Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

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Change was coming to America and the fault lines could no longer be ignored — cities were burning, Vietnam was exploding, and disputes raged over equality and civil rights. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to drastically transform the system. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would, for a short time, put itself at the vanguard of that change. Directed, produced and written by Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders, Freedom Summer), The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution premieres on Independent Lens Tuesday, February 16, 2016, 9:00-11:00 PM ET (check local listings) on PBS.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of The Revolution is the first feature-length documentary to explore the Black Panther Party, its significance to the broader American culture, its cultural and political awakening for black people, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails. Master documentarian Nelson goes straight to the source, weaving a treasure trove of rare archival footage with the voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it. Featuring Kathleen Cleaver, Jamal Joseph, and dozens of others, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of The Revolution is an essential history and a vibrant chronicle of this pivotal movement that gave rise to a new revolutionary culture in America.


On Nov. 4, 1995, after addressing a large peace rally in a Tel Aviv square, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel was assassinated by a law student named Yigal Amir. In March of the following year, an official commission of inquiry, headed by the president of the Israeli Supreme Court, documented lapses in security on the night of the killing and intelligence failures in the months before.

According to the report, the “Commission was not appointed to investigate the circumstances and causes that led to the creation of the social and political culture of which the murder was an expression,” and its findings did not “mitigate the need for in-depth soul-searching in Israeli society.” Amos Gitai’s new film, “Rabin, the Last Day,” is part of that soul-searching. Arriving 20 years after the assassination, it tries both to delve into those incendiary “circumstances and causes” and to measure, at least implicitly, the lingering effects of Rabin’s death.


THE Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the most revered woman in the Christian tradition. In the history of art, she appears almost as frequently as Jesus himself. But for the past 80 years, one of the oldest paintings of her may have been hiding in plain sight.

At the Yale University Art Gallery hang wall paintings from one of the world’s oldest churches. Buried by the middle of the third century, this house-church from eastern Syria had images of Jesus, Peter and David. The gallery showcases a well-preserved procession of veiled women that once surrounded its baptistery, a room for Christian initiation.

Off to the side, seldom noticed among the likes of Jesus and Peter, stands a different wall fragment, faded but still discernible: a woman bent over a well. Holding the rope of her vessel, she looks out at the viewer or perhaps over her shoulder, seemingly startled in the act of drawing water.


One of the finalists in the design competition for the National World War I Memorial claims that the Great War is the “forgotten” war, but that’s certainly not for want of memorialization. Within less than a mile of Pershing Park, the Pennsylvania Avenue site selected for the new national memorial, are no less than three World War I memorials: the monuments to the 1st and 2nd Army divisions and the bandstand in West Potomac Park, which serves as the District’s local WWI memorial.

A century ago, memorialization was local, rooted in place, practiced on the town square and generally modest in scale. Like the memorials to the Civil War a half-century earlier, World War I memorials were spread out across the country. Occasionally, monuments honored groups or military units, but most often remembrance came in the form of a plinth, sometimes topped by a mass-produced “doughboy” figure, with a list of the local men who had been killed in battle.


“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”


The story takes place in the late 15th century, but the Notre Dame in the film has a few features that weren’t added until later, like the large statues of the 12 Apostles.


When "People" magazine took aim at diversity among the nominees, celebrities were unwilling to join the protest.

Instead of a glamorous photo of Oscar nominee Mira Sorvino or Kate Winslet, or a puff piece promoting the year’s frontrunners—BraveheartApollo 13Sense and Sensibility—the March 18, 1996 cover of People magazine appeared on newsstands with a damning headline: “HOLLYWOOD BLACKOUT.” The 68th Academy Awards, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and produced by Quincy Jones, were two weeks away, and the magazine used its audience of nearly 4 million subscribers to announce a shocking discovery: Of the 166 Oscar nominees that year, only one was black.

The count included sound mixers and makeup artists, cinematographers and costume designers; the only African-American nominee in any category was director Dianne Houston, up for Tuesday Morning Ride, a live-action short film. What made the 1996 Oscars noteworthy had little to do with the overwhelming whiteness of its nominees—that was hardly rare. (In the five years that followed, the numbers ranged from zero to four.) Despite the anomalous years of 2002, when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington both won acting awards, and 2014, when Steve McQueen won for Best Director and 12 Years a Slave won for Best Picture, the Oscars have always been #SoWhite. The 2016 nominations, the second consecutive year with no actors of color nominated and with controversial snubs of Straight Out of Compton and Creed, aren’t an aberration.


The buzz around Nate Parker’s slave-rebellion flick, The Birth of a Nation, has some people saying, “Enough with the slave movies.” I say keep them coming. By Demetria Lucas D’Oyley

I was prepared to dislike Kara Brown’s Jezebel article, “I’m So Damn Tired of Slave Movies,” based on the title alone. That sentiment has been popular lately, given all the attention garnered at the Sundance Film Festival for actor-turned-director-producer-screenwriter Nate Parker’s upcoming film, The Birth of a Nation. Reports from Utah say the movie—a biography of Nat Turner’s life and the slave revolt he led through Southampton County, Va., in 1831—received a standing ovation after its debut screening. Fox Searchlight quickly snatched up the film for $17.5 million, a new sales record for the festival.

But it seems for every person like me, who anticipates showing up to a Magic Johnson theater (because you know they’re showing it) on opening night, there’s another person asking, “Really? Another slave film?”

I actually don’t think there are enough films about slavery. I mean it was a roughly 245-year stretch of American history (indeed, older than the formation of the country itself). Considering the length of time, all the people involved, all their varied stories and how deeply embedded the “peculiar institution” is in America’s history (and present), there should be way more films than those that currently exist. We’re just now getting a mainstream film about Nat Turner. Do we want to throw in the towel before we get a theatrical release about Harriet Tubman or the Haitian revolution?


Americans' love affair with Jane Austen continues unabated, and there seems to be no limit to the application of her wit and wisdom. (The film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is scheduled for release next month.) So I've taken the liberty to ask:

What role in a Jane Austen novel would best suit the various presidential candidates? After all, the homey gatherings of the Iowa caucuses are a lot like Austen's idea for a good novel - "three or four families in a country village" - the perfect setting for courtship, intrigue, and politics.

It is not much of a stretch to imagine Ted Cruz playing the calculating and phony George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. What Mr. Bennet says about Wickham's false face might be said about the senator from Texas: "He simpers and smirks, and makes love to us all." Donald Trump's assessment of Cruz is a reminder of what we all think about Wickham: "He's a nasty guy. Nobody likes him."


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