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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
FQ’s new books editor Carla Marcantonio reflects upon her experience serving as Netflix’s official translator for Yalitza Aparicio, the Indigenous Mexican woman who plays the housekeeper in director Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. Marcantonio explores themes that emerged over the course of the film’s promotional campaign, ranging from the expected (the film’s social impact and depiction of a makeshift matriarchy) to those less discussed, such as the film’s significant political context and critique of patriarchy, masculinity, and violence. In closing, she offers a counter-argument to the interpretation that Cuarón denies Cleo her agency by limiting her spoken lines, arguing that Cuarón’s masterful use of cinematic language allows Cleo’s voice to come through loud and clear.
FQ Columnist Amelie Hastie offers a unique and personal meditation on cinema’s affective qualities, particularly the sentiment of love. She traces Cuarón’s exploration of cinema’s fundamental humanism back to Jean Renoir and continues through the Italian Neo-Realists, particularly Vittorio de Sica. She discusses Cuarón’s intellectual formation as a student of cinema, and finds a consistent emphasis on women’s experiences throughout his films. Introducing Cuarón’s description of Roma as an “inquiry” into the relation between “foreground” and “background,” she delves into scenes where character and social environment converge.
Sergio de la Mora reviews Roma’s reception in Mexico and reflects upon the film’s intimate relationship with the nation’s political history. Situating Roma with the broader trend in Latin American cinema for films that explore servant-employer relations, he examines how Roma visualizes the ways in which Indigenous domestic and intimate labor has been historically racialized and gendered in Mexico. He discusses the controversy surrounding Cleo’s voice and agency in the film along with the aesthetic debates prompted by Cuarón’s decision to film in black and white.
Historically, the study of the idea of black film has been a fraught, insightful, and generative enterprise—be it a matter of industrial capital and its delimitation of film practice in terms of profit, or the tendency to insist that the “black” of black film be only a biological determinant and never a formal proposition. In many ways, the black film as an object of study mirrors the history of America, the history of an idea of race. While the field continues to shift and change, and the study of black film becomes more common, it is often still tokenized by the industry. Discussion about black film and media is booming in academic programs (e.g., American Studies, Women and Gender Studies, English) and in Film and Media Studies, but it is doing so even more in nonacademic spaces, with blogs, podcasts, and think pieces proliferating at a rapid pace. We offer our manifesto, recognizing that film manifestos never whisper. Their messages envision political, aesthetic, and cultural possibilities. They demand and plot. They question and insist. What follows are expectations bundled as concerns for not only the renderings of black film to come but, as well, the thinking on blackness and cinema that we hope will thrive and inspire future discussions. We are devising new terms of engagement with current developments in mind.