Editorial

Ted Lasso: It Takes a Team to Make a Winning Formula

From left to right: Nick Mohammed, Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt appear in a scene of Tedd Lasso, Season 1 | Apple TV+ (2020).

The word heartwarming is thrown around a lot in the world of media, but never was it more deserved than in the 2020 Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso. This series follows the character of the same name, Ted, as he goes from coaching American football in Wichita, Kansas to leading AFC Richmond, a professional British football club (or as we Americans say, soccer). He is definitely a fish out of water but in the most charming and likable way. Recently, we got to sit down with the creatives behind Ted Lasso to find out how everything from the visual effects to the hair and makeup all work together to make one of the most delightful shows out there today.

Casting

One of the challenges for casting director Theo Park was finding talent that could play soccer and act. “Obviously we had to find actors who could play football as well, so that was interesting. We saw some amazing auditions from actors doing some keepie uppies in their garden with a mate videoing them.”

She goes on to say they focused on finding actors who could do comedy rather than comedians. “Because we really needed to see heart and soul from every single member of the cast so they had to be really strong actors as well as clever comics.”

Costuming, Hair & Makeup

Costume designer Jacky Levy had not only the challenge of designing the jerseys for games and practice for the team, but also the style and clothes for all the characters including formal wear for the charity gala. Rebecca, played by Hannah Waddingham, was a particularly challenging character to design just the right look for her powerful and vulnerable character. 

Levy says, “It starts with talking to the actors themselves. I’ll discuss with Hannah and Juno the scenes… and we go collaboratively from there. Rebecca is a very successful and strong person in the show but she does have this vulnerable side. We try and make her costumes pick that powerful position that she holds but also trying to keep it real. We like to have her fit in the football world but she keeps a femininity as well.”

Makeup and hair designer Nicky Austin elaborates on how she and Levy collaborate to make each character shine: “We have a lot of fun. Juno in particular. Keeley’s such a great character… Every character has their own journey so we have to take that into account. So when we first see Keeley in the locker room we see the old page 3 girl images in the locker and that’s the start of her journey and we are trying to build her into this professional which is very much done through the costume and the makeup. The fact she wants to be taken more seriously impacts her style.”

Production Design & Visual Effects

Most casual viewers probably have no idea the amount of visual trickery goes on to make Ted Lasso work. Amazingly all of the soccer crowd scenes and game audiences are all visual effects, and not actual crowds. 

Production designer Paul Cripps says, “Kipp Kroeger (post producer) made it look like we played football games in premiere leagues in real stadiums. There are two sides to the production design with the real sets and the post sets that they did. I think the combination of those two things really work because the thing that often lets down sports films or comedies is the sports part but I think ours holds up pretty well”

You can see a breakdown of the visual effects for the show in this video made by Barnstorm VFX and supervisor Lawson Deming:

It Takes a Team

There are many other key players that work together to make a show like Ted Lasso work including sound designers, music composers, editors, writers and of course actors. If you haven’t seen season 1 check it out on Apple TV+ and get ready for season 2 this July. And remember… just like Ted says, “You know what the happiest animal on Earth is? It’s a goldfish. You know why? Got a ten-second memory. Be a goldfish.”

Why You Should Support Physical Media

Showing off my 4K UHD Steelbook of Black Panther.

My film collection is now almost 800 movies strong, with 135 of those being 4K UHD discs, 524 Blu-rays, and 133 DVDs. Now, why do I collect? Why stay with physical media when Netflix has been broadcasting some content in 4K since 2014 and Amazon, Apple, and HBO Max now offer 4K content too? The reason is how the video and audio components are affected by streaming. In theory, these streaming services offer picture quality that is comparable to discs the latest in digital video disc technology. However, when the same movie compared on that versus a Blu-ray disc and a 4K disc, A/V enthusiasts at WhatHiFi.com found that the 4K streaming experience was actually more in line with watching a traditional 1080p Blu-ray—and that Blu-rays had a clear advantage in terms of contrast and color. However, 4K discs looked far better than either. They even compared audio quality and they found that streaming would get compressed Dolby Digital Plus.

Dolby Digital Plus has been around since 1992 and it has been on televisions since 1998. More advanced surround sound formats encode discrete sounds on different channels.This audio technology was mandatory on DVDs and is now mandatory to have at least this on Blu-rays, though, obviously at a higher level. When we watch movies at home either via streaming or disc, this audio can be experienced or lost either by your television speakers or your streaming service (dependent on your internet). This can reduce the movie watching experience. How this is prevented is through a number of lossless audio compression formats Dolby and DTS. While there are many out there who would state their preference, in turn have found they are fairly interchangeable. DTS Digital Surround is comparable to Dolby Digital, DTS HD Master Audio is comparable to Dolby TrueHD, DTS-X is comparable to Dolby Atmos. The latter two audio are currently the two best audio formats out there. The problem is that streaming reduces the high level audio down to the old technology. 

I recently updated my Star Wars collection from Blu-rays to 4K UHD. Thank goodness for Black Friday!

This is due to compression as the picture and sound information have to be processed in a way to send it over the internet. On top of that, the content has to be there. To get authentic 4K content on Netflix, one must pay for their premium subscription ($17.99/month) and then your internet needs to be able to handle it. Both Netflix and Disney+ say that at least 25 megabits per second is needed to stream UHD (ultra high definition) content, and Amazon needs at least 15 Mbps to watch videos in UHD. The two cheapest high speed internets for the most bandwidth in the US are Verizon and Comcast at $40 and $35/month, respectively. This will get you download speeds of 100mbps for Comcast and 200mbps for Verizon. However, this is only if the streaming device is hooked up directly to the router and wifi is about 70% as fast, at maximum. Additionally, there are more confounding factors such as the type of router and how many other devices are on the wifi–even if your streaming devices are up to speed and your internet is the best possible, there will still be some information lost along the way. Compression is inevitable. That’s not to say that streaming services aren’t useful and don’t have some real advantages. Streaming services do provide a deal when it comes to price, selection size, and ease of use. 

Ultimately, the streaming experience is more like channel surfing through many channels, especially now with almost everyone having their own streaming service. Using these services may be nice for the selection but that selection is determined by someone else. Netflix constantly removes content depending on the month and so does HBO Max. It all depends on licensing similar to that of cable channels running movies during the day. In the past, cable became so expensive to get access to movies and tv shows. This allowed Netflix to become popular. People didn’t enjoy having to pay for movies so this company created a way to only pay a monthly fee and you get as many movies as you wanted but one at a time. This led to their streaming services which had all people’s favorite shows. You could find everything on Netflix which was a game changer. Now, it may not be called “cable” anymore but it’s essentially the same thing.

Anyone that knows me knows that I am a huge Batman fan, especially the animated versions.

On top of that, Netflix announced in August 2020 that they were going to rencode all 4K, HDR and HFR titles in its catalog. They claim to be able to deliver the same quality 4K video at half the bitrate. They stated, “For members with high-bandwidth connections we deliver the same great quality at half the bitrate on average. For members with constrained bandwidth we deliver higher quality at the same (or even lower) bitrate.” Other advantages of the new approach include “higher initial quality,” and “fewer quality drops while streaming,” less buffering, and a reduction in “initial play delay by about 10%.” Also in October, Disney revealed that in order to further accelerate its direct-to-consumer strategy, it would be centralizing its media businesses into one entity that would be responsible for content distribution, ad sales and Disney+. This move was obviously done in response to the global coronavirus pandemic which crippled the theatrical business and pushed more viewers to streaming services. As of August 2020, Disney had over 50 million subscribers to Disney+ alone.

So with Netflix compressing their content and Disney moving towards streaming services, films have the potential to become less impactful due to streaming limitations. This makes physical media more and more important. Physical media has been shown to be the better, more pure way to view movies for a number of reasons including the audio and visual components. While there are some who disagree and say that physical media is a fad and that streaming is the more modern way to go, the questions about internet speeds, the content, and the technology surrounding streaming still remain. When Wonder Woman 1984 was released on HBO Max, director Patty Jenkins stated that it would be the first film on HBO Max to be in 4K Ultra HD, HDR 10, Dolby Vision and have Dolby Atmos. However, Warner Bros. hadn’t released any information about what internet speeds were needed for this. On top of that, some devices that should get 4K content such as the Xbox Series X were not able to get 4K; it was only on certain devices. This again shows that most likely the high end video and audio components of the movie are being limited by these streaming services and their technology. Even if you have the highest and most consistent bandwidth available, physical media holds the upper hand. The compression still happens, and thus streaming limits viewers from getting the true aspects of the film and seeing what the filmmaker intended. Furthermore, having the movies in the palm of your hand can give a more direct connection to the movie itself that can last a lifetime. Even if you hate the idea of physical media, you have to admit at some point that you are okay with getting a lesser quality film experience. Streaming may be cheaper and more convenient, but physical media is a more premium experience; which is why I support physical media, and you should too.

Shower Thoughts: Does ‘Psycho’ Still Hold Up 60 Years Later?

 Ha ha. Shower thoughts! Get it? Alright, alright; I’ll lay off the puns.

First Thoughts

 If you can believe it, there was a time when I wasn’t completely obsessed with movies. Back in high school, I took a “Literature Through Film” class as an excuse to watch movies as the class of the day. It was a chance for me to relax for an hour before going off to work. I remember when it was announced that we would be watching Psycho (1960), the principle of the school came in and assured us that even though this movie was rated R, there was nothing in this movie that would violate our cultural religious beliefs. However, if anyone felt uncomfortable, the teacher would provide an alternative assignment. (I grew up in a very conservative part of Utah) No one took the alternative, and I myself was super excited to see a real life, unedited rated R movie! (Once again, I was really conservative growing up.) When the credit rolled, I found myself with a deep sense of…boredom. Despite being in a film class, I had not begun to appreciate all the nuances and technical aspects that comes with filmmaking. I had expected a lot more shocking visuals and graphic violence to accompany the movie regarded as the greatest thriller/slasher film ever made. In my youthful arrogance and ignorance, I wrote off Psycho as being overrated and was determined to leave it at that. Thankfully, I grew up.

My Redemption Arc

It was around 2014 when I discovered my love for watching and collecting movies, and around the fall of 2015 when I first began seriously studying film as a medium. I took an introduction to film class with my roommate, and I began really appreciating what goes into making a film. I began to expand my watch-list beyond the bi-annual Disney and Marvel movies, getting into more independent films and familiarizing myself with different directors. About a year later, I realized that I still had neglected a whole genre: horror. I had always been a bit apprehensive about horror film because of my conservative upbringing, but I also knew I wouldn’t be a very good film critic if I refused to watch an entire genre. So I began to ask around to see what the best horror movies were. I slowly began to really appreciate and admire horror as a genre simply by how much effort it takes to create a good horror picture. Cheap B-horror movies are a dime a dozen, and I can’t tell you how great it is to see a fantastic horror movie. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when the Backseat Directors writers were having a group discussion about critically acclaimed movies that were overrated (in contrast to our “Defend Your Movies” series on the podcast). I threw out that I thought Psycho was boring, and the gasps of outrage and disbelief could be heard throughout the far reaches of space. André (the founder of Backseat Directors) brought up the suggestion that I should watch it again and see how I feel about it now. Knowing that my knowledge of movies had grown, and I’d probably have a different opinion now, I agreed. So, what’s my verdict? Psycho is a masterpiece.

Surprise vs Suspense

Vera Miles as Lila Crane in the iconic “shower scene” of Psycho (1960) | Paramount Pictures.

Many fans of Hitchcock are likely familiar with his famous advice about surprise vs suspense:

There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.

TV interview with Alfred Hitchcock

One thing that plagues a lot of modern horror/slasher films is the over use of jump scares, and the lack of suspense building. They tend to go for the surprise angle and not the suspense. For some movies, that’s completely fine. However, an over reliance on suspense over surprise actually cheapens the quality of the film. This is the reason the original Halloween (1978) was such a success. It wasn’t as bloody or gory as most modern movies, and even the Halloween sequels themselves. But the constant stress of waiting and not knowing what the killer was going to do next kept us on the edge of our seats. I believe this drew its inspiration from Psycho.

“Re Re Re Re”

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in one of the most iconic scenes in film history | Psycho (1960) | Paramount Pictures.

The music of Psycho is the heart and soul of the movie. Hitchcock even admitted that without the music, he was convinced that Psycho would be doomed to be a made-for-TV movie. However, after seeing the film with the finished score, he was confident in the film.

Going back to my comparisons with the original Halloween… in both films, the music elevated what could have been a B-movie into a masterpiece. Both had great themes and haunting melodies that accompanied the sense of being watched and stalked.

Anthony Perkins

I just want to acknowledge how outstanding Anthony Perkins’ performance is in this movie. When we first meet Norman Bates, he seems like the perfect boy next door: a shy, but good natured man. Then slowly we learn that he is a peeping tom, and covers up for what he believes is his mother’s murders. The subtle change in his face and in his eyes over the course of the film is absolutely brilliant.

Final Thoughts

Back in high school I knew almost nothing about different types of movies, nor how they were made. In the words of my old boss at the movie theater, I was a “popcorn muncher.” Now, I totally understand why this movie is referred to as a classic and a masterpiece. Those terms are rightly used. It was because of Psycho that movies like Halloween could become so beloved. I’m so glad I watched this movie again. I own it now, and so should you.

Who Tells Your Story: The Legacy of Hamilton

The original cast of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015).

If you asked me who Alexander Hamilton was five years ago, I would’ve maybe remembered that he was the guy on the ten dollar bill. If you asked me what he did with his life, I wouldn’t be able to tell you much at all. My interest in Hamilton: An American Musical began when I was on vacation in New York City. We were walking through Broadway, trying to find the specific theater our show was being performed in, when we passed the Richard Rodgers Theater that was housing Hamilton. I thought that the outside of the theater looked really cool; it was something I had never seen before. However, I didn’t feel the need to look anything up about the musical until later.

When I returned to college for the Spring semester, I was browsing Pinterest when I saw someone had animated Hamilton as a traditional hand-drawn Disney film. I was intrigued that a musical about the Revolutionary War had gotten so popular; not only that, but a hip-hop and rap musical had gotten so popular. I downloaded the soundtrack, looked up the lyrics on Google so I could understand what they were actually singing/rapping, and prepared to see what the hype was all about. I was completely captivated by the musical genius and the story of Hamilton. Thus began my obsession with everything Lin-Manuel Miranda has done. In the process of learning about how and why he created Hamilton, I began to understand how influential Hamilton was—not only as a small glimpse into a lesser known narrative of the Revolutionary War, but celebrating diversity. As Miranda so eloquently puts it, “Hamilton is the story of America then told by America now.”

Who Lives

Cast members of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) perform on stage.

One of the main criticisms of Hamilton is that while almost all of the characters are played by people of color (POC), there are actually no POC characters in the story. There is one throw away line about Sally Hemmings (a slave that Thomas Jefferson owned and had a relationship with) but that character is played by an ensemble dancer and has no significant involvement in the story aside from taking a letter from Thomas Jefferson. Other than this three second sequence in the song “What Did I Miss?” there are no characters of color in Hamilton.

The phrase, “History is written by the victors” is commonplace now in this age, but no less true. Right now, especially in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement, we are more focused on scrutinizing our media and the way we view and understand history. Many films about race have come under fire for being “White savior movies.” Historical accounts of people of color have been coming forward to highlight how significant their role was in the history of our country—it seems as though diversity has never been more important, analyzed, and talked about. So why did Miranda choose not to include POC characters in the story? After all, In the Heights (Miranda’s first musical) was entirely about POC characters. Couldn’t he find a Revolutionary War story from a perspective of a person of color?

Who Dies

Cast members of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) perform on stage.

Before Hamilton, my knowledge of Revolutionary War history was very minimal: the British were taxing the colonies without allowing the colonies to have representation in Parliament, we protested, revolutionary sentiment spread , we went to war, George Washington was awesome, and somewhere in between Ben Franklin discovered electricity. That was pretty much it. I had no idea what Alexander Hamilton contributed, or who he even was. Even the lyrics of the opening number of Hamilton acknowledges this: “His enemies destroyed his rep/ America forgot him.”

Hamilton’s first act focuses on a group of revolutionaries that not many people are aware of: Hamilton himself, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Laurens, and Hercules Mulligan. We are given a very basic story of what they contributed to the war effort, all under the legendary George Washington. The second act takes historical figures we know (Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) and deconstructs them into more antagonistic roles while still respecting all that they did for the founding of America.

While Hamilton may be historical fiction and has taken creative liberties, it is a brilliant introduction (and it really is only an introduction) into the complex nature of the founding of our nation. However, I think the historical backdrop is secondary to the actual message of Hamilton.

Who Tells Your Story

Cast members of Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) take a bow at the end of the show | Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP.

Ultimately, Hamilton is a tragedy. The character even refers to himself as “another Scottish tragedy,” comparing his life to Macbeth’s. Hamilton was so caught up in his legacy (a constant theme of the show); he spent a plentitude of time dedicated to his writing and securing that legacy at the cost of his wife and children. He was even willing to die in order to be remembered—and eventually, he did die over an argument about his reputation with Aaron Burr.

The truly ironic thing about Hamilton’s obsession with his legacy is that he would’ve been forgotten if not for Eliza—the wife he neglected for so long. In an earlier draft of the song “Burn” Eliza sings, “And when the time comes//Explain to the children//The pain and embarrassment//You put their mother through//When will you learn//That they are your legacy?//We are your legacy.” The final shot of the musical is Miranda leading Eliza up to the front of the stage, and she sees the audience, realizing that Hamilton’s legacy exists because of her.

Miranda has taken the founding of America—a story told traditionally through the lens of White men—and recontextualizes it to fit the story of modern America. Hamilton is a story about immigration, slavery, feminism, the value of family and marriage fidelity, and the inherent worth of all people regardless of gender, race, or financial status. Brandon Victor Dixon, who played Aaron Burr in the Broadway production, viewed the message of Hamilton as a vehicle for these themes when he addressed Vice President Pence:

“We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values. We truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.”

Aaron Burr in Hamilton: An American Musical (2015)

Rather than telling the people of color’s story during the Revolutionary War, Miranda instead chose to correlate the struggles of the Founding Fathers then to the diverse America now. Through our own dedication and determination, we have a chance to improve our nation, and leave behind a legacy of good for our children. People of all colors, genders, sexualities, races, nationalities, and abilities have an opportunity to “rise up” and create a better world. And that is a message we so desperately need in our time.

Blindspotting: A Lighter But Honest Take On Today’s Social Issues

Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal in a scene of Blindspotting | Lionsgate.

I was lucky enough to hear about Blindspotting (2018) when it was initially released in limited theaters. I could have easily missed out on this movie. Its release fell during a quiet time for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement; five years after the group’s inception, and two years before the latest resurgence. That being said, I feel like this film could have been used by the movement to sincerely and humbly show the world what life might be like for a Black man living in an urban area. Unfortunately, Blindspotting went under the radar for most of the country; chalk it up to bad timing, perhaps. However, even two years after its release, this movie’s impact hits just as hard now as if it came out two to three weeks ago.

I want to add a little bit of context to me as a viewer: I grew up in a place that was often rated #1 on lists for safest cities in the world. I’m a white male, and my parents provided everything I would ever need. From my limited perspective, I was truly touched by this film and felt an overflow of empathy for a population of people that deal with the issues displayed in this movie every day. The movie also managed to make me laugh—a lot!

Daveed Diggs (original Hamilton Broadway production, and Wonder) and Rafael Casal grew up together in Oakland and both experienced much of what they eventually created in this film. They both co-wrote and co-starred in Blindspotting and their chemistry makes for an enthralling and hilarious watch by itself. I was hooked all the way from their playful banter to their emotionally and racially charged arguments.

Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal in a scene of Blindspotting | Lionsgate.

The film itself really works with two distinct elements (though they are interrelated): the often comical predicament of Diggs’ and Casal’s characters dealing with their hometown slowly and annoyingly gentrifying due to the influx of hipsters and software company executives, and the anxiety Diggs’ character feels from racial tensions on so many sides—whether it’s judgement from his appearance, witnessing police brutality, or dealing with the label of being an ex-convict. The way these two elements collide is done in such a meaningful and heart-wrenching way, but I won’t go further into detail because you need to watch it!

All in all, the most important lessons I’ve learned from this film are the following:

  • I’m more aware that we live in a society that often bases grave decisions on far too limited of information or preconceived bias, and it’s in large part of the reason why BLM exists. 
  • A White man can have the exact same upbringing and live in the exact same area as a Black man, and they’ll more than likely have a huge divide in experiences, treatment, and anxieties. 
  • Whether or not racism has gotten worse, life in an urban area makes it so heartbreakingly normal that people often take it with a grain of salt. 
  • Just as the movie utilizes comedy and friendship to get through the heavier parts, grace only through unity is going to be essential to get through our current predicament.
  • If there’s anything more I could say, it would just be that if you want a movie free of any condescension that expands your perspective of why the BLM movement is happening, I think this is a fantastic choice. 

If you have yet to see Blindspotting, take advantage of the time left to watch this movie for free on video-on-demand services like iTunes, Amazon Prime, or VUDU. Or if you have an HBO Max subscription, it’s currently streaming there as well. This film is well worth your time, and you just might gain more insight and empathy to demographics of people different than you.

Does ‘The Help’ Help Fight Racism?

The Help (2011) directed by Tate Taylor | Walt Disney Studios.

To commemorate our trip to the Final Four tournament, my college rugby team made a fairly impromptu music video featuring Michael Jackson’s “Black or White.” It comprised of us dancing and lip-syncing like goofballs, all the while actually believing that the color of our skin didn’t matter. We were sisters, teammates, and eventually national champions. Today, the video reflects fond memories I have with teammates of all colors and backgrounds. When I think of “race relations,” those sweet expressions of unity and friendship are the summary of my limited personal experience; but I know that for my Black brothers and sisters, this is not the case. The fictional character Aibileen recalls the wrongful death of her son, saying, “The anniversary of his death comes every year and I can’t breathe, but to y’all it’s just another day of Bridge.” It’s this disparity in perspective that is stirring me to educate myself and increase my own awareness of racial injustice in the country I love.

The movie The Help (2011) has received both warm praise and heavy criticism. While some heralded it as inspirational, others claimed it was whitewashed, watered-down, and even harmful in combating real racism. Even actress Viola Davis, who was nominated for multiple awards for her portrayal of the previously mentioned Aibileen, expressed her disappointment with the film’s inability to focus on the characters that comprise its title, going as far as to say she regretted starring in it. I agree with her; the movie would have been better had it played out as the stories of a dozen black maids, interweaving with each other to actually answer the question “What is it like to be a Black maid in the 60s?” Instead, it spends considerable time on Skeeter (played by Emma Stone), a young, White post-grad who has an awakening to the atrocity and hypocrisy of her culture. Some would attribute this oversight to the author of the novel on which the film is based, claiming that she was not the right person to tell the stories of black maids because she is White. I disagree with the logic but consent that the story was not sufficiently focused on those it claims to represent. In spite of that and its other flaws, I still think The Help is worth watching.

(From left to right) Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis and Emma Stone in a scene of The Help | Walt Disney Studios.

The reason I make that statement is this: the story is not about fighting racism or injustice. There are other and better depictions of what it takes to combat an uneven and dangerous playing field. What I love about The Help is how it iterates the nature of relationships that exist in defiance of social injustice and inequality before the law. The character Aibileen works in the homes of 17 children and helps to raise them, often speaking of how much she grows to love them. These bonds run deep, but they are eradicated and defiled by a system that dehumanizes a member of that family unit based on pigmentation. I feel like The Help is actually a story about developing trust sufficient to cross imaginary lines with too-horrible-to-imagine risks. The process of collecting the interviews of the help shows the importance of listening, even if you don’t like what you hear. It’s not a White woman playing savior to a Black woman; it’s Black women and White women learning to trust each other with the truth. The precious, familial bond portrayed in The Help reminds me of what is at stake if we allow injustice to continue. It proves that there is power in telling our stories, or at least sharing the stories that inspired or changed us. And it’s the only reason I’m sharing my limited perspective at all.

RELATED:

The Significance of ’12 Years a Slave’ in Today’s Cultural Climate

I’m grateful for those critical of The Help because they offer insights that I could not see on my own, and that has shaped the way I watch the film today. But I think to discount the film completely is a mistake. There is value in stories about friendships and personal trust developed between individuals with diverse backgrounds; yes, it’s remedial and at times cheesy (it’s distributed by Disney, after all). Like Remember the Titans (2000), it sacrifices the gritty reality of the past for palatable victories in manageable conflicts. As far as education, it’s about as informative as my rugby team’s music video. But as long as it serves as an appetizer and not your one and only course, The Help can leave you with warm fuzzies and hope that things can get better; that despite differences we can actually come to understand each other and, together, work for real change. This is just one of the films that the team at Backseat Directors will be discussing; don’t let it be the only one you watch.

Martin and Malcolm

When filling out my Apocalypse Bingo sheet, I could have never guessed that a second Civil Rights Movement would be on the horizon. I found myself woefully undereducated about the nuances that are required for this subject. Luckily, one of the benefits of self-quarantine is that I have more time and the resources to learn more. And so, I set out to watch two movies that focus on two of the most recognized figures of the First Civil Rights Movement in America: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Selma (2014)

David Oyelowo (MLK Jr.) and others Civil Rights activists march in a scene of Selma | Paramount Pictures.

During my elementary school years, I grew up in a small town near Memphis, Tennessee. Those days were filled with stories about Martin Luther King Jr.— taking field trips to the hotel where he was assassinated, and learning how much progress and change he brought to our nation. The impression I got was that he was a national hero that helped end racism in our country.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that, at the time when MLK was living, our government had the exact opposite opinion of him. I was shocked. I thought only white supremacists and racists had a poor opinion of him. So, when Ava DuVernay announced that her film ​Selma​ would be available to stream for free, I leapt at the chance to watch it. It ended up being one of the most relatable films to our current times that I’ve seen. David Oyelowo was the actor casted to play MLK, and I’m not sure there is anyone else that bears such a striking resemblance to him.

The movie tells of the struggle between the people who demanded change and equality for the Black community, and both the local and federal government who were more complicit with the status quo.

What I really appreciate about this film is that it highlights King’s dedication to non-violence, and his cunning in using his enemies’ prejudice against them to the movement’s advantage. He puts their bigotry and violence on full display for the country to see, and when the Alabama state troops conceded because of the backlash against their violence, the marchers turned back. This allows the President to reflect on the violence and outrage, which convinced him to pass a bill that will allow Black citizens to vote without restrictions.

While knowing a little bit about Martin Luther King Jr.’s involvement in the First Civil Rights Movement, this film helped me see him as a more layered, complex, and cunning person that helped the cry of the oppressed be heard more loud and clear.

Malcolm X (1992)

Denzel Washington standing behind microphones on the city street in a scene from the film Malcom X (1992) | Photo by Largo International NV | Warner Bros. Pictures.

I grew up not knowing who Malcolm X was, but once I heard of his existence, I was immediately bombarded with the accusations that he was a terrorist. I took that accusation as fact, so I spent years thinking that Malcolm was the radical violent version of MLK. While researching about the First Civil Rights Movement, I discovered that I was wrong. So, I was determined to watch the Spike Lee Joint and see the history I missed out on. The movie was three-and-a-half hours long, but it flew by with how interesting and enjoyable it was to watch.

While MLK was a Christian pastor who believed in unity and non-violence, Malcolm was an Islamic minister who, for most of his life, believed in segregation and equality “by any means necessary.” He taught that the white man had stripped the Black people of all their culture, their right to commerce, and even their identities. So there was nothing to be done than to live apart from another. He condemned leaders like MLK for pandering to the white community.

After becoming disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, Malcom took a pilgramage to Mecca where he realized that members of different races could live together in peace. He believed this could be obtained through Islam. After returning to the United States, he began to change his views on Black nationalism, and was later assassinated while speaking at the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

This film’s ending was especially powerful, with actual footage of Malcolm’s speeches interspersed with the film and a surprise cameo from Nelson Mandela. I am so glad I watched this film. It gave me a newfound respect for all of the different factions of the First Civil Rights Movement, and allowed me to view the depth of pain and alienation that bigotry and racism caused. Malcolm X was a powerful figure in the First Civil Rights Movement that should be highlighted just as much as MLK.

What Have I Learned?

We are all (hopefully) taught that overt racism is wrong. We’re taught not to judge people based on the color of their skin, not to call others names, that violence against others because of their race is wrong. This is overt/individual racism. Nearly everyone recognizes that this is wrong.

We are rarely taught about the real history of racism in America. It took the recent events of police brutality for me to really reflect on how much race, education, and socioeconomic circumstances are a factor in each of our lives. Whether we like it or not, slavery and racism is part of the history of our country and have cultivated many of the social situations that communities and families find themselves in today. Watching ​Malcom X a​nd ​Selma​ have helped me realize that while overt racism is generally frowned upon today, we still have a long way to go when it comes to addressing outdated policies and ideologies that seem to perpetuate racial tensions in our country. It’s easy to say in hindsight that we would have walked hand in hand with MLK Jr. or Malcolm X in the last Civil Rights Movement, but that might be disingenuous if we’re standing on the sidelines now. We must confront these issues head on and leave a better country and world for the next generation.

The Significance of ’12 Years a Slave’ in Today’s Cultural Climate

12 Years a Slave (2013) | Fox Searchlight Pictures.

As I peruse the awesome film lists that people have been compiling to educate allies on racial inequity, there are a couple films that seem to be missing (The Help and Green Book are decent and all, Hidden Figures as well) but where is Higher Learning or American History X? Where is Queen & Slim? Where is 12 Years a Slave?

… I have an opinion on that.

As a Black man, I’ve looked at many of the recent films on Civil Rights and thought to myself, “That’s not for me. That’s for the white audience.” These are films that focus more on portraying Black people as people of virtue and worthy to be treated fairly. News flash, folks: we deserve equal rights based on our humanity. Nothing more. Nothing less. These films offer no accountability, which is what is sorely needed now. The latter films are rarely mentioned because they hold a mirror to people’s faces and show them things they don’t want to see or acknowledge. I believe 12 Years a Slave is the perfect film to watch if you’re serious about understanding.

To clarify, I’m not saying you aren’t serious about being an ally if you don’t  watch it; I’m saying it’s the perfect film to watch. It’s an essential film based on the craft used to create it alone—impeccably shot. Solidly written. Powerfully acted. Emotionally scored. It has all the makings of a film that garnered multiple prestigious awards. It’s also without a doubt the most unflinching portrayal of slavery ever committed to film. This is what we need right now. Our streets are filled with gas. Our buildings are burning. Alliances are shifting. Friends are becoming enemies. Enemies are becoming allies. It’s a tumultuous time.

Almost all of this turmoil can be traced back to the slave trade, and what better way to educate yourself on a root cause than to watch the best film made on the very subject?

To those who haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave, or are descended from slavery, I’d like to reiterate that this isn’t your typical slavery film. This isn’t about glorifying a historical figure. It’s about narrowing the lens on the crime against humanity that is slavery. This is about one man’s fight for his freedom on a physical and existential level. You can take that harrowing journey and then realize that millions fought that same battle in their own way. Slaves were not a monolith then, just as marginalized people are not a monolith now. The oppressors would have you believe this because it’s how they reconciled their atrocities—by convincing themselves we are not individuals and we are lesser beings. There’s even hope among the chaos, because Solomon Northrup persevered through his ordeal. We, as descendants, can take his example as a microcosm for our own struggles. He survived with his character and dignity intact. He remained sure and proud. He never quit hoping or fighting. We have that same spirit within us. We’ve had no choice, because the alternative is more knees on our necks and guns in our faces.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and other cast members appear in a scene of 12 Years a Slave | Fox Searchlight Pictures.

I’d like to leave you with this in closing: changes in perspective and hard conversations need to happen in order for us to progress. Both of these won’t come by avoiding the elephant in the room—pretend it’s not there and you get trampled. Our streets are evidence of this in recent weeks. I truly, truly believe that 12 Years a Slave will stir something within you. It could be anger. It could manifest as sadness or disappointment. It might even (hopefully, prayers up) awaken you to the pain of a people. Whatever those emotions may be, I say let yourself feel them. You won’t be in a theater. You’ll be in the comfort of your own home or another familiar place. If it gets too tough (and it will) take a break. Don’t fast forward or skip. Gather yourself. Discuss it with your viewing partner. Analyze it. Work through it. Use the film as a tool toward better understanding and empathy.

My hope is that you leave your viewing experience a little beat up and worse for wear, but also energized and ready to take action—even if that’s simply getting another person to watch. The scars of slavery are evident in the Black community down to our inner psyche and the marrow of our bones. There are reminders everywhere—the monuments to leaders who believed they had the right to own us; the confederate banner they fought under; police brutality; malicious legislation; predatory loans and debt; defunded education; mass incarceration; the people afraid to sit next to you at the movies; even the disparity between elite athletes and ownership—all of it is born from the desire to maintain a 401-year-old status quo.

Let’s not make it 402 years.

The Importance of Superheroes

Artwork from the DC Extended Universe | DC Comics & Warner Bros. Pictures

During this ongoing pandemic, yours truly was participating in the social media trend of a “30 Day Film Challenge” where participants refer to one film each day under a specific category, such as “the first film that you remember watching.” When I arrived on Day 10, the category was “Your Favorite Superhero Film“—and I hit a wall. Each day was pretty easy, or I did not take it as seriously. The Superhero film genre has hit an all-time high, with one (Avengers: Endgame) even setting the box office record for any movie ever made. We, as a film community, have started to think Superhero films matter more now than ever. I oddly thought this question was more serious than it probably needed to be.

This decision was difficult—there have been numerous films that could fall under this category, and I also started to think about what makes viewers enjoy themselves so much during these films. No matter your gender, sex, race, or ethnicity, there is a superhero film that you attach yourself to. Before early Thursday night screenings became a thing, many viewers would attend the midnight screenings dressed up for the newest movie in a connected superhero universe or as billionaire vigilantes. After leaving the theater, we spent months on end debating who or which is the best! “Who is the best Batman?” or the “MCU vs DCEU” debate. These conversations transcend the fandoms and even reach those who are not connected to social media and pop culture. Everyone has their favorite representation of a character or their favorite superhero—but why?

Superheroes are meant to inspire. They represent someone we are not, or someone that can do things that we can’t. They can provide an escape into a world where someone is there for us even when our protectors or our medical and social institutions have let us down. Anger and sadness are commonplace emotions felt throughout our society because of the regular injustices we see or even experience ourselves: unjust murders because of racial tensions and prejudices; governments’ inability or flat out refusal to act; betrayal by those we loved or considered friends; our world is full of struggles that seem to find you no matter your background or social status.

Christopher Reeve and Helen Slater pose as Superman and Supergirl respectively. | Warner Bros. Pictures

People want to believe in the existence of fictional figures like Superman or Supergirl—someone they could depend on to save them when the humans who are supposed to either can’t or won’t. We want a person like Steve Rogers (Captain America) to do what the rest of us aren’t courageous enough to do and take a stand when it’s not convenient to do so. We want someone that brave enough to say, “I can do this all day.” Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are told that real life superheroes exist in our healthcare facilities, in our schools, and at other times, in the military and police. We are constantly shown and told how “not all superheroes wear capes.” But what happens when that’s not enough? Numerous times in history people who are in a position to help choose not to act. People who are recognized as “ordinary” heroes might let down those looking up to them and expecting them to be there or to be there for them. Superheroes serve a purpose in filling this void.

Clinical psychologist, Robin Rosenberg wrote, “[superhero stories help us in] finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for a good purpose.” She stated that “superheroes undergo three types of life-altering experiences that we can relate to:”

  1. Trauma
  2. Destiny
  3. Choice
From Batman: Year One | Art by David Mazzucchelli

Trauma; such as the one that young Bruce Wayne goes through. He makes a promise to his murdered parents to fight against the crime in Gotham City. Rosenburg states that this is directly applicable to a lot of real life scenarios. Her past research has shown that many people experience growth “after a trauma and resolve to help others, even becoming social activists.”

Destiny; similar to that of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She’s a normal teenager who discovers she’s the “Chosen One” to fight demons. She has to be the one who does not have a normal life and will take on this burden. Sometimes we are thrown into scenarios that we may not have predicted but we have to adapt and push through anyway.

A snippet from Amazing Fantasy #15, Vol. 1 | Marvel Comics 1962

Rosenberg’s last type of experience is similar to what Spider-Man goes through. When he initially gets his powers, he uses it for selfish reasons until his beloved Uncle Ben is killed. This type of experience is similar to the first, but instead of the trauma defining the hero, it’s the choice that matters. No matter whether ‘your’ Spider-Man is Peter Parker, Miles Morales, or Peter Porker, this choice exists. They could stay wrestling for money to pay rent; they could stay home and be a normal kid instead of saving the multiverse. The choice to do what is right versus what is easy is a choice that we, as humans, make every day. Rosenberg states that, “[superheroes] inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose” (link). We want to attach ourselves to these characters; we want to see them in ourselves; we want to see those with fantastical abilities are still imperfect and relatable, and we are comforted by seeing them struggle with ordinary problems and still do the right thing in the end.

Recent research from Kyoto University in Japan shows that this “choice” can happen even before we learn how to speak. Their study had preverbal infants shown short animations in which one character purposely bumps into another. They then showed the infants a third character who could either prevent it from happening or not do anything at all. The infants consistently wanted the third character to help and prevent the pain. This study showed that even though they could not speak they recognized what heroism was and wanted it to happen.

“Six-month-old infants are still in an early developmental stage, and most will not yet be able to talk. Nevertheless they can already understand the power dynamics between these different characters, suggesting that recognizing heroism is perhaps an innate ability.”

David Bulter – “Preverbal infants affirm third-party interventions that protect victims from aggressors” (link to article)

This idea is then touched on again in the television show What Would You Do? People are shown how ordinary people behave when they are confronted with dilemmas that require them either to take action or to stand by and mind their own business. Each scenario has the viewer hoping for the regular people to step in and stop whatever the situation is. We all want to be that person who does what’s right even when it’s not easy. Data suggests that feelings are one of the stronger reasons why audience members connect to certain heroes (link). Personally, I attach myself to stories of people and characters who have gone through trauma and stand up to those who are wrong. As Batman, Daredevil and the X-Men deal with their respective issues, I cope with what I have gone through and deal with my own conflicts.

In the past, and still now today, society often sees comics and comic book movies as only enjoyed by children or “nerds.” With Black Panther becoming the highest-grossing solo superhero film of all time, Avengers: Endgame becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, and a multitude of films winning Academy Awards for both their performances and their technical aspects, this is clearly not true. More people enjoy these characters outside of children and “nerds” than ever before. There are films that are clearly made more for children than older crowds, but there are just as many that are for adults and have many more important themes. Superheroes have become the modern-day mythology that tackles issues, from the struggles of high school to mental illnesses. No matter which superhero you attach yourself to, or when you attach yourself to them, there is no denying the effect that they have on our lives.

Which superhero do you identify with the most? Or which superhero has inspired you the most? Let me know down in the comments section below!

First Trip Back Inside a Movie Theater Since the Coronavirus Outbreak

SCERA Center for the Arts | Orem, UT.

This week in Utah, where I live, the Coronavirus task force lowered the risk from ‘orange’ to ‘yellow’ phase. As part of this phase movie theaters could start to reopen if they followed the hygiene, cleanliness, and other social distancing rules and kept crowds to under 50 people. Larger chains are still staying closed, but independent theaters have slowly begun to reopen with carry-over films from the spring or library releases of classic favorites. One such theater is the SCERA Theatre in Orem, Utah, and I was fortunate enough to go and visit it, catch a movie, and talk to the theater owners about their experience. Not everyone will be ready to embrace theater-going just yet but I can confidently say I felt very safe and was impressed with what I saw.

The decision to reopen was not an easy one for the team at SCERA. Adam J. Roberson, President & CEO; and April Berlin, Operations Manager/Marketing & Development said, “We made the decision cautiously and optimistically, and after many hours on the phone with state and county officials, and discussion with staff on their comfort levels.” Upon opening they decided to start with a showcase of the Harry Potter film series since most new films have been postponed or delayed. I was able to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which is one of my favorites in the series.

When I arrived at the theater I immediately noticed they had a separate entrance for high-risk individuals marked, ‘High risk persons enter here,’ along with signs reminding audiences to practice social distancing and wear masks. When I stepped inside I was immediately greeted by a hand sanitizer station and reminders on the ground for social distancing at the ticket booth.

Once inside the concession stand was staffed by young people wearing masks who I later found out were SCERA volunteers, which warmed my heart. They all said they were happy to be there and to be out of the house working. If you want a refill on the popcorn they will issue you a new container rather than refill an exposed bowl.

April and Adam described to me the procedures they have put in place to make things safe for the moviegoers: 

The Clarke Grand Theatre inside SCERA Center for the Arts | Courtesy SCERA Center for the Arts. Source: link

“Reduced capacity, sanitizing between shows, hand sanitizer stations in lobby, staff wearing masks and gloves, and social distancing markers and signage. We’ve blocked off every other row in the Clarke Grand Theatre. The unique thing about our theatre is we have 733 seats, so the huge auditorium makes it very easy to spread out and enjoy.”

Indeed the beautiful Clarke Grand Theatre is a wonderful place to watch a movie in. The historic touches throughout and the large screen and sound system make you feel like you are truly witnessing something special, not simply seeing a movie. I loved seeing such an epic movie like the final Harry Potter film in such a wonderful old theater. I had my mask on and aside from brief moments to get popcorn in my mouth I kept it on. I felt very safe and it was a terrific experience.

When I asked April and Adam why go to the theater instead of watching at home they said, “Our screen is 40’ tall, and that epic experience in digital projection and sound is something that can’t be replicated (even with big-screen televisions and in-home theaters), and buttery theatre popcorn, that’s just a bonus!”

While at the theater, the manager, Dahl Jenkins, spoke to us about how to exit while maintaining social distance; but then he added that he hoped for the day we could all see each other’s smiling faces, and that it is important to be together as humans. It was very sweet and touching. It is these human interactions, all witnessing the same art together that make going to the movies so special. I wouldn’t trade it for the best home movie system in the world.

Going out to your local theater is a very personal decision in this tender time and I would never push anyone to do something they are not comfortable with. So much depends on where you live, what precautions are in place, and your individual risk factor assessment; however, I am certainly glad that I went. The ironic part is I think it was probably one of the safest trips to the movies I’ve ever taken with all the space, safety, and precautions!

RELATED

Movie Review: ‘Valley Girl’ at the drive-in

If you feel comfortable going, then I hope you do go and support your local theaters, especially in this new and difficult phase. It’s hard being the first to open up again, and these theaters (as well as drive-in theaters, which have had a resurgence) need all the support we can give them.

I would love to hear about your experiences if you go to the theater. Please share in the comments section about your experience and how the theater helped you feel safe. Thank you!

Scroll to top