Laughter’s Ability to Transcend Time and Combat Prejudice

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It is rare for a comedy to withstand the test of time. Characters become dated; jokes become cliche. However, more than three decades after its premier, The Foreigner continues to be an enduring favorite among theater-going audiences. So what is it that sets Larry Shue’s classic farce apart from its contemporaries?

There is something incredibly powerful in finding the ability to laugh in the face of the darkest aspects of humanity, and rather than shying away from the dark and the unseemly, The Foreigner treats those subjects to the mocking they so resoundingly deserve. In doing so, it reminds its audience that even in the most challenging of circumstances, there is still light and there is still love. Taken at face value, The Foreigner is a light-hearted comedy about an introvert being thrust into a series of absurd situations when he attempts to find peace and quiet at a fishing lodge in Georgia, but beneath the veneer of slapstick and stereotype, it is subtly combating prejudice—both the blatant hatred of its characters, as seen in Klansman Owen Musser, as well as the audience’s own preconceptions about the lodge’s residents. In any other medium, such an undertaking could easily become heavy-handed, but the charm and humor woven throughout the script allow it to address these eternally relevant concepts without being didactic or condescending to its audience.

Charlie Baker, the protagonist and eponymous foreigner, is the everyman through whom the audience can experience the unfiltered inner lives of the rest of the characters. Dismissed by those around him as incapable of understanding English, Charlie—frequently to his own chagrin—becomes the involuntary overseer of his companions’ secrets. Throughout the first act, this device sets up a number of expectations for the audience that the second act deftly dismantles. Doddering, uncultured Betty reveals herself to be quick-witted and astute; sarcastic and self-centered Catherine is also introspective and loving; gentle Ellard, who has always been assumed dim-witted by those around him, is surprisingly clever in his own way; and timid Charlie surprises himself and everyone around him by realizing how fearless he can truly be.

Encompassing these subtleties is a larger world of prejudice and greed, one that Charlie and his friends must combat once they have overcome their own personal conceits. But unlike smaller personal assumptions about intelligence or depth of character, there is no redeeming quality that will excuse or abate the deep-seated malevolence and violence we see in The Foreigner‘s villains, and so we must make them smaller, make them less threatening, by engaging in the one thing that will rob them of their power: We must laugh at them. The Foreigner subjects its antagonists to a level of absurdity equaled only by the absurdity of their own hatred, and in doing so it renders them ineffectual. That is, perhaps, the secret to The Foreigner‘s decades-long success: It reassures audiences that even the most insidious and contemptible forces can be overcome, and that when we do overcome them, it shall be joyous and filled with laughter.

 

(Written for Houston Family Arts Center’s upcoming production of The Foreigner.)

Happy 80th Birthday to His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

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I wanted to take the time today to wish His Holiness the Dalai Lama a very happy 80th birthday. May his life be filled with all the joy and love he has given out into the world.

Last week, I had the very great honor of attending a talk given by His Holiness at Southern Methodist University. I want to make sure that I do justice to the experience, so I’m taking extra time composing a post about it. Until then, you can view the entirety of his talk below.

Terminator Genisys: I’ll Be Back (To Buy Another Ticket)

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Having read a few reviews beforehand, I expected to be disappointed by Terminator Genisys, which is currently holding a dismal 27% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. However the Rotten Tomatoes aggregate score for Age of Ultron is currently 74%, and that film was a narrative disaster, so let’s perhaps not hold up professional reviews as indicative of a film’s worth.

I’m going to disagree with just about everyone (including my personal favorite geek news site, The Mary Sue) and tell you that it is absolutely great and a worthy addition to the franchise. I even rewatched the original Terminator last night to make sure that I wouldn’t be approaching Genisys mired in rose-colored nostalgia.

Largely, people’s enjoyment of the film seems to be directly proportional to their ability to accept Emilia Clarke in the role of Sarah Connor. I fell in love with her as Sarah from the moment I first heard her say, “Come with me if you want to live” in the trailer, so this was absolutely not an issue for me. Many complaints about Clarke seem to hinge on the fact that she is such a petite woman, but let us please not forget that despite the fact that Linda Hamilton was undeniably ripped in T2, she was also a petite woman. Beyond that, Sarah Connor is not and never has been a character who relies on physical strength. She survives through her wits and her weapons expertise; physical fitness, although important to her, was always secondary. There’s no need for her to be physically imposing because she’s not going hand-to-hand with a Terminator (something a human could never hope to do anyway).

The thinly veiled body shaming isn’t just sexist; it’s indicative of a lack of understanding of the character.

BAMF with a Boomstick

Sarah doesn’t have time for your sexism.

All of that said, I’m not writing this to tell you why other people didn’t care for Terminator Genisys. I’m writing this to tell you why I loved this film. Spoiler alert: It’s because of two of the things nearest and dearest to my heart—explosions and feminism. Continue reading

One Love

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We’ve had 12 hours of marriage equality here in the US (well, only 6 here in Harris County, Texas, where—just like when interracial marriage was legalized—local officials initially attempted to refuse to issue licenses).

There was a truly impressive amount of thunder earlier this afternoon, and I rushed to the windows in excitement because I’ve never seen a rain of toads before and that’s really something that should not be missed, but it was just regular water. Not even blood or acid or Mountain Dew or anything. I also had the presence of mind to check our safe… Our marriage license is still in there, and looks to be still valid. Then I checked my husband when he came home from work, and he’s definitely still not a woman. Finally, I went to YouTube and watched the sexiest scene of a woman to ever be filmed (Miranda Otto in full armor riding a warhorse into battle against the armies of Mordor), but while I have to admit it was really, really hot, I still don’t have the desire to touch anyone’s boobs—not even Miranda Otto’s.

So… I guess the world isn’t ending, and my marriage hasn’t dissolved, I haven’t suddenly become “gay married,” and I’m still straight. Having collected all of this empirical evidence, I feel pretty comfortable saying marriage equality is the best! Thank you, SCOTUS, for making me proud to be an American this day!

Now, let’s please make June 26 a holiday just like Loving Day.

Marriage Equality Map

(image via Hillary Clinton’s Facebook)

Rumor: Kenneth Branagh Being Considered to Direct Thor: Ragnarok {UPDATED}

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Marvel Studios is lining up its production crew for Thor: Ragnarok, slated for release in summer 2017, and in a recent episode of Popcorn Talk, Umberto Gonzalez of Heroic Hollywood claimed that award-winning actor/director Kenneth Branagh might be returning to the franchise to direct once again.

Although an unconfirmed rumor at this point, this one actually has an excellent chance at coming to fruition. While promoting Cinderella, Branagh himself expressed interest in heading another Marvel film, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “I fondly remember good times working on Thor. So you always look to repeat that kind of thing, and if it happened again, I’d be delighted.”

Although Branagh’s first foray into the superhero genre is considered by critics to be one of the MCU’s weaker films, it was visually beautiful and a decidedly better film than its most recent sequel, Thor: The Dark World.

Personally, I am a fan of Branagh’s work, whether adapted from canonical literature or comics, and hope to see him rejoin Marvel’s ranks with Thor 3. His wealth of historical knowledge brings a unique perspective to Marvel’s take on Norse mythology, and his credits are full of films featuring female characters who possess agency, often despite being drawn from rather two-dimensional source material.

And besides, who better to handle a script full of faux-Elizabethan Asgardian speech than one of the world’s most respected Shakespearean directors?

Ragnarok

UPDATE:

Kevin Feige has dashed our dreams again. This, coupled with the confirmation that Ava DuVernay won’t be directing Black Panther, makes it a sad week for the MCU.

Life as a Survivor

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Many years ago, I was in a terrible car accident. I had a lot of serious injuries, but the most severe was my left arm. Torn to ribbons, there was barely enough flesh left for the doctors to staple it back together. I was lucky enough to survive with no loss of function, but it was nonetheless life altering.

Short of wearing long sleeves for the rest of my life, there is no hiding the scars, and people notice. Most are too polite to say anything, but I see their revulsion and curiosity nonetheless. A few months after the accident, however, I started experiencing a strange phenomenon among those who can’t contain their curiosity.

People ask me if my scars are art.

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They ask me this because they cannot conceive of an event so terrible and traumatic that it could leave such ruin in its wake. They ask me this because they think my disfigurement must be something intentional that I willingly agreed to.

People ask me if my scars are art.

They ask me this because they don’t want to imagine someone experiencing so much pain and suffering without having any control.

People ask me if my scars are art, and it has become the prevailing metaphor of my life because when I show them my real scars and not simply the superficial ones, they do not believe they are real.

I am a survivor of sexual violence and assault, and like so many other women, when I openly speak about my experiences, I am met with disbelief and blame.

People tell me that my scars are fiction because they don’t want to imagine someone experiencing so much pain and suffering without having any control. They tell me this because they think it must be something intentional that I willingly agreed to.

But I am here. I am real. All of me is real, inside and out. I may not have chosen any of this, but I am not going to hide it because I refuse to feel ashamed—of my body or my life.

Living Dead Has All Your Fuku Needs

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Australian company Living Dead has released an entire line of gorgeous Sailor Moon-themed fashion, including dresses, swimsuits, shirts, and tights, and I am absolutely dying over their flawless sailor fuku dresses. They’ve included all of the senshi (even Chibi Chibi!) along with three (!!!) versions of Sailor Moon’s fuku and Princess Serenity, so no matter who your favorite senshi is, be prepared to covet. As for me, I will need at least three Sailor Jupiter dresses.

Prices start at $60 AUD (about $45 USD) and go up to $85 AUD (~$65 USD). Sailor-Jupiter-Skater-1

Like a Stubborn Cystic Pimple, the Live-Action Akira Remake Is Back Again

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The Hollywood Reporter has announced that Warner Bros. is once again attempting to produce a live-action remake of seminal Japanese manga and film Akira, this time with Marco J. Ramirez in charge of the script.

While Ramirez has proven his ability to translate comics onto screen in Marvel’s Daredevil, I nonetheless cannot help but regard this news with dour suspicion. Hollywood has been trying to appropriate Akira since the 1990s and has failed to produce a film each time, which is something we should all be thankful for because every attempt has been based in unconscionable whitewashing and cultural appropriation. The only actor of Asian descent who has ever been attached to any of these plans is Ken Watanabe, and he was (of course) cast as a secondary character. The leads have always been given to white actors, and the setting moved from Neo-Tokyo to Neo-New York, completely abandoning the context of a manga and film that heavily relied on metaphor for nuclear devastation from the viewpoint of a people who have actually had to endure said devastation. That isn’t just culturally insensitive; it’s insulting.

It is possible that this new attempt will take advantage of the numerous talented Japanese actors who are woefully underutilized in American films and not repeat the mistakes of the 2012 attempt (which had cast Kristen Stewart as female lead Kei), but considering that Scarlett Johansson was recently announced as Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell adaptation, my faith is not strong at this point in time.

Laverne Cox Owns Her Truth and Owns This Month’s Allure Magazine

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Laverne Cox just did a nude shoot for Allure, and I want to shout it from the rooftops and tell everyone I know to go pick up the issue when it comes out.

Let me explain why I love this so much by telling you about my favorite moment in Orange Is the New Black. I really enjoy the show, but I find a lot of the nudity/sex to be gratuitous and over the top, especially in the first season—not because it exists but because of how it is handled and portrayed. However, the show is not always gratuitous and (perhaps ironically) it contains one of the most beautiful and sensitively handled nude scenes in all of television.

The first time we see Sophia (Laverne Cox) nude, she’s alone in the bathroom, and before leaving she gives herself a quick look-over in the mirror. It’s the same thing every woman alive has done a thousand times before, which creates this incredibly moving and humanizing moment. Obviously, a lot of attention in the show is paid to the fact that Sophia is trans*, and it does an excellent job of addressing the struggle and prejudices she has to face, but in this one vulnerable moment when she is alone, we don’t see “Sophia the trans* woman.” We see Sophia the woman. We see that she is just like any other woman—every other woman—regardless of sex assigned at birth. We see that she is “othered” by the people around her, not by anything inherent in herself because, when stripped of politics and prejudices and pretenses, she is nothing other than a normal woman.

The scene itself is probably no more than 10 seconds long, but it’s so powerful that it’s stuck with me more than anything else from the show.

And so I love this. I love seeing Laverne not as a character but as herself, bravely showing the world that she is confident in her womanhood. She has ownership of her body and her identity, and she is unashamed. What a beautiful thing that is.

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Let’s Talk about the Gender Binary

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First things first: Before we can discuss the gender binary, we’ve got to define what the words gender and sex mean. This one’s pretty easy. Your sex is what equipment you’ve got in your trousers. You can be one of three things: biologically male, biologically female, or biologically intersex (formerly called hermaphrodites, but that’s a misnomer because they are largely sterile). Your gender is the amount of “masculinity” and “femininity” you identify with/express. It’s your personal identity rather than your physical biology.

Make sense? Great! Let’s move on.

The most basic definition of the gender binary is a cultural belief that your physical sex (the equipment in your trousers) should determine the way you express your gender (how “manly” or “girly” you behave).

It hinges on the presuppositions that things are either masculine or feminine in nature, and therefore those things are the territory of only men or only women. This ranges from fairly innocuous gender assignments, such as “pink is for girls and blue is for boys,” to blatantly destructive beliefs, such as “girls aren’t good at math and science.”

This type of thinking is really restrictive and damaging to men and women alike! I want to destroy the gender binary!

Does this mean I want to destroy the notions of “masculine” and “feminine”? No! Not at all! It means I want to fundamentally change the way we approach the concept of gender.

The problem is that gender is not a binary at all. Gender is a spectrum.

I, for example, love grungy flannel and power tools. These are things that Western society defines as masculine. And that’s okay! I don’t mind being a little masculine! I also really love shoujo anime and baking. These are things that Western society defines as feminine. And that’s okay! I also don’t mind being a little feminine! I consider myself to be in many ways fairly gender neutral, but if I were to tally things up, I do fall more toward the “feminine” end of the spectrum.

The problem is that when your culture adheres to a gender binary, women who are closer to the masculine end of the spectrum are considered somehow lesser than overtly feminine women, and men who are closer to the feminine end of the spectrum are considered somehow lesser than overtly masculine men. And that’s not okay.

Socially, the gender binary is just as damaging to men as it is to women. Perhaps even more so because masculine women (to a point) have been accepted as “tomboys” for decades, but effeminate men still have to struggle to find a place for themselves.

Understand that fighting the gender binary is not a “war on masculinity.” It’s a war on domineering jerks.

Feminists don’t care if you want to grow a beard and wear a plaid flannel sweatshirt every day. If that’s how you feel comfortable expressing yourself, good for you! We care when you look at a man who likes knitting and keeping his nails manicured and tell him that he is less of a man than you are because of his likes, dislikes, and outward appearance.

The level of masculinity you express does not affect how much of a man you are.

The level of femininity you express does not affect how much of a woman you are.

But the gender binary tells you that it does, and it attempts to dictate what you can and cannot do as well as what you are and are not allowed to enjoy based purely on the contents of your trousers.

Gender is a spectrum. Gender roles based on the contents of your trousers are arbitrary and false. The gender binary is a lie.

Bonus: I drew the gender spectrum for you!

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