Category Archives: Arts

‘Old Guard’ Has Little New To Show

Untitled drawing (1)Maggie Salinas

By Tara Monastesse

Warwick, R.I.

Andromache, or Andy, played by Charlize Theron, is the battle-hardened leader of a group of immortal warriors who serve as de facto protectors of the planet. In “The Old Guard,” Andy finds her crew targeted by greedy scientists who plan to kidnap them, extract their biological data, and replicate their powers of regeneration. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film brings impressive choreography and new concepts to the action genre. But it stops just short of transcending it.

Perhaps the biggest flaw with “The Old Guard” is the risks it doesn’t take. While the rogue group of scientists is clearly immoral, the movie never delves into the serious question posed by their attempt to create a drug that extends human life: What do we owe to the rest of humanity? Moral questions like this present themselves throughout the movie, but instead of exploring them further, Prince-Bythewood always swerves back to more traditional fight sequences.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that—after all, who doesn’t love watching Charlize Theron bring a sword to a machine gun fight? For a movie that’s trying to bring new depth to the genre, however, the lack of commitment to challenging storytelling in favor of gunshots and bloodshed feels tiresome. When a new member of the immortals’ group, Nile Freeman, played by KiKi Layne, questions Andy about the lives she takes without hesitation, the film appears to be on the cusp of an engaging conversation about the nature of life and death. Instead, they part ways and return to their action-flick adventures.

The immortals in the film feel almost hollow, as if their centuries of life had no role in shaping the people they’ve become. While Andy has mastered multiple languages and fighting styles over the course of human history, she ultimately presents herself as any other 21st century woman would. This is understandable, since hiding her immortality is easier if she blends in. But Theron doesn’t quite convey the burden you might feel defending humanity over centuries; often, she just looks tired.

However, I enjoyed the dynamic between the immortals, their camaraderie and constant wise-cracks, as well as the compelling romantic relationship between immortals Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). Despite its shortcomings, “The Old Guard” is a fun addition to the world’s pandemic playlist. I just wish it were more than that.

Immortals In ‘Old Guard’ Also Show Their Human Side

MV5BNDJiZDliZDAtMjc5Yy00MzVhLThkY2MtNDYwNTQ2ZTM5MDcxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDA4NzMyOA@@._V1_Official Release Poster

By Hana Hammad

Debary, Fla.

The Old Guard” follows a strong female lead, Andy (Charlize Theron), an immortal trying to change the world she’s lived in for eternity. Andy stands at the head of a group of immortal warriors—Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli)—that she discovered and trained over centuries.

One night, the immortals have a collective dream of a female Marine, Nile (KiKi Layne), a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan but mysteriously comes back to life. Andy seeks out the Marine to join her immortal warrior team—but Nile resists, confused about what is happening to her. Having lost her father a few years prior, she’s hesitant to leave her family.

Andy and her immortal warrior team are betrayed by an ex-CIA agent, Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who traps them in an evil scientific research lab. The lab captures Nicky and Joe to perform tests on them for medical research. Along the way, a betrayal and plenty of action ensue.

The movie was enjoyable because it didn’t take long for the plot to pick up. The love story between Nicky and Joe was beautiful. Seeing that they had been by each other’s sides for hundreds of years softened the movie’s hard edges.

In many action movies, the theatrical fighting and explosives can be too raw, or even boring. But “The Old Guard” was able to tie in elements of love and action to make the characters seem more human, despite their immortality. Similarly, Andy’s backstory with Quynh—an immortal whose fate is revealed through a series of flashbacks—made me love the movie so much more. The strength of them together in battle scenes fighting side by side was magical.

The only downside to this movie was the predictability of some of the plotlines. The big betrayal of the film is similar to many others, such as “Big Hero 6,” “The Matrix,” and “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” But overall, “The Old Guard” has to be one of my favorite action movies. I typically don’t care to watch action movies but this one kept me engaged the whole time.

Hollywood’s Pervasive Color Problem

 

The book cover of “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas (on the left) featured a dark-skinned Black girl while the movie adaption stars a light-skinned actress (on the right).

By Anne Tchuindje

Washington, D.C.

The critically acclaimed movie “The Hate U Give” began as a book. It’s the story of Starr Carter, a young Black girl who tries to balance two worlds—her low-income Black neighborhood and her wealthy white prep school—while still fighting misogyny and racism. On the cover of the book, the illustrator draws Starr Carter as a Black girl with Afro-textured hair and brown skin. The actress who plays Starr in the movie, Amandla Stenberg, is a lighter-skinned Black girl with braids.

Stenberg’s casting is an example of a lack of diversity in Hollywood that new awareness about race and representation has yet to fix: colorism. The term means “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, including prejudice held by members of their own ethnic or racial group.”

People of color have slowly, but surely, made a significant impact on the big screen. Diversity, especially in Hollywood, allows people from different backgrounds to see themselves reflected in popular culture. But when it comes to the representation of darker-skinned Black people, the movies haven’t made much progress. Executives tend to hire lighter-skinned actors to play Black roles, or to consider darker-skinned actors only for roles that fulfill a specific stereotype. Until colorism is addressed within the filmmaking industry, there will never be true diversity.

The illustrator of “The Hate U Give,” Debra Cartwright, has said in interviews that she “wasn’t thrilled” about the choice of Stenberg to play Starr. In a meeting with Fox, executives told her that they’d have to lighten her illustration, and “change the hair.”

Author Angie Thomas also criticized the colorism infecting the film adaptation, which omits the references to colorism in the Black community expressed in her original book. “It’s disheartening, because I do feel like so much money was thrown behind the movie, and so much marketing was thrown behind it,” Thomas said. “You can tell who Hollywood is pushing to be in the limelight, and everybody knows it has a lot to do with appearance, but it also is still being driven a bit by colorism.”

“The Hate U Give” is far from the only example. Among others, actress Zendaya has spoken up about issues of colorism within Hollywood and admitted to having a privilege over her “dark skin brothers and sisters.” She vowed to continue to use her platform to bring attention to issues of colorism within the industry. “Guardians of the Galaxy” actress Zoe Saldana, cast in the role of singer and songwriter Nina Simone despite her lighter skin and looser hair texture, expressed great regret for playing the role.

“I should have never played Nina,” Saldana said. “I should have done everything in my power with the leverage that I had 10 years ago, which was a different leverage, but it was leverage nonetheless.”

Colorism is also apparent in animated movies. In recent Disney films, a variety of princesses from different backgrounds and cultures have been featured— and through each movie we witness the development of each princess as she embarks on an adventure that ultimately changes her life forever. But colorism remains.

In “The Princess and the Frog,” the first Disney film to depict an African American princess, main character Tiana was trapped in the form of an animal for over 80 percent of the movie. Disney’s decision to make this princess a frog throughout the movie is not only racist, but colorist, in the sense that this plot is only used in a movie containing a dark-skinned princess.

Issues of colorism within Hollywood do not only affect who is cast to play roles, but also how they tell the story of those they play. When Hollywood does cast dark-skinned actors, they are given less screen time or made to play demeaning characters; for instance, dark skin characters make frequent appearances as maids and servants. It’s important to cast actors and actresses of darker skin in order to show more diversity, be more inclusive, and break down these stereotypes.

We need stories that spotlight more people within the Black community. Actors and actresses with a platform and leverage should give other actors and actresses of darker skin tones more opportunities and voices within casting decisions. Representation within film builds character and identity for Black people.

How Racism Leads To Anime’s Stigma

photo-1581833971358-2c8b550f87b3Credit: Tim Mossholder

By Crystyna Barnes

Elm City, N.C.

Have you ever heard of anime?” asked a student at the front of the class. My teacher looked at the kid, confused. “It’s like those weird cartoons from Japan or something,” the student added. “Don’t watch them. They’re really gross and weird.”

The students, and even the teacher himself, laughed. I sat in the back of the class beside my friend, a fellow fan of anime. We slowly turned to look at each other, puzzled. The last anime I’d watched was about a middle school boy rediscovering his love for piano. What’s so gross about that?

Cartoons are a staple of most childhoods. No one bats an eye when asked about their favorite Disney film. Why is it any different when the content originates in a foreign country? The watered-down reasoning is that it’s simply racism. But the bigger culprit is social conditioning that teaches us to think of something outside of the norm as “weird.”

What people don’t know is that they’ve probably already consumed western content inspired by anime. Ever watch “Avatar: The Last Airbender”? “Powerpuff Girls”? “Teen Titans”? All of these childhood favorites took notes from anime: exaggerated facial expressions, big eyes and mouths, and a color- ful palette for character designs. We’ve been enjoying cartoons based on anime all along.

Whenever I’ve asked someone why they don’t like anime, the answer is short: “It’s weird” or “I just don’t get it.” I have even heard people say that anime all seem per- verted. I don’t necessarily believe that the average person who says these things is outright racist, but continued anti-Asian stigma and a lack of edu- cation contribute to this pointless opposition. If all someone hears about anime is that it’s strange and distasteful, a cycle of indoctrination has been created where no one questions or denies this out of fear of being viewed as weird as well.

In the scheme of things, the only noticeable difference between the cartoons we know and love and anime is the place of origin. Anime is not just one genre or one style. Just like cartoons, there is one out there for everyone.

If we want to end the stereotypes around Asian culture, change starts with the individual. Go on Netflix, find an anime with a plot that piques your interest, and start watching it. Suggest it to friends. Normalizing content that is viewed as abnormal will only create more open-minded people and more shows and movies to enjoy.

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.

Continue reading

“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.

Continue reading