Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

June 22 2017 8:03 AM

Why So Many TV Shows Are Talking About the N-Word Right Now

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

On tonight’s episode of NBC’s The Carmichael Show, the Carmichael family goes to an upscale restaurant owned by a white friend of Jerrod’s to celebrate his mother, Cynthia’s, birthday. When they arrive, Jerrod (Jerrod Carmichael, the co-creator and star of the series) thanks his friend, who responds, “Anything for you my nigga, you know that.” Jerrod doesn’t skip a beat, but his entire family views it as a racial slur.

A more heated exchange takes place between friends in the fifth episode of Netflix’s Dear White People. The star of the episode, Reggie (Marque Richardson) responds very differently when his white friend, Addison, raps along to Future’s “Trap Niggas” at a party and says the N-word in the lyrics. Calmly, Reggie asks his friend not to repeat it, but Addison becomes defensive and doesn’t respect Reggie’s point of view: that a white person should never utter the word.

June 22 2017 7:33 AM

The Author of Satircal Trump Novel Pussy on Why We Live in “Obscene Times”

“Donald Trump is a carrot-face without feelings.” I wish I could claim ownership of this blunt depiction of our 45th president, but that honor belongs to Booker Prize-winning author and essayist Howard Jacobson. He recently shared that opinion, along with many others, while we talked about Pussy, his stinging new satire about the current leader of the free world.

Pussy describes the ascent to power of the vain, short-tempered Prince Fracassus within the walled Republic of Urbs-Ludus. The second son of the country’s leader, the Grand Duke of Origen, Fracassus becomes the heir presumptive due to his father’s dismissal of his older brother, Jago. Over the course of the novel, Fracassus evolves from a “pugnacious, self- involved and boastful child, not much attentive to the world around him and used to getting his own way” to an older, testier version of the same narcissistic child. All the while, he lives inside the Palace of the Golden Gates, with the family name towering over the entrance of the ziggurat, a dozen floors higher than its nearest competitor.

Jacobson started writing Pussy the morning after the presidential election. He finished it in a matter of weeks. “I felt this ire rising within me,” he recalls. “I needed to get it out of my system.” The title came first—a reference to the Access Hollywood recording of Trump and Billy Bush trading “locker room talk” on a bus. When Jacobson first heard the tape, he thought it the sad ramblings of an inept, desperate and lonely man. But as he wrote the book, the title took on a dual meaning, defining Fracassus as a weak and insecure figure. How he came to be that way says less about him and more about the new-money class and the reckless capitalism in which people build casinos and high rises for play.

Borrowing a page from one of his heroes, Jonathan Swift, Jacobson’s twisted fairy tale turns to the make-believe to create a more universal story. “A fairy tale makes it nowhere in particular, everywhere in general,” Jacobson explained—not that you’ll have any trouble recognizing the caricatures of Putin, Hillary Clinton, and Trump’s cronies that fill his pages. It’s clearly Trump on the book’s cover and throughout the book—an animated man-baby, running in a diaper while holding a scantily-clad female doll.

June 22 2017 1:50 AM

“It Broke Me.” Trevor Noah Looks at the Philando Castile Dashcam Footage

The Daily Show took a break from comedy on Wednesday for a segment in which Trevor Noah talked frankly about the newly-released dashcam footage of the killing of Philando Castile. Noah had already addressed the verdict in a similarly joke-free bit on Monday night, but that was before he saw the horrifying footage of police officer Jeronimo Yanez unloading seven shots into Castile’s car. It broke me,” Noah says bluntly. He was particularly moved by the final moments of the film, in which the four-year-old daughter of Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, is hustled out of the car after witnessing Castile’s shooting.

But Noah’s keenest, saddest insight comes not from the new dashcam footage but from the video Reynolds broadcast immediately after the shooting. He zeroes in on the language she used, even in the chaos of a police shooting:

“You shot four bullets into him, sir.” It’s fucking mindblowing that Diamond Reynolds has just seen her boyfriend shot in front of her—she still has the presence of mind to be deferential to the policeman. In that moment, the cop has panicked, but clearly black people never forget their training. Still in that moment the black person is saying sir. “I respect you, sir. I understand what I need to do, sir.” The same thing Philando Castile did.
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As Slate’s Austin Elias-de Jesus pointed out when Noah talked about the verdict earlier in the week, the host consistently uses this somber, measured tone when discussing police violence against black people. Take a step back and think about that for a minute: the host of a topical comedy show has had to develop a consistent editorial voice for stories about black people being killed by their own government. There’s nothing funny about it.

June 22 2017 12:40 AM

Chadwick Boseman Plays a Badass Supreme Court Justice in the Trailer for Marshall

The first trailer for Marshall was released Wednesday, and it looks like the most badass cinematic portrayal of a Supreme Court justice since that Steven Segal movie where Linda Thorson gets taken hostage. As Thurgood Marshall, Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman drinks, smokes, punches, and struts his way through the trailer like he’s playing a private eye, not the man who won Brown v. Board of Education and went on to become the first black Supreme Court justice. The trick is that the film focuses on a case early in Marshall’s career, before he’d been weighted down with the gravitas of a civil rights icon.

The case in question was the defense of Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a butler and chauffer who was accused in 1940 of kidnapping and raping his employer, Bridgeport, Connecticut socialite Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson). The details were a lot tawdrier than school desegregation, and so the tone looks more like a legal thriller than the kind of sepia-toned hagiography giants like Marshall usually get. That’s all to the good, as long as no one’s trying to set up a Supreme Court Cinematic Universe. The film was directed by Reginald Hudlin, the writer and director behind House Party, and father and son screenwriting team Michael and Jacob Koskoff. Marshall will be kicking ass, taking names, and establishing binding legal precedents on Oct. 13.

June 21 2017 5:03 PM

No, Gal Gadot Was Not Ridiculously Underpaid for Wonder Woman

The internet was outraged on Tuesday (as it so often is) over reports that Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot had earned just a tiny fraction of what her male counterparts earned for their own breakout superhero roles. A story on Elle.com compared Gadot’s base salary of $300,000 for her first superhero standalone with an alleged $14 million earned by Henry Cavill in 2013 for Man of Steel. Had the comparison been accurate, it would certainly have been worthy of outrage, another egregious example of gender imbalance in Hollywood—but the story was incredibly misleading, as actual reporting quickly showed.

Here’s what we can reasonably assume to be true: Gadot did sign a three-picture deal with Warner Bros. for Batman v. Superman, Wonder Woman, and the upcoming Justice League movie, with a $300,000 base salary per film. As Kyle Buchanan over at Vulture points out, that’s pretty consistent with the salaries of other superheroes just starting out, including Chris Evans, who made a similar amount for the first Captain America movie.

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Gadot’s reported $300,000 paycheck alone probably wouldn’t have caused such a stir, except that the Elle post used it as an example of the gender pay gap in Hollywood by comparing Gadot’s salary to the $14 million Henry Cavill earned for Man of Steel. (Never mind for a moment that that $14 million figure is already incredibly dubious, since it seems to originate from a Forbes article that uses some pretty unreliable sourcing.) Even assuming that number does correctly reflect how much Cavill received for the film overall, there’s no way it refers to Cavill’s base salary alone. Vulture asserts that Cavill, like Gadot, earned a six-figure paycheck for his superhero debut, and a source “with knowledge of studio negotiations on franchise films” told Vanity Fair something similar, adding that it would be “insane” for the studio have paid Cavill that much for a single movie up front.

So where did that mythical $14 million come from? As Vanity Fair’s source explains, “Entry-level actors in franchise films are paid an initial rate. As a franchise takes off, they stand to make more money.” Actors starting out in major franchises stand to make most of their money based on the film’s box office success—which means that Gadot is also likely to be on the receiving end of some substantial bonus checks, considering the film is close to grossing $600 million worldwide at the box office.

While the pay gap in Hollywood is a very real problem, it’s not the villain in this particular story. The real test will come when Gadot negotiates her contract for the Wonder Woman sequel, which is already underway, but she already has quite a foundation to demand that she be paid what she deserves—and an internet ready to be prematurely outraged if she doesn’t.

June 21 2017 4:59 PM

A New Study Finds—Surprise!—That Hollywood Diversity Pays Off

As it turns out, movie audiences like it when movies have diverse casts and tell diverse stories. Who would've thunk it?

According to a Los Angeles Times report, a study conducted by Creative Artists Agency (CAA) found that movies with diverse casts consistently earn more money than movies whose casts aren’t as diverse.

CAA examined 413 theatrical films released from January 2014 through December 2016, detailing cast ethnicity for the top 10 billed actors per movie, a total of 2,800 people. They found that for the top 10 grossing movies in 2016, 47% of the opening weekend audience (and 45% in 2015) were people of color. Moreover, seven of the 10 highest-grossing movies from 2016 (and four from 2015’s top 10) delivered opening weekend audiences that were more than 50% non-white.
From there, the study notes that at every budget level, a film with a cast that is at least 30% non-white — CAA’s definition of a “truly diverse” film — outperforms a release that is not truly diverse in opening weekend box office. And on the audience side of things, the average opening weekend for a film that has a “truly diverse” audience, pegged at 38% to 70% non-white, is $31 million versus $12 million for films with non-diverse audiences.
The numbers suggest a more diverse cast brings a more diverse audience, which brings in more money.
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Another interesting tidbit from the study is that, casting-wise, horror films and fantasy films are the least diverse, while comedies and thrillers are the most diverse. White audiences, according the study, prefer drama and romance; black audiences, lean towards biopics and thrillers; Hispanics towards horror and animation; and Asians toward animation and fantasy.

It's nice to have some numbers to back up what many peopl have known all along: Diverse audiences like it when diversity is reflected on-screen. If this study has done anything, it's to put the importance of diversity in terms—i.e. those involving dollar signs—that Hollywood is more willing to listen to.

CAA's study is a nice piece of supportive evidence to justify why diverse casting should be an imperative for the movie industry. But economic studies shouldn't be the only argument for Hollywood to start giving us more diverse casts and more diverse stories. “Diversity pays” shouldn't be the argument for why historically marginalized communities should be represented in film. “Diversity matters” should.

If Hollywood can let Matt Damon maintain his star wattage and industry leverage after so graciously saving the Chinese people in this year’s flop The Great Wall, then surely Hollywood can afford John Cho to be in a box office bomb or two and have those films not serve as referendums for his and other Asian movie stars’ box-office worth.

It's great that diversity pays, but even if it didn't, it would still be consequential. And for the love of God, let’s please get John Cho in more summer blockbusters.

June 21 2017 1:18 PM

In the New Trailer for Game of Thrones Season 7, the Lone Wolf Dies, but the Pack Survives

The penultimate season of Game of Thrones is drawing nearer, and the battle is heating up. The second trailer for Season 7 shows the forces gathering for the ultimate showdown, and incorporates a warning that if Westeros’ various factions fail to get on the same side, the Night King and his armies might prove victorious.

“Don’t fight in the north, or in the south,” warns Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) as Sansa (Sophie Turner) walks away from what looks like Winterfell’s godswood. “Fight every battle, everywhere, always.”

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It’s followed by shots of characters—Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Arya Stark—turning or moving toward the camera, as if to face what’s coming, while Littlefinger himself lurks in the shadows. Swords are sharpened, gates are raised, dragons fly—in other words, shit is about to go down.

We close with a warning from Sansa, as a group of warriors form an outward-facing circle: “When the snows fall, and the white wind blows, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”

The trailer doesn’t offer much in the way of revelations, but hey, it’s more exciting than watching ice melt.

Game of Thrones’ new season starts July 16.

*Correction, June 21, 2017: This post originally misspelled character Daenerys Targaryen’s first and last names. 

June 21 2017 12:08 PM

A Segment on an Offensive Band Name Shows How The Daily Show Has Become a Voice for People of Color

Trevor Noah’s Daily Show is at its best when it leans on its fieldpieces from its senior correspondents, and, on Tuesday night, Ronny Chieng’s piece on a racially-charged Supreme Court case was proof of that.

In Chieng’s segment, he sits down with the Oregon-based Asian-American rock band who, in an effort to reclaim an anti-Asian slur, named themselves The Slants, and became the subjects of an eight-year long court battle that just recently wrapped up with a Supreme Court caseMatal v. Tam—that ruled in the band’s favor. As Noah points out in the preface to Chieng’s segment, the SCOTUS ruling could mean that Washington’s NFL team could retain their offensive name.

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Matal v. Tam was brought about by The Slants’ frontman, Simon Tam, after the band was denied a trademark application on their name by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. Tam explained to Chieng that the PTO claimed that the band couldn’t use “The Slants” because it could be seen as derogatory towards Asians. When the issue was brought to the courts, the patent office’s labyrinthine argument was that the band was “too Asian” to use the name, and that anyone could register “The Slants” as long as they aren’t Asian.

“[The court] said our race provides the context for [the name] being a racial slur,” Tam explained to Chieng.

“So, by protecting you guys against racial discrimination, they’ve actually discriminated against you racially,” Chieng said, trying to break down the court’s core argument. “How the hell does that make any sense?”

Chieng went on to point out that “The Slants” wasn’t even the most offensive name the band could’ve come up with, and suggested a couple of alternative names they could have used, like the Ching and Chong Sing-a-Longs, Gook Face Killas, Wok and Rollers, and Vanilla Rice.

Chieng’s fieldpiece is well-packaged, light on its feet, and pokes fun at Asian stereotypes. At one part of the segment while Chieng is delivering a standup with the band in the background, the camera focuses on every other person in the shot except for Chieng, in a spoof the “all Asians look alike” stereotype. “Can you not tell us apart? The fuck?” Chieng asks.

The piece is another well-produced and funny Daily Show investigation for the consistently funny Chieng who, in the past, has covered things like Jesse Watters’ racist O’Reilly Factor Chinatown segment, America’s voting machines, and selfie culture.

Say what you want about Trevor Noah’s Daily Show, but it has managed to take an institution that was once considered to be the least diverse in late night to being one that, on a good number of nights, offers a much-needed perspective on stories affecting minority communities.

June 21 2017 9:33 AM

A Damon Lindelof Watchmen Series Is in the Works at HBO

Just weeks after finishing The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof is reportedly at work on another project for HBO: a new adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen comics.

According to Deadline, the project is “very premature in the early deal-making phase,” but considering that even Watchmen fans are fairly cool on Zack Snyder’s 2009 feature-film adaptation, another take on the subject matter, especially by someone less invested in the myths the series was created to overturn, is most welcome. Although Snyder himself was involved in an earlier attempt to turn Watchmen into an HBO series, Variety reports that this version is officially Snyder-free.

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More than 30 years after Watchmen’s initial run, its influence on contemporary comic-book culture is still hard to overstate. Not only did the series, along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, set the template for the gritty sensibility that still governs most comic-book movie franchises, but it was part of a wave of comics, also including Art Spiegelman’s Maus and the Hernandez brothers’ Love & Rockets, that made comic books permanently safe for self-respecting adults to read without risking the opprobrium of their high-minded peers. Now that the same thing has happened for series television, a meeting of the mediums seems only fair.

June 21 2017 7:33 AM

In Its Season 3 Finale, Better Call Saul Reached the Point of No Return

My go-to term for describing the languorous pace of Better Call Saul has been “slow burn,” but after the third-season finale, which aired Monday night, any reference to fire now seems in poor taste. “Lantern” ended with Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) sending a gas lantern crashing to the floor of his partially demolished house, followed by a long shot of the flames beginning to spread, and though Saul co-creator Vince Gilligan has a bad history of unintentionally ambiguous season-ending deaths, the interviews that Gilligan’s co-creator, Peter Gould, has done in the episode’s aftermath make it clear that Chuck perishes in the fire.

In retrospect, I should have known Chuck’s story was nearing its end when McKean told me in a recent interview that he doesn’t like to know what’s coming next for his character but in this case he already knew “everything” about what happened to him. But then, warning signs are always easy to see in retrospect. Only a few episodes earlier, Chuck’s prospects seemed to be on the rise; his brother, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk), might have handed him a defeat in court, but Chuck’s humiliation on the witness stand had the happy byproduct of freeing him from the psychosomatic “condition” that rendered him excruciatingly sensitive to electricity. The lights were back on in his house, and he could make it through a meeting without first requiring everyone in the room to get rid of their cell phones. But Except Jimmy’s further machinations also cost Chuck his law career, a blow struck not in the name of self-preservation but out of spite; with Chuck’s mental illness on the record, the insurance costs for his law firm spiked, and he was forced out by his partner and former protégé. The law was all Chuck had, and then he didn’t have it anymore.

“Lantern” began with a touching flashback to Chuck and Jimmy’s childhood, with the older brother reading his younger brother a story during a backyard campout. The confines of a tent kept them close, and the (retrospectively ominous) lantern glow provided both light and warmth. But much of the episode broke down into a series of two-person conversations in which characters were pushed to the edges of the frame, facing each other but rarely in the same shot, or on the same page. Jimmy reached out to Kim (Rhea Seehorn), who very nearly worked herself into an early grave when she blacked out on the way to a client meeting and drove her car off the road. She’d vowed to devote herself solely to a single client, but with Jimmy’s law license suspended for a year, Kim took his money woes on herself —seeing through his unconvincing assistance that he’d make it through somehow—and nearly died in the process. Neither one of them either noticed that the logo Jimmy designed for their joint office, a combination of the W in her last name and the M in his, took on the shape of a perilously plummeting sales chart. Giving up that office is one of Jimmy’s most noble gestures, and it frees Kim to put some time into healing herself, but you can see the panic beneath Jimmy’s bravado. He needs money to care for the person he loves, and in the world universe of Breaking Bad, that can be an excuse for almost anything.

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