a unique figure in the cabinet, a relatively intelligent and stable official who’ll have to very carefully strive to correct course.  Also, she can play literally anyone. Margo Martindale as Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State)
Most notably with her Emmy-winning Justified turn, Margo Martindale has demonstrated a real knack for playing opportunistic, slightly sinister power players with a thick Texan drawl. It seems fitting for an increasingly unfunny presidency that many of these women aren’t even comedians at all. Keri Russell as Michael Flynn (National Security Advisor)
Michael Flynn has a cozy relationship with Russia, peddling influence in a fashion that’s decidedly Not Normal. Here are 12 actress who should portray the rest of Trump’s inner circle. One detail in the report particularly resonated: that Trump was most upset by the fact that Spicer was played by a woman. Laurie Metcalf’s bug-eyed, frantic energy—showcased most recently in HBO’s Getting On—would be a great comedic match for Preibus. Concealing everything from high-society pretensions to ideological contradictions to probable daddy issues, he’s built up a fairly inscrutable demeanor in his rise to top advisor. First, on Super Bowl Sunday, Spicer whined about Saturday Night Live being too “mean” and said that McCarthy needed to “dial back.” Then, Monday night, a Politico article outlined how the White House responded internally—short version: not well—to the sketch. Kathy Bates as Sonny Perdue (Secretary of Agriculture)
Sonny Perdue served as Governor of Georgia for eight years before transitioning to Trump’s cabinet. Yet the versatile, wildly funny Niecy Nash would at minimum take the character in a fascinating direction. Melissa McCarthy’s devastatingly specific portrayal of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer struck a nerve. Tillerson, an oil tycoon of similarly villainous mien. Keri Russell knows a thing or two about that. She’ll slip easily into the shoes of Mr. One of the less controversial picks on this list (not that that’s saying much), he’s a fairly well-liked, run-of-the-mill Southern conservative who gets by on charm. Natalie Portman would capture Kushner’s plasticine good looks and the mannered, slow-burn intensity that previously won her an Oscar (and could earn her a second). Jane Lynch as Mike Pence (Vice President)
You may have heard already, but Mike Pence has serious problems with LGBTQ people and women (among others). Viola Davis is a great dramatic actress, and she could dryly channel Mattis’ brand of no-nonsense patience. Catherine O’Hara’s ability to deftly balance chipperness and distress could take the image of Price contently lying under oath to a wonderful, unsettling extreme. Catherine O’Hara as Tom Price (Secretary of Health and Human Services)
Tom Price tries to hide a lot behind that “modest smile” of his, but it barely masks his ethically compromised character. It’s not hard to imagine Poehler sinking her teeth into his dim, dull, unnervingly unflappable essence. What could be more fitting than a proudly queer and bitingly wry comic taking on the task of satirizing such bigotry? Ryan Murphy muse Jessica Lange gets the call. She’s skilled in comedy that’s broad, subtle, and strange—each necessary for a solid Carson impersonation—and she’s particularly well-versed in the performance of clueless authority. Sarah Silverman, a virtuoso at mining her own Jewishness for comedy, could brilliantly highlight the tension here—and as a passionate Bernie supporter, she’d be the perfect person to skewer Mnuchin’s Wall Street ties, too. Kathy Bates, with her proven comic range and booming affability, is a natural fit. Sarah Silverman as Steve Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury)
Former Goldman Sachs partner Steve Mnuchin is in the uncomfortable position, as a Jewish person, of repping an administration that has already begun dabbling in anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi propaganda. Laurie Metcalf as Reince Priebus (Chief of Staff)
As Reince Priebus finds himself on the outs with Trump’s inner circle, rattled by a Game of Thrones-level power struggle, it’s fun to picture the Chief of Staff—just as reports have depicted him in the past—nearly losing his mind and getting a little unhinged. Viola Davis as James Mattis (Secretary of Defense)
James Mattis, who has worked under both President Bush and President Obama, is almost certainly going to spend much of his time as Defense Secretary keeping the erratic, dangerous impulses of President Trump, Steve Bannon, and the like in check. Amy Poehler as Rick Perry (Secretary of Energy)
Perry’s very presence on the Trump cabinet—leading the department he a) wanted to abolish, b) couldn’t remember existed at a pivotal moment, and c) didn’t understand the function of until after he’d taken a job—is already beyond the realm of parody. Her brutal deadpan would be the perfect match for Pence.  Twitter has already lit upon one great idea: having Trump archnemesis Rosie O’Donnell play Steve Bannon, who is currently depicted as the Grim Reaper on SNL. Niecy Nash as Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development)
Truthfully, there’s likely no comic who can go more bizarre than Ben Carson himself (though Jay Pharoah came pretty close). Natalie Portman as Jared Kushner (Top White House Advisor)
As Trump’s son-in-law and closest advisor, Jared Kushner brings a long and complicated history to the White House.

Is My Novel Offensive?

Early on, according to Albertalli, a writer might seek out feedback on her broader concept; as the project advances, particular phrases or details come under inspection. Who could object, she suggests, to a procession of To Kill a Mockingbirds that evince a bit more alertness to the nuances of minority experience? “You don’t want to submit your draft too late and find out that your entire concept is problematic, but if you solicit the reading too early, you risk publishing a book full of microaggressions.”
Sensitivity readers, Ireland insists on her website, “are NOT a guarantee against making a mistake.” The vetters are individuals—they cannot comprehensively sum up the meaning of a group identity for a curious author. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, with the HarperCollins imprint Balzer and Bray in 2015, she never expected it to be controversial. There are issues of framing to consider: Is the book about the girl struggling with her weight too much about a girl, well, struggling with her weight? That’s not a thing,’ ” Albertalli recalls. When Becky Albertalli published her first young adult novel, Simon vs. Even these readers acknowledge the risks of overpolicing artists if the practice were to be taken to the extreme. In Albertalli’s case, a sensitivity reader’s note ultimately produced a bright spot in her novel. But in the latter exchange, readers pointed out, Simon’s Jewish friend immediately corrects him. (“I’ve written a book. Angel Cruz, who advises on Filipino culture, the diaspora, and Catholicism, described sensitivity reading as “emotional/mental labor.” As the first line of defense against writers’ unexamined prejudice, she said, “you do take one for the team” in absorbing visceral blows that can land close to home. An “authentic” book, she said, “isn’t the same as [a politically] correct” one. And so before her manuscript went to print, she reached out to a group of “sensitivity readers.” These advising angels—part fact-checkers, part cultural ambassadors—are new additions to the book publishing ecosystem. She recommended changes to both the sick woman and the diagnosis. That’s one reason that many of the same stakeholders eager to standardize sensitivity readings as an industry norm are also fervent supporters of “own voices” work. The timing “is tricky,” she said. As writers attempt to reflect these realities in their fiction, they often must step outside of their intimate knowledge. At a book signing, several people approached Albertalli to complain that the scene played too readily into a narrative they’d heard many times before. Some sensitivity readers draw distinctions between offensive descriptions and offensive descriptions that appear to enjoy the blessing of the author. “So, yeah,” Albertalli (who characterizes herself as “white, chubby, Jewish, anxious”) finished sheepishly, “I definitely had to rethink that character.”
Removing the “frat boy” brushwork from Albertalli’s draft turned out to be a simple fix. Though authors from all backgrounds use sensitivity readers, the stomach-churning image of a white person wafted down the path to literary achievement by invisible minorities remains. She’d worked for years as a clinical psychologist specializing in gender-fluid teens. Freelance sensitivity reader Elizabeth Roderick, who concentrates on bipolar disorder, PTSD, and psychosis—“I’m here to show the world that I’m not, in fact, wearing a tinfoil hat,” she joked—takes aim at language that paints mentally ill characters “as violent, completely unbalanced, and with evil motives.”
Roderick has had a largely positive experience as a sensitivity reader. Enter the sensitivity reader: one more line of defense against writers’ tone-deaf, unthinking mistakes. Still, it’s a messy project for one reader to suss out authorial intent. While the reader, a bisexual woman, assured Albertalli that her treatment of the character hadn’t hit any sour notes, she saw an opening for an interesting confrontation—a challenge to one of society’s more maddening myths about gay parents. Albertalli was happy to orchestrate the teachable moment. What will the readers of the future make of ours? You fix it,” this boogeyman scribbler declares.) Indeed, for the readers themselves, it can be grueling work. Does a character’s reference to his “shrink” denigrate therapy? And in the end, she realized it wasn’t just a socially conscious improvement but a narrative one: Personally, she said, “I loved that moment in the book.” But the two women of color reading the manuscript whipped out their red pens. “Art is a mode of free expression, and if you put constraints on it, it can become stilted and contrived.” The hassle and potential discomfort of soliciting such feedback could theoretically have a chilling effect on writers working up the courage to venture outside themselves. Albertalli felt crushed that her book had alienated members of the exact community she had hoped to reach. In one draft, Albertalli—who totaled 12 sensitivity reads for her second novel on LGBTQ, black, Korean American, anxiety, obesity, and Jewish representation issues, among others—had described a character’s older sibling, a black college student, as a “bro,” the kind of frat boy she’d gone to school with in Connecticut. The Upside of Unrequited features a queer teenager named Cassie who happens to have two mothers. Perhaps he even wanted us to use the dubious precepts expressed in the novel to clarify our own beliefs. Stacy Whitman, who helms the middle-grade imprint of Lee & Low Books, explained that on most manuscripts her team consults a plexus of “cultural experts” they’ve discovered through “networking and research.” The responses flow back to the author “as part of the editorial process,” and each reader earns a modest honorarium. “If authors are frightened of offending members of a diverse group, and having to deal with the horrible outrage that can ensue in those situations,” she said, “then they’re definitely going to shy away from writing diverse characters.”
But the fact remains that stories about straight, able-bodied (not to mention attractive, financially secure) teenagers far outnumber the alternatives. The author Nic Stone, who is currently penning a novel about a girl with bipolar disorder (and who herself served as a sensitivity reader on race issues for Jodi Picoult), stressed that her sensitivity readers “completely changed the scope” of her book. One Iraqi woman might be charmed by allusions to a character’s “almond-shaped eyes”; her friend might find the phrase clichéd and exoticizing. But authors, she said, can “sometimes get slightly defensive.” Evaluating one manuscript about a woman diagnosed with schizophrenia who escaped from an institution and went on a murder spree, she felt that this was not only cliché; it wasn’t a good representation of what schizophrenic people are like. Historically black colleges have a wildly different conception of Greek life, with fraternity members resembling superstar athletes more than dudes doing keg stands. Plenty of fiction—Portnoy’s Complaint, or Martin Amis’ Money—is defined in part by a narrator’s fevered misogyny. (The site Writing in the Margins recommends $250 per manuscript as a starting fee.) By the time Whitman started at Lee & Low in 2010, she told me, seeking input from reviewers with firsthand knowledge of minority traditions and experiences had already become standard practice at the company. Online, commenters condemned the “fetishization of queer girls” in the book as “offensive.” Albertalli hadn’t originally given the passage a second thought: the character was obviously unworldly; elsewhere, he asserts that all Jews come from Israel. Novels like Huckleberry Finn derive some of their intrigue and complexity from the imperfections of their social vision. While sensitivity remains a positive value in most literature, and perhaps one of the greatest priorities for young adult literature, enforcing it at the expense of other merits, including invention, humor, or shock, might come at a cost. But sensitivity reading often raises more delicate tonal questions. When he makes the comment, he’s met by awkward silence; it’s clear that the other characters firmly disapprove. When she began to craft her second novel, The Upside of Unrequited, about twin sisters navigating the shoals of high school romance, she was determined not to make the same mistake. (Named for a hashtag created by YA author Corinne Duyvis, this label applies to literature that both concerns and is produced by members of sidelined populations.) The idea behind sensitivity reading is not to strong-arm novelists or force their imaginations into preapproved play zones, Stone explained; it’s to smooth the process of representing otherness. And in a cultural climate newly attuned to the complexities of representation, many authors face anxiety at the prospect of backlash, especially when social media leaves both book sales and literary reputations more vulnerable than ever to criticism. America—specifically young America—is currently more diverse than ever. If Lolita had been written from Dolores’ point of view, Ireland said, “it might be useful to have an advocate of children’s rights, a childhood sexual assault survivor, or a psychologist read the manuscript and give critique”; but since it was told from the perspective of a pedophile—not regarded as a marginalized group—that wasn’t necessary. “In my head, he was part of that culture,” she says. “The character didn’t ring true or deep to me,” Roderick said. In her opinion, the goals of sensitivity reading actually align with those of good art—to create a layered and truthful portrait, whether or not it ruffles some sensibilities. Lower-level gaucheries can be weeded out later. On her advice, Albertalli had a student named Evan, “this really douche-y guy,” suggest to Cassie that her family had raised her to be queer. “Without consulting each other, they were both independently like, ‘Nope. Albertalli cites the Nazi-Jewish refugee love story in one 2014 romance novel as an example of a premise that she believes should have been swiftly kiboshed. The lesbian line, a snippet from the narrator’s interior monologue, receives no such rebuttal. A flowering sense of social conscience, not to mention a strong market incentive, is elevating stories that richly reflect the variety of human experience. In Portnoy, for instance, Philip Roth wanted the objectifying gaze of his protagonist—which by default becomes our gaze, since we apprehend the world through him—to make us uncomfortable. The author protested: “If the story didn’t have an antagonist, it wouldn’t be very interesting.”
* * *
It’s not hard to imagine why sensitivity readers could potentially put authors in a difficult position. Either hired by individual authors or by publishing houses, sensitivity readers are members of a minority group tasked specifically with examining manuscripts for hurtful, inaccurate, or inappropriate depictions of that group. After all, where would we be if these experts had subjected our occasionally outrageous and irredeemable canon—Moby Dick or Lolita or any other classic, old, anachronistic book—to their scrutiny? “Of course that’s a danger,” Roderick said. She’d realized, she said, “in my attempts to de-stigmatize the illness by getting as much of its manifestations on the page [as I could], I’d wound up making the book more about the illness than about the girl living with it.”
Some publishing houses provide their own sensitivity readers, particularly in genres—such as young adult literature—where the industry feels protective of its audience. On the site Writing in the Margins, which launched in 2012, the author Justina Ireland articulates the goal of this new fleet of experts: to point out the “internalized bias and negatively charged language” that can arise when writers create “outside of [their] experiences.” In April of last year, Ireland built a public database where freelance sensitivity readers can list their name, contact information, and “expertise.” These areas of special knowledge are generally rooted in identity (“queer woman,” “bisexual mixed race,” “East Asian, “Muslim”) as well as in personal histories of mental illness, abuse and neglect, poverty, disability, or chronic pain. As a push for diversity in fiction reshapes the publishing landscape, the emergence of sensitivity readers seems almost inevitable. Yet her book—about a closeted gay kid whose love notes to a classmate fall into the wrong hands—contained a moment that rubbed readers the wrong way: Simon, the sweet but clueless protagonist, muses that girls have an easier time coming out than boys, because their lesbianism strikes others as alluring. Authors and publishers may send off manuscripts for sensitivity reads at different stages in the writing and editing process. There’s danger, too, that majority writers might grow too comfortable outsourcing the task of representation to advisers from marginalized groups. Cultural sensitivities fluctuate over time.

Worst Since Fallon Interviewed Trump? Watch Janelle Monáe Normalize Conan O’Brien’s Hair.

That’s the only sane response to singer and actress Janelle Monáe’s decision to help normalize Conan O’Brien’s bizarre and un-American hairstyle. Like Fallon and all the other red-hair-mussers that have somehow entered political life, her soul is now at peril. It’s the most blatant act of cowardice in the face of evil we’ve seen since Jimmy Fallon’s infamous decision to muss Donald Trump’s hair. Monáe has now participated in the corrosive process of normalizing Conan O’Brien’s hairstyle, which towers over American television like a crimson Volkshalle,. Shameful. Some ideas simply do not belong on the national stage, and Conan’s hair represents about 100,000 of them. This is not normal. Despite the clear correlation between mysterious red hair and fascism, Monáe—whose own pompadour is stacked like a glorious wedding cake made from democratic civic virtue—wasted no time running her fingers through the authoritarian waves of Conan’s hair. Her reckless actions will surely place TBS in the hall of shame right next to NBC when the hairstyles of the Trump era are finally litigated. “It’s not a lace front,” she told the audience, as though Conan’s hair were worthy of a good-faith debate. Nevertheless, hapless TBS viewers may have been led to believe that Conan’s hair was the kind of thing people could joke about, get a beer with, maybe even vote for.

Rejoice! The Full Trailer for The Lego Ninjago Movie Is Nigh!

22 we shall know The Lego Ninjago Movie even as also we are known. And it was shewn unto me that The Lego Ninjago Movie shall be directed by Charlie Bean and written by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Kevin Chesley, and Bryan Shukoff. Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. Verily I say unto you: The Lego Ninjago Movie shall be released on Sep. Keep all these facts about The Lego Ninjago Movie and its trailers and ponder them in your heart, that you may know wisdom. And unto you Slate now prophesies, to shew that which must shortly come to pass. For unto you is released this day a teaser trailer for the full trailer for The Lego Ninjago Movie. Hail, Slate readers, thou art highly favoured, blessed art thou among internet audiences. But wicked men shall not hear the good news of The Lego Ninjago Movie, neither shall they watch its trailer, for they are exceedingly proud in their hearts, and will surely be brought low. These are the teachings of Slate regarding The Lego Ninjago Movie and its trailers. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the teaser trailer in an embedded video player above, and ye shall click the “Play” button above this text. 22 from Warner Bros., and it shall star Jackie Chan, Olivia Munn, Dave Franco, and a multitude of the Hollywood host. For now we see The Lego Ninjago Movie through a glass, darkly, but on Sep. And all these things shall come to pass. Behold, the full trailer for The Lego Ninjago Movie shall be released Wednesday, and all shall know its glory, from the least to the greatest. 22, in full: now we know in part, but on Sep.

Our Minds Are Intricate

The stories in this collection are often conversational and candid, as though the reader has been invited to have a chat with the narrator. Though separated by three generations from Collins, I related to the experience of being a black woman at a predominantly white college, the ambivalence of my early 20s, and finding my footing during a similarly charged political moment in history. The story of one summer in Sara and Victor’s life could have easily been a story in Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? The title story in Collins’ new book, “Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?,” centers on the lives of two young civil rights activists, one black, one white. Because, you know, a colored woman with class is still an exceptional creature. Tastefully enough? There are shades in the intimacy and urgency of Collins’ writing of Lorraine Hansberry and Zora Neale Hurston. Read the rest of the pieces in the Slate Book Review. Tastefully enough. Her stories are intense meditations on love, heartbreak, youthful ennui, gender, and race. The first one who had the kind of savoir faire he believed in so devoutly. Before the release of Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, which was compiled by Collins’ daughter Nina, she was best known for her comic film Losing Ground, the story of the struggling marriage between a philosophy professor named Sarah and her painter husband, Victor. I know I was. Structured as notes on a screenplay, the story ends with the narrator scribbling a note that the woman’s character should be left “in the shadow while she looks for the feelings that lit up the room.” Collins writes bluntly about the racial politics of love and sex. Collins’ work will certainly be canonized now, but what a shame that didn’t happen earlier. Cheryl, the black roommate, is caught between the expectations of her father and the opportunities gradually opening up to her. She drew on her Francophilia and Sorbonne education for the story, “How Does One Say,” about a young black female student and her older French professor at a language immersion program in Maine. in the way it portrayed the delicate give-and-take in their marriage, the jealousy and the competition, and Sara’s eventual empowerment. How many black women and their genius have been nearly, or completely, lost to history? The opening story in the book, “Exteriors,” reads like the script of a relationship’s undoing. No colored woman could. Collins’ characters grapple with the intersection of their blackness and their womanhood, working out what those identities mean for them. I read Collins’ stories and saw glimpses of myself and other black women in my life reflected back. Collins pays close attention to the minutiae of love lost. feels like peeking through a keyhole into the lives of black women in a bygone era. The story follows the girls through their respective interracial relationships and self-discovery. Hansberry also died young, at the age of 34, to pancreatic cancer, though she had already reached commercial success with her play A Raisin in the Sun by the time of her death. The first one with class, style, poetry, taste, elegance, repartee and haute cuisine. No colored woman could. It is only because of writer Alice Walker’s active interest in rediscovering Hurston’s work in the ’70s that it re-entered contemporary conversation. As the poet Elizabeth Alexander notes in her introduction:

The very existence of this book feels to me like an assurance that while we may think we have done our archival work and unearthed all the treasures of black thinking women, there is always something more to find. Reading Kathleen Collins’ Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? Collins was an award-winning playwright and filmmaker who died in 1988 from breast cancer, at the age of 46. Recent graduates of elite liberal arts colleges, the two girls are living together in 1963, “the year of race-creed-color blindness,” as the narrator says. We were not invented yesterday. No colored woman could.” Only sex could remove her carefully crafted façade. It’s an atypical narrative—which is to say, one about a black woman—during an often-explored time in history. We have literary foremothers who are not just the ones we know we had, who continue to remind us of ourselves: Our minds are intricate. Zora Neale Hurston was a prominent member of the Harlem Renaissance during the ’30s, but died in obscurity. In the story “Stepping Back,” the narrator says:

I’m not trying to flatter myself, but I was the first colored woman he ever seriously considered loving. I imagine she was not unlike many young black women at the time in navigating a political awakening with the era’s respectability politics hanging over their head. Ultimately, it’s a story that makes a sharp point about the era’s naïveté about race relations. We are gorgeously contradictory in our epistemologies. In real life, Collins, an alumna of Skidmore College, was involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Albany Movement and spent the summer registering black voters in Georgia. Initially proud of her allegedly nonblack interests and attributes, the narrator ultimately reckons with her own inextricable blackness: “How could I occupy the splendid four-poster bed? Our desires are complex. Collins once said as much herself when reflecting on how difficult it was to get her movies made: “Nobody would give any money to a black woman to direct a film. With stories set in the ’60s through the ’80s, Collins weaves fictional narratives about relationships gone awry, illicit love, and strained family dynamics with memoiristic details from her own life. Kathleen Collins was a black woman who lived at a time, quite simply, when black women’s stories were not valued. Black womanhood is still an unexplored concept in the national imagination; to see this groundwork laid by Collins is refreshing. And make love? It was probably the most discouraging time of my life.” If not for the persistence of her daughter in bringing her work to the world, Collins’ sharp and lovely stories would be lost. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins. Ecco.