Happy Birthday to Carrie Fisher, Our Once and Future Princess, Rebel, and General

Today would have been Carrie Fisher’s 61st birthday, had she not passed away at the end of 2016. To celebrate her life, I thought I’d round up some of the amazing stories, speeches, anecdotes, and interviews we’ve published from and about her over the years. From her role as a Star Wars heroine to her mental health advocacy, from her fiery responses to sexism to her amazing writing, Carrie Fisher represented a whole lotta much-needed goodness to a whole lotta people. She provided a model of opinionated, complicated, imperfect, and uncompromising womanhood for a lot of us who needed to see that in the world – and given the state of things today, we miss her voice more than ever.

Please feel free to share your own favorite Carrie Fisher stories in the comments.

(Featured image via Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Studios)

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Come Watch Taika Waititi Read and Respond to Internet Comments About Thor: Ragnarok

IGN has, to use their own descriptor, “one of the most active comments sections on the internet.” And so, fittingly, they had the highly animated Taika Waititi over to respond to some of their commenters. Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok hasn’t hit theaters yet, and while most viewers have yet to see the film, they’ve still got plenty of opinions for Waititi to respond to!

In characteristic fashion, Waititi mugs it up, puts on funny voices, and literally hoots at the camera at one point, before ending with a series of ridiculous faces. He responds to both negative comments – such as “This looks beyond stupid” or “Another movie to pull Norse mythology in the dirt” – and positive comments like “NEW ZEALAND REPRESENT” and “This is gonna be more of a acid trip then doctor strange and i’m gonna love it.” Whatever the spirit of the comment, he leans into the natural absurdity of reading anonymous, poorly punctuated internet hyperbole – you know, the sort of stuff you would not say to someone in person – aloud.

Numerous reports from the Thor: Ragnarok set mention improvisation and invention, and it’s easy to see why from this video. Improvisation is clearly part of Waititi’s signature style. Even just looking at the word “represent,” he goes off in a bunch of different directions, testing out new ways to turn it into a joke. I can’t wait to see what he and his cast did with the far more expansive absurdity of Asgard and the Marvel cosmos. Another!

Thor: Ragnarok hits U.S. theaters on November 3, 2017.

(Via io9 and IGN; image via screengrab)

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“We are tired of relying on whisper networks”: Women and GNC Animators Demand Concrete Changes to Stop Sexual Harassment

As the Harvey Weinstein allegations continue to reverberate in the entertainment industry, more than 200 women and gender non-conforming animators sent an open letter to the animation community at-large, in which they laid out their demands to address sexual harassment and assault in the industry. They ask for “clear and enforceable” sexual harassment policies at every studio, an update to the Animation Guild constitution which would allow the Guild to “censure, fine, suspend or expel” members, and a cultural change that “male colleagues start speaking up and standing up for us.”

“When sexual predators are caught at one workplace, they seem to easily find a job at another studio, sometimes even following their victims from job to job,” the letter reads. “We are tired of relying on whisper networks to know who isn’t safe to meet with alone. We want our supervisors to protect us from harassment and assault.”

As many commentators have pointed out, it’s important and often healing for women to share their stories and name their abusers. But it’s just as important for us to respond to those stories with concrete, system-wide changes which make it far more difficult for harassers to get away with their behavior. This letter calls for exactly that sort of change – so let’s hope the studios respond. Bento Box, Cartoon Network, Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Nickelodeon, OddBot, Paramount, Shadowmachine, Sony Pictures Animation, Stoopid Buddy, Titmouse, and Warner Brothers were all sent the letter.

The signatories of the letter include animators from dozens of shows, including Adventure Time and Bojack Horseman, as well as big-name creators like Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar, Danger & Eggs creator Shadi Petosky, Bob’s Burgers producer/writer Wendy Molyneux, and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic creator Lauren Faust.

Below is the full text of the letter. You can see the full list of signatories at Deadline.

— — —

“An Open Letter to the Animation Community

We, the women and gender non-conforming people of the animation community, would like to address and highlight the pervasive problem of sexism and sexual harassment in our business. We write this letter with the hope that change is possible, and ask that you listen to our stories and then make every effort to bring a real and lasting change to the culture of animation studios.

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, many of the women who work in animation have begun discussing more openly issues that we have dealt with quietly throughout our careers. As we came together to share our stories of sexism, sexual harassment and, in some cases, sexual assault, we were struck by the pervasiveness of the problem. Every one of us has a story to share, from tossed-off comments about our body parts that were framed as “jokes” to women being cornered in dark rooms by male colleagues to criminal assault.

Our business has always been male-dominated. Women make up only 23% of union employees, so it’s no surprise that problems with sexism and sexual harassment exist. Sexual harassment and assault are widespread issues that primarily affect women, with women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups affected at an even greater rate.

As more women have entered the animation workforce, it seems that some men have not embraced this change. They still frequently make crass sexual remarks that make it clear women are not welcome on their crews. Some have pressed colleagues for romantic or sexual relationships, despite our clear disinterest. And some have seen the entrance of more women into the industry as an opportunity to exploit and victimize younger workers on their crews who are looking for mentorship. In addition, when sexual predators are caught at one workplace, they seem to easily find a job at another studio, sometimes even following their victims from job to job. We are tired of relying on whisper networks to know who isn’t safe to meet with alone. We want our supervisors to protect us from harassment and assault.

This abuse has got to stop.

The signatories of this letter demand that you take sexual harassment seriously. We ask that:

1. Every studio puts in place clear and enforceable sexual harassment policies and takes every report seriously. It must be clear to studio leadership, including producers, that, no matter who the abuser is, they must investigate every report or face consequences themselves.

2. The Animation Guild add language in our constitution that states that it can “censure, fine, suspend or expel any member of the guild who shall, in the opinion of the Executive Board, be found guilty of any act, omission, or conduct which is prejudicial to the welfare of the guild.” To craft and support the new language, we ask that an Anti-Harassment and Discrimination Committee be created to help educate and prevent future occurrences.

3. Our male colleagues start speaking up and standing up for us. When their co-workers make sexist remarks, or when they see sexual harassment happening, we expect them to say something. Stop making excuses for bad behavior in your friends and co-workers, and tell them what they are doing is wrong.

It has not been easy for us to share our stories with each other. Many of us were afraid because our victimizers are powerful or well-liked. Others were worried that if they came forward it would affect their careers. Some of us have come forward in the past, only to have our concerns brushed aside, or for our supervisors to tell us “he’s just from a different era.” All of us are saddened and disheartened to hear how widespread the problem of sexual harassment still is in the animation industry, and how many of our friends had been suffering in secret.

It is with this in mind that we resolve to do everything we can to prevent anyone else from being victimized. We are united in our mission to wipe out sexual harassment in the animation industry, and we will no longer be silent.”

(Via Buzzfeed News and Deadline; image via Cartoon Network)

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Irony Is The First Tribute to Die in Dubai’s Hunger Games Theme Park

Irony has taken many blows in the marketing for Lionsgate’s adaptation of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins’ young adult trilogy about a society which transforms suffering and death into reality-show entertainment – but this one might be the death blow. Variety announced that Lionsgate has partnered with Dubai Parks and Resorts to open “The World of The Hunger Games” theme park.

The opening celebration for the park was held this Friday, October 20. “The World of The Hunger Games” will be the largest Hollywood-inspired theme park in the Middle East, with attractions like the Panem Aerial Tour hovercraft simulator, the Capitol Bullet Train rollercoaster, and the – I kid you not – Coal Miner’s Clash “festive, high-energy percussion show.” Guests can also shop at Peeta’s Bakery for food and Panem Supply Co. for merchandise.

Below is the promotional video for the park, shared by Dubai Parks and Resorts on YouTube. (And yes, it does look like Stanley Tucci got back into costume just to film this promo, but it may be the magic of CGI.)

Tim Palen, the chief brand officer at Lionsgate, said, “Dubai Parks and Resorts is a fantastic partner. Together we have created an interactive experience that allows fans from around the world a chance to immerse themselves in the world that Suzanne Collins created in an authentic, fun and exciting way.”

Honestly, we’re discussing a theme park which made a percussion show out of a rebellion that ends with the whole district getting firebombed, so there really isn’t much more for me to add. But it remains super-weird that The Hunger Games phenomenon has been adopted so straightforwardly, with no awareness or acknowledgement from the studios of how their marketing plays into exactly what the book’s critiquing.

It’s genuinely surreal – like, premise-of-an-SNL-skit surreal – to see them build a Hunger Games theme park in Dubai, a city which struggles deeply with income inequality, to promote a movie about how the rich make spectacles out of other people’s suffering. This is a book about dystopian child-murder, and we’re going to make it into a “fun and exciting” immersive theme park?

(And, yes, I suppose Star Wars is technically about anti-imperial warfare, and Harry Potter is about trying to stop a violent political movement built around “pure blood.” But those franchises aren’t also explicitly and scathingly critiquing the ways that fascism and late capitalism use media and spectacle to control people and cover over suffering – so their theme parks are definitely less absurd. Also, who in the world would want to live in Panem?)

The script for 2017 continues to keep things waaaay too on-the-nose.

(Via Variety and SYFY Wire; image via Lionsgate)

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Chelsea Handler Quits Her Netflix Show, Because She’s Got Activism to Do

If it can be said that there’s a silver lining about the election of the Trump administration, it’s that it has gotten people for whom politics was a mere afterthought to bring the state of our country and the world front and center in their minds. That’s certainly the effect Trump’s election seems to have had on comedian and host, Chelsea Handler.

Yesterday, Handler took to Twitter to release a statement about the future (or lack thereof) of Chelsea Lately. In short, she’s giving up her show to devote herself to political activism more full-time. Here’s what she wrote:

“Like so many across the country,” Handler says, “the past presidential election and the countless events that have unfolded since have galvanized me. From the national level down to the grassroots, it’s clear our decisions at the ballot box next year will mark a defining moment for our nation.” She plans to not return to Netflix for a third season of her show, instead devoting her time to doing more learning and growing in the field of political activism.

Handler hopes to put her focus specifically on women, both in trying to get more women elected to political office, and fighting for gender equality.

This doesn’t mean that she’s severing ties with Netflix completely. As reported by The Huffington Post, “Handler said she plans to travel the country, speaking to people to gain ‘a better understanding of our political divide.’ That concept will form the basis of a documentary for Netflix, and she will retain a relationship with the streaming service. The current season of weekly hour-long Chelsea episodes will continue to stream until the end of 2017.”

This isn’t entirely a surprise, as she’s been increasingly vocal already, both through her show and on social media, about the goings-on in our country. I’ve gotta say, I love when people put their money where their mouths are, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she uses her platform to do more political good.

(image: screencap)

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Lupita Nyong’o Speaks Up About Harvey Weinstein to End “the Conspiracy of Silence”

The parade of testimony against Hollywood predator Harvey Weinstein, sadly, doesn’t seem to have an end yet. This time, one of our favorite actresses around these parts, Lupita Nyong’o, has come forward in a personal essay for The New York Times, giving a harrowing and detailed account of an entire spectrum of abuses she received at the hands of the disgraced (and disgraceful) movie mogul.

In The New York Times, Nyong’o recounts how she first met Weinstein in Berlin in 2011 while she was still a drama student at Yale. She was attending an awards ceremony at which he was present, and when an intermediary introduced Nyong’o to him, it was emphasized that she should “keep Harvey in your corner,” because he was extremely powerful and could elevate her career, but that she should also “be careful around him. He can be a bully.”

Though he was a powerful presence in that first meeting, Nyong’o didn’t feel afraid of him or anything. Not yet.

Shortly after that first meeting, when back in the U.S, Weinstein invited Nyong’o to a private screening at his Connecticut home with him, his family, and some other industry folks. Since she was in CT at Yale, she agreed, glad for the opportunity to network with such a high-profile industry contact. When she got there, Weinstein took her out to lunch first, and that’s when things started getting really weird. Nyong’o writes:

“The driver and I met Harvey in the little town of Westport, where he informed me that we would be having lunch at a restaurant before getting to his home. I did not think much of this. It was a busy restaurant, and as soon as we sat down he ordered a vodka and diet soda for himself. I asked for a juice. Harvey was unimpressed with my choice and told the waiter to bring me a vodka and diet soda instead. I declined and said I wanted the juice. We went back and forth until finally he turned to the waiter and said, ‘Get her what I tell you to get her. I’m the one paying the bill.’ I smiled and remained silent. The waiter left and returned with a vodka and diet soda for me. He placed it on the table beside my water. I drank the water. Harvey told me that I needed to drink the vodka and diet soda. I informed him that I would not.

“‘Why not?’ I remember him asking. ‘Because I don’t like vodka, and I don’t like diet soda, and I don’t like them together,’ I said. ‘You are going to drink that,’ he insisted. I smiled again and said that I wouldn’t. He gave up and called me stubborn. I said, ‘I know.’ And the meal proceeded without much further ado. In this second encounter with Harvey, I found him to be pushy and idiosyncratic more than anything.”

Later, when at his home, after beginning the film everyone was there to be screened, Weinstein pulled Nyong’o out of the screening (leaving everyone else in a closed, soundproof room) to “show her something.” That something was his bedroom, where he asked to give her a massage. Thinking on her feet, she offered to give him one instead, so that she could maintain physical control as she figured out how to extricate herself from the situation. He agreed, and as she was massaging him, he said he wanted to get naked. She asked him not to. He got up to do that anyway, and she left.

In her piece, Nyong’o brings up the important point that hers is a profession built on intimacy. As she says, actors are “paid to do very intimate things in public.” She goes on, “That’s why someone can have the audacity to invite you to their home or hotel and you show up. Precisely because of this we must stay vigilant and ensure that the professional intimacy is not abused.”

It isn’t only actors that are asked for a certain level of professional intimacy that is expected. I, as a pop culture writer for this site and others, have attended many a press junket. All of them have been held in hotels. And I have interviewed both male and female subjects in hotel rooms, sometimes with a publicist in the room, other times not. Hotel rooms make a certain amount of sense in that, when you’re not expecting a predator, a hotel room provides comfort for what can otherwise be a stressful situation.

Giving interviews and revealing private details about yourself and your process is not exactly the most comfortable thing in the world. I get that. So, interviewing in a comfortable environment, like a hotel suite, as opposed to in a colder office environment, has its uses. Thankfully, everyone I’ve encountered in this capacity has been completely professional and kind. I have been lucky. Countless female journalists, like TV critic Maureen Ryan, have not been.

But yes, in an industry that trades in people’s most vulnerable moments and emotions, a certain level of intimacy is expected. That said, it should not be abused or taken advantage of. It’s not about “you shouldn’t have gone into that hotel room.” It’s about “I shouldn’t expect to be raped or molested when I get there.” That’s how all this should be framed.

Instead, you have men like Weinstein who trade on the fact that far too many people expect sexual abuse as “just the way it is.” Nyong’o writes:

“Afterward, as planned, his male assistant arranged for me to get to the Tribeca Grill, where Harvey would be joining us. I met a female assistant when I arrived there. I was expecting that it would be a group of us, as it had been for the reading, but she informed me it would just be Mr. Weinstein. She would sit with me until he arrived. She seemed on edge, but I could only imagine how stressful it was to work for a man who had so much going on.

Harvey arrived and the assistant immediately disappeared. We ordered drinks and starters. Again he was offended by my nonalcoholic beverage choice but he didn’t fight me on it as hard. Before the starters arrived, he announced: ‘Let’s cut to the chase. I have a private room upstairs where we can have the rest of our meal.’ I was stunned. I told him I preferred to eat in the restaurant. He told me not to be so naïve. If I wanted to be an actress, then I had to be willing to do this sort of thing. He said he had dated Famous Actress X and Y and look where that had gotten them.

I was silent for a while before I mustered up the courage to politely decline his offer. “You have no idea what you are passing up,” he said. ‘With all due respect, I would not be able to sleep at night if I did what you are asking, so I must pass.’”

His assistant felt scared enough for her well-being and her job to leave Nyong’o alone with him, and Weinstein felt free enough to say all this to Nyong’o’s face, because of the attitude “that’s just how it is.”

There’s a much longer pattern of behavior that Nyong’o describes in her piece, so you should definitely check it out. But if stories like this teach us anything, it’s that 1) there’s power in numbers, and hopefully people feel more comfortable coming forward now, knowing they’re not alone. And 2) at a certain point we have to see that things are so bad that we have to be willing to risk something in order to fix it.

Because yes, at a certain point it’s understandable to want to keep oneself safe, or protect one’s job. However, if you hear about abuses and continue to work with abusers? If you fail to stand in solidarity with the victims of abuse? If you remain silent about things you know that can allow harm to come to others? At a certain point, that’s on you.

Nyong’o recognized the fact that she was not alone, and she spoke up to contribute to a culture of accountability and change. Because yes, one does have to protect oneself, and a great way to do that is not only to ensure that the marginalized feel safe, but to ensure that abusers feel very, very unsafe.

(image: Shutterstock)

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We Need More STIs on Our Sex Shows

During the second season of the hit HBO television show Insecure, there was a big discussion about condoms being depicted on-screen. Mainly, that they aren’t really. In the second season, the main character Issa, played by the talented Issa Rae, has just recently gone through a breakup and decides she is going to have a “ho phase” and a “ho-tation.” Which, you know, good for her. Turn up. The controversy came when viewers noticed that it seemed as though Issa’s partners were just “sliding into her DMs” with no pause for a glove.

Showrunner Prentice Penny spoke to Buzzfeed about this issue and said, “We’re not a documentary; we’re not a public service; we’re not a nonprofit. We’re a scripted television show, and so our thing is always about how do we tell the best story?” Penny went on to describe that they place condoms around the set in order to create that illusion, but as a fan of the show, I can say that when I watched Issa sleep with “Neighbour Bae,” there was no pause that indicated he could have wrapped up anything. However, Penny did not begrudge the fact the conversation was happening. “To me, this Twitter debate is kind of perfect for our show because we have so many discussions on our show that are uncomfortable.”

However, what I realized watching the show is that while we are often talking about depictions safe sex in the media, the reality is that we do not have shows that tackle the reality that people already have STIs and they still have sex.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “In 2016, Americans were infected with more than 2 million new cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, the highest number of these sexually transmitted diseases ever reported.” Just today, multiple news outlets are reporting about the rise of throat-related cancers in men, with an estimated 1 in 9 men having oral HPV. Most people who have sex and have had more than four sexual partners will get some form HPV. Nevermind that no matter how much shows and movies may turn it into a punchline, herpes is the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. So why aren’t we talking about it?

Listen to anyone who is living with an STI, and they will tell you that the hardest part of having it is the stigma. Kelly Gluckman, who spoke with Bustle earlier this year about the need for more comprehensive sex-education, said that when she found out she contracted HIV, she assumed that it was a death sentence. “All I knew at that point was ‘You get HIV, you get AIDS, and you die.’ So, I was reading these papers and wondering when I would die.” Fortunately, in 2017, HIV is no longer the death sentence it was in the ’80s. Medicine is available and while it needs to be taken every day, it makes the condition chronic, but manageable and greatly reduces the risk of infection to other partners. Yet, the most stressful part for Gluckman is the stigma: “Other people’s misconceptions are more burdensome than the virus itself.”

A similar sentiment was shared by Ella Dawson in her excellent TEDx Talk about Herpes and STIs in general.

What Dawson makes very clear is the unfair taint we put on people who get STIs from their partner. That we assume they are dirty or irresponsible and that this is some type of “punishment” for having sex. STIs are not a punishment; they are inevitable if you have a lot of partners—or if your partner has had a lot of partners—and that’s no one’s fault. Despite what people have told you, there is no certain type of person who gets STIs. It can happen to anyone.

Not to mention many are asymptomatic, and you don’t know you have most of them unless you get tested. I say “most” of them because there is no test for HPV for men, and you don’t usually know you have it unless you get a wart (low-risk/non-cancer causing HPV) or if a woman gets a pap smear and there are abnormalities. As for Herpes, well, guess what: most places don’t test you for herpes unless you ask, because it does not have the same long-term negative side-effects as untreated gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia.

A consequence of us being unable to deal with that reality in a non-shaming way is part of why people are (a) reluctant to get tested and (b) simply do not talk about it.

That’s where the media comes into play.

I have a very vivid memory of watching the UPN show Girlfriends as a pre-teen, and an episode came on where Joan (played by black-ish‘s Tracee Ellis Ross) found out that her college friend, Reesie, contracted AIDS from someone they both dated. There is a scene where Reesie cuts her finger with a kitchen knife and everyone jumps away from her like a pariah, they throw away the kitchen knife even though the virus dies as soon as it touches the air. The look of sadness on Reesie’s face of being isolated by her friends was something I always have remembered, and I remember learning not to be afraid of people with HIV. I went to a Catholic School as a child, so I can tell you that if I hadn’t learned it from that show, I might not have learned it period.

While most shows relegate STI exposure to an “after-school special” of trauma or an episode-centric issue that will never be brought up again, the truth is that if we have shows that want to revel in the freedom of sex, then they have to learn to deal with STIs in a better way. Some have already got the ball rolling: Miranda dealt with it for one episode on Sex in the City, Illana got the last batch of her HPV vaccine on Broad City, at least Hannah knew about her HPV status on Girls, even if it never really came up again, and Oliver on How to Get Away with Murder has taught us more about prep than most sex-ed classes.

This is important because, as much as we want to think “it’ll never happen to me,” shit happens. Condoms break, sometimes you can get infected even with a condom, and sometimes you get caught up in the moment and you don’t use a condom. Sexually transmitted diseases aren’t going anywhere, and we are not going to stop having sex, so we have to figure out a way to the conversation without shaming people who get sick.

(via NBC, image: HBO)

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Rian Johnson Is Happy to Keep Us All Guessing About The Last Jedi

Star Wars is a franchise that’s no stranger to big twists. The Empire Strikes Back even pulled a little fake-out with Yoda before dropping one of the most famous movie twists of all time, and Return of the Jedi returned to that same well when it revealed that Luke and Leia were siblings. The Force Awakens, pulled a similar trick in the reveal of Kylo Ren’s true identity, and Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi, is enjoying the fan anticipation of future surprises.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Johnson was predictably evasive when answering a question about a popular fan theory—that it’s not a coincidence that Luke Skywalker’s looming presence on the movie’s poster mirrors that of past villains in the franchise. We’re only about two months away from the movie’s release, so we’re not likely to get any more big details before we finally see for ourselves, but Johnson did mention that he’s very much enjoying providing fans with plenty to theorize over, since he’s taken part in that himself:

“Having been a Star Wars fan myself for the past 40 years, having spent most of my life on the other side of the curtain, I know the anticipation and the guesswork and theorizing is all part of the fun and game of it. So I love it. I love seeing what people are thinking, seeing what they’re guessing, seeing what they’re anticipating.”

The latest trailer certainly played into that, with plenty of hints—whether straightforward or intentionally deceptive—that not all is as it seems in the next chapter of the saga. Luke Skywalker himself even comes out and explicitly says that at least he expects things to take a turn. Although maybe he just needs to heed the advice that he should keep his mind on where he is and what he’s doing, hmm? Or just have a little more faith?

Whatever the case, don’t expect the teases to stop anytime soon.

(via THR, image: Disney/Lucasfilm)

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Does The Walking Dead Have a Big Negan Problem?

I haven’t watched The Walking Dead since its first season (if you read my articles, you’ll have seen my many confessions to being easily frightened and generally avoiding horror). But as a pop culture writer, I try to stay apprised of what’s happening, and I’ve kept up on Walking Dead news throughout the years, reading recaps and articles on major twists and plotlines and, of course, the splashiest deaths.

So I had known about actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s much-touted rollout as the iconic comic’s villain Negan, and read the many takes during the agonizing season break while fans waited to discover who Negan had first killed on the main cast. Since then I hadn’t heard much noise about Negan, though at this year’s New York Comic Con, I spotted many Negan cosplayers, and several merch tables were selling officially licensed replicas of his barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat, Lucille. When a villain has a named weapon that even non-fans can identify on sight, that’s pretty damned impressive. I figured that Negan’s ubiquity made him the character that everyone loved—or at least loved to hate.

“Role play bat”

That’s why I was struck by a take in USA Today by Kelly Lawler, whose headline declares, “The Walking Dead needs to kill Negan to survive.” In the article, Lawler argues that Negan has overstayed his welcome by whole seasons, and is now bogging down the entire show.

“Negan is still alive, kicking and siphoning off what little energy the aging series has left,” Lawler writes, explaining that she’d expected Negan to be killed off a long time ago. Instead, “The villain has been at the center of nearly every storyline for nearly two years, and he’s a repulsive, tiresome and — worst of all — boring antagonist.” She lays the blame for Season 7’s ratings decline squarely on the show featuring Negan and his attendant plotlines so prominently.

Most damningly, Lawler argues that Negan was never fleshed out or presented well in the first place:

From nearly the moment it began to name-drop the villain early in Season 6 (Nov. 2015), Dead handled Negan badly. The character is a big presence in the comic books on which the series is based, and the TV version seemed to rely on that extratextual knowledge to give the character gravitas and depth, rather than actually earning it.

The threat posed by Negan and his followers was never clearly articulated, and it was impossible to make him seem truly menacing, partly due to  the fact that our heroes underestimated him. But that choice made the build-up to Negan’s first appearance seem forced.

When Negan finally surfaced, I was already tired of him.

She praises Morgan for being a good actor, but says that his portrayal leaves Negan as simply surface-level evil, without the substance or conflict that makes for a truly great villain. Instead, The Walking Dead spent “16 episodes demonstrating his depravity,” and even worse, all of this repetitive violence wasn’t even interesting: “This barrage of barbarity quickly became monotonous. Yes, Negan’s scenes were grotesque, but they were also utterly dull. In most of his scenes, he brought the momentum to a dead stop. His evil machinations were more annoying than threatening, his dialogue was flat and his scenes a slog. ”

I asked our social media guru and TWD authority Daniella Bondar whether she concurred with Lawler’s assessment. Daniella responded with a resounding YES. “They did a terrible job with him,” says Daniella. “Dude does not shut up.” She adds, “They just made him too much too fast instead of slow-playing him … If they want to keep him on the show a while, which is the plan I think, then they should have had a more editing eye with him.”

And herein lies the biggest problem, as both Lawler and Daniella point out: rather than having plans to summarily deal with the Big Bad once and for all, it looks like The Walking Dead wants to keep him around for as long as possible. (Maybe they are selling a lot of replica baseball bats?) The whole premise for the new season “is being hyped as an ‘all out war’ between Rick and Negan,” so it doesn’t look as though he’ll go anywhere fast. Even if Negan ultimately doesn’t survive the war, that could be another 16 hours of his relentless and apparently boring cruelty.

I should also point out that Jeffrey Dean Morgan recently drew the ire of fans for posting statements on “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter,” writing in a now-deleted Instagram post, “Dear a-holes, Blue lives do matter. Can’t believe I need to explain to you this fact. All lives matter. All of em,” thus demonstrating either an inability or an unwillingness to understand the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. Fans who were already exhausted by Morgan’s portrayal of Negan now aren’t feeling too kindly about Morgan, either.

As an outsider looking in, it seems to me that The Walking Dead‘s creatives loved the idea and the mythos of Negan more than knowing what to do to make his character truly effective and menacing in a way that fans actually care about. When you keep beating a dead zombie—or person—again and again with the same barbed wire bat, at what point do you say “Enough?”

Lawler ends on a somewhat hopeful note: “Sunday marks The Walking Dead’s 100th episode, and part of the reason the series has survived so long is that it has managed to bounce back from creative downturns. Once the series dispenses with Negan, it can do so again if writers find new villains with some vitality.”

How do you solve a problem like Negan?

(via USA Today, image: AMC, Image Comics)

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Is Louis C.K.’s I Love You, Daddy Really the Worst-Timed and Least Thought-Out Thing Ever?

There’s so much to unpack in this trailer for Louis C.K.’s upcoming film, I Love You, Daddy, that I feel like I’m on the world’s worst vacation. Watch the trailer above, and prepare to have…opinions.

The official synopsis for the film is this:

TV producer Glen Topher is a divorced dad whose teenage daughter China is living with him during her senior year. Glen takes China to a Hollywood party where he meets his idol Leslie Goodwin, the auteur who inspired his career. During the evening, the gossip about Goodwin’s preference for underage girls begins to look plausible to Glen when the older man shows an intense interest in China. And when Goodwin invites her to go to Paris with him, Glen has to start doing some serious parenting.

Watching this trailer in the immediate wake of the heightened discussion around sexual assault and abuse in the entertainment industry that was spurred by exposing Harvey Weinstein was rather like watching the trailer for the upcoming Bruce Willis film, Death Wish in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting.

I was immediately made uncomfortable as I watched Chloë Grace Moretz’s character, China, be placed in the same position as so many women proclaiming #MeToo, in front of John Malkovich’s Leslie Goodwin. That, however, wasn’t the thing that bothered me. After all, it’s very possible to create a film depicting situations like that that is appropriately critical or illuminating.

Here are my concerns:

Is Louis C.K. the best person to tell this story?

Now, he self-funded this film, so he has the right to make whatever film he wants. However, it’s interesting to me that this is the subject matter he chose. Especially since he refuses to really talk about the “rumors” of sexual misconduct against female comedians that have been swirling around him. None of the accusations have been confirmed, mind you, so there is that. However, he recently had fellow professional comedian, Tig Notaro, come out and say that it was important that he address this, since these allegations are way more serious and of more consequence to his industry than other types of “celebrity rumors.” C.K. continues to refuse to address it. If he can’t even bring himself to take part in a nuanced conversation about this (assuming, of course, that this isn’t something he did), how can we trust that he’s got the nuanced directing chops to handle this subject matter on screen?

It could be that, since he has daughters of his own, and his character in the film lives a similar life to his own, that this is something he worries about. That’s fair. I wouldn’t want predators in my industry taking advantage of my daughter, either. But here’s where we get to my second concern…

Emphasis seems to be on Glen being a “good dad,” rather than on the predator. 

What truly squicked me about this trailer was the fact that everyone seemed to be putting the onus on Glen to be a “better father,” because otherwise his daughter is going to have sex with an older man. It’s her and her “daddy issues” that are to blame, after all. Pedophiles and sexual assaulters are to be expected, didn’t you know? It’s up to fathers to make sure their daughters “do the right thing” with their bodies so that this stuff doesn’t happen to them. There’s a scene in the trailer where Glen approaches Leslie to let him know that China is a minor. Leslie replies “A minor what?”

And we’re supposed to laugh?

And what does Glen do after that moment? As this is a trailer, we don’t get that answer here. But if the answer is anything other than “punch him in the face,” or “report him to the police,” this is infuriating. Glen seems more concerned with making sure his idol still likes him than he is with his daughter’s safety. Meanwhile, he’s correcting her behavior and trying to ensure that she “does something with her life.”

This wants to be, and should be, the story of an enabler who allows a Hollywood pedophile to exist and thrive. The trailer, however, tells the story of a dad who needs to rein in his sexually-charged daughter by “being a better father” so that she doesn’t get raped.

This is all very frustrating because, problematic though he has often been, I’ve been a fan of a lot of his work, and it often seems to come from a smart, insightful place. I really want this film to be the incisive critique of Hollywood sexual abuses that we need right now. A man calling out other men.

I sought out a Q & A with him and some of the cast of I Love You, Daddy from when the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, hoping to get additional clues about the thought process that went into this. You can watch the whole thing above (but it will start at 14:50, which is when the part I’m talking about starts).

He’s asked about the scene in the film that he’s the most proud of, and he cites a scene toward the end with Malkovich and Moretz. He then says that the original version of that scene as written and read at a table-read was “not a woman talking. It’s a dude writing ‘This is what she would say…’” He ended up (at the last-minute) working with Moretz on changes for the scene that she was comfortable with, and basically let her take control of playing it how she needed to.

The result seemed to be up to snuff with the TIFF audience watching the Q&A at least.

I want to think the best of this. I want to believe that this is C.K. at his most introspective, at his most capable of self-examination and examination of other men in Hollywood. I want to believe that this will be him at his smartest and most nuanced.

I’m just not entirely sure that will be true.

What do you all think?

(image: screencap)

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