I’m not the first to say that the upcoming Marvel movie “Black Panther” will be an important landmark. Finally a feature film starring a black superhero character will be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – a successful run of intertwined movies that began with “Iron Man” in 2008. While there have been other superhero movies with a black lead character – “Hancock” (2008), “Blade” (1998), “Spawn” (1997) or even “The Meteor Man” (1993) – this film is significant because of the recent remarkable rise of the superhero film from the nerdish fringe to part of mainstream culture.
Huge audiences will see a black lead character – not a sidekick or part of a team – in a superhero movie by a major studio, with a black director (Ryan Coogler), black writers and a majority black cast. This is a significant step toward diversifying our culture by improving the lackluster representation of minorities in our major media. It’s also a filmmaking landmark because black creators have been given access to the resources and platforms needed to bring different storytelling perspectives into our mainstream culture.
This is the first in a short series of posts about some favourite podcasts I’ve been listening to over the last year and a half or so.
This episode I’ll mention Comics Alternative, Saturday Review and Desi Geek Girls.
But first, why am I doing this? The final six months of work on the book was a very intense period of effort. That’s actually an understatement. There has been no comparable period of work in my life in terms of the necessary discipline, delicious intensity, steep learning curve, and so much more that is needed to do about 200 pages of the remaining final art needed to complete the (248 page) book. (While still doing my professoring gig and being a new dad.) I absolutely loved it – such challenges are just a delight to me.
I listened to music a lot, and discovered a lot of old parts of my music listening habits, which was fun (I’d have days where I’d listen to (and sing along to) all of Kate Bush’s albums in order, then maybe same for Sting, or Lee Morgan…. or scream along to Jeff Wayne’s awesome “War of the Worlds” Rock musical.) But then I got to a certain point in my workflow where I wanted voices, and I reached for radio, and podcast.
This year’s USC Science Film Competition saw another crop of films with a great variety of approaches, with live action and animation, comedy, drama and documentary, and all sorts of hydrids of those forms. Thanks to all who took part. As for the results, and seeing the films (do take a look!) I’ll repeat here the post I did over on the competition’s blog:
We had a lot of fun at the screening and showcase last Thursday. The films looked great on the Imax screen. Many thanks to Matt Scott for working hard to make sure it all looked great, and also to him and the Large Format Cinema Club for co-hosting the event! Once again, thanks to the Burg Foundation for supporting the competition financially with prize money, grants for helping with the filmmaking, and funds for refreshments and logistics.
Well, that was a fun event. Here’s a photograph* of Sean Carroll and me as guests of the always-excellent host Patt Morrison at the Natural History Museum as we talk about aspects of the science of space (and time) as it appears in the movies, how we go about giving advice to filmmakers, and so forth. It was part of the First Fridays series which has a special focus on […] Click to continue reading this post →
Over on NPR’s 13.7 blog, Barbara J. King reported on what she took away from the panel at Sundance entitled “The Art of Getting Science Right”. The discussants were Ting Wu, Mike Cahill, myself, and Kerry Bishé moderated everything masterfully. (We also were the Sloan Jury, along with Shane Carruth, who was indisposed.) As you know from my writing here, I’ve long been advocating a lot for more focus on portraying the scientific process and the engagement and joy of science over worrying about getting every science detail right. This came up a lot in our conversation, and we […] Click to continue reading this post →
Well, I’m back from the Sundance Film Festival, where (as you’ll recall from previous posts) I was serving on a jury for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation prize for science in feature film. It involved a lot of sitting and watching movies in theaters all over Park City, discussion and deliberation with fellow jurors (and what a wonderful group to hang out with!), and then a public panel discussion about the importance of science in film (and how to do it “right”) and then announcements, questions, photos, more photos, even more photos, press, etc.
As you may know (it is all over the corner of the press that cares about this sort of thing) we awarded the prize to the film “Embrace of the Serpent” (director/writer: Ciro Guerra*), which happens to also be Colombia’s Oscar-nominated entry in the Foreign Language film category. Here was our citation, read out during a reception on Tuesday:
“for its original and provocative portrait of a scientist and a scientific journey into the unknown, and for its unconventional depiction of how different cultures seek to understand nature.”
Well, that was a double bill I don’t think my emotional infrastructure should be put through again any time soon. Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation”, about that crucial Nat Turner -led uprising, was a remarkable piece of work, made all the more powerful by the huge and engaged audience of the Eccles Theater that I saw it in. Then I had to duck out (missing the Q+A sadly) in order to get across to the Library theatre in 20 minutes to see Spike Lee’s brilliant new documentary about Michael Jackson’s transition from Motown to the spectacular “Off the Wall” album. A proper music documentary for music lovers, really digging into all the musical details, reminding me of my formative years and beyond, and […] Click to continue reading this post →
Variety and other such entertainment news sites are abuzz with the news that Sundance has now announced its list of who’s on the various Juries for prizes at the festival this year. As you may know, the Sloan Foundation gives a prize there for science in feature film, and I’ll be on the Jury this year. It should be fun – watching all those films will be a bonus, but I’m most looking forward to talking with Kerry Bishé and Shane Carruth about science/engineering and film. Kerry plays a computer engineer character on AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire”, and in my view really helps set a new high standard for the level of depth and nuance you can bring to such a character while staying well away from every tedious engineer/scientist character trope that actors usually are expected to bring to […] Click to continue reading this post →
(Click for larger view.) Well, I’ve already mentioned why today is such an important day in the history of human thought – One Hundred years of Certitude was the title of the post I used, in talking about the 100th Anniversary (today) of Einstein completing the final equations of General Relativity – and our celebration of it back last Friday went very well indeed. Today on NPR Adam Frank did an excellent job expanding on things a bit, so have a listen here if you like.
As you might recall me saying, I was keen to note and celebrate not just what GR means for science, but for the broader culture too, and two of the highlights of the day were examples of that. The photo above is of Kip Thorne talking about the science (solid General Relativity coupled with some speculative ideas rooted in General Relativity) of the film Interstellar, which as you know […] Click to continue reading this post →
After all these years, I still have that little pain inside about what I think is one of the greatest missed opportunities (nay, crimes) in the history of film: that Guillermo del Toro did not get to direct the Hobbit due to all the delays in New Zealand over strikes (if I recall correctly), and so after two years of development he (and all his staff) packed up and moved on with their lives…. leaving Peter Jackson to take over the reins. That pain is right there next to those three jabbing pains inside that still feel a bit raw every time I get a reminder about how the films actually turned out overall. Just seeing a poster can set me off. (There are of course some nice set pieces in them here and there, but memory of them is rapidly erased by the overall wrong tone, silliness, and pandering to the need for pointless action sequences at the expense of common sense.) It’s old news now, but it still really hurts.
As promised, the Screen Junkies episode we made is out. It is about The Martian! JPL’s Christina Heinlein (a planetary science expert) also took part, and I hope you find it interesting and thought-provoking. Maybe even funny too! As usual, there’s a lot that was said that was inevitably left on the (virtual) cutting-room floor, but a lot of good stuff made the cut. All in all, I’d say that this film (which I enjoyed a lot!) had a refreshing take on science and engineering for a big studio film, on several scores. (Remaining sentences are spoiler-free.) First, rather than hiding the slow machinations involved in problem-solving, it has a lot of it up front! It’s an actual celebration of problem-solving, part of the heart and soul of science and engineering. Second, rather than have the standard nerd stereotype […] Click to continue reading this post →
Yes, I’ve been hanging out with my Screen Junkies friends again, and this time I also got to meet JPL’s Christina Heinlein, who you may recall was in the first of the Screen Junkies “Movie Science” episodes last year. While we were both in it, I’d not got to meet her that time since our chats with host Hal Rudnick were recorded at quite different times. This time, however, schedules meant […] Click to continue reading this post →
Here, as promised yesterday, is the fun conversation at Screen Junkies. I don’t need to say much, since much of what I wanted to talk about (extra dimensions, other laws of physics, parallel universes, etc) made it to the (awesomely cut, btw!) episode! Embed of video below.
Seeing black lead characters in the new #BlackPantherMovie who are accomplished scientists could help inspire future generations to follow in their footsteps. Listen as prof. Clifford Johnson (@asymptotia) of @USC_Physics & @USC students weigh in | @theblackpanther @Marvel