Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Jan. 15 2017 12:01 AM

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Closing After 146 Years

After nearly a century and a half, the Greatest Show on Earth is closing its doors, the Associated Press reports. Kenneth Feld, the chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which has owned the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus since 1967, told the AP that declining attendance and revenues were to blame, as were high-profile battles with animal-rights activists over the circus’ treatment of animal attractions, particularly elephants.

In a letter on the circus’ website, Feld wrote that ticket sales declined dramatically after the company made the decision to retire its elephants in 2015. The ex-circus elephants were sent to an elephant conservation center in Florida after years of pressure from activists; this decision lost them the support of at least one high-profile jerk:

Jan. 14 2017 8:37 PM

After Backlash, Jennifer Holliday Tells Fans She’s Not Going (to Trump’s Inauguration)

In a completely surprising development, the fans of Broadway star Jennifer Holliday were not thrilled she had accepted an invitation to perform at Trump’s inauguration. After a backlash from her fans, Holliday has backed out and will no longer appear at the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” concert she’d been booked for. Holliday originated the role of Effie White in Dreamgirls during its initial Broadway run in 1981 and scored a No. 1 R&B hit with her recording of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”

The Wrap reports that Holliday changed her mind about performing at the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” based on an article in the Daily Beast that enumerated the dangers Trump and Pence pose to the LGBT community and harshly criticized Holliday’s decision to celebrate their administration:

For the gay community that has bolstered Holliday’s, in her own words, embattled and difficult career and cheered on her recent successes, the news feels like a betrayal. It is heartbreaking.

Holliday wrote an open letter to her fans apologizing profusely, reading, in part:

I sincerely apologize for my lapse of judgment, for being uneducated on the issues that affect every American at this crucial time in history and for causing such dismay and heartbreak to my fans.

Here’s the remaining lineup for the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration,” which is definitely not embarrassing for Trump, the incoming president who, just to be clear, is having an event called the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration”:

Jan. 13 2017 3:53 PM

Critics Can’t Decide Whether The Young Pope Is Supposed to Be Funny or Not

We’re close enough to The Young Pope’s U.S. premiere on HBO that most observers have probably figured out that this is indeed a TV series and not just a meme of biblical proportions. But as to what kind of TV series? Not even the critics can help with that. Reviews have steadily rolled in over the past week, and the lack of consensus on what Pablo Sorrentino’s wild 10-hour series is exactly—beyond whether it’s good or not—is hilariously clear. Is it a bad comedy? A good drama? Something totally, insanely different? Read a roundup of the reviews below, and decide for yourself which (if any) is right on Sunday night.

Jan. 13 2017 10:31 AM

Deadpool Is an Oscar Contender, and It’s Got a “For Your Consideration” Ad to Prove It

The unlikeliest dark-red horse in this year’s Oscar race is Deadpool, the foul-mouthed superhero movie whose nomination for awards from the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild, and the Producers Guild puts it several steps ahead of previously presumed contenders like Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Star Ryan Reynolds has promised “the world’s most ridiculous reaction video” if the film is actually nominated for an Oscar, but until then, there’s this tongue-in-cheek take on “For Your Consideration” ads, which, like the movie’s off-color satire of superhero movies, not-so-subtly doubles as the real thing.

Sending up the tradition of selling Oscar movies to academy voters by stressing their difficult level, the mock FYC video touts the “600 lbs. of chimichangas” and “four pairs of assless chaps” that went into the production; if you’ve seen Deadpool, you will recognize the tacit assumption that anything involving a reference to butts is hilarious. But then it goes on to reference the real-life difficulty of getting the movie made, the “42 rejection letters from Fox” and the “one leaked video” that jump-started the character’s fanbase and helped rescue the movie from development hell. With a budget of around $60 million and a worldwide gross of over $780 million, Deadpool is a tremendous success story by any standard, but an Oscar nomination would be the unlikeliest success of all.

Jan. 13 2017 10:25 AM

Star Wars Says There Are “No Plans” to Digitally Recreate Carrie Fisher

There may be hope yet for Leia’s future in Star Wars after actor Carrie Fisher’s death in December raised questions about the fate of the iconic character, who Fisher had recently revived for The Force Awakens. A report from BBC’s Newsnight (available only in the U.K., but i09 has a transcript of the segment’s opening here) suggests that the studio is examining at least one option to keep Leia’s legacy alive: computer-generated imagery. The program reports that Disney is “negotiating with the actor’s estate over her continued appearance in the franchise” and is considering using the same technology that resurrected Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin and a young Fisher for Rogue One.

Newslight’s reporting follows the Hollywood Reporter’s news last week that Lucasfilm executives and Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow would be meeting to discuss Fisher’s future in the franchise. Fisher had already wrapped filming on Episode VIII but was supposed to have an even more substantial role in Episode IX, on which production has not yet started.

Recasting such an iconic character seems unthinkable, and writing her out of the story might be unsatisfying, so using CGI to keep her around is at least a plausible option. But none of this is a certainty—even if Disney is in negotiations with Fisher’s estate, that could just as easily mean including her in marketing, comics, or one of the franchise’s animated TV shows, which the character has appeared in before.

The use of an actor’s likeness after their death is a tricky legal and ethical issue. But Fisher, for her part, apparently loved Rogue One’s recreation of her 19-year-old self. If they give 60-year-old Fisher the same treatment, here’s hoping that the effects department can work out some of the uncanny valley issues in time to really do her justice.

Update, 7:40 p.m.: The official Star Wars site has issued a statement denying the reports. It reads:

We don’t normally respond to fan or press speculation, but there is a rumor circulating that we would like to address. We want to assure our fans that Lucasfilm has no plans to digitally recreate Carrie Fisher’s performance as Princess or General Leia Organa.

Carrie Fisher was, is, and always will be a part of the Lucasfilm family. She was our princess, our general, and more importantly, our friend. We are still hurting from her loss. We cherish her memory and legacy as Princess Leia, and will always strive to honor everything she gave to Star Wars.

Jan. 13 2017 10:17 AM

Seth Meyers Turns Trump’s “You Are Fake News!” Insult Into the New “Bye, Felicia!”

Donald Trump’s winding, bizarre first news conference as president-elect reached its peak of discomfort when CNN’s Jim Acosta had the audacity to try and ask a question. Trump repeatedly shot the reporter down—insisting Acosta shouldn’t be allowed to participate since his organization reported on those recent Russia allegations—before pointing directly at him, and apparently coming up with a sassy new insult on the spot: “You are fake news!”

While some might view this as yet another damaging attempt from the incoming administration to delegitimize the free press, Seth Meyers tried searching for the silver lining instead. And he found one: turning the “You are fake news!” comeback into the new “Bye, Felicia!”—and wielding it against Trump. Allow Meyers to give an example, working off of headlines only from the last few days: “So we’ve got an incoming president waging war on the press and claiming he doesn’t have to divest from his business. You know what I have to say to that? Bye, fake news!

Jan. 13 2017 8:29 AM

TV Episode Starring Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson Canceled After Criticism From Jackson’s Family

Following an outpouring of criticism, the U.K. channel Sky Arts has canceled the broadcast of a program in which Joseph Fiennes played Michael Jackson. The episode of the anthology series Urban Myths, which would have aired on Jan. 19, depicts a possibly apocryphal road trip taken by Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando just after the 9/11 attacks.

“We have taken the decision not to broadcast Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, a half-hour episode from the Sky Arts Urban Myths series, in light of the concerns expressed by Michael Jackson's immediate family,” Sky said in a statement provided to the Hollywood Reporter. “We set out to take a lighthearted look at reportedly true events and never intended to cause any offense.”

Fiennes’ casting was met with an immediate outcry when it was announced last year, and the outrage was rekindled with yesterday’s release of a trailer for the series, which provided the first glimpse of Fiennes’ Jackson. Petitions urging a boycott sprung up online, and Jackson’s daughter, Paris, harshly criticized the episode on Twitter:

Watch the ill-fated trailer below.

Jan. 13 2017 8:03 AM

How Reality TV Builds Narrative Is Crucial to Understanding Trump

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

We are about to inaugurate the first reality-TV president. He may well have been put into office through Russian intervention into our democratic process. He has bragged about committing sexual assault. He has inextricable financial ties to foreign governments, and shows no interest in putting the country above his brand. He is appointing a cabinet of terrifying ideologues whose inexperience, personal bias, and total disconnect from the realities of American life make each one more frightening than the last. There is vitally important work to do to try to save vulnerable Americans from tragic catastrophe in the next four years.

I am also still watching The Bachelor.

I’m not going to make an argument that this is some kind of noble act. But reality-TV conventions and reality-TV storytelling are fundamental to what’s happening to our national politics. They’re fundamental to one crucial part of them, at least. Our international landscape may actually be The Americans, and our congressional mudslinging may be an uncharacteristically unfunny Armando Iannucci project. But our president-elect is most certainly still living in his own reality show, and he’s behaving that way, so, naturally, the national discourse follows suit.

Jan. 12 2017 4:33 PM

Watch Newscaster Cate Blanchett and Puppeteer Cate Blanchett in the Trailer for Manifesto

In Manifesto, a multichannel video installation that ran at New York’s Park Avenue Armory until Jan. 8, Cate Blanchett plays a newscaster, a homeless man, a schoolteacher, a punk rocker, and a puppeteer (complete with mini–Cate Blanchett puppet), all of them delivering monologues stitched together from manifestoes whose authors range from Karl Marx to Lars von Trier.

In Manifesto, the 90-minute film set to make its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, Cate Blanchett does the same thing, only in less time. The trailer for the film version doesn’t offer any hints as to how Rosefeldt will adapt the original piece, which climaxes with all dozen of Blanchett’s personalities speaking in carefully harmonized monotones, to the linear mode of a feature film. But it does allow those who didn’t see the installation version, either in New York or during its previous runs in Melbourne or Berlin, to catch a glimpse of Blanchett in all her variously made up glories, as a ranting madman quoting Guy Debord or a teacher calmly instructing grade school students in the tenets of Dogme 95. Cate Blanchett might think it’s a bit much, but I hear Cate Blanchett loves it.

Jan. 12 2017 3:33 PM

Sia’s Goofy New Music Video Stars a Tiny, Prancing Sia Photo-Bombing a Bunch of Glamour Shots

Ah, Glamour Shots. They were all the rage in the late ’80s and ’90s, and now they’re the star of Sia’s music video for “Move Your Body,” which opens on a photography studio in 1987 where a young girl, presumably meant to be a young Sia, is there for a gloriously undignified photo shoot with her family. But, true to the song’s lyrics, she can’t stay still long enough to take the shot, and the resulting spree through the photography studio is a joy to behold as she disrupts some classic Glamour Shots.

The video also serves as an origin story of sorts for Sia’s signature wig, a version of which obscures the face of 8-year-old Lilliana Ketchman, the video’s star, after it beckons from the studio’s collection of props. Sia’s 2016 album This Is Acting was cobbled together from songs that Sia wrote for other artists but were rejected. “Move Your Body” was originally written for Shakira, and it shows—with Sia even sounding a bit like Shakira during the chorus. But it’s Ketchman’s unbridled moves that make it so much fun to watch.