Yesterday Henry Jenkins and I had a great chat as a Facebook Live event. The video is here. The conversation started with the movie Black Panther, but wandered into many topics related to culture, media, science, representation, and beyond. Among other things, we talked about what we enjoyed about the movie, what graphic novels and comics we’re reading now, and what comics source material we’d love to see given a film treatment. Oh, yes, we also mentioned The Dialogues!
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.
They recorded one of the panels I was on at SXSW as a 30 minute episode of the BBC World Service programme CrowdScience! The subject was science and the movies, and it was a lot of fun, with some illuminating exchanges, I had some fantastic co-panellists: Dr. Mae Jemison (the astronaut, doctor, and chemical engineer), Professor Polina Anikeeva (she researches in materials science and engineering at MIT), and Rick Loverd (director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange), and we had an excellent host, Marnie Chesterton. It has aired now, but in case you missed it, here is a link to the site where you can listen to our discussion.
Arrived at your (Thanksgiving) destination yet? I hope all went well. Now, here’s some exciting news… This year’s Thanksgiving episode of Screen Junkies is another Movie Science special! This means, as usual, that I sat down with presenter Hal Rudnick to talk about some science ideas and portrayal of scientists in the movies. This time, the film is Arrival. We actually had a great in-depth conversation, and a lot (not all) of it made it to the episode, so have a look. (Most of the episode assumes that you have seen the film since there are a lot of serious spoilers that will take away from the movies intended unfolding as you view… There are mild spoilers in the form of general discussion about the film to start, and then Hal stops and warns you that we’re going deeper into the details.)
The embed is below, and then after that I say a few spoiler-y things to end this post:
On the sofa, during a moment while we watched Captain America: Civil War over the weekend:
Amy: Wait, what…? Why’s Cat-Woman in this movie?
Me: Er… (hesitating, not wanting to spoil what is to come…)
Amy: Isn’t she a DC character?
Me: Well… (still hesitating, but secretly impressed by her awareness of the different universes… hadn’t realized she was paying attention all these years.)
Amy: So who’s going to show up next? Super-Dude? Bat-Fella? Wonder-Lady? (Now she’s really showing off and poking fun.)
Me: We’ll see… (Now choking with laughter on dinner…)
I often feel bad subjecting my wife to this stuff, but this alone was worth it.
For those who know the answers and are wondering, I held off on launching into a discussion about the fascinating history of Marvel, representation of people of African descent in superhero comics (and now movies and TV), the […] Click to continue reading this post →
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 →
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 →