All posts filed under: Dossier

How Long, Not Long: A Take on Black Joy

A major theme of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series is West Indian joy. West Indian immigrants’ struggles against state resistance to everyday black life. In a rather profound contrast to McQueen’s other work—in which long takes of suffering bodies draw the viewer into the inescapability of the pain experienced by his subjects—joy disrupted provides the counterpoint to bodies in pain. Striking this balance between suffering and joyous bodies is one of the reasons that McQueen’s series may be his best effort yet to move between art cinema and popular genres.

Redemption Song: Performing Black History and Masculinity

James S. Williams From Film Quarterly, Summer 2021, Volume 74, Number 4 Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Ugly, hurtful, joyous, painful. —Steve McQueen This is how Steve McQueen presents his project in “Small Axe” (2020) to honor recent Black British history—a story of systemic injustice and discrimination, protest and resistance, that has never before been properly narrated in British cinema. 1 Yet despite its compelling period re-creation of London from the late 1960s to the early 1980s and its eminently accessible, linear and realist style (aided by low-lit, muted browns, greens, and blues shot by cinematographer Shabier Kirchner), the experience of watching this sweeping pentalogy—Mangrove; Red, White and Blue; Alex Wheatle; Lovers Rock; Education—often seems, paradoxically, to work against the historical record, even to the point of swerving away from Black history at the very moment of retrieving it. 2 One sees this most graphically in Mangrove, the only film to provide a date and location (“Notting Hill, London, 1968”) as a formal element. The film is just settling …

Pressure Drop: A “Small Axe” Introduction

Steve McQueen’s anthology film series “Small Axe” (2020) enacts a visual historiography of West Indian life in London from the Windrush generation of the 1960s through the early 1980s. 1 Across Mangrove; Lover’s Rock; Red, White and Blue; Alex Wheatle; and Education, the series devises this history with distinct formats (film and digital, 16 mm and 35 mm), postproduction processes, and aspect ratios.

Editor’s Introduction: Documenting Conspiracy and Conning in the Age of Misinformation

It’s been called many things: the Golden Age of Fraud, the Golden Age of Conspiracy Theories, the Age of Fake News. Call this moment what you will, but one thing is clear: studying fabrication has perhaps never been more pressing in US history. Trump’s administration has brought with it an onslaught of lies, from the turnout figures at the 2017 inauguration to the sugar-coating of its family-separation policy; then its lies started killing people en masse with the advent of COVID-19. The blatant months-long governmental repudiation of lockdowns and mask-wearing has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and counting. It’s time not to simply turn away from the false, or to try to combat it with truth, but to study it, regardless of the election results of November 2020.

Conspiracy, Paranoia, #MeToo, and the Reparative Work of Sean Young’s Catwoman

Hollywood will be the first to tell you that Hollywood is an abuser of women. Whether showcasing the sadism and control of the Big Bad Studio System that led to the human wreckage of Judy (Rupert Goold, 2019) or the pre-#MeToo casting-couch antics of Bombshell (Jay Roach, 2019), the ever-inventive industry has been ingenious in learning how to exploit even its sins. As these superficial “demystifications” of the industry’s past abuses perform showy and lucrative mea culpas, they facilitate protracted displays of the industry’s time-honored specialty: the humiliation of its female stars.

Loving the Lie: Elizabeth Holmes, Thomas Edison, and Alex Gibney

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019), about the infamous biotech company Theranos and its enigmatic founder, Elizabeth Holmes, is the latest documentary from Alex Gibney. The Theranos/Holmes story is a perfect vehicle for Gibney, a writer-director who specializes in essayistic films that detail the complex nexus of dishonesty, ruthlessness, hubris, and painful reckonings. His filmography is filled with documentaries that fastidiously recount the dark underbelly of outrageous acts by rich and powerful people who eventually get their comeuppance—such as Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), The Armstrong Lie (2013), Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010), and Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015).

Under Fyre: Debt Culture in the Streaming Era

In what trade papers termed an escalation of the so-called streaming wars, Hulu “rush released” Fyre Fraud (Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, 2019) on January 14, 2019, four days before Netflix debuted Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (Chris Smith, 2019). Both of these documentaries, each racing to be first, provide insider knowledge about the infamous Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, a fraudulent luxury concert experience turned notorious social-media disaster. Festivalgoers, who had paid anywhere from $450 to $250,000, went to the Bahamas expecting the “once-in-a-lifetime musical experience” promised by Fyre’s glitzy advertising, only to find a logistics and public-relations disaster: canceled musical acts, disaster-relief tents as accommodations, and dysfunctional management.

Smoke and Mirrors: The Bio-Con Documentary in the Age of Trump

Back in 2016, when Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States, there was considerable public discussion about whether or not he would be able to govern by trafficking in the same falsehoods and public prejudices that he peddled as a candidate. To much horror and dismay, four years later, he has proven unequivocally that he can. Popular film and television have answered this mass erosion of truth and justice with narratives about powerful deceivers and sophists. Some, such as festival hit Bad Education (Cory Finley, 2019) and Ryan Murphy’s The Politician (2019–), are vehicles for political commentary, while others, such as Evan Peters’s story line in Pose (2018–), directly link to Trump.

An Introduction

Today, there are celebrations taking place across U.S. universities. The creation of Asian American studies centers and departments fifty years ago was the culmination of an effort by students, administrators, and community members to reorient American history, to engage directly in their communities, and to promote Asian American faculty research and hiring. By 1968, there had been at least three generations of Chinese, Filipinos, and Japanese in the United States, many engaged in profound political work, but what was new about the late sixties was the creation and institutionalization of a collective, pan-ethnic voice known as Asian America.