Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

July 1 2016 10:03 AM

Jessica Williams Was Brilliant on Race and Gender on The Daily Show—But Her Legacy Is About More Than That

On Wednesday, the news broke that Jessica Williams is leaving The Daily Show after more than four years as Senior Youth Correspondent. For a Daily Show stalwart as beloved as Williams, there was the expected outpouring of appreciation for her tenure. Many critics have noted that the legacy she leaves behind is full of funny, astute moments when she satirized America’s twisted approaches to race, gender, and sexuality. Sketches like “Jessica’s Feminized Atmosphere” (a scathing critique of street harassment) and “Unjustified: Michael Dunn & Jordan Davis” (an indictment of Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws) made for great bits due in large part to Williams’ identity as a black woman, a point of view that was sorely missing from The Daily Show before she joined in 2012.

But as Williams told Mother Jones in 2013, “I’m not walking around feeling black all the time. That would stress me out … Ultimately, when I deliver something, a lot of times it will be from a black woman’s perspective, but other times it will be just from a satirical, goofy perspective.” That latter perspective is often overshadowed by her being the first—and so far, only—black female correspondent on the show, but it shouldn’t be. Williams’ contributions to The Daily Show went beyond her razor-edged racial and gender critiques; she was also one of the funniest correspondents on the show, full stop.

As an interviewer, she is a pro at walking the delicate tightrope between deadpan and incredulousness while interviewing the clueless, the adamant, and the super-serious. Wheninterrogating a Toronto citizen about then-mayor Rob Ford’s drug-fueled antics, her straight-faced responses to his unfailing support of the disgraced politician is calibrated brilliantly. (Her quip “was it weird to say ‘responsible’ and “Rob Ford” in the same sentence just now?” is delivered with spot-on comic timing.)

July 1 2016 8:32 AM

Does Orange Is the New Black  Fall Into the “Bury Your Gays” Trope?

Spoilers ahead for episodes 12 and 13 of Orange Is the New Black season four.

The final episodes of Orange Is the New Black’s fourth season rest at the center of two larger cultural conversations. The first conversation, the one OITNB explicitly raises and painstakingly peels apart over the course of these 13 episodes, is one about race and white privilege, about dehumanization, about imprisonment, and about regret. The other conversation, one that it perhaps did not intend, is a conversation about television’s increasing willingness to kill characters, and in particular, its disturbing tendency to kill off its marginalizedespecially, its queer—characters.

July 1 2016 8:03 AM

Independence Day: Resurgence Is More Than a Dumb Box Office Bomb—It’s Terrifyingly Casual About Real Global Threats

Independence Day: Resurgence should be nothing more than another comically awful summer movie and box-office bomb. The pile-on of tropes, inconsistencies, plot holes, and tasteless comedic relief come at the viewer so rapid fire that one barely has time to ask “Wait a minute, so all this time the aliens have been after the earth’s molten core?”

Yet if you actually end watching this not-anticipated-at-all sequel to a summer blockbuster from 1996, you might, like me, sit through it with an insidious sense of unease. Resurgence is not only a dumb, joyless movie, but in its sheer obliviousness regarding the geopolitics of an alternate universe in which Earth is under constant threat of an alien attack, it emphasizes the political decay to which we bear witness in our stranger-than-fiction reality. You leave the movie sick to your stomach not about alien invasions but our fragile global institutions.

Back in ’96—when declaring endless war on an abstract noun would have seemed silly, Republican presidential nominees were competent World War II veterans with a great deal of governing experience, and it was really hard to buy an AR-15—blowing up the White House, the Empire State Building, and most of Los Angeles just seemed like a rad summer spectacle. The CGI era gave Hollywood directors a limitless canvas on which to explore urban and global catastrophe, yet in a post-9/11, post-Katrina, post-Fukushima, post-Sandy world, it grows more and more difficult each summer movie season to wonder which of these brainless auteurs will finally prove prescient.

July 1 2016 7:32 AM

The Best Movies and TV Shows Coming to Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, and Hulu in July

Every month, tons of new movies and TV shows become available to stream for free for subscribers to Netflix Instant, Hulu, HBO NOW, and Amazon Prime. With so many different streaming services, it can be hard to keep track of them all—especially if you belong to more than one service. Below, we present to you the ultimate streaming guide. We’ll let you decide which service has the best new titles. (All titles arrive July 1 unless otherwise specified.)

June 30 2016 5:07 PM

Serial’s Adnan Syed Will Get a New Trial With New Evidence

A judge for the Baltimore City Circuit Court ruled on Thursday that Adnan Syed, the man imprisoned more than 15 years ago for the murder of high-schooler Hae Min Lee, will be granted a new trial.

Syed became a household name thanks to Serial, a world-entrancing podcast put together by the team behind This American Life; the show heaped serious doubt on the competence of Syed’s then-defense attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, and unearthed new evidence to suggest that he may have been in the Woodlawn High library at the time of Lee’s slaying.

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In February 2016, a five-day hearing for post conviction relief saw key alibi witness Asia McClain step forward to vouch for Syed. Members of the defendant’s new legal team also criticized Gutierrez for failing to cross-examine the state’s cell tower expert effectively (the prosecution’s case rested in large part on Syed’s cell phone records and what they appeared to reveal about his location). These two factors seem to have swayed judge Martin P. Welch, who today vacated the 35-year-old prisoner’s convictions and approved his request for a re-trial.

June 30 2016 3:19 PM

Christina Applegate Rules the PTA With an Iron Fist in New Trailer for Bad Moms

We got our first look at Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s Bad Moms back in May, with a trailer that offered a glimpse at the Hangover-style debauchery we could expect from Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn. Now, a new trailer shows us more of their “bad mom” self-indulgences—from going to the movies in the middle of the afternoon (unthinkable!) to an alt-PTA meeting that turns into a rager.

The trailer also shows us more of the reign of terror of actual PTA leader Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), who mocks the “bad moms” and is livid at Kunis’ refusal to conform. “Nobody takes a class or plays a clarinet unless I say so,” she warns, flanked by her cronies, played by Annie Mumolo and Jada Pinkett Smith. The stakes of a bake sale have never been higher.

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Bad Moms will be released in theaters July 29.

June 30 2016 1:59 PM

Why Him? Is Meet the Parents Plus Bryan Cranston and James Franco as a Silicon Valley Billionaire

James Franco is every parent’s nightmare in the new trailer for Why Him?, which sees him square off with Bryan Cranston in a very awkward Meet the Parents situation. Ned (Cranston) is horrified when he meets his daughter’s boyfriend Laird (Franco), a Silicon Valley billionaire with a lavish lifestyle and a total lack of social skills. Even worse, he learns that Laird plans to propose, and wants his blessing. Zoey Deutch plays the unfortunate young woman caught in the middle of it all.

The trope of overprotective fathers who hate their daughters’ boyfriends has been played out for a long time, but Franco’s Laird is so wonderfully weird—he tattoos the family’s Christmas card on his back, “Happy Holidays” and all—that he makes it feel almost new again. Also noteworthy in the trailer: Keegan-Michael Key as Laird’s estate manager and Megan Mullally (a delight, as always) as Ned’s wife.

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Why Him? comes to theaters December 25.

June 30 2016 12:31 PM

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Roasts Lin-Manuel Miranda in Song for #Ham4Ham

This week’s #Ham4Ham featured Lin-Manuel Miranda teaching cast members how to say goodbye: The live show began with a singalong of “Happy Trails” to send off two departing Hamilton family members: Jon Rua, one of Miranda’s understudies, and assistant company manager and “Ham4Ham mistress” Kaitlin Fine, who will be joining the show’s Chicago production. (Miranda led the singalong, but it’s musical director Alex Lacamoire gleefully playing the melodica we can’t take our eyes off of.)

Next, Robert Smigel brought out his canine puppet, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, to roast Miranda, who will soon be leaving Hamilton himself in what the comedian declared a “Mirexit.” Addressing the crowd, Triumph took shots at the near-impossibility of getting a $10 ticket: “You have about as much chance of winning the lottery as [Miranda, who is Puerto Rican] has of staying in the country after Trump wins.” He then went on to serenaded the Hamilton creator about his future prospects—all to the tune of “You’ll Be Back.”

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June 30 2016 11:26 AM

The Trailer for Terrence Malick’s Voyage of Time Is Here, and It Only Took Four Decades

Few projects in the history of filmmaking have spent as long gestating as Terrence Malick’s IMAX movie The Voyage of Time, which explores our universe “billions of years in the making” and took about as long to produce. But after decades of stops and starts and at least one lawsuit, the movie is finally set to come out this fall, in our own geologic period!

Malick has always excelled more with imagery than narrative, and that’s become especially true in recent years, with 2012’s To the Wonder and this year’s gorgeous-but-puzzling The Knight of Cups polarizing critics more than ever. But while Voyage of Time represents a dramatic departure that appears to make a quantum leap even further in that direction, it looks like it will most closely resemble what might be his greatest masterpiece, 2011’s The Tree of Life.

June 30 2016 8:32 AM

The Female Cinematographers of Neon Demon, Creed, and Dope Discuss Their Experiences in a Male-Dominated Field

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Over the last year, there have been a number of encouraging conversations about diversity in Hollywood, including one about the dearth of female directors. But even as progress is made regarding the women calling the shots, a remarkable fact still stands: No woman has ever been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. The cinematographer—also known as the director of photography, and one of the most important roles in a film’s production—remains an overwhelmingly male field, with only 2 percent (!) of the top 250 highest-grossing films of 2013, for instance, featuring female DPs.

While the new movie from Nicolas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon, has divided critics (to say the least), the one thing everyone does agree on is the beauty of the visuals, which come courtesy of DP Natasha Braier. Vulture spoke to Braier and two other prominent female DPs, Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler, Creed) and Rachel Morrison (Fruitvale Station,Cake, Dope), about the challenges, opportunities, and absurdity of being a woman in cinematography.

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