Okja, Bong Joon-Ho’s first movie since Snowpiercer, is definitely shrouded in mystery. Is it a horror film, or a fairy tale— or hell, is it both? What is Tilda Swinton’s character up to? And what the hell does Okja actually look like? Well, the last question gets a sort-of answer, with the latest poster for Netflix’s…
We are smack dab in the middle of TV pick-up season, what with Syfy’s just-announced round of shows and Fox’s The Gifted getting its first teaser trailer, so it’s only natural that Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo from Netflix’s MST3K reboot would want to get in on the action. Only, most of their shows seem to involve…
Marvel has been in its share of hot water over the past few months— including when a VP of sales said diverse characters were causing its sales to slump, or when artist Ardian Syaf’s contract was sacked for putting controversial messages in X-Men Gold. The latest hotbed is an image that some claim was on Marvel’s…
After each facing off against their own respective bad guys, Netflix's Marvel heroes are back in the first trailer for The Defenders, pulling their individual super powers together to face-off against some very well-dressed ninjas.
In the official trailer Netflix dropped Wednesday, Matt Murdock—blind lawyer by day, Daredevil by night—comes to the legal aid of Jessica Jones, a super strong private detective. Meanwhile, the unbreakable Luke Cage meets Danny Rand and tries to figure out what his whole glowing fist thing is all about. Soon the team learns it has to work together (and tolerate one another) to beat on some fancy ninjas, led by Sigourney Weaver's villainous Alexandra, in a long white hallway.
Like it did with its respective Avengers heroes, Marvel has already produced each of the good guys' backstories in individual lead-ups to the blockbuster event. The plan started well with Daredevil, which was a brutal, dark contrast to the Marvel Cinema Universe films. The second series, Jessica Jones, was widely celebrated for its handling of sexual abuse. Luke Cage faltered in the second half of the season and seemed to be suffering from superhero overload. Then the whole train sort of fell apart with the wildly panned Iron Fist, a show about a blond white guy learning mystic Asian kung-fu, which was criticized both for being both kind of racist and completely boring.
Still, the superhero gravy train rolls on and The Defenders will hit Netflix in August. Check out the trailer above and watch all your favorite Marvel heroes—plus, I guess, Iron Fist—trade moody quips before bashing on some bad guys while Nirvana plays in the background.
The Defenders premieres on Netflix on August 18.
May is here, which means we have almost exactly six months until Netflix releases the second season of Stranger Things on Halloween. And, according to the show’s stars, that second season is going to borrow heavily from a certain genre.
Kitty Green grew up in Australia watching American television. Although her favorite sitcoms presented the US as idyllic and family-oriented, her favorite show taught her the exact opposite could just as easily be true. After six-year-old beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey was murdered in Boulder, Colorado, on Christmas Eve of 1996, a young Green became one of the millions of people around the world transfixed by the ensuing investigation.
"This case punctured that image for me," she says. "I was 11 or 12 when it was on TV, and as a kid I was obsessed with it."
That obsession apparently followed her into adulthood. Green, now 32, is the director behind a new JonBenét movie premiering today on Netflix. Like American Crime Story and Made in America did for the O.J. Simpson saga last year, Casting JonBenét introduces the story of the Ramseys to a generation who missed the original media spectacle around it. The film is a hybrid of documentary and scripted narrative––a CliffsNotes version of an important piece of Americana.
Part of the reason Casting JonBenét defies easy categorization is because Green has never felt comfortable in either genre. She says that, as a young woman, it was hard to be at ease around the large gaffers and grips that typically populate huge cinematic productions; after making a documentary about a feminist group in the Ukraine in 2013, she missed the control she felt while working on narrative films at school in Melbourne. To solve her dilemma, Green pioneered a liminal genre in 2015 with Casting Oksana Baiul, a short film about Ukrainian women who derived feelings of strength from the titular gold-winning figure skater.
While it's tempting to suggest that Green is riffing on the JonBenét case as part of a larger, multi-work meditation on how different societies treat their young female performers, she says that any thematic similarity is merely a coincidence. Instead, she says that JonBenét is more accurately described as a meta commentary on the community members who were affected by having an infamous true crime story take place in their hometown. For instance, the film starts off with a scene of matriarch Patsy Ramsey dialing 9/11 to report the murder but then transitions into a montage of casting tapes. Each prospective Patsy talks into the camera about her personal connection to the case––whether it be experience as a pageant contestant, as a teacher with students who knew JonBenét, or simply as a mother.
Perhaps it's to be expected that the acted bits seem straight out of a Lifetime movie. After all, the people trying out for the film are not professional Hollywood actors by any means, but largely blue-collar workers like grocery store managers or cops. What's interesting is not whether or not the actors are being convincing in their portrayals of the crime's players, but rather how their lived experiences inform those portrayals.
Green told me that she spent 15 minutes with each actor who showed up to her casting call pitching the premise of the film: There was a three-page treatment and no script. Casting tapes would be used in the film. Multiple actors would be playing each role. It was an experiment––a sort of choose-your-own adventure meets community playhouse––and would they like to participate?
She attributes the almost-universal enthusiasm to the notion that Americans love to talk in general. Amplify that by the fact that nothing's really going on in Boulder, and she had people talking about their experiences with murdered family members, molestation, and more within the span of a 45-minute interview.
"They've been living in the shadow of this crime for 20 years and they're a little sick of the media coverage, so they've tried to make sense of it themselves," she explained. "So it was nice to have someone ask them about their experiences and how they've found closure. I think they found it a little cathartic."
Historically, there have been two camps of people who follow the JonBenét case: those who think she was killed by a home intruder and others who that thinks a family member did it. Both theories are deftly explored by Green without her giving obvious preference to either one. In a later scene with the Patsys, a series of actresses reads from The Death of Innocence, which is the memoir co-written by both JonBenét's parents. One stops reading practically mid-sentence when confronting a self-aggrandizing passage about Patsy's past as a former beauty queen. Another reads the same part but then thinks aloud that JonBenét herself clearly wanted to participate in the contests and wasn't the victim of a so-called pageant mom trying to relive her glory days. Montages of people contradicting each other's theories are woven throughout and become more complicated and compelling as each actor or actress reveals more about their backstory.
One theory about the murder is that JonBenét's older brother Burke accidentally committed the murder and that the parents covered it up. Green gets the kids trying out for Burke's role to talk about teasing their siblings and intercuts that with actors trying out for patriarch John talking about dangerous games they played as kids—games that could have easily resulted in her accidental death. Later, the little boys hit a watermelon with a flashlight until it bursts––and the preceding interviews make this the most disturbing and clever portion of the film.
The film ends with a scene of the Ramseys on the night of the murder with different sets of actors playing out several possible scenarios all at once. The camera pans across them, giving the viewer an experience that's not unlike attending a performance of an immersive play like Sleep No More. While it's a wonder that Netflix picked up such a bizarre, genre-defying movie, it's perhaps even more insane when you contemplate the amount of work the company's legal team must have gone through in order to make sure that the film didn't result in a libel suit. After all, when CBS aired The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey last September, Burke Ramsey sued the network for $750 million in a case that's still working its way through circuit court in Wisconsin. In that docuseries, investigators hired a random 10-year-old boy to hit a pigskin-wig contraption with a flashlight to prove a child could have committed the murder.
Green says that it wasn't hard to not promote a specific theory, though, and that's because she genuinely doesn't have one. Although she read every book and watched every film she could get a hand on before going into production, she claims she went in with an open mind. And even after talking to more than 200 people in Boulder about who they thought killed JonBenét, she said that she's still no more closer to the truth than when she was 11 and watching the investigation happen in real time.
"There's not enough evidence to know who did it, so you have to live with this uncertainty and ambiguity," she says. "And that's what the film became about."
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Television often has a habit—a trend, almost—of haphazardly including a token minority character to offset the monochrome cast. It's the easiest way to declare diversity, as well as the casting equivalent of claiming you have a black friend. Aside from how lazy, isolating, and offensive it is, this stunt also promotes the idea that there's only one way to be black—because, let's face it, most of these characters are typically the same. Netflix's Dear White People, however, knows that we're different.
It's one of the many reasons why this satirical comedy—Justin Simien's follow-up to his smart 2014 film of the same name—feels so refreshing, necessary, and good. It understands us in a way that the vast majority of television, film, and books don't—and it uses this understanding not to educate white people but to provide a mirror for ourselves and give us a space to laugh along with the ridiculousness. We empathize with these characters, who are trying to navigate the shark-infested waters of being a person of color in majority-white spaces.
It also understands the layers of racism and microaggressions: It isn't just about being called a "nigger" or having a cop pull a gun on you—though these events are in the series, because they're in our lives. It's also about the smaller, shitty moments that pile up: When a professor asks if anyone with a "special connection" to slavery wants to lead the discussion, as the white students all glance toward the one black student in a room, or a coach confusing a black student for the black athlete on his team. Or a white woman touching a black man's Afro, while saying he looks like Wiz Khalifa. These moments within the series are often played, simultaneously, for laughs and devastation: It's funny, because we've been there and know how utterly ridiculous these microaggressions are, and it's devastating because we've been there and know that how hurtful it was.
It's fitting, then, that the catalyst of Dear White People is a blackface party thrown by the campus humor magazine. When you keep remarking on these "smaller" racist incidents and comments but are repeatedly told that it's in your head, there's almost a sense of satisfaction in the proof that you're right—that it's actually a big fucking deal. Racism isn't, as one character says, "the kind of thing that only happened in the 50s or in BuzzFeed articles," but it's here, now: It's countless white kids (your peers!) donning blackface paint to mock your culture and doing so freely, without a second thought or worry, because they know that they are safe in this world.
Of course, this satisfaction isn't satisfaction at all but a crushing realism. This party kicks off a chain of events—understandable anger on one side, condescending "who cares?" on the other—that snowballs as the ten episodes progress, getting increasingly thorny and dangerous. While the film was brilliant, what makes the television show even better is that it allows Simien and his writers ample time to explore multiple angles and viewpoints, to play with length and fuck with the general expectations of sitcom episodes. (The directing is also key here, and one of the most memorable episodes is directed by Moonlight's Barry Jenkins.)
Each episode picks a singular character's focus (some get more than one), but sometimes they look at the same thing: A scene from one episode can overlap with a scene from another, which allows us to view one event through multiple eyes. Occasionally narrated by Giancarlo Esposito, the season tells a fully fleshed out story—it's no coincidence the episodes are referred to as "chapters"—and it's so thoroughly engaging that it's near impossible to stop once you dive in. (I watched the ten episodes in two chunks, pausing only because one brutal episode required a lengthy processing-emotions-and-drinking-beer break.)
The show is beautifully character-driven, weaving through romantic and platonic and unrequited relationships, while also highlighting those aforementioned multitudes of blackness. There's Sam (Logan Browning), the mixed-race protagonist who possesses a combination of anger, sadness, intelligence, and wary optimism. She has the added burden of overcompensating for the part of her that isn't black, and overcompensating for the part of her that's dating—sometimes guiltily—a white man (John Patrick Amedori), whose viewpoint is also explored. Lionel (DeRon Horton) doesn't just have to figure out his place as a black introverted nerd but also as a black gay man—plus, as a journalist, he's simultaneously in the middle of things while also separated on the sidelines.
The ambitious Coco (Antoinette Robertson) is often the punching bag for jokes about whether she's woke or not, and while she has her future figured out, she can't quite figure out her current place in the world and in the black community. Troy (Brandon P. Bell, reprising his role from the film) is the dean's son who feels pressure to not just be black, but "Obama Black": toned down, palatable to white people, acceptable as a politician, and "proof" that there are "good ones." Reggie (Marque Richardson) is one of the smartest kids on campus but is often angry—for good reason—and has a hard time knowing when it's time to take a break from marching, lest he get burned out. A friend has to remind him that "sometimes being carefree and black is an act of revolution," and as the series continues, it becomes clear that sometimes a television show can be an act of revolution as well.
All of these characters are honest and multi-dimensional, tasked with navigating the gap between how they see themselves and how others see them, while constantly code-switching throughout the day. They're also fully aware of their contradictions in a specific way central to our culture: admitting to secretly streaming The Cosby Show, raging against Apple's slave labor while scrolling through an iPhone. Dear White People is very much about our culture—it's not a show made with white people's comfort in mind, nor should it be—which is what makes it so remarkable and affecting. And it's not just the heavy stuff, like a discussion on the fine line between assimilation and self-preservation, but it's also the lighter things: differentiating between "Rashida Jones biracial" and "Tracee Ellis Ross biracial" or casually mentioning an oft-forgotten moment in Brandy's history.
Dear White People is full of specificities, references, and utter realness that you didn't know you needed, so much so that it can catch you off guard, like stumbling across a pitcher of water and suddenly realizing you've been thirsty for decades.
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If you've ever wanted to see Brooklyn rapper Desiigner, supermodel Karlie Kloss, and someone dressed as a giant panda explain how climate change affects your daily life, then Bill Nye Saves the World is very much up your alley. The 61-year-old science educator (affectionately known to millions as the "Science Guy") has a new show on Netflix, nearly 20 years after the daytime TV show that introduced him to a legion of 90s kids, Bill Nye the Science Guy. But he's quick to note in the opening minutes of the show's first episode that it's not explicitly for kids, instead targeting "you grown-up kids all over the world" as a potential audience.
Bill Nye Saves the World indeed tackles issues that are on the minds of inquisitive adults and the ill-informed alike—from gender and sexuality, to vaccines, to conspiracies ranging from chemtrails to crop circles. Even if Nye doesn't end up, uh, saving the world with his new show, he's at the least taking a stab at making it more well-informed, which is an admirable and ambitious goal for anyone with a platform to have.
We talked with Nye about the show's aims, saluting Buzz Aldrin at New York Fashion Week (really), and how climate change is scarier than 9/11. During our conversation, he asked if he should put his phone "on stun," which is above all else an indication that trying to save the world doesn't mean you have to lose your sense of humor.
VICE: When this interview was confirmed, I was looking forward to talk about climate change with you. Yesterday, it was 70 degrees here in New York—today, there's 12 inches of snow.
Bill Nye: Nothing to worry about. It's just a little climate change. It's fine.
In the past, educational TV has traditionally been geared toward children.
Well, science TV shows are popular. Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Science Channel—those TV channels didn't exist before. [Educational TV] was just public broadcasting. When Bill Nye the Science Guy was on, there was a rule from the Federal Communications Commission that you had to have three hours of educational programming a week, so we were at the right place at the right time. People love to hate the Gores. But that was because of Tipper Gore. Now, people want to watch [educational TV] just because they want to watch it.
It's very obvious, though, that there are more people than ever who really don't know anything about science.
Or don't know enough. It's not that everybody has to be a scientist, but we want them to be scientifically literate—just to have an appreciation for it.
Was that in the back of your mind when you decided to do this show?
Well, who doesn't want to have his or her own talk show? It's a talk show with a scientific perspective about issues that affect all of us in society. For the first 13 episodes, we chose issues that have a scientific aspect to them—climate change, vaccines, human sexuality. Those all are informed by the process of science. I hope we get renewed. I don't know if we will.
I saw a clip from the show where you were conducting an experiment. When I watched you on TV as a child, it was one of the only places outside of the classroom where you could see someone conduct a science experiment. Now, there's YouTube.
The trouble is, you can fake those demonstrations. If you watched popcorn get popped with cellphones—phones don't pop popcorn. Sorry. There was one where a human slingshot throws a guy across most of a football field, and he lands in a tank of water. It didn't really happen. Sorry. The skill we want to imbue in students—and everybody in society—is what I call 'filtering,' where you have to learn to think critically about stuff that you see online or read. That's part of the mission of the show: to save the world.
There's a notion that being on Netflix, and being untethered from broadcast TV, means you have more creative freedom. What does that mean for you?
We have no commercial breaks. The show can have a more organic quality, and it can be as long as it needs to be. That's big fun. It's about the same as making a regular television show, except it's officially rated PG-13 rather than G. The topics that are discussed might have a little more sophistication or experience from the audience.
Would you say it's still kid-friendly?
Well, yeah. It's PG-13—it's "kid-fascinating." People of all ages want to talk about sex. For Bill Nye the Science Guy, we talked a lot about having a show about sex. It never happened, but we did a show about flowers, which was basically the sex show with different nouns—eggs and pollen, instead of eggs and sperm. Pretty much the same show, really.
Over the past few years, it seems like there's been a resurgence of interest in who you are and what you do.
That's because I'm so interesting. I don't know, though. People who watched the show came of age, I guess.
It's interesting, because America's always had a fickle relationship with science.
Everybody likes space exploration, and everybody still talks about landing on the moon. People still have tremendous respect for astronauts, but everyone runs around terrified of genetically modified foods. Forty acres of land was intended to raise food for a family of four with a little bit of surplus. Now, 40 acres raises food for more than 100 people. That's through science.
Sometimes it seems like we don't talk enough about global warming and climate change just because there's so much other shit that's going on right now.
The trouble with climate change is, viscerally, it takes too long. It's in slow-motion. Its a problem far more serious, in the biggest picture, than 9/11—but because it happens so slowly, people don't need to take it as seriously in the short term. But we're trying to get people excited about it! And addressing climate change is going to be all about science and technology.
I saw pictures of you and Buzz Aldrin walking the runway at New York Fashion Week. How did that happen?
A couple of years ago, I met Nick Graham, the designer who invented Joe Boxer. We started talking about making a line of bow ties, and then he asked me to be in his fashion show. It was cool, big fun. He wanted to have a space theme, and we got Buzz Aldrin to show up.
When you're doing something like that, do you have mentally prepare for it in a different way than when you're working with science?
It's a performance. You're a performer. I actually did quite a bit of talking at that show. The high point, for me, was saluting Buzz Aldrin. It was cool, because he just saluted back—it's deeply wired in his military soul. I've spent a lot of time with Buzz over the years. I'm the CEO of the Planetary Society, which advances space science and exploration. Buzz Aldrin is a big part of the history of space, and he's a big advocate [of going back]. He has a slogan: "Get your ass to Mars." That's one of his big things. He wants to go be on the moon.
Do you think that's going to happen in our lifetime?
What we're doing is advocating to the incoming people at NASA and the administration writ large that if they want to leave a positive, great legacy—and who doesn't want to leave a great legacy?—they need to advance Mars exploration. That involves robotic exploration, the Mars sample return mission, looking for a suitable landing site, working out the arrangements that have to be made with the Planetary Protection Office, and getting people in orbit around Mars. In 2033, you can do that without increasing the NASA budget. You could do it in 2028 if you threw a little money at the problem. We're talking about orbiting first and landing in subsequent years, which is how we explored the moon. Apollo 8 orbited the moon before people landed and walked there.
Right now, there's no business case for going to Mars—you're not going to go to Mars and sell stuff. You might sell a few tickets to people who claim they don't want to come back, but that's a very small market. You can do it without increasing the NASA budget if you just decided to commit to it—as well as by retiring NASA's current enormous commitment to the Space Station in 2024, when the contracts run out. Somebody else can fund the Space Station's happy microgravity experiments, and meanwhile the federally funded missions would go out to Mars.
Follow Larry Fitzmaurice on Twitter.