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This is Lorraine Toussaint as Yvonne “Vee” Parker. We might call her a new character in Orange is the New Black‘s second season, but she’s well-known to two of Litchfield’s current inmates… for complicated reasons. She is the best female antagonist I’ve ever seen, and one of the best antagonists ever.

To Taystee (Danielle Williams), Vee is the foster mother who finally gave her a home. Sure, that home was the locus of a powerful drug corporation. But Vee knew how to inspire loyalty and a sense of family — and we can see her use exactly the right strings to pull Taystee back, to transform her into the loyal soldier she used to be before prison.

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In flashbacks we learn exactly how Vee has earned such loyalty from Taystee: by providing exactly that feeling of belonging and family — as well as just the right dose of race pride — that her life lacked beforehand. Moreover, Vee is the best possible “mother”: smart, powerful, admirable. The fact that she runs a drug empire is incidental to her maternal effects on the lonely Taystee.

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Once Taystee is on board, Vee pursues the loyalty of a small group of other young Black women to build her prison “family” — using a variety of the same techniques carefully calibrated to each woman (maternal gentleness, tough love, gestures to racial unity and vague promises of uplift and power). But not Taystee’s gay best friend Poussey (Samira Wiley, whom the New Yorker‘s Emily Nussbaum aptly describes as “radiant”). Vee persuades Taystee to join in the exclusion and demonization of Poussey, a mean-girl process so real and devastating that I almost couldn’t watch those scenes.

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Red (Kate Mulgrew) also has a history with Vee, but in her case it goes back to earlier prison days as competitors for control of the prison’s black market. Witnessing Red’s anxiety about talking to the leonine Vee for the first time gives us an insight into her character that we hadn’t seen before: for the first time in years, she worries that her aging will lead Vee to sniff out her weakness. In anticipation, she visits Sophia’s salon to amp up her fierceness.

And yet when they meet, they embrace warmly, like old friends.

Indeed, it is Vee’s capacity to convey warmth and insight that makes her so powerful, and so capable of deception. Witness her effect on the perpetual outsider, Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” (Uzo Aduba). She insists on calling her Suzanne. With a few correcting glances from Vee, Suzanne stops undermining herself and her mental stability, and speaks with new confidence. Under to heat of that seeming maternal affection and guidance, Suzanne glows like a light bulb and happily serves as Vee’s henchman, the muscles to Vee’s brains.

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With everything else going on for me this summer, it took me forever to finish Season 2 — but throughout I marveled at the manipulative twists and maneuvers of Vee, who is the best antagonist I’ve seen in FOREVER. And it’s partly such a great character because she’s a woman who has learned to use people’s assumptions about her to her advantage. Think about it: we love a good bad guy — Alan Rickman in Die Hard, Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight, Kevin Spacey as the horrifically Bible-obsessed baddie in Se7en — but when was the last time you saw a female antagonist worth remembering, for all the reasons why women learn how to extract power and manipulate others using their femininity?

But don’t get me wrong: this is not just a portrayal of a great female antagonist. This is the best antagonist in years, full stop.

Feast your eyes, friends.

 

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my mini-marathon of female buddy movies, it’s that these films are not inherently feminist (I’m looking at you, Romy and Michele) except insofar as they feature women at the center. But the best ones offer both feminist critiques of male domination and a vision of what happens when you push women to the edge.

Set it off3If F. Gary Gray’s Set It Off doesn’t quite rise to high filmic art, it makes for perfect marathon material, especially after seeing Thelma and Louise. The themes in both films match up — these films show women who’ve been jerked around by men, bosses, the police, and the system — but become even more critical when they treat Black women rather than white. Their rage is all the more justified because they’ve been fighting two battles, not just one.

MV5BMjA1NjgzODM0MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzYxNzU0NA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_If any of them who should have made it out of their housing project, it’s Frankie (Vivica A. Fox), whose immaculate straight hair, professional wardrobe, and talents as a bank clerk have won her raises and promotions at her job. But when one of the guys from the neighborhood shows up at her teller’s window and initiates a bank robbery, she tries to talk him out of it — a conversation that the police and the bank manager see on the security video later. How can they know she wasn’t involved as an inside man? Of course they fire her, and refuse to offer her a reference.

Just like that, all those years of professionalism go down the drain. Worse, she’s reduced to working alongside her lifelong friends cleaning office buildings in downtown LA during the night shift.

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Each of them has a story like this one. T.T. (Kimberly Elise) struggles as a single mother to pay for childcare on her lean income. Cleo (Queen Latifah) is openly gay and has developed the tough persona of one who deals with homophobia on a regular basis. And then there’s Stoney (Jada Pinkett). It’s bad enough that she’s willing to do anything to find the money to fund her brother’s entry to UCLA. But then he gets shot and killed by police, mistaken for one of the project’s bank robbers, and all the police can do is apologize weakly.

In other words, the film’s setup follows that of Thelma and Louise: it highlights the ways that women get beaten down by men — sexually, economically, psychologically — and have so much of their potential taken out from under them. But there are marked differences between those earlier white women and Set It Off‘s Black women. Whereas Louise is able to get thousands of dollars from her own bank account, these four have nothing. When you add racial discrimination to gender bias, the women’s rage is all the more infectious.

tumblr_mdz3s45add1qhovk4o1_500Frankie knows exactly how to respond: rob a bank. She knows how banks work; she knows how to avoid the mistakes made by the guys in the project who got Stoney’s brother killed. Most of all, she’s clearheaded about the morality of it. “We’re just taking away from the system that’s fucking us all anyway, y’know?” The main question, after their first hit goes fast and furious and they escape with thousands of dollars, is how many more banks to rob.

In the meantime, Stoney gets hit on by a slick banker (Blair Underwood) while casing the joint. Keith is tall, rich, educated, and good-looking. A Harvard grad. With a glamorous apartment. She struggles on their dates to hold him at arm’s length — why? Is it because the attraction is so one-sided? because she’s worried he’ll learn about the grittiness of her life and her job as a cleaner, or about her sideline as a bank robber?

Blair and Jada2I’m not sure, but I’d like to say Stoney’s hesitation springs from Keith’s patronizing tones — his “I’ve got the wind at my back” cockiness, his overly slippery eagerness to transform her into Pretty Woman, to “take her away from all that.” No one can convey that kind of motivational ambivalence better than Underwood, who could win a nationwide contest for Guy I’d Most Like To Date Who’s Most Likely To Have An Evil Side. At one point he even takes a detour on their way out so he can buy her a glamorous dress and shoes. On their dates, he asks Stoney loaded questions like, “Do you feel free?” “I don’t feel free,” she replies. “I feel very much caged.” And clearly her dates with him don’t help.

But to be fair, the bank jobs don’t help, either. They start fighting amongst themselves, allowing them to reference Thelma and Louise and The Godfather and thereby raise questions about how it will all end.

set-it-off-1I’ve already mentioned that Set It Off doesn’t climb to high art, but what it does achieve is a far more powerful indictment of racial & gender discrimination than in Thelma and Louise, and a conclusion that (like its predecessor) goes places you wouldn’t expect. In fact, I began to realize that the film’s weaknesses reflect the same kind of low expectations from Hollywood that are turned into themes in the film. For all those reasons I urge you to hunt down a copy (not easy! I had to inter-library loan mine) and watch it as a double bill with T&L to get another glimpse of the female rage made possible by feminism in the 1990s.

In retrospect, Set It Off and Thelma and Louise reflects that great, pre-ironic feminist moment in film when narratives could evoke the enraging, impossible constraints placed on everyday women. It reminds me of the most disturbing aspects of Susan Douglas’ Enlightened Sexism, which describe how media began to undermine the feminism with ironic winks at the audience while peddling old-fashioned sexism. Can I just say, again, that I miss the old-fashioned female rage?

Patsey has a small part in the story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) compared to so many of the others. But here’s one thing the Academy Award nominations got right: Lupita Nyong’o should win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Lupita12yas_2784544bIf you see a photo of Nyong’o at an awards ceremony, you’d think she was a supermodel: everything about how she carries herself and uses her eyes and face stands in sharp contrast to her acting as the enslaved Patsey.

Patsey picks twice as much cotton as any other slave in Mr. Epps’ field, and withstands his periodic rapes of her, too. (Let it also be said that, unsurprisingly, Michael Fassbender is a terror in this role.) Her face amasses scars inflicted by Mrs. Epps (Sarah Paulson), who seethes for the lack of power to change her husband. But if those actors let their acting show, Nyong’o is so good in burying herself in this role that she outshines everyone — and, to my eyes, could have stolen the film from the equally wonderful Ejiofor had it not been for her tinier part.

DF-02868FD.psdShe starts out inscrutable. What can we make of the fact that Solomon can’t pick even two hundred pounds of cotton in a day, but Patsey regularly tops five hundred? What do we make of her face as Epps caresses it in front of everyone, showing how much he favors her — clearly above his own wife?

But my favorite scene of Nyong’o showing her acting chops is with Mrs. Shaw (Alfre Woodard), the Black mistress of the neighboring plantation, who invites Patsey over for tea. The older woman sees her own success in moving from slavery to the role of mistress as a lesson for the younger girl. Patsey is a quick study: just see how she watches every move Mrs. Shaw makes. That performance of emulation becomes all the more tragic as we feel through Patsey’s quick eyes that she will never, ever, become mistress.

527b4949cd0c2.imageEvery year I cry and rent my garments when the Academy Award nominations come out, and this year was no different (Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor?! but no Oscar Isaac?!) — but at least they got this one right. Nyong’o is Patsey, in a way that builds throughout the final act of the film. She tears your heart not for cheap pathos but because her experience captures the complex horror of slavery. And in a year full of terrible roles for Black women, thank you for getting this one right. Director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is the best film ever made about slavery in large part due to the way it captures the role of women in slavery — as mistresses as well as slaves.

I’m looking forward to seeing what else Nyong’o can do. When you see the film, you will too.

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Starting in 1810, a woman named Sarah (“Saartjie”) Baartman — born enslaved among the Khoi people in what is now the Eastern Cape of South Africa — spent five years allowing herself to be exhibited as the “Hottentot Venus” in Britain, Ireland, and France. People flooded to see her in part because of her large, protruding buttocks, but even more because everything about her appearance seemed so “exotic,” including her dancing. In re-creating Baartman’s story, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Black Venus (Vénus Noire) raises the right question: to what extent was she in control of her fate?

The answer is not. at. all. And that made my feminism hurt.

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It’s been a long time since I hated watching a movie so much as I did this oneNor can I remember having my mind so tweaked for days afterward. This film dares you to pronounce it too long (166 mins), too didactic, too depressing.

The fact is, it’s hard to watch a film about a character so abject as Saartjie (Yahima Torres), especially because by the time the film opens, she has already sunk into an alcoholic depression. That’s right: this is a very long film about a depressed woman exhibited as a freak in cultures that despise Black people.

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Is there another way to tell this story, except to underscore Saartjie’s abjectness? In a long early sequence, Kechiche recreates the scene of her performances. Her partner/handler, Hendrick Caezar (Andre Jacobs), appears onstage as an exemplar of the brave white European explorer, issuing hyperbolic, dramatic warnings to his audience about the dangers posed by this specimen from “darkest Africa” while Saartjie waits in a cage, leash around her neck. On cue, she growls and claws at him like an animal, movements choreographed by the two of them long ago, but which she now clearly finds demeaning and emotionally exhausting. Once released from the cage, she moves about the stage to thrill the audience, dances, and pretends to want to attack her spectators. The entire act follows in this vein, culminating with Cezar allowing members of the audience to come up and touch her buttocks. The pain on her face is excruciating.

As historical re-enactment, it’s riveting. As a film, it’s excruciating.

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If Saartjie pretends to be animalistic to make money, the director makes it clear that her freak-show viewers are the true animals. They glean safety in numbers as they laugh uproariously at her movements and marvel at her unusual physical shape, moving up toward the stage to touch her behind. Even if she and Caezar have a backstage relationship more like partners, the onstage performances are killing her. 

Except when she dances. Saartjie closes her eyes and enjoys her own performance; the audience grows silent; and everyone forgets the exaggerated civilization vs. savagery script in which they’ve been acting. 

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Not long into Saartjie and Caezar’s run of performances, a humanitarian group called the African Association brought them to court for violating Britain’s 1807 Slave Act abolishing the slave trade. The Association charged that Saartjie was a slave being held in degrading conditions, both of which violated the new Slave Act. They also offered evidence to support these charges. Saartjie appears on her own to refute those charges — in fact, she testified for three hours, insisting that she was guaranteed half the profits and had every right to exhibit herself as she pleased.

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Even as she testifies eloquently about her rights, her freedom to earn money in her own way, and her agency to make her own decisions, us viewers find ourselves confounded — trapped between what we have already seen of her alcoholic misery and our desire for her to, indeed, have “rights” and “freedom.” Is she telling the truth, or has she been compelled? Is she fooling herself — that is, does she need to believe these statements because she’s so miserable? The fact that the court finds in her favor hardly answers those questions. 

Once found to be a free woman by the court, Saartjie finds herself under increasing pressure not only to continue performing as a racial freak, but — for the first time — to display her genitals and to be exploited as a sexual oddity.

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Her partner Caezar abandons his financial interest in the Hottentot Venus exhibition to a Frenchman named Réaux (Olivier Gourmet) who doesn’t bother to pretend Saartjie is his partner. Traveling to France, he exhibits her in every way he can find — from gatherings of lascivious aristocrats to mixed-class groups fascinated by sexual perversion, and eventually as a museum object for the anatomist Georges Cuvier of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle.

What is worse? Being the central objet in a group of perverts, or being measured by a group of scientists who harass her to show her genitalia, which are larger in Khoi women than many other groups?

venus_noireThis film never lets you forget how you’re supposed to feel about these scenes, about Saartjie’s subjection, about her increasing helplessness. In some ways it represents the filmic version of those outraged scholarly books that seem not to know that we all think racism is bad. At the same time, it displays scenes from our racist history that capture something true. It is true because it shows her desire to believe that she has free will together with the fact that she does not.

So did I hate this film because it was long and didactic, or did I hate it because I want to see women with some degree of free will? Shouldn’t I recommend a film that displays the depths of horror of a woman’s life without agency?

The film made me angry and frustrated — and hell, I do this hard stuff for a living. Did I need the preachiness of “racism is bad” pounded into me for 166 minutes? Did I need the endless scenes of her drinking, being mistreated, getting sicker, and being probed by the scientists in Paris? Did I need this film — one of the very few that features a Black woman as its central character — to show her so unhappy throughout? I wanted to turn it off even though I knew about most of that stuff before seeing the film. For others this might be a revelation.

Maybe it made my feminism hurt so much because this film seems to fit so neatly into how feminism gets depicted by haters: as a man-hating, humorless, everything-is-bad movement of dreary types. Or maybe it’s because the film so resolutely denies that Saartjie had any feminist or anti-racist possibilities before her.

So let me sum it up: damn. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll keep running over those scenes for days afterward. It’s the best worst film I’ve ever seen.

So I’m already deep into the semester with a new lecture class, which means I spend most of my time prepping, grading, and hyperventilating. This makes it all the more important that I can watch an episode of Orange is the New Black on Netflix every couple of days to decompress. Because if there’s ever a show that overturned every hoary teevee trope, it’s the way this one has told a new story about women’s prison.

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This show is amazing, and I’m pretty sure it was created because someone read my blog and said, “Let’s throw this bitch a bone: a show about women’s prison with a whole bunch of unknown actors of various races, sizes, and sexual orientations. This blogger will lose her shit.”

Which is pretty much what has happened. I only wish I had time to sit down and watch it all in a single popcorn and martini-fueled binge weekend. From the opening credits all the way through every single 60-minute rich episode, I’m in heaven.

If this seems at first like yet another story of a blonde girl who finds herself in strange and comical circumstances, you haven’t watched what’s really happening here. Sure, our protagonist is a WASPy blonde upper-middle class woman named Piper (Taylor Schilling) who enters the prison because a while back she transported drug money for a girlfriend — and the show gets a lot of its early raison d’être from Piper’s wide-eyed introduction to prison realities. Whoa, a Black woman they call Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) forms a crush on Piper! What will she do? Whoa, everyone in prison huddles in groups by race! Will Piper hang out with only white women?

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But it doesn’t take long before you realize that this is only partly a show about Piper, especially as successive episodes dedicate themselves to complex backstories for each of the key inmates. In fact, we should have anticipated this from the beginning, for the opening credits — featuring a montage of the faces of real and former female inmates — gives us intimate images of the eyes and freckles and piercings and wrinkles of real, non-WASPy faces.

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While Piper tries to maintain a relationship with her risk-averse fiancé Larry (Jason Biggs) — who goes on living a spectacularly comfortable New York life — her fellow inmates’ lives and intrigues become far more compelling. There’s the post-op trans Sophia (Laverne Cox), the prison’s hair stylist, whose estrogen pills are curtailed during budget cuts, and who forms a prickly, unlikely relationship with the incarcerated nun with the hope that she can persuade the nun to hand over her post-menopausal hormones. Cox plays this role with an extraordinary delicacy, particularly in scenes with Sophia’s family back home — the wife and son who remain supportive, despite the fact that she failed them when she used stolen credit cards to pay for the sex reassignment surgery.

orange-is-the-new-black-laverne-cox-1024x682Even the vindictive, whisper-tiny Bible-thumping redneck and former meth addict, Tiffany (Tamryn Manning), who gets played as more of a heavy than most of the characters, proves to have a method to her madness.

Question: will Tamryn Manning ever get another role after this besides as Bible-thumping crazies with rotted teeth and strong Southern accents?

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Among my Facebook friends there has been nothing but expressions of fast-burning love for Alex (Laura Prepon, formerly of the unwatchable That 70s Show and one of the very few recognizable faces here). Alex isn’t just tall, dark, and blessed with those eyebrows. Nor is she merely a woman who knows how to throw her shoulders back, how to level a heavy-lidded direct gaze at a gal, and how to choose a great pair of specs.

She’s also Piper’s former lover — the one who ran the drug cartel operations, the one who asked Piper to carry the money, and maybe the one who gave Piper’s name to the Feds … felicitously tossed into the same prison. She’s that one — The One? — with whom Piper carried on a long, passionate relationship charged in part by the riskiness of their work and the glamour of all that money. One look at Alex and I dare you not to start fantasizing. We know immediately that poor Larry, the hapless fiancé, has got himself a problem.

blgoitnb2Yes, Alex is one of those perfect fantasy objects, for whom no stint in prison is going to alter her impeccable eyebrow maintenance or lipstick choices. Yes, perhaps not all of us would run into such a vision while in prison. Yes, this feels a lot like one of those “let’s tempt our viewers to want Piper to go gay again!” kinds of teevee moments.

But although her character is used to forward the plot in particular ways (and to send my Facebook friends into orgasms of thrill), Alex is not the story here. Nor is Piper the story. The real story is the new narratives of possibility opened up by focusing on women.

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This goes so far beyond the famous Bechdel Test — that incredibly low standard for gauging how much a film gives a single thought to women — that you wonder whether you can ever go back to stomaching the rest. Let me just focus on one tiny thing here: women of different races in conversation with each other, in proximity to one another, fighting with/ hating/ distrusting/ accommodating/ getting to know one another.

Think about it. Can you think of any show, ever, in which this happened?

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So yes, creators of Orange is the New Black: my mind is officially blown. And best of all, Piper gradually becomes something very different than that wide-eyed woman who was immediately the favorite of the seemingly soft-hearted counsellor Healy. I can hardly wait for Season 2.

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After hearing so many raves about the 10-episode long Danish-Swedish series, Bron/Broen (The Bridge, 2011), I did what most Americans are forced to do to see it: I watched it online. It was worth every minute of watching it on a laptop screen and reading sub-standard subtitles (which read a little bit like a very early and quite comical version of Google Translate). The acting was stellar; the dynamic between the Swedish detective Saga (Sofia Helin) and Danish detective Martin (Kim Bodnia) was one of the best versions of a buddy-cop relationship I’d seen in a long time; and the show’s central concept — a dead body found exactly midway on the bridge connecting the two countries — allowed for a riveting diagnosis of the social problems in those two countries.

So when I heard that the US channel FX planned to remake the series but situate it on the border between the US and Mexico, well, YES.

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The story opens with a body found dead in the middle of a bridge that crosses between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. The two detectives who arrive at the scene — one from each country — find that the killer sliced the body clean in half. The subsequent autopsy reveals an additional wrinkle: the top half, belonging to an xenophobic US judge, doesn’t match the bottom half.

“White arms, brown legs,” comments the El Paso detective, Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), with characteristic unemotional precision. She gradually permits the Chihuahua State Police detective Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir, the star of the wonderful A Better Life) to work with her, particularly after he explains that the “brown legs” belonged to one of the hundreds of Juárez women murdered along the border every year.

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So far I have several thoughts:

The storyline follows the original religiously. Thus, viewers like me who fell in love with Saga and Martin and were riveted by certain plot elements (the reporter getting trapped in his own car) will find not much to be surprised by in the plot so far.

What’s truly original here is the view of life on the border, particularly in Juárez, which is one of the most violent places in the world. (Maybe, as some have claimed, the most violent outside of open war zones.) I’ll watch every episode as a result with the hope that this unique setting ultimately changes the narrative in fresh ways. Juárez is a site for both the border drug trade and the fabulously lucrative maquilas (factories) that offer comparatively high wages to Mexican workers, thus attracting huge numbers of people to the region and making it deeply unstable. It’s about time we gave some cultural attention to the border in this way.

THE BRIDGE - Pictured: (L-R) Diane Kruger, Demian Bichir. CR: FX NetworkOne of the things I loved about the original was its treatment of Saga’s place on the autism spectrum. By treatment I mean the characters never said anything explicit. Saga’s probable Asperger syndrome revealed itself gradually over the course of the entire season without ever putting a name to it or fitting her into a tidy box. The original made Saga a true individual, not a set of symptoms or a condition described in the DSM-IV.

The original character had a delicious knack for social gaffes, but in my eyes the show didn’t play them for laughs or to claim she was a naïf. Rather, they highlighted Saga’s independence from and utter disinterest in the social niceties to which women are typically chained. (I’m curious whether any of you disagree or found her character to grate on your nerves — if so, let me know why you found it problematic.)

tumblr_m451hzx2uq1r5565fo1_500Whether abruptly asking men in bars, “Do you want to have sex at my place?” or equally abruptly kicking them out of bed when she’s done, Saga was the most unexpectedly wonderful character I’d seen in years. She did it all with a confident forthrightness that made me love her. The great drama of the series rested on how Saga had to stretch herself beyond her usual personal rules and patterns, largely in response to her new partner — but also how she remained utterly herself throughout, which constituted her great strength and weakness all in one. The portrayal of Saga was downright feminist, and more important she was truly three-dimensional.

You can see why I fell in love with the series.

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In contrast, the American show seems to feel eager to label (and doesn’t that capture all that is unsubtle about Americans?). Here, Sonya’s awkwardness, rigid adherence to rules, and lack of empathy have already been hammered on as “different” after only a single show. Le sigh.

On the other hand, I like Kruger and Bichir a great deal in these roles, even though/ due to the fact that they’re both preposterously good-looking, even more so than the beautiful Helin in the original. Kruger’s accent works most of the time (she’s German but does well with American accent) and the far more natural actor, Bichir, flows between Spanish and English in a way that won’t alienate viewers who are allergic to reading subtitles for the Spanish bits. Whereas the Swedish actress in the original series had been wide-eyed in a way that signaled her lack of interest in others’ emotions, Kruger looks more distrustful and hostile.

the-bridge-620x238The filming and cinematography of the US series is downright beautiful and infinitely more stylized than the Swedish-Danish original. The pilot was directed by Gerardo Naranjo, whose film Miss Bala I enjoyed so much earlier this spring (if anyone understands the drug war, it’s Naranjo). The shots of that rangy part of the Chihuahuan desert and the haunting scenes of street life in Juárez feel real.

So I have high hopes for the American version of The Bridge, despite the fact that my fellow fans of the Scandinavian original are not going to be surprised by these early episodes. Nevertheless, I have hope that it permits its border setting to affect the narrative even more as the series progresses. Considering that the US version has stretched out the story to 12 episodes, it would seem that the writers have plenty of room in which to develop fresh and location-specific material. 

At the creepy end of this pilot episode, an anonymous voice asks, “There are five murders a year in El Paso; in Juárez, thousands. Why? Why is one dead white woman more important than so many dead just across the bridge? How long can El Paso look away?” YES. This is the question that has managed for so long to remain beyond the people most capable of addressing those inequities. How wonderful to find it on basic cable in the US.

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And hey, I get to look at Bichir on a weekly basis. Sure, he plays shlubby, but we know he’s movie-star handsome right away, ‘stache or no ‘stache. All is not lost in the re-run aspects of the show. And as the always-on-target Alyssa Rosenberg put it in her review, how wonderful is it to find “a television show that presents women and men as highly effective colleagues and potentially good friends, without defaulting to conventional romantic narrative arcs”?

In the meantime, can Scandinavian friends find a way to get season 2 of Bron/Broen online for me? Please?

I’d like to say more about how much I hate Oscars emcee Seth MacFarlane, and The Onion’s tactless, sexist tweeting about 9-yr-old Quvenzhané Wallis, but instead I want to focus on Inocente.

inocente_1Inocente Izucar is an artist. For a while she was physically abused, lived as a functionally homeless person with her mother and two younger brothers, and was undocumented. None of those things are true any more.

Now she is just an artist. Her colorful art — on canvasses, sculpture, and her own beautiful face — speaks of dreams and mercy and family. She is the face of the future. Watch the Oscar-award winning, 40-min short documentary here.

Think about art and self-definition and survival, and let’s stay focused on that face.