Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

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Historians weigh in on the Harry Potter author's latest foray into the magical past

J.K. Rowling is treating Harry Potter fans to a collection of new original writing in preparation for the release of the Potter prequel film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. As the movie takes place in 1920s New York City, Rowling debuted four short stories on her site Pottermore, under the title of The History of Magic in North America.

Rowling’s Pottermore team declined to comment on the research that went into crafting the stories, but TIME talked to historians about how the author’s magical history stacks up against reality. And it turns out that, while Rowling’s world is one of magic, many of the details in the story are rooted in the actual past—for better or worse.

Rowling’s new series proved controversial from the start, when her account of Native American wizards mentioned the Navajo legend of the skin walker, a person who can turn into an animal. The mythology, she wrote, developed from stories of the witches and wizards known as Animagi in the Harry Potter world: “A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj [Muggle] medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure.”

You might think that a filmmaking legend on the scale of Martin Scorsese wouldn't have any trouble walking into any studio around town and getting a picture financed and made, but that's not the case. At 73 years-old, the titan of American filmmaking still has to prove his projects are fiscally responsible investments, and when it comes to his long gestating dream project "Silence," it's easy to see why some executives might not be ready to hand over their cash. A movie we're (prematurely) predicting to be a contender the 2017 Oscars in the Best PictureBest Director, and Best Actor fields, the adaptation of Shüsaku Endō’s novel starring Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, and Adam Driver, is set in the 17th century and follows two 17th-century Jesuit priests who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and spread the gospel of Christianity. In short, no superheroes, no special effects, no four-quadrant appeal. So how did Scorsese finally manage to get it made? He took a pay cut, along with everyone else.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tended to regard the Irish problem as a “distraction” from her larger domestic and international endeavors, according to Charles Moore, her most recent biographer. (She reportedly considered building a fence between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.) Negotiations with Garret FitzGerald, her Irish counterpart, put her in a political position she generally detested: the middle. In 1985, having agreed to some modest accommodation of the Catholics in the North, she provoked the fury of Protestant Unionists—the Reverend Ian Paisley, their leader, prayed, “O God, in wrath take vengeance upon this wicked, treacherous, lying woman”—while the I.R.A., which had already nearly succeeded in killing her, continued to bide its time and lick its chops. “Remember, we have only to be lucky once,” an I.R.A. statement read. “You will have to be lucky always.”

Mrs. Thatcher’s close call had come at 2:54 A.M. on October 12, 1984, inside the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where the Conservative Party was holding its annual conference. An I.R.A. explosive, planted weeks before, shattered glass and wrecked the bathroom of the Prime Minister’s suite—she was still awake, working—but left her unharmed. Elsewhere in the hotel, five people were killed and thirty-four injured. It is the planting and the detonation of this bomb that provide [Jonathan] Lee, a British-born writer now living in Brooklyn, with the buildup and climax for “High Dive,” the first of his three novels to be published in the United States.

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Why not give a historical comedy show to a man who has, in his previous work, treated the concept of time like a play thing? [Don] Harmon’s shows, Rick and Morty and Community, are kaleidoscopes of recurring jokes, Easter eggs, and plot lines that beg to be seen from every angle. The conceit of Great Minds is so simple it hurts; Harmon really wants to meet Rosa Parks, and has commissioned a time machine (of sorts) to retrieve random figures from the past — all in the hopes that he and his partner will stumble upon Parks. Their first guest was Beethoven (played by Jack Black) and their second was Ernest Hemingway, who beat the shit out of Harmon and tried to kill himself.

In 1903, in a cheery local tavern tucked away in Wells River, Vt., one of America's most successful fat men's clubs was launched.

"We're fat and we're making the most of it!" was their mantra. "I've got to be good-natured; I can't fight and I can't run," was their motto. Members had to be at least 200 pounds, pay a $1 fee to enter and learn a secret handshake and password. Twice a year, members gathered, with meetings announced in advance to allow the men to stuff up in order to meet the minimum weight requirement. A 1904 Boston Globearticle described the biannual meetings colorfully:

"This village is full of bulbous and overhanging abdomens and double chins tonight, for the New England Fat Men's Club is in session at Hale's Tavern. The natives, who are mostly bony and angular, have stared with envy at the portly forms and rubicund faces which have arrived on every train."

A comedy about Hitler waking up in modern Germany will debut for English-speaking audiences on Netflix in April. It’s called Look Who’s Back. But for most of us, Hitler never really went away.

Hardly a year goes by without a new, often controversial, feature film or television series about the dictator. Along with Look Who’s Back, 2015 saw the release of Amazon Prime’s hit series The Man in the High Castle, based on Philip K Dick’s 1963 novel, and Swedish martial arts comedy Kung Fury featuring Hitler as “Kung Führer”.

“We’ve had enough!” the critics cry. But, in the words of German scriptwriter Niki Stein, “Hitler sells.” He’s working on a new television series, currently in pre-production, called simply Hitlerand produced by UFA Fiction and Beta Film.

Dustin Hoffman was moved to tears after learning about his family’s history on the PBS series “Finding Your Roots.”

Hoffman learned that both his grandfather and his great-grandfather were killed at the hands of Soviet secret police. Moreover, Hoffman’s great-grandmother suffered extreme physical hardships in a Soviet concentration camp, including the loss of an arm, before making her way to the United States.

Host Henry Louis Gates Jr. told Hoffman that his great-grandmother was a hero for surviving all that she did and still being able to make it to the U.S.

[On] Sunday afternoon, sparks flew during a post-screening Q&A for the documentary Accidental Courtesy, a film chronicling African-American blues musician Daryl Davis’s attempts to befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan in order to help them change their racist ways.

Davis famously killed former Imperial Wizard Roger Kelly with kindness, convincing him to leave the KKK. He did the same with Bob White, a former Grand Dragon and ex-Baltimore police officer. In total, he claims to have disrobed around 25 Klansmen. During the documentary, he pays a visit to Baltimore where he sits down with a pair of Black Lives Matter Activists—Kwame Rose, a 21-year-old college dropout who famously called out Geraldo Rivera on national television, and Tariq Toure, a poet and writer. Both are influential community organizers and activists who played sizeable roles in their city’s protests following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.

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In 2009, Lin-Manuel Miranda -- a 29-year-old rapper and Broadway producer -- was invited to the White House.

Instead of the piece they expected, he performed his brand new rap song about Alexander Hamilton.

It got a standing ovation, and now seven years later "Hamilton" is the biggest hit on Broadway.

Miranda was at the White House again on Monday -- along with the show's cast -- for a workshop with high school students.

"What do our favorite hip hop artists do if not write about their struggle and their circumstances so well that it transcends them? That's exactly what Alexander Hamilton did," he told the students.

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