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New Escapist Column! On “Birds of Prey” and Marginalised Characters…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week, to mark the release of Birds of Prey.

One of the interesting aspects of Birds of Prey is the way in which it’s essentially a story about marginalised characters, characters who have historically been pushed to the edge of comic book narratives – erased and reinvented by the demands of universe-wide reboots, defined primarily in relationship to more popular male characters, and just generally subject to the whims of the shared universe. Part of what makes Birds of Prey so interesting is the way in which it builds that into the narrative, creating a story for its characters where the absence of Batman and the Joker is the entire point of the exercise.

It’s a very clever approach to the source material, and one which suggests a more fundamental understanding of the source material than many critics credit it. In some ways, it is a more faithful adaptation of the Suicide Squad concept than Suicide Squad, building itself around the flotsam and jetsam of DC continuity. It helps that Birds of Prey finds an emotional hook into this story and uses it to offer a feminist perspective on this familiar trope. After all, its notable that so many of these marginalised and erased characters are women.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On How “The Dark Knight” Changed the Oscars…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Friday, to mark the occasion of the Oscars.

The Dark Knight was famously locked out of the Best Picture race. However, it still had a tremendous impact on the field. Eleven years later, the snub of The Dark Knight has profoundly reshaped what the Oscars actually looks like, causing the Academy to dramatically alter a couple of its core underlying assumptions. Most of these changes are for the better, sparking an expansion of the Best Picture field that looks to have broken its long-standing anchor to the Best Director category, encouraging the recruitment of a younger voting base, and even paving the way for populist films like Black Panther and Joker at the awards.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the “Just Create New Female Characters” Argument…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week, on an interesting and age-old debate.

The question of how best to foster diversity in cinema and wider pop culture is a challenging one. Whenever the suggestion of race- or gender-shifting an existing character like the Doctor or James Bond comes up, the responses are always the same: “just create new characters!” It’s a strong argument conceptually, because it’s rooted in the (entirely correct) moral presumption that women shouldn’t need to repurpose old characters, but instead should have new characters. However, it also glosses over the economic and cultural realities of the current cinematic climate. The debate is more complicated than it might appear.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Hindsight is 2020: In Defense of the Best Picture Nominations…

It’s a strange position to be in, to mount a radical argument that the Best Picture race is actually fairly solid this year.

To be fair, there are legitimate grievances to be had. The Academy went with old favourites in several of the acting categories, overlooking amazing work. The Best Actress category would be stronger if the voters opted for Lupita Nyong’o for Us over than Charlize Theron for Bombshell. The Best Supporting Actress race would have been more interesting had Kathy Bates for Richard Jewell been replaced by Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers. The all-male Best Director category is also frustrating, considering the fine work done by directors like Olivia Wilde, Lulu Wang, Céline Sciamma, Lorene Scafaria, and more over the past year.

However, there is also something inevitable about the tone of the debate over the Best Picture race. The Academy Awards is never going to actually please everybody. There are several hundred films released every year that meet the criteria for eligibility. Taste is inherently subjective. Everybody likes different things. More than that, the Academy is a large body comprised of a variety of different voices, especially after recent diversity pushes to modernise the membership. Even if there was a list of (up to) ten films that would satisfy everybody, the Academy would never be the body to produce it. And that is okay.

Instead, the Best Picture nominees this year offer a snapshot of cinema as it was in 2019. They offer a glimpse of the breadth and the depth of mainstream movie-watching, a list of nine very distinct films that offer nine very distinct perspectives on where the medium is and where it might be going. The beauty of the Best Picture nominees this year is that there’s something for everyone, but nobody gets everything. This seems fair, even if the impulse is to want an entire slate that reflects personal taste.

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New Escapist Column! On how “Star Trek” has Always Been more about Our Present than Our Future

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening, looking at the launch of Star Trek: Picard last week.

One of the minor controversies around Picard has concerned the series’ more cynical and world-weary tone, particularly in contrast to the optimism and enthusiasm of Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, the mythology around Star Trek tends to over-emphasise the franchise’s optimistic outlook, ignoring the extent to which the shows are better reflections of the present than reflections of the future. They offer snapshots of moments in time, rather than a roadmap to a better future. In that regard, Picard is very much a snapshot of this moment in time, grappling with the legacy of The Next Generation.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the Franchise Revanchism in “Star Wars”, “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek”…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Friday, looking at one of the more interesting (and frustrating) trends in modern franchise storytelling.

New ideas in existing franchises have always been controversial. After all, fans were taken aback by the changes made to existing properties in films like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. So the controversy around things like the first season of Star Trek: Discovery or Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi are nothing new. What is new, however, is the way in which these properties now seem to be swayed by fan anxieties, retreating from bold ideas into the safety of familiarity. This leads an emptiness, and runs the risk of letting these properties stagnate.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On Colin Trevorrow’s “Duel of the Fates” and JJ Abrams’ “Rise of Skywalker”…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday, looking at the leaks around director Colin Trevorrow’s plans for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.

Of course, there are a lot of variables involved. Are the leaks authentic? Even if the leaks are authentic, how much faith do you place in the director of Jurassic World and Book of Henry to realise them? More than that, though, there’s a sense in which the proposed “Duel of the Fates” is so appealing precisely because it will never actually exist. It will never disappoint anybody, because their imagined version of the film will never brush up against harsh reality. It’s interesting in this age of “alternative facts” that we long so strongly for “alternative movies.”

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.