Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

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Titanic sinks in REAL TIME - 2 HOURS 40 MINUTES

'Underground': How a Slave-Revolt Series Made It to Primetime

Early in the premiere of WGN America's slave-revolt drama Underground, a captured runaway named Noah (Aldis Hodge) is shoved into a decrepit shed on a plantation in rural Georgia. The year is 1857; the Civil War is still four long years away. The camera whips around 360 degrees from Noah's point of view, catching glimpses of sick, malnourished black men and women, all of them shivering in makeshift bunks and slumped against unforgiving walls. And though he does not say a word, the sequence immediately establishes Noah as the show's determined protagonist. At the risk of sounding crass given the historical atrocity the show unflinchingly deals with, it feels like the moment when this slave resolves to be something of a superhero.

"We're both comic-book people," the show's co-creator and executive producer Joe Pokaski says, about himself and co-creator/executive producer Misha Green. (Between them, Green and Pokaski have written or produced for Heroes and Daredevil.) And from his perspective, "This is the most heroic, thrilling story ever told in American history."

Pokaski isn't speaking specifically of his lead character's journey so much as the historic Underground Railroad itself.

Elvis & Nixon: The Odd Couple, Impressions Included

This minor comedy about major figures is stars Kevin Spacey as Nixon and Michael Shannon as Elvis

The movie features a lot more Elvis than Nixon. Elvis Presley as presented here is a lonely man, surrounded by yes-men, a little deranged but very much aware of his power and influence, if perhaps nothing else. He decides that the honorary badges he gets from various local law enforcement agencies are some sort of higher calling for him, and that he needs to be deputized to go undercover and ferret out the subversive elements of counterculture rock-and-roll. (The unstated presumption is that this sudden red-meat John Wayne-ism came less out of patriotism and more out of Elvis’s insecurity about his place in the new rock order.) So he requests a meeting with Nixon, who doesn’t care one whit—frustrating his beleaguered advisors (Colin Hanks and Evan Peters) trying to make the president look a little hipper—until his daughters find out and request a signed photo of the King. Thus, the eponymous meeting can occur.

Shakespeare’s competition: the grisly world of British bear-baiting

One of the most famous stage directions in theatre is found in The Winter’s Tale: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” Bears – besides Paddington and Winnie-the-Pooh – are extinct in Britain, but Shakespeare’s audiences 400 years ago would have been entirely familiar with the animal. And thespians of old playing the Globe Theatre would have walked past the bear-baiting ring on their way in.

Bear-baiting was very popular in medieval and early modern times, attracting everyone from servants to royalty. Single or multiple dogs were set loose to bite or worry the bears. To prevent escapes (and the audiences being mauled) the bears were chained to stakes in the centre of the arena.

Quiz: Is Your Shakespeare Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth?

Shakespeare shuffled off his mortal coil 400 years ago this weekend. As the world prepares to celebrate the anniversary, test your knowledge of the bard with this quiz.

My Nazi Legacy:  Documentary

 A powerful and unsettling account of the toll of inherited guilt, My Nazi Legacy explores the relationship between two men, each of whom are the sons of high-ranking Nazi officials, and the eminent human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, whose family perished at the hands of the Nazis. As the three men travel together on an emotional journey throughout Europe and the past, the film explores the different ways that each man copes with his devastating legacy. Directed by David Evans, My Nazi Legacy premieres on Independent Lens Monday, May 2, 2016, 10:00-11:30 PM ET (check local listings) on PBS in conjunction with Holocaust Remembrance Day (May 5) and the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials.

Stephen Colbert: Hooray For The Tubman $20!

Anita Hill, Reluctant Hero

Hill didn’t want to have to speak for all of us, but she did. HBO’s Confirmation serves as yet another reminder that her voice continues to reverberate, even today.

For those of us who witnessed them, the US Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings of October 1991 will remain forever etched in our memories. For three days, the hearings were broadcast live across every channel on the dial. We watched with bated breath as Clarence Thomas, George H. W. Bush’s beleaguered nominee for the Supreme Court, defended himself against charges of sexual harassment levied by Anita Hill, a former employee who’d worked as his personal assistant 10 years earlier. It was reality television at its inception; far more compelling than the latest string of flashy adaptations of real-life legal dramas: Netflix’s Making a Murderer, FX’s The People v. OJ Simpson. The story’s characters were archetypal: Thomas with his barely concealed rage; and Hill, a 35-year-old law professor at the University of Oklahoma, who was so measured, so thoroughly composed that it was unnerving.

Now, 25 years later, HBO has recreated that historical moment with the film Confirmation, directed by Rick Famuyiwa, which premiered Saturday night and features Kerry Washington (star of ABC’s Scandal) as Hill. (Washington also served as executive producer on the film.) Confirmation is a story for a new generation of viewers—many of whom have most likely never heard of Hill, and possibly not even Thomas, and can scarcely imagine how difficult it must have been at that time for a woman—much less a black woman—to come forward publicly with a claim of sexual harassment against a nominee for the Supreme Court.

100 of The Most Iconic Shots In Film History

Kneeling Hitler Sculpture Could Fetch Over $10M at Auction

A controversial sculpture of a kneeling Hitler by the edgy Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is among the highlights of a special sale at Christie's auction house in New York.

When viewed from the rear, "Him" appears as a child-like figure in a gray suit kneeling in prayer. But as viewers come around to the front, they come face-to-face with an unmistakable likeness of Hitler. It will be offered May 8 as part of Christie's "Bound to Fail," a curated sale where it is estimated to bring $10 million to $15 million.

The Exhausting and Useless Accusations of Racism Against ‘Hamilton’

The year of universal praise for the play “Hamilton” was not meant to last, as those who make a career of finding racial flaws were biding their time.

You just knew a certain type was biding their time. Loving the show in itself, to be sure, but still harboring a certain sense of responsibility—a sense that Miranda, and Hamilton, and all of us by extension, are having a little too good a time.  Enter the contesters.

As in, what is pronounced “con-TEST.” The term is especially popular among identity-focused academics, the idea being that when encountering a piece of art, the intellectual’s responsibility is to smoke out a sociopolitical faux pas in it. The first contestation on Hamilton to get around has been from Lyra Monteiro, a history professor at Rutgers, who (while thoroughly enjoying the show, mind you) assails Hamilton for underplaying that Hamilton was less than sustainedly committed to ending slavery, and for omitting the sheer presence of black slaves in the lives of the characters.

Ken Burns’ new documentary doesn’t tell the full story about Robinson’s embrace with Pee Wee Reese

In his excellent new documentary on Jackie Robinson, which premiered on PBS this week, Ken Burns contends that one of the most enduring images of racial brotherhood in sports—Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese, a white Kentuckian, putting his arm around Jackie Robinson, his pioneering black teammate—“never happened.” Although Burns is correct that there is some mythology around the event, my research suggests the event did in fact happen—just not when and where most people think.

The Reese–Robinson embrace, according to the documentary, is another of the enduring myths surrounding America’s national pastime, like the now-discredited story about Abner Doubleday’s inventing baseball in Cooperstown, New York, or Babe Ruth’s “called shot” home run off Cubs pitcher Charlie Root during the 1932 World Series. According to this line of thinking, the statue outside the Brooklyn Cyclones’ stadium at MCU Park in Coney Island memorializing the supposed embrace is a feel-good story taken too far.

How the new Tate Modern wants to abolish history

By removing chronology as a way of understanding art, the rehung gallery risks losing all sense of meaning, says Mark Hudson

'It’s all about art history,” said director Frances Morris, summing up yesterday morning’s briefing on the new Tate Modern. Which felt odd, as just about everything said by Morris and Nicholas Serota, Tate’s overall director, would have led you to the conclusion that Tate Modern has effectively abolished not just art history, but history in general.

Get Your Nostalgia Fix with Snapshots of the Past

Wouldn’t it be a conversation starter to display in your office or home a 1914 photo of Houdini greeting President Theodore Roosevelt aboard a transatlantic steamer? Or one of the earliest aerial views of Manhattan, Boston or San Francisco?

Researcher and historian James Lantos launched Snapshots of the Past (snapshotsofthepast.com), a unique online museum and retail site offering archival quality reproductions of historic Americana. Visitors to the site can browse 100,000 images in curated galleries, including rare photos, illustrations, advertisements, and manuscripts, originally housed at the Library of Congress. Also available are blog and social media posts that combine scholarly research with an appreciation for nostalgic subjects.

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