ASIAN AMERICANS, THE SERIES
INTERVIEW: RENEE TAJIMA-PEÑA
SPECIAL FOCUS: FRAUD AND DOCUMENTARY
TRIGONOMETRY AND SEX EDUCATION
VIRTUAL DOC MARKET TRANSITIONS
THE WANDERING EARTH AND NOVA
ZENG JINYAN WITH AI XIAOMING
PAGE VIEWS: SPORTING BLACKNESS
ASIAN AMERICANS, THE SERIES
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.
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.
A Black man wearing a noose around his neck, filmed from a low angle. This brief, cryptic shot opens Haile Gerima’s short film Hour Glass (1971). A cut, and the character is reintroduced as a college basketball player, first at practice, then in a game, surrounded by other Black athletes. They work the ball while, as Umar Bin Hassan—member of the legendary Harlem collective the Last Poets—recites on the soundtrack, “The white man is cuttin’ off their balls.” Glancing toward the white spectators in the bleachers, the ballplayer seems to experience an epiphany, comprehending his objectification and commodification as an athlete.
This editorial was written on the Fourth of July, that annual orgy of barbecues and tin-hat patriotism made worse this year by the unprecedented arrival in US cities of bomb-grade fireworks—explosives that shook the ground, sending dogs cowering and possibly softening up the urban population for a battlefield future. This appears, however, in the FQ issue emerging just prior to the 2020 US presidential election, an event destined to change the future of this country and the world and, yes, the film and TV world, in ways that are equally unpredictable, confusing, and terrifying.
Black film scholar, critic, and curator, Albert Johnson is hardly a household name–but he should be. In 1965, at the height of the civil rights era, Johnson offered this dissection of the representation of African-Americans in Hollywood cinema of the time.
Michael Boyce Gillespie leads a roundtable with scholars Jonathan W. Gray, Rebecca A. Wanzo, and Kristen Warner to discuss issues of medium, genre, fandom, and African American history in the highly regarded HBO series Watchmen. Characterizing the HBO series as a disobedient adaptation that modifies, extends, and redirects the world making of its source material, the famed twelve-issue comic-book series of the same name, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, Gillespie et al. explore the ways in which Watchmen remediates American history, starting with the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 that serves as the historical and ideological trigger that sets the series in motion. In a wide-ranging conversation that encompasses subjects including fan fiction, adaptation, cultural mythology, and black superheroes, the authors argue for Watchmen’s significance as some of the most consequential television of the century so far.