Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

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Jackie Robinson, A New Ken Burns Film, Only On PBS


Ben Affleck, Matt Damon to reunite for American Revolution movie

The two actors and friends could be set to reteam for a historical movie about the American Revolutionary War, reports Deadline. Ben Affleck is apparently tipped to direct this big-screen reenactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill, with Matt Damon on the cast.

The upcoming feature film, in development at Warner Bros., is inspired by the true story of events that occurred in Boston in 1775 during the first years of the American Revolution, a war of independence waged to overthrow the authority of Great Britain. The plot focuses mainly on Bunker Hill, the bloodiest battle of the era that saw over 200 Crown soldiers killed.

Hamilton Musical Producer Responds to Claims of Casting Discrimination

Hamilton, a Broadway musical that has people of diverse ethnic backgrounds playing white historical figures, recently posted a casting notice that some people say discriminated against white people.

The notice specifically requested nonwhite performers, and Randolph McLaughlin, of the Newman Ferrara Law Firm, said it was in direct violation of New York City's human rights law, according to CBS News.

"What if they put an ad out that said, 'Whites only need apply?' Why, African Americans, Latinos, Asians would be outraged," McLaughlin said.

But producers of the musical are adamant that it is not in violation. Jeffrey Seller, producer of Hamilton, issued a statement about the casting notice.

"Hamilton depicts the birth of our nation in a singular way. We will continue to cast the show with the same multicultural diversity that we have employed thus far.

"The producers of Hamilton regret the confusion that's arisen from the recent posting of an open call casting notice for the show. It is essential to the storytelling of Hamilton that the principal roles— which were written for nonwhite characters (excepting King George)—be performed by nonwhite actors. This adheres to the accepted practice that certain characteristics in certain roles constitute a ‘bona fide occupational qualification‘ that is legal. This also follows in the tradition of many shows that call for race, ethnicity or age specific casting, whether it's The Color Purple or Porgy & Bess or Matilda. The casting will be amended to also include language we neglected to add, that is, we welcome people of all ethnicities to audition for Hamilton."

AMC's TURN: Washington's Spies Returns April 25

Season three of AMC’s Revolutionary War spy thriller TURN: Washington’s Spies premieres on Monday, April 25th at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. This season builds towards one of the most notorious moments in American history – the treasonous defection of Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman). Behind enemy lines on Long Island, Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) is a spy for the Patriots, reporting directly to George Washington (Ian Kahn). Embedded within the Continental Army, Benedict Arnold is seduced to become an informant for the British. As the consequences of their espionage ripple through the battlefield, the spy game becomes a heart-stopping race to see which mole will be unmasked first. In 1778, there is only one fate that awaits a captured spy -- the hangman’s noose. The price for treason is blood, and not all of our heroes will survive

Art Once Hidden From Hitler, Now on View

A woman out shopping has fallen — splat! — onto her face on a stairway, hat still primly on head, stocking seams properly straight, purse and one shoe gone astray. She is armored for a foray in search of department store bounty but this photograph is not a decisive moment. It is a bit of role-playing, a self-portrait in disguise, by Elisabeth Hase, a German photographer (1905-1991) who wore shirts and sometimes ties rather than heels and hats and looked down on women trapped in such decorum.

Ms. Hase (pronounced HAH-suh) made architectural photographs, portraits, landscapes, advertisements and reportage to earn her living through the growing German illustrated press during the years leading up to World War II. Yet her art, which spoke eloquently in the modernist photographic language that the Bauhaus visual theorist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy called the New Vision (unexpected angles and compositions that responded to a world remade by technology) stayed quietly in her studio. She was cautious. She surely knew of Hitler’s disdain for modern (i.e., decadent) art. Ms. Hase’s private images were never exhibited during her lifetime.

None of her work has been shown in the United States — until now.

Anita Hill discusses what she thinks of the new HBO movie about the Clarence Thomas hearings

Twenty-five years after appearing at Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings and telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that Thomas, her former boss, had sexually harassed her, Anita Hill will be thrust back into the spotlight with the HBO movie Confirmation. The film chronicles those hearings, and the media frenzy that surrounded them, with Scandal’s Kerry Washington starring as Hill.

Hamilton Skeptic on Why the Show Isn’t As Revolutionary As It Seems

In February, performance studies scholar James McMaster, writing for HowlRound, pointed out how completely the show fails to pass the Bechdel test. In March, writer Gene Demby, a huge fan of the musical, wondered on NPR’s Code Switch why its audience is so resoundingly white. A week later, historian Nancy Isenberg, writing for Zócalo Public Square, cautioned audiences not to look to the musical for historical accuracy.

But perhaps the strongest entry yet in the small-but-growing canon of Hamiltoncriticism was published by historian Lyra Monteiro in the journal the Public Historian.Monteiro’s essay is a resounding corrective, questioning the universal understanding of the show as racially progressive, unpacking the unusual casting strategy, and wondering why no historical people of color find a place in Hamilton’s narrative. Acknowledging that the show may have the power to interest kids in the history of the Revolutionary era because of the way its major roles are cast, Monteiro asks: “Is this the history that we most want black and brown youth to connect with—one in which black lives so clearly do not matter?”...

Interview Question:  What was your relationship to the idea of it before you saw it? Were you excited, or did you have your skeptical-historian hat on?

Lyra Monteiro: I loved [Miranda’s first Broadway musical] In the Heights. I thought it was incredible. So I definitely wanted to see whatever he did next. But I was super skeptical of the concept of Hamilton, because it seemed like a really weird choice for somebody who had done something that I thought was so revolutionary in In the Heights, in terms of talking about nonwhite immigrants in New York today. To go from that to doing really mainstream Founding Fathers history just seemed weird, like a strange choice. Then when we finally went to the theater to see it, of course I was excited because by then it was already a phenomenon. But I actually turned to my husband right before it started and said, “I think I’m going to hate this!” [laughing] Not just because of my historian hat; more because of my public historian hat. Because I care less about historical details, and much more about the way that we tell stories about the past, and why.


New online exhibit at Princeton examines the story of Woodrow Wilson with ruthless honesty


The first black arts festival was shaped by Cold War politics

In April 1966, legendary jazz musician Duke Ellington travelled to Dakar, Senegal, with his orchestra to play at the first World Festival of Negro Arts. Organised against the backdrop of African decolonisation and the push for civil rights in the US, the festival was hailed as the inaugural cultural gathering of the black world.

More than 2,500 artists, musicians, performers and writers gathered in Dakar that month. The event spanned literature, theatre, music, dance, film, as well as the visual arts. Duke’s concerts were a highlight and, several years later, he still recalled them with great affection: “The cats in the bleachers really dig it … it gives us a once-in-a-lifetime feeling of having broken through to our brothers.” Ellington’s visit to Africa gave him the sense of coming home.

An exhibition at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris is currently marking the 50th anniversary of the festival, the first state-sponsored showcase of work by black artists. Dakar 66: Chronicle of a Pan-African Festival tells the story of the event using photographs, rarely seen documentary films and newly filmed interviews with participants. It captures the festival’s idealism and practical successes but does not shy away from thornier issues, such as its entanglement in Cold War politics or the criticism it received at subsequent, more radical, festivals in Algiers (1969) and Lagos (1977).

From limos to junk, quirky museums tell Beijing’s history

Wang’s Beijing Old Items Exhibition in the heart of old Beijing is one of dozens of private museums that dot the capital’s backstreets and its suburbs. Their collections feature the grand and mundane - from items salvaged from the garbage to a limousine in which Mao Zedong once rode.

Entering these private museums is to peel off a largely forgotten layer of Beijing’s recent history.

While state-run museums seek mainly to legitimize the ruling Communist Party through its own highly selective interpretation of history, the capital’s private museums are born from their founders’ hobbies and obsessions, along with a sense of duty to keep alive a little bit of history others might dismiss as trivial.


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