Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Feb. 21 2017 8:03 AM

Why Are American Directors So Bad at Sex?

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

It may sound like cinematic blasphemy to suggest this, but one of the best movies of the year, the Sundance sensation Call Me by Your Name, has a whole lot in common with one of the most critically derided, Fifty Shades Darker. Both films are romantic stories about a sexual neophyte who falls for a wealthy, wary hunk, and even the way that Call Me by Your Name’s Oliver (Armie Hammer) exits every situation with a blithe “Later” recalls the impossibly dorky sign-off of Fifty Shades’ Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), “Laters baby.”

There’s one key difference, though. One of these films presents its coming-of-age story in a way that’s actually sensual, and the other is Fifty Shades Darker. Or, to put a finer point on it, Call Me by Your Name was made by a European and Fifty Shades Darker was directed by an American. The latter never stood a chance.

Feb. 21 2017 7:33 AM

Moonlight Editor Joi McMillon on That Pivotal Diner Scene and Showcasing the Love of Cooking

Joi McMillon made history in January when she became the first black woman (and only the second black person in nearly half a decade) to be nominated in the Best Editing category at the Academy Awards for Moonlight. McMillon got her start in the industry by working in the reality TV world, eventually making her way into assistant roles on a string of features, including the 2007 film Talk to Me and, more recently, Sausage Party.

In the latest episode of the Slate podcast Represent, Aisha Harris spoke with her about how she crafts a scene, navigating and making connections in the industry, and working alongside co-editor Nat Sanders on Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-nominated film. Below, a transcribed and edited excerpt from that conversation, in which McMillon breaks down a pivotal piece of the film. You can check out the full episode in the audio player below.

Feb. 20 2017 9:36 PM

Every U.S. Presidents Day, Ranked From Worst to First

Regardless of political orientation, every American has strong opinions about the best and worst Presidents Days in our nation’s history. People who dedicate their life to the study of the past feel even more strongly than civilians—you can’t put a group of U.S. historians in the same room for more than five minutes before they start bickering over their favorites. But which Presidents Days were empirically the greatest? To answer that question, Slate polled* billions of academics, historians, pundits, and car dealers, and compiled their thoughts on the most historically significant, influential, and all around greatest Presidents Days into this ranking, which runs from the worst Presidents Day in American history all the way to the very best. (We started with 1880, back when it was called Washington’s Birthday—which, technically, it still is.) Where do your favorite Presidents Days land?

Feb. 20 2017 4:10 PM

John Oliver Eviscerates Donald Trump’s Ties to Vladimir Putin

When news broke last Monday that National Security Advisor Michael Fylnn had resigned over his communications with Russia, it was a sure thing that John Oliver would lead this fat, juicy story to the slaughter—and he did not disappoint. Sunday night Oliver positively eviscerated the administration’s complicated relationship with Vladimir Putin.

Oliver opens by taking allegations of Russian influence over Trump associates like Paul Manafort and stunning them with a captive bolt pistol of truth. Next, the waggish host skewers the trotters of a montage of Trump saying nice things about Putin with a piercing gambrel of logic, suspending it upside down and using his razor-sharp wit to sever its carotid artery and jugular vein. Before the troubled administration’s murky web of foreign business and personal relationships is even fully exsanguinated, he submerges it—along with Russian pop song “A Man Like Putin”—in a scalder, loosening the hairs of hypocrisy with the boiling water of reason.


Feb. 20 2017 12:19 PM

#OscarsSoWhite Creator April Reign on Hollywood’s Progress, and What Work Still Needs to Be Done

One of the narratives that will dominate the Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday is how white or not-so-white the winners will ultimately end up shaking out to be. Already this year has made history, particularly as seen with the number of non-white nominees spread out amongst all of the acting categories.

A huge reason—perhaps the primary reason—we’ve gone from such paltry representation at the Oscars for two years in a row, to a greater leap forward this year, is April Reign, the activist who first started the influential #OscarsSoWhite hashtag and reignited a movement towards inclusion in Hollywood. In a recent episode of the Slate podcast Represent, Aisha Harris had a conversation with Reign about her thoughts on this year’s nominees, her collaboration with other activists, and what needs to happen in order for progress to continue. Below is a transcribed and edited excerpt from the interview. You can check out the full episode in the audio player below.

Feb. 20 2017 8:33 AM

20 Documentaries That Help Explain 2017, and Where to Stream Them

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

It’s widely accepted that 2016 was a crazy year, but in one sense, it was just the beginning. Think of 2016 as the year a bunch of trailers for movies dropped; 2017 is when those movies actually come out. Judging from what we’ve seen so far, they’re not good.

Documentaries, meanwhile, have long been an exceptional tool for education, and the best of them allow viewers to see an important subject for the first time or to see a familiar subject from a fresh angle. And education—about the way the world is, how it got that way, and what we can do about it—has never been more important. From the struggle for racial justice, the fight against homophobia, and the battle to end rape culture—each piece of the puzzle is as important as the other. So to help you get up to speed, here are a number of documentaries that will help you understand the world of 2017.


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The Century of the Self (2002)

Produced as a four-part series for the BBC, Adam Curtis’s documentary aims, in his own words, to explain “how those in power have used [Sigmund] Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.” Over the course of the series, Curtis traces the way that Freud’s notions of the individual as a pleasure-seeking machine whose every decision is rooted in some primal need have been co-opted by the government and big business. One of the strongest entries in Curtis’s now decadelong cycle of films explaining the 20th century, The Century of the Self interrogates contemporary understanding of freedom, and how and why that understanding has been exploited.

Available to stream on YouTube.

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Catfish (2010)

The basis for a very weird and often unsettling MTV show of the same name, Catfish has been the subject of controversy since it opened back in 2010. But for all its faults, Catfish does get at something very meaningful about contemporary life—the reasons that people deceive others on the internet. As the television show makes clear, many people who lie about their identity on the internet do it to harass or con others, but just as many do it because it facilitates a connection with others that they cannot manage in their real lives.

Available to rent on Amazon.

Feb. 20 2017 7:33 AM

Once the Place for a Paycheck, TV Is Now Where Playwrights Make Great Art

When Jordan Harrison attended Brown University for his Masters in Fine Arts some 15 years ago, the goal was to write plays—to create “vast canvasses making big, bold gestures” that could only work on the stage. Anything short of that was, well, “a little TV”: too small, too easy, too accessible. Theater was an art form, a space for expression and exploration that could creatively, if not financially, fulfill. Television, on the other hand, was an unimaginable compromise. “If you wrote a play that could be adapted into a TV show or a movie,” Harrison explains, “then you had failed.”

Flash-forward to 2017: Harrison has just completed his third season writing on Orange Is the New Black, and his 2015 play Marjorie Prime, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was recently adapted into a film starring Jon Hamm that premiered at Sundance last month. After spending a decade in the theater, Harrison has evidently made the very shift that he once viewed as an artistic dead end: He started writing for the screen. But as he sees it, the change has been anything but limiting.

“What I suppose it feels like, in the 15 years I’ve been writing plays for a living, is that we traded places, TV and theater,” Harrison said. “For a while now, theater has been interested in these small observations, these almost hyper-naturalistic slices of life, and the world of TV shows has gotten vaster … I started writing for TV because it became a place that made sense for what I was writing.”

Harrison, while a relatively new convert to the small screen, is not alone on that point. Speaking with playwrights of different backgrounds and levels of experience in television, it became clear that we’re in the midst of a transformative, even pivotal moment for the relationship between television and theater. Once a pit stop for struggling playwrights in need of a steady paycheck, TV has since emerged as a favorite destination for ambitious dramatists, a place for experimental ideas to play out before a larger audience. Inevitably, this is changing the shape of both art forms.

Feb. 20 2017 3:48 AM

An Ex–Uber Engineer Just Published a Nightmarish Account of the Sexism She Found There

It’s been a rough winter for ride-hailing app company Uber. First they were accused of strike breaking—just for picking up passengers during a taxi strike!—then CEO Travis Kalanick had to quit President Trump’s advisory board when users objected to working with the new president for some reason. Now, on Sunday, former Uber employee Susan Fowler published a lengthy, horrific story of structural sexism at the company in a 3,000-word blog post. (That’s “employee,” not “independent contractor”—Fowler was an engineer, not a driver, so she presumably got things like benefits.)

According to her account, on her first day after being assigned to an engineering team, her manager propositioned her via company chat. Fowler reported this to HR, but was told that since he was “a high performer” the company wouldn’t punish him for a first offense. Then they put her on the horns of an unpleasant dilemma:

Feb. 19 2017 10:39 PM

Watch an Irascible James Woods Steal Patton Oswalt’s Shoe at the WGA Awards

The best awards shows to watch (and presumably to attend) are the ones with open bars, and it looks like the 2017 Writers Guild Awards, held Sunday night in dual ceremonies in Los Angeles and New York, falls into that category. Some movies and television shows won some awards—not all winners had been announced at press time, although Arrival won Best Adapted Screenplay—but the real news was a brazen shoe heist. Comedian and criminally-underrated actor Patton Oswalt hosted the Los Angeles ceremony while clutching a double old fashioned glass filled to the brim with what appeared to be scotch, which no doubt came in handy after he was the victim of the most vicious on-camera shoe theft in decades. Oswalt’s opening monologue, keyed to the early days of the Trump Administration, struck an apocalyptic tone:

Welcome to the last-ever WGA Awards, ladies and gentlemen! Every statuette comes with a month’s worth of firewood, some antibiotics, and nine shotgun shells!

But one guest wasn’t having it. James Woods, whose politics are somewhere to the right of Donald Trump, was there to present an award to Oliver Stone, and when Oswalt mentioned him—saying he would go easy on Trump “because I don’t want to be kicked to death by James Woods backstage,”—the heckling began. “Buy a pair of shoes!” Woods yelled from his table, before climbing up on stage and stealing Oswalt’s clunky right shoe. “Didn’t you see Crazy, Wonderful Love, or whatever it was called? Get some shoes!” (It was called Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Woods was thinking of the scene below.)

Feb. 19 2017 8:17 PM

Want to Know Exactly as Much About Sweden as the President? Watch the Documentary He Got His Information From!

The president of the United States has access to the best foreign intelligence money can buy (about 80 billion dollars worth). But when Donald Trump wants to get the straight dope on the impenetrable mysteries of Sweden, there’s only one man he trusts: filmmaker Ami Horowitz. Horowitz was interviewed on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Friday, in a now-notorious segment that gave our marble-mouthed illiterate of a president the vague idea that bad, terrorist-related things were going on there. Trump confirmed that Horowitz was now his top advisor about conditions behind the IKEA curtain in a tweet Sunday:

Carlson only showed a few excerpts from Horowitz’s short film Stockholm Syndrome on the segment Trump watched, saving time to interview the filmmaker about refugee aid—or, as Carlson calls it, “the masochism of the west,”—spread lies about “no-go zones,” and tut-tut at the luxurious lives of refugees in Sweden. But does the full film paint a more nuanced portrait? No. No, it doesn’t. See for yourself; Stockholm Syndrome is on YouTube, along with other Horowitz films/rhetorical questions like Do Cops Lives Matter? and Are Voter ID Laws Racist?