Category Archives: Arts

Beyond history, ‘Hamilton’ offers lesson in dangers of ambition

By Raho Faraha

San Jose, CA

You have married an Icarus,” sings Phillipa Soo broken-heartedly in the hit Broadway musical ‘Hamilton.’ Soo plays Alexander Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, who is devastated after finding out her husband had an affair with another woman. She continues:  “He has flown too close to the sun.”

This show is known for using an unconventional medium—musical theater—to teach history, and also for exclusively casting people of color to play America’s white founding fathers. But ‘Hamilton’ is also a lesson on the danger of ambition mixed with arrogance.

In the musical, Hamilton is portrayed as a highly-intelligent, headstrong, and ambitious character at the forefront of America’s birth. His ambition was fueled by a need to escape his penniless past in the Caribbean. To join New England’s elite faction, Hamilton becomes a major general in the Revolutionary War and marries Eliza Schuyler, the daughter of a decorated war hero. Over the course of his life, his drive turns him into a power-hungry politician who becomes Secretary of the Treasury. But he still wants more.

His arrogant and overly sensitive nature stem from a place of immense insecurity. But ambition can only hide deep-seated insecurities for so long. 

Icarus fell from grace when he ignored his father’s warnings, while Hamilton fell from grace when he published the Reynolds Pamphlet, needlessly exposing the intricate details of his affair and ensuing extortion. Both Icarus and Hamilton allowed their ambition to get the better of them. Ambition can be an asset, but these stories should serve as a warning: Don’t fly too close to the sun.

Gen Z finds its voice in sublime ‘Eighth Grade’

By Lauren Herandez

Palm Harbor, FL

Imagine a 13-year-old girl vlogging to ultimately no viewers without a stitch of makeup. She talks about how to solve life issues and navigate daily struggles. This is not an uncommon trend among the younger generations; vlogging can help young people feel a sense of togetherness even when there may not be anyone else. ‘Eighth Grade’ is one of the first films to accurately represent what happens in many young teenagers’ lives instead of romanticizing them.

This is a nuanced coming-of-age story similar to those of John Hughes movies—with a 2018 spin. It thoughtfully captures what it is like for Generation Z, raising an important lesson not taught in other movies: It displays sexual misconduct between the main character, Kayla, a 13-year-old girl, and an older boy. That scene is hard to watch, but it was necessary: The feeling of her shame resonates because it is a realistic portrayal of the real world situations many women have experienced.

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) evokes the emotions many teenagers feel and captivates the audience with her portrayal of a teenager who experiences the effects of social media and anxiety. The character’s radical empathy juxtaposed with that of her peers makes her stand out—which illustrates how the younger generation is part of a disengaged culture. This is apparent when Kayla hands a note to her peer, who does not look up from a phone.

This movie also displays the dynamic of a father-daughter relationship. The movie displays not only the child’s difficulties, but the parent’s struggles raising a child. The film explores the ultimate bond with a heartfelt talk many children experience.

The director, Bo Burnham, a famous YouTuber, was well-equipped to direct this movie. The rhetoric used throughout the movie and the vlogs conveys Burnham’s understanding of the age demographic. Burnham made a movie about the struggles of vlogging—which he also knows—from an adolescent perspective while incorporating real life generational issues many struggle with.

‘Eighth Grade’ lives up to expectations, demonstrating its cultural awareness far better than typical movies.

‘Waltz’ is a tale of love and tenderness

By Nicole Chow

New York, NY

Anxious breathing in the waiting room. A monologue uncovering emotions. Quaky legs locked in nervousness. This is how the character Anna opens Princeton Summer Theater’s production of ‘The Baltimore Waltz,’ a play by Paula Vogel.

Anna is waiting for the diagnosis of her brother, who has AIDS. Vogel, whose brother died of AIDS, based the play on real life events. But in a twist, Anna and Carl switch perspectives in the play. Anna becomes the one who’s contracted a strange illness—ATD: Acquired Toilet Disease—which she supposedly caught from using a public bathroom while teaching in a elementary school.

The two characters go on an adventure around Europe, where Anna goes on a sexual spree. This sexual desire comes from one of the stages of coping with the acknowledgement of your own death—lust. The first night they arrive in Paris, Anna starts to face these stages. At one point, she begins to fantasize about the idea of death, standing in the middle of the stage with gloomy light and a soft presence. “This is how I’d like to die, with dignity,” she said.

The play was marvelously performed by Abby Melick, Sean Peter Drohan and Evan Gedrich. From the acting to the technical elements like lighting, sound and stage design, the play was impeccable in every sense. Sure, there were stutters, maybe a couple, but the level of professionalism and meticulous movement was impressive. I was sitting dead center, seat 105, and let me tell you, it was the best seat in the house. From that point of view, I was in the middle of it all. I was the dream the characters looked up to, the audience they spoke with. Every placement and movement of each actor was strategic and poetic. The lights and the colors illuminated the stage as so that it illustrated the mind of the characters. The music served to set the time and feeling, the unimaginable beat of the moment. Whenever two characters stood in center stage, the beautiful imagery would remind me how important angles are in a story, both physical and mental.

There are symbols in this play, most prominently stuffed bunnies, one of which Carl seems too attached to. Carl and another character smuggle bunnies here and there, hiding something inside of each—not quite drugs, but meaning. But what are they trying to keep and hold so dearly on to? Is it life and hope? Drugs? Health? A cure?

Running into the hospital room, jumping into the bed and screaming for help, Anna begins to end the play, revealing that everything that took place after her and her brother switched perspectives isn’t part of the real world; it relied on Anna’s mind and her fantasies.

The play ends with Anna and Carl dancing a waltz, him in a suit and her in the only piece of clothing she’s been wearing throughout the whole story—swift and energetic moves, parallel to the way they lived, yet so full of love and tenderness.

‘BlacKkKlansman’ reinforces unfortunate stereotypes

By Auhjanae McGee

Detroit, MI

In his work, Spike Lee, an African American filmmaker, tries to straddle the line between accurately portraying the black experience and making those experiences palatable for a larger audience. His most recent film, ‘BlacKkKlansman,’ skillfully does both, hitting the viewer over the head with symbolism and real-world allusion to blackness while also appealing to a demographically diverse group of people.

‘BlacKkKlansman’ has an interesting and unique premise: A black detective in 1970s Colorado goes undercover with the help of his white partner to expose potential dangers in a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. John David Washington, the actor who portrays Ron Stallworth, also known as the Black Klansman, calls his local chapter of the Klan and uses his “white voice” to pretend to be a racist white man in order to set up an undercover investigation to expose the wrongdoings of the organization. While the film expertly grapples with ideas of black assimilation in a white America, it is also littered with problematic black stereotypes.

The most prominent issue of ‘BlacKkKlansman’ is the reinforcement of stereotypes that contribute to the exploitation of African Americans in film. The idea that certain races speak in particular dialects and that “white” dialects are the most acceptable permeates throughout the entire film. One could argue that Stallworth pretending to be white over the phone is crucial for him to have gotten his foot in the door with the KKK. But by the ending, when he reveals his “black voice,” it’s clear that his eloquence and diction are supposed to be seen as an act—a white act.

Furthermore, Patrice, a black female activist and president of the Black Student Union at a local college, is an exceptionally flat and static character. Her only role is to stand for “black power” and oppose the police force, perpetuating yet another stereotype: that black people hate all cops. Lee’s exploitation of these assumptions is harmful to black people who see their race being reduced to overly-defined clichés, and simultaneously beneficial to white people who can feel comfortable hanging on to potentially problematic views they may have on the black race.

‘BlacKkKlansman’ does make the effort to depict Stallworth as a sort of mediator between two polarized sides. While that’s much needed in our current political climate, the effort could have been stronger. And the underlying issues hold this film back from realizing the type of true-to-life nuance that other movies that deal with the black identity in America — like Get Out — achieve.

Although Lee is an African American who can be said to be “of the culture,” he does not have a free pass to exploit the black characters whose stories he chooses to represent. The film is great for patronizing white liberals who want to champion the defeat of horrible racists at the hands of people of color. But if black audiences expect to see the trials and dynamics of being an African American cop undercover as a Klansman, they will be sorely disappointed.

“The Big Sick” tells a tale of love and immigrant families

By Kevin Song
New York City, NY

Based on the real-life experience of actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani, ‘The Big Sick’ tells the story of Kumail’s struggles living as a comedian and part-time Uber driver in Chicago. Kumail meets a girl named Emily at one of his shows, and the two embark on a turbulent relationship.

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“The Big Sick” earns an 8/10

By Kiana Hunter
Chicago, IL

Based on the clash of traditional and modern Pakistani culture in American society, ‘The Big Sick,’ directed by Michael Showalter, touches on the themes of love, tradition, and stereotypes. The movie begins with the protagonist, Kumail Nanjiani, and his love interest, Emily, meeting at his stand-up comedy show. The pair starts dating, but Kumail’s family, strongly rooted in Pakistani cultural traditions, pressures him to marry a Pakistani woman.

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A new twist on a romantic comedy

By Aleksandra Wicko
Chicago, IL

Drifting away from traditional Hollywood romance, ‘The Big Sick’ takes a refreshing and hilarious approach to a conventional form and does justice to complicated real-life relationships. Based on the true story of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, the issue of interracial relationships provides a compelling narrative that includes a big secret and a medically-induced coma.

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