I know, I know, I know. Yet ANOTHER blog about entertainment and the media. I mean, there’s Vulture, Vanity Fair, countless others, the tabloid sites and even HuffPo and New York Times dipping their toes in the water now and then. What could possibly be left to say?

Much of the critique focuses on storylines, casting, quality and news. While this blog will have a lot of reviews – a LOT- it will also pay attention to many of the producer’s good and bad habits, particularly in to representation and culture. How well do we do at making media that reflects who we are? is a running theme. And yes, it’s also a way for me to manage my TV addiction into something vaguely resembling productivity.

So if you’ve ever laughed outright at your television, pointing the finger and yelling ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?’ or looked around the room to see if you’re being pranked (looking at you, True Detective Season 2), this is the blog for you.

I welcome your comments and suggestions!



The subversive magic of Get Out

They say the best art is born from pain. If that’s the case, Get Out is the very best of art indeed. This genre-busting, myth-smashing, society-splitting movie nearly broke the internet when it dropped.

This ‘social horror’, ‘psychological thriller’, or ‘comedy-horror’- however you choose to see it – created a new type of film by both satirizing and made sinister everyday interactions that often go unnoticed. Technically, it’s a simple film about a young black man who goes to visit his white girlfriend’s parents. But peel back the layers and it’s a movie about racism that takes aim at white liberals, it’s a film about race where the blacks are the protagonists, and it’s a psychological thriller where everyday interactions are rendered sinister.

It’s also very good.

A rash of podcasts and articles came out to fete the work, which somehow transcended the genre of ‘horror’ to include commentary on society itself. Code Switch, For Colored Nerds, Another Round, Black Men Can’t Jump in Hollywood and other podcasts with African American hosts all devoted episodes to it, marveling at how it captured and satirized one aspect of the black experience that rarely gets attention.

Interviews with filmmaker Jordan Peele have revealed that the idea for Get Out was conceived during the Obama administration, when liberal whites were embracing the idea of a ‘postracial’ society and pronouncing racism dead. Obama’s election, it was believed, meant that Americans could hold hands and get along, and signified that the worst of times were behind us.

But for many African Americans, even back then, that wasn’t the case. Few believed that racism had disappeared on January 22, 2009, when Obama was inaugurated. Instead, many were frustrated that there was less energy and scope to deal with the real social and structural issues that remained in place. Whether small slights or institutional obstacles, many areas remained a challenge.

Get Out is also the first movie to directly take aim at white liberals- a group that historically had been given a cloak of social protection, due to harsher criticism routinely doled out to their more conservative counterparts. Seemingly off-the-hook, this seemed to make white liberals the authority on what is or isn’t racism, particularly if specific words or phrases were avoided. For many African Americans, this felt like they were being gaslighted: told that nothing was wrong when racial issues were everywhere.

I want to be clear: I don’t have an issue with white liberals. But I also don’t think that being a white liberal makes someone immune to casual racism, and Get Out does a great job of highlighting that difference. And what’s truly subversive about it from a Hollywood perspective is that Get Out refuses to apologize to white people or make the viewing experience more comfortable for them.

Specific areas of Get Out stand out as familiar experiences to many African Americans: Chris’s body is stroked and admired by a woman who later asks if ‘it’s better’. Chis is asked about ‘the Black experience’ in a group of mostly-white party guests. The Armitage family and their friends go out of their way to show off their knowledge – and love of – black celebrities and culture. Obama, Tiger Woods, and black slang is mentioned more than is necessary. Chris is objectified, fetishized, envied, and admired. And even, most ominously, sold off in a modern slave auction. The paradoxical feeling of being both conspicuous and unseen is one shared by many black Americans, particularly if they work in mostly-white environments.

What’s perhaps most revolutionary about Get Out is that it’s from the perspective of a black protagonist. We follow Chris’s sense of apprehension, of danger, of suspicion, and we’re aware that he is surrounded by people who look nothing like him. For Colored Nerds discussed the shock of being able to share the perspective of the protagonist in a race-based film, particularly a horror film. It’s a cliché that blacks always die first in horror movies, but Get Out makes the African American the hero, recognizing his right to life and his body as he fights to maintain control of it.

Jordan Peele may have created a new movie category. As a comedian, as a biracial man, and as a black man in an interracial marriage, he likely has a unique perspective on race in America. By shining a light on the parts of society that we may want to hide or deny in an effort to remake ourselves, he makes uncomfortable truths impossible to deny. Even if we’re having fun.


5-minute film review: Go For It! (2011)

Go For It! by Carmon Marron is an indie, all no-name fantastic film. A dance movie with an actual plot, it follows Carmen, a large-eyed Latina teenager who is a hip hop dance fanatic. Wow, what a breath of fresh air it is to see a movie about Latinos that doesn’t resort to dusty stereotypes, but instead draws you into their world and culture. Animated conversations over dinner with the huge family, Spanglish, cross-generational accusations, sibling support and tension, and parents with different accents to their children are some of the touches that draw you into their world. The film centers on the struggle of a young girl to navigate school, a hardass teacher with more than meets the eye, a boyfriend who loves her but comes from a different world, and keeping her passion even when facing unspeakable pain. See it if you get the chance!

Review of The Bridge

The Bridge is a gasping, dry, police procedural, focusing on the border towns of El Paso (US) and Juarez (Mexico). Artistically, it has the suspenseful pacing of Hollywood hyperlink cinema with constantly unfurling interwoven stories and layers of and layers of plot. It masterfully knits together a huge cast of characters into a network of arcs and subplots that marries cops and criminals, predators and prey, assassins and corpses. The traditional battle between good and evil is played out within each character, and the stench of death hangs in the backdrop of every scene to remind them that each day could be their last.

Where The Bridge does well with modern-day realism are the female characters who are just as ruthless, calculating, and driven as the males. Franke Potente is chillingly delightful as a murderous Mennonite accountant with a horrific past and a secret that will send chills down your spine. Good job writers who managed to build a credible American gangster character around her unmistakable German accent and unconventional looks. And it’s nice to see storylines involving American police fighting just as hard to save Mexican girls as white American ones.

It also does well with portrayals of LGBT and autistic characters. A lesbian character is not over-sexualized, but is shown in a loving relationship despite unsupportive families. An autistic character struggles with social situations in a way that is realistically off-kilter but not funny, and her flair for detail makes her an exceptional detective. Far from being emotionless or cold, she makes very few but very deep attachments.

And The Bridge stays away from the very tired cliche of mixed-gendered partners who carry a torch for one another. Instead, it does a good job of showing true friendship between men and women, and the different ways that people can love each other non-romantically.

But where it ultimately falls down is that it is, at its heart, another portrayal of a Latin American country filled with drugs, crime, and corruption (a la Narcos, Sicario, Traffic, etc.) The Bridge apparently can’t resist the allure of racial and ethnic stereotypes on both sides, even if they are better-written and articulated than usual. While Mexican girls are at the forefront of many storylines, they are largely painted as helpless and hopeless victims who are overlooked and forgotten, even by close relatives (the sister of an investigative journalist goes missing and she doesn’t ask a single question). The American authorities are far less corrupt than the Mexican ones, and are predictably the heroes of every plotline. One character is so extreme in the ‘white savior’ stereotype (his mission in life is rescuing Mexican girls from prostitution) that it reminds me of a great line from the show Rosewood: “your savior complex has a savior complex”.

Should you watch the show? It’s amazingly intriguing and suspenseful.

How to Watch a Television Without Breaking It

There’s a dilemma if you’re “woke” (socially conscious). Do you resist the temptation and allure of popular shows and movies because they violate your high standards? Or do you indulge in them and face constant outrage?

Perhaps there can be a third way. In this day and age there is a lot of money poured into damn good TV. Some of the shows are expertly crafted, and so popular that skipping them risks you losing out on big parts of cultural discussions. However, these shows aren’t always the most savvy when it comes to being modern with their portrayals of women, of social, sexual, or ethnic minorities, or perhaps people with physical or mental disabilities. Some onscreen tropes and clichés date back decades, others even a century. Because being stuck back in time is a disease that all of Hollywood seems to have caught, it can be really difficult to limit yourself to just shows like Shondaland’s more modern casting and storylines.

The trick may be to watch and enjoy the show, but remain critical of the elements that are problematic. Like the uncle whose views are firmly stuck in the 1950’s, you can love TV for its many talents and wholeheartedly reject its dated and damaging representation of people.

This, however, takes some internal work to make sure that negative messages and imaging don’t do too much damage, and may require setting boundaries. Calling out stereotypical portrayals on Twitter or to your friends is one way to manage it.

Drawing boundaries is another. For instance, I simply won’t watch a rape scene. If I’m at home- I’ll change the channel. If I’m in a movie theater, I will either close my eyes or simply walk out. It’s way too upsetting for me to see images of women being raped. Similarly, I have no stomach for descriptions of child sexual abuse, which thankfully are out of the mainstream media but sometimes get explored when there is a child sex abuse scandal. I do not believe that as viewers, we need to know the explicit details of how a child was violated and abused to fully understand the depths of evil of the abuser.

All of this takes work. Enjoying a storyline but rejecting its stereotypes takes selective attention. Preventing negative images from infecting your attitude takes some doing. But in order to participate in popular culture, and to be a better critic who can inform those who don’t see these issues, it’s worth it.

5-minute film review of Legend, starring Tom Hardy and, um, Tom Hardy

Legend is the true story of the Kray twins, a pair of gangsters in 1960s London. Following their rise to power and reign of terror, the movie focuses on the love story of one brother (the hot Tom Hardy), the struggles with madness of the other, and the loyalty between the two.

Tom Hardy acts his adorable derriere off in Legend, successfully pulling off being two people at once. While one character is noticeably more developed than the other, it’s rare an actor can swallow a movie of this magnitude. The film is rather light on plot, which is fine because the setting and characters allow you to immerse yourself in 1960’s London and its Cockney accents. Enthralling without the frenetic dialogue, gratuitous violence and schizophrenic cinematography Guy Ritchie is known for, this film actually tackles the real goings-on of gangsters, their relationships, and schizophrenia.

Legend wins points for having lead characters that are gay and gangsters (gaynsters?) without it being the only way these characters are defined. And though it gets points for tackling mental illness, it loses a few when it gets hammy. No points awarded for the female characters who only exist to aid the storylines of the male ones, and points taken away for (gratuitous and historically inaccurate) violence against women.

Overall, Legend is worth seeing, even if the opening production scenes scream film-student, and it sounds as if it was scored by a muzak composer. Great effort by Amazon Studios.

Introducing ‘Bumblecore’

The 2005 South by Southwest arts & technology festival (SXSW) birthed a term for film & media that redefined what Hollywood had to offer: mumblecore. Characterized by independent, low-budget films and bare-bones natural sets, plots revolved more around the inner lives of characters than expensive action scenes or big names. Non-professional actors mixed with undiscovered ones for a cheap cast. Clever filmmakers relied on well-written dialogue skillful improvisation. Andrew Bujalski, Duplass brothers, Joe Swanberg, and Lynn Shelton, made the genre popular in the ‘00s, through films like Funny Ha Ha, The Puffy Chair, LOL, and Your Sister’s Sister.

Following on the heels of mumblecore is a new genre of film and television that’s similar that I’ll call ‘bumblecore’. Using the same techniques of mumblecore, it is more likely to be on TV, and showcases the showrunner him/herself in the starring role of a semi-autobiographical dramedy, especially if they’re a comedian. Hapless and hopeless, we watch them stumble through one relationship after another, or one job after another, or one critical moment in adulthood after another. In Louie, Louis C.K. juggles th responsibility of being a divorced dad and a floundering career in comedy. Lena Dunham’s Girls gives her a vehicle to find her identity through being somehow both hyper-aware and completely oblivious at the same time. And in Master of None, Aziz Ansari stumbles through millennial life philosophically, highlighting the absurdities of the entertainment industry along the way. And in Emmy-award-winning Transparent, we watch a transgender man transition into his new life, as his adult children struggle to find their own sexual identities and morality.

From a business perspective, bumblecore has been one attempt at Hollywood reinventing itself. For years, the industry had needed an escape route from its own demise, wrongfully pinned on piracy and too-strong writers. Finally, creativity was profitably revived, even if it meant open-access for newcomers like Amazon and Netflix. Bumblecore shows are cheap to produce and easy to churn out, so even if they reach a small audience they’re profitable, and bolster the brand of the network (or platform, or streaming service).

Done well, bumblecore is hilarious and insightful. Done poorly (sorry, Casual) it’s meandering and self-obsessed.

You Can’t Say No To Shonda Rhimes’s My Year of Yes

I recently listened to the audiobook of Shonda Rhimes, My Year of Yes. A kind of American celebrity version of ‘Yes Man’, the painfully-introverted Shonda spent a year saying yes to invitations and to being true to herself. She dropped friends who were trying to use her, accepted awards in person for the first time, agreed to do an acting gig, lost 100 pounds, and anything else that normally terrified her.

If you’re unfamiliar, Shonda Rhimes heads up Shondaland, a production house pumping out blockbuster dramas including Gray’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder, and Scandal. ABC lined them up one after another to the point that, as Shonda unabashedly puts it, she owns Thursday night. Filled with plot twists and turns that defy expectations, a hallmark of her shows are her “diverse” casts. Casts vary in their ethnicities and sexual orientation, a features that’s won her awards and gotten her talked about in the press. But the accolades are not entirely welcome: Shonda hates the word ‘diversity’ because it’s the norm. Shonda bristles at the idea that making shows that look like America is considered revolutionary in this day and age.

Her discomfort is understandable. Shonda Rhimes was the first to routinely put female leads who were people of color, including the first African American female lead on a network TV show in almost 40 years. 40…..years. After these debuts, we saw an explosion of African American women on television, as leading ladies and love interests including Sleepy Hollow, Gotham, Minority Report, and The Flash. These roles simply didn’t exist previously for African American women.

Not just providing people of color in a new light, Shondaland’s LGBTQ characters are rendered as three-dimensional, layered characters with complex lives and romances varying from steamy to committed. For the first time on network television, LGBTQ characters had deep relationships, one-night stands, crushes and yearnings. The essence of their character wasn’t their sexual orientation any more than the essence of a straight character wasn’t their relationship status.

What Shonda proves in the book is that representation matters. Seeing characters who have something in common with a viewer- especially a young one- matters. It makes people feel a little less alone, and a little more connected to the rest of society. For years, whitewashing and straightwashing shows left many people isolated. It also left them vulnerable to being misunderstood, or worse, targeted in hate crimes. A gay friend of mine who grew up in Europe once told me that he didn’t know he was gay until his 20’s. Asking how that was possible, he shrugged and said “I saw all the images of gay men on TV and thought ‘I’m not like that.’” Representation matters.

And the change has been immediate. Fueled by the storylines on shows like Gray’s Anatomy, parents have learned more about their children’s sexual orientation, women who didn’t want a traditional lifestyle were given a new champion, and young LGBT kids connected with each other in Gray’s chatrooms and be a little less alone.

Shonda’s own rocket-fast rise to the top may have appeared smooth, but as she states in a speech accepting the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award ‘if I was able to break through the glass ceiling….[it’s because I was] running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints. I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot.” So many women before her had tried and failed, tried and failed, each time making a dent that the glass ceiling had evolved into ‘a thin sheet of splintered ice….the wind was already whistling through’.

In other words, Hollywood was finally ready, and she had the benefit of coming along at the right time. This doesn’t diminish her brilliance, but rather highlights what the world almost lost by not being ready sooner.

It also begs the question how many Shondas never got their chance because the timing wasn’t right?





5-minute film review: Harlem Nights (1989)

I’ve watched Harlem Nights umpteen times and each time it delivers lovely new undiscovered gems. Late comedy greats Richard Pryor and Red Foxx join Eddie Murphy to turn this caper comedy into a work of art. Set in 1930’s Harlem, it follows a face-off between Italian mobsters and black gangsters. Think Boardwalk Empire but really funny and clever. The writing, acting, jokes, and sets are top-notch, and so is the fashion.

Despite it being from 1989 it does a great job of being realistic and respectful, compelling and 3-dimensional of its diverse cast. The film acknowledges racial tensions that were common at the time without vilifying one group or another. Though there are no female leads, the female characters are badasses in their own right, and the intergenerational dynamics are touching yet funny. It’s a great reminder that stories don’t have to be stereotypical to be engaging.

If you get a chance, see it!

American Demographics vs. American Media – Who Wins?

Most of the shows I review on this blog are American, because of the sheer size of the industry and the way that the shows are exported around the world (show me someone on this earth that’s never seen an episode of Friends and I’ll show you someone raised by wolves). As a born and raised citizen, I know what it actually looks like, and how different it looks in real life to the America in the many movies and TV shows that I watch. Whole groups of people are missing, and others are grossly misrepresented. To give a fuller picture of how different this is, I have calculated the actual numbers of different groups in the US so you can compare for yourself. Also, while the US is a huge country with a lot of diversity, most of the movies and television is made in New York and LA/California, so I look at both the US as a whole and the demographics of those two cities. I figure, what do the producers see when they are walking (NY) or driving (LA) down the street?

How faithful to the country is the media we produce?

Gender and Sexual Orientation

Of course, the US population is roughly 51% female, and 49% male. Transgender people are currently estimated to be 0.3% of the total population, but since it’s a group that’s newly been given rights it’s possible that number will go up as time marches on (and people feel more comfortable answering surveys).

The LGBTQ/gay community is extremely diverse, with a range of sexual orientations and gender identification. Numbers vary, but up to about 4% of Americans self-identify as LGBT, with about 2% identifying as gay or lesbian.

Cities with the largest LGBT percentage include San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. However, the largest total numbers of LGBT are in New York and Los Angeles.


Approximately 70% of the entire US is white, although they are more concentrated in the northern part of the US in states like Vermont, Idaho, and North Dakota.

Hispanics /Latinos make up 16% of the population, and are concentrated in the southwest. California, New Mexico, Florida, and New Jersey have some of the highest populations of Hispanics.  The city of Los Angeles (a stone’s throw from Hollywood) is 45% Latino, and New York is 27% Latino.

Blacks/ African Americans represent 13% of the US population and are highly concentrated in the southern states like Mississippi, Georgia and Maryland as well as cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit. LA is 10% black and New York City is 25% black.

Asians represent 5% of the total population, but more than 11% of New York and Los Angeles. Their ancestry hails mostly from China, the Philippines, India, Vietnam and Cambodia. Filipinos and Chinese have been in the US since the 18th and 19th centuries, so many Asian Americans are in not really ‘immigrants’.

Native Americans/American Indians are 1% of the population. About 20% of them live on reservations or ‘trusted lands’ that are self-governing areas. Less than 60% of them live in cities (the lowest of any group), which means they are underrepresented in many of the areas where film and television is made.  For example, just 0.4% of New York City is Native American.

Jews make up about 2% of the total American population. New York City is roughly 14% Jewish, and LA is about 5%.



Asians make up the biggest immigrant group by inflows in the US as legal permanent residents. After Asians (45%) are others from the Americas (42%), primarily Latin Americans. Africans (10%) follow next, then Europeans (8%). These groups have changed significantly over the years as laws and geopolitical factors change, however.


70% of the US population is Christian. But unlike most other Christian countries, Christians are pretty diverse, with a wide variety of Protestants (46%) and a number of Catholics (21%). Many of the American Catholics are more recent immigrant groups from Catholic countries, such as Latinos, Italian-Americans, and Portuguese-Americans. Protestants, meanwhile, span the breadth of ‘mainline Protestant’ at 15%, and evangelical at 25%.

Jews in the US can either be merely ‘cultural’ or also ‘religious’. Cultural Jews are part of the ethnic group but may not practice the religion, or even be atheists. Religious Jews may be ‘reform’, similar to Christianity’s Protestantism, or they may be Orthodox, which carries a number of strict requirements for dress and behavior.

Approximately 1% of the US is Muslim, and most are from recent immigrant groups from South Asia (Bangladeshis, Pakistanis), and the Middle East (Arabs, Persians). About a quarter are African American, the largest ‘native born’ group of Muslims.

3% of Americans identify as atheists and 4% as agnostics, though this probably higher in the north, and in cities.

Hindus and Buddhists represent less than 1% each of the US population.

About 22% of Americans are ‘religiously unaffiliated’, and about 70% of this group believes in God but doesn’t follow a specific religion.

Family status

The average age of marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men. By state, it ranges from a low of 24/26 in religious low-density Utah, to 30/31 in urban professional hub DC.

But the US also suffers from a high divorce rate: 40-50% of marriages end in divorce, with an even higher rate for second and third marriages. Many people who are not religious cohabitate prior to marriage, but this doesn’t seem to slow the rate much.

Mothers (and, ahem, therefore fathers) have an average of 2.4 children, a number that’s been steadily declining. There are a rising number of DINKS (dual income, no kids) couples, and in 2014 a whopping 47% of adult women had no children.

Population density

The New York metropolitan area is the biggest in the country at almost 20 million people, and it’s the setting for a LOT of TV shows and movies. LA is second at almost 13 million people, and it’s also the seat of Hollywood and where many shows and movies- sometimes even those ‘set’ in New York – like Mad Men– get made.

Other big cities include Chicago (3m people), Houston (2m), and Philadelphia (1.5m).


Now you know what the US looks like, if you didn’t before. When you watch TV shows with no characters of color or no LGBT characters, ask yourself: does this match with what the producer sees when he/she walks off set?









Family Size Among Mothers


New York Has The Highest Number Of LGBT Residents, But San Francisco Has The Highest Percentage

The Dammit Ratings

It’s 2016 folks. So I introduce the “It’s 2016, Dammit!” ratings, or just the Dammit Ratings, which look at how well writers and directors create stories for the modern world, particularly in the US. Since film and television seems to seems unable to fully shake stereotypes, I suggest we start giving points based on how well they adhere to the modern American world.

Female characters

  • Add 1/2 point for intelligent and capable female characters
  • Add 1 point if they are a principal character
  • Minus 1 point if the only female characters are support staff, girlfriends, or wives
  • Minus 5 points if there is violence against women
  • Minus 10 points if sex is depicted as violent
  • Minus 10 points if a female character is kidnapped, restrained, or tied up

African Americans

  • Add 1 point for one African American character
  • Add 5 points if there are two or more
  • Add 2 points if they are lit properly
  • Minus 5 points if any are criminals or live in the ghetto
  • Minus 2 points if they have a long-lost brother/son that’s a criminal
  • Minus 5 points if an African American female character is overweight and sassy


  • Add 3 points for a Latino character
  • Add 5 points if they are a principal character
  • Minus 5 points if they are a maid, gang member, migrant farm worker or in the drug trade
  • Minus 2 points if they are undocumented

Asian Americans

  • Add 3 points for an Asian American character
  • Add 5 points if they are a principal character
  • Minus 10 points if they are an analyst, mathematician, or some type of mute ‘genius’
  • Minus 10 points if male characters are asexual
  • Minus 10 points if female characters are power-hungry or cold

LGBT characters

  • Add 5 points if there’s an LGBT character
  • Add 5 points if there’s more than one
  • Add 2 points if the character is a lesbian
  • Add 5 points if she’s non-gender conforming (doesn’t wear makeup and dresses)
  • Add 10 points for a transgender character
  • Add 5 points if there’s an LGBT principal character
  • Add 5 points if they are shown with a partner
  • Add 5 points if they kiss onscreen
  • Minus 5 points if their character revolves around being a woman’s best friend
  • Minus 10 points if they are an interior designer or hairdresser

Arabs/Middle Easterners

  • Plus 10 points if there’s an Arab character, with an Arab/Middle Eastern name
  • Plus 20 points if they are a woman who wears a head scarf
  • Minus 15 points if they’re a suspected terrorist


  • Add 5 points for an African character
  • Minus 15 points if they only wear ‘tribal’ clothing


  • Add 5 points for an Asian character
  • Minus 10 points if they’re in the mafia
  • Minus 5 points if they make sushi or swords
  • Minus 5 points if they are a music or math genius

Autism spectrum

  • Add 5 points if a character is depicted having autism or Asperger’s
  • Add 5 points if they are a principal character
  • Minus 10 points if they are weird or funny

The ratings system may be a bit complicated, but it boils down to whether people are shown as real people, not tired clichés. There’s no need to do tons of arithmetic in the theater, but rather to start thinking about who’s onscreen, why and how. And most of all, to encourage filmmakers and showrunners to create their great stories using characters that aren’t lazy stereotypes.

Did I miss anything from the list?