The First Villeneuve Dune Trailer Is Out

The first trailer for director Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is making its rounds, and it sure looks shiny:

Dune Official Trailer by Warner Bros. Pictures on YouTube

We don’t see many women doing much of anything, just standing, staring, emoting, and kissing, which is complete, utter, and total hooey compared to the book; I hope it’s just a case of trailers always lie.

At least Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam is prominently monologuing, but we hear nothing of Lady Jessica or Chani. As Charlotte Rampling is playing the Mother, Rebecca Ferguson Jessica, and Zendaya Chani, I have no doubt we’ll see stellar performances for the main female roles.

Timothée Chalamet plays Paul. I’ve only seen him as Laurie in the newest Little Women (2019, directed by Greta Gerwig) and apparently in Interstellar; I didn’t like his version of the former and remember nothing of the latter, so he’s a big unknown as far as I’m concerned. I saw someone critique him as being an okay choice for young Paul at the beginning but not having enough gravitas (to paraphrase) for the older Paul Muad’Dib. Plausible, I agree; I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Oscar Isaac I’m looking very much forward to, if for nothing else then to see whether he has the range to play Duke Leto. Stellan Skarsgård, Javier Bardem, and David Dastmalchian I would also expect to do just fine if not directed to be too hammy. But the rest… Well. I get that Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, and Dave Bautista are big names, but I find them uninspiring choices. Again, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

I’ve also seen the two previous big screen adaptations (the 1984 movie directed by David Lynch and the 2000 miniseries directed by John Harrison). Both had some flaws that to me weighed the adaptations down more than the positives could buoy them, so I’m looking forward to Villeneuve’s version. It certainly looks gorgeous.

At the same time, I agree with an online contact who elsewhere said that they’d like something that’s more relevant to 2020s than to the time the story was written (1965).

At this writing, Dune is set to be released on December 18, 2020.

I doubt we two will see it in the theater unless there’s significant improvement in the local covid-19 numbers, so I’m hoping for an early release to either streaming services or disc.

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Second Trailer for Wonder Woman 1984

A new trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 is out:

Wonder Woman 1984 – Official Main Trailer by Warner Bros. Pictures on YouTube

I don’t know about you, but for me the most delightful thing in the trailer was the quick glimpse of young Diana running into an arena with other amazons. She was an absolute joy in the first movie!

Pedro Pascal, the actor for the male antagonist Max Lord, does a very good job—I’m repulsed by the character already; I just hope the performance isn’t too huge a hock of ham. I’ve only seen Pascal in Kingsman: The Golden Circle (plus a smattering of smaller roles in a variety of tv series), so I don’t have much to go by.

Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen reprise their roles; that’s lovely. I did complain, if you remember, that Antiope should be bought back when I was writing about the first trailer. I hope she doesn’t just get shunted into a mere flashback.

What we can tell of Kristen Wiig’s performance looks good, too; I’ve seen her in Ghostbusters and The Martian and enjoyed her voice acting (e.g. How to Train Your Dragon and the Despicable Me series); here’s hoping the trailer doesn’t lie in this respect.

I’m also delighted that Patty Jenkins has been given the chance to write the story and screenplay, not just direct. Here’s hoping she can make 1980s more interesting and less cringe-worthy than when I went through it!

According to IMBD, WW1984 is now set to release October 02, 2020. We’ll see whether the pandemic eats up this premier, too…

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Representation Chart: Star Wars, Sequel Trilogy

We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Star Wars sequel trilogy movies (Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker).

Characters included

(Characters are listed in the first movie in which they qualify for inclusion under the rules given below.)

  • Episode VII: The Force Awakens: Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, Han Solo, General Hux, Snap Wexley, Rey, Captain Phasma, General Leia Organa, Finn
  • Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: Luke Skywalker, Vice Admiral Holdo, Rose Tico
  • Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker: Emperor Palpatine, Zorii, Lando Calrissian

Rules

In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:

  • I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count). Phasma and Zorii are edge cases on this rule, but since we do at least once see enough of their faces to identify the actors as white women, I have included them.
  • The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, titles, etc.)
  • For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
  • For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
  • I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate. “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
  • There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.

Chart by Erik Jensen

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

When Your Favorite Creator Has a Bad Take

It happens sometimes, especially in today’s social media world: the creator of something you love, be it a book, movie, tv show, comic book, or some other work of art, has a bad take. We’re not talking about your garden-variety difference of opinion. (Despite what the Internet would have you believe, people who like pineapple on their pizza and people who don’t can, in fact, live in peace together.) We’re talking about a serious bad take, one that denies the fundamental humanity of a whole group of people or supports acts of violence in the real world. What do you do then?

The first steps are obvious enough. You can speak out against them, whether online or off. You can affirm your support for the people they targeted, whether publicly to the world at large or privately to the people you care about.

You can watch how the creator responds, whether they learn and grow from the experience or double down on their bad ideas. A lot of us have had to learn to challenge the bad ideas we absorbed from the culture around us, and most of us didn’t do it in public with an audience of millions. It’s fair to say that if someone has reached an age where they are producing art for a mass audience, they should really have gotten past basic prejudices and misjudgments, but if somehow they haven’t, it’s better that they do it now than not at all. Whether you find their actions convincing or sufficient is up to you. You don’t owe anyone your forgiveness, no matter what they may say or do. You’re also not wrong if you choose to give it. You are the only one who gets to decide what is enough for you.

If someone’s bad ideas are egregious enough to merit it, you can stop giving them money. Don’t buy their latest book or a ticket to their new movie. This may get complicated if their work is tangled up with the work of other people whose good work you still want to support, but loss of revenue is one of the biggest pressures you can put on a company or organization to drop a problematic actor or cut ties with a writer who has spewed hate. You can stop giving them attention, too. Unfollow or even block them on social media. Don’t give clicks to articles or posts about them or their latest work.

What about the works you already have? Do you have to clear their books off your shelves or throw away the DVDs? You can, of course, if you feel it’s right for you. If your enjoyment of those pieces of art would forever be tainted by their creator’s asinine or prejudiced comments, then there is no need for you to keep them. Like forgiveness, it’s a personal decision you can only make for yourself.

But what if you want to keep them? What if there are still things you love about those works, despite their creator’s attack of foot-in-mouth disease? How do you continue to enjoy them?

I spend a fair amount of my time reading books that were written by people who were absolutely wrong about a lot of important things ranging from the intellectual capacity of women to the morality of slavery. Much of this I read simply for my work, not for pleasure, but there are ancient texts I enjoy, some I have read over and over again for sheer delight, like the masterfully-told stories of Herodotus, the heroic deeds of the Homeric epics, Sappho’s longing love poetry, Martial’s wickedly funny epigrams, and others. Even without having a social media feed from any of these authors, I am confident that most of them believed in things we would find abhorrent today. How can I continue to enjoy their work?

The art is not the artist. This is the principle known in literary criticism as “the death of the author” (which is less dire than it sounds). What we create exists outside of ourselves. Once an author publishes a novel or a director releases a movie, their creative work is done. It is up to the audience to decide how they will receive and understand the work. Our experiences of art are not dictated wholly by the creator’s intentions but are a complicated interplay of our own thoughts and emotions with the artist’s ideas. Those experiences are personal and unique, and they do not depend on the moral qualities or opinions of the artist.

When I go back to the Iliad, I know that I am reading the product of a culture whose values were sharply different from my own on gender roles, the morality of war, the acceptability of slavery, and many other fundamental questions. It is impossible to read the epic without facing all of those differences. Many of them are so deeply woven into the story that it simply would not be possible to tell the story without them. The Iliad is the story of male warriors fighting over the possession of a beautiful woman; without any of these elements, it would cease to be the Iliad. And yet there are things to enjoy in the epic, without excusing or ignoring the cultural assumptions it is grounded in. Some of the most powerful passages in the work are those in which the humanity of individual characters comes through despite the cultural baggage around them. Helen has moments in the Iliad where we see her fear, her grief, her frustration and anger about the war being fought for her, and we glimpse her as a whole person, just as complex as any of the warrior-heroes around her. The final image of Achilles and Priam weeping together over their lost loved ones is a moving expression of the power of human compassion to overcome hatred. There is beauty and value in these things, and I can enjoy them while still being aware of the context around them.

If there is a book you love but whose author recently revealed themselves as a bigoted ass, it’s all right for you to still love the book and treasure the memories of how it made you feel when you first read it. Your experience of that book belongs to you, not to the author. Once their words and ideas entered your imagination, they became part of you, as much as any other experience in your past. You don’t have to excuse the author for their bad take, but neither does their bad take have to tarnish your enjoyment of their book.

It’s also okay if you decide that you can’t pick up that book again. You are the only person who knows what is right for you.

Here there be opinions!

Representation Chart: Star Wars, Original Trilogy

We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Star Wars original trilogy movies (Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi).

Characters included

(Characters are listed in the first movie in which they qualify for inclusion under the rules given below.)

  • Episode IV: A New Hope: Luke Skywalker, Owen, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Tarkin, Princess Leia, Beru
  • Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: General Rieekan, Admiral Piett, Emperor Palpatine, Lando Calrissian
  • Episode VI: Return of the Jedi:

If the absence of major characters like Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and Yoda seems strange, see below.

Rules

In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:

  • I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
  • The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, etc.)
  • For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
  • For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
  • I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate. “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
  • There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.

Chart by Erik Jensen

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Representation Chart: Star Wars, Prequels

We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Star Wars prequel movies (Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith).

Characters included

(Characters are listed in the first movie in which they qualify for inclusion under the rules given below.)

  • Episode I: The Phantom Menace: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jin, Anakin Skywalker, Palpatine, Chancelor Valorum, Padme Amidala, Shmi Skywalker, Captain Panaka, Mace Windu, Kitster
  • Episode II: Attack of the Clones: Captain Typho, Jango Fett, Boba Fett, Count Dooku, Cleigg Lars, Owen Lars, Bail Organa, Beru, Captain Typho, Dorme
  • Episode III: Revenge of the Sith: Commander Cody

Rules

In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:

  • I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
  • The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, etc.)
  • For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
  • For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
  • I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate. “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
  • There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.

Chart by Erik Jensen

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Second and Last Black Widow Trailer

Under two months to go to the Black Widow movie, and we have a second trailer.

Marvel Studios’ Black Widow | Final Trailer by Marvel Entertainment on YouTube

There are a few more clues of the Taskmaster character. He apparently has taken over the Red Room and somehow brainwashed / controlled a number (a class?) of Widows. Nat is shown connecting with her first found family, with some amusingly (and painfully) familiar bickering at the dining table. Since trailers always lie, I’m hesitant to call the writing good on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, but I’m cautiosly optimistic. Just, please, let it not be utter crap (like so many female-lead superhero movies of yore have been).

Otherwise, from the filming or type of action shown, somehow I get a similar wibe as Winter Soldier. As that’s one of my favorite MCU stories, this is a good thing. 🙂 Also, I’ll be glad to see northern European neoclassical cityscapes; it reminds me of home.

Black Widow opens May 01, 2020.

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Quotes: She Gets to Screw It Up

After the release of Terminator: Dark Fate in November of 2019, Emmet Asher-Perrin wrote at Tor.com about the Terminator franchise. This section at the end describes perfectly why the original T (1984—oh gosh!) will always be my favorite of the series and why we need more (super)hero stories with women in the focus:

“The end of The Terminator is maybe more entrancing than any other finale in the franchise for that reason. It has more in common with a horror film than a sci-fi action flick. Sarah Connor, the final girl who has to make it through for so much more than the sake of her own life, crawling away from two glaring red eyes. Her leg is broken, she’s barely fast enough, but she pulls it all together to crush the T-800 into scrap parts. You can see the moment where the unflinching hero of Judgement Day is born, and it’s right when she says ‘You’re terminated, fucker.’ It only took a span of days to rip her normal, unremarkable life apart, but we get the chance to take the entire journey with her, to sit in her emotions and think about how it would feel. It’s just as fast as most ‘Chosen One’ narratives tend to be, but it doesn’t feel rushed because we are with her for every terrifying second of that ride.

“There are a few more heroes who get this treatment, but they are rarely women. Black Widow has a few muddled flashbacks in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Captain Marvel gets flickers of her past in formative moments. Wonder Woman gives us a brief introduction to Diana’s home and the women who raised her. Rey doesn’t get much time to wrestle with her budding Jedi abilities before heading off for training. We get brief hints of where these women came from, of how it feels to take everything onto their shoulders. But Sarah Connor gets to muddle through it. She gets to wear weird tie-dyed t-shirts and shiver when she’s cold and decide whether or not she can accept the idea of time travel and unborn sons and machines that will always find her no matter where she hides. She gets to present herself as wholly unqualified, and she gets to screw it up, and she still makes it out the other side to fight another day.” [original emphasis]

– Emmet Asher-Perrin

We’ve recently watched a few excellent crime procedurals (for example, Vera and The Fall, plus a new Finnish-Spanish production called Paratiisi) where the female protagonists were written with multiple characteristics that television’s stereotypical damaged males have (like a traumatic past, superficial sex / multiple throwaway partners, alcohol use, difficulty maintaining meaningful human relationships or, indeed, behaving professionally towards your colleagues, to mention a few).

Criticism of these kinds of women in stories is often framed in terms of likeability: you can’t like a woman who behaves in “un-feminine” ways. Well, assuming we’re not talking about comfort-watching or reading (which I’d allow some liberties to), do you have to? I’ve never met anyone who liked everyone they ever met.

I’d say it’s lazy storytelling at its core to plop in a feature of a given character or culture or setting without examining its purpose in the story. For example, while I appreciate the performances of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in the Sherlock series by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, I detest the selfish, egotistical, arrogant, inconsiderate way Moffat and Gatiss have their Holmes behave. (There’s a reason we haven’t rewatched the series.) He if anyone is unlikeable, to put it mildly, but somehow people can only see his genius—even when the original Sherlock Holmes emphatically behaves with kindness.

And while it’s true that none of these “unlikeable” people would be easy to have as friends, it’s also true that none of them is without any redeeming qualities either. The point is, depicting one gender only in a certain light and cutting off other possibilities of being from them is overly limiting, because in the real world possibilities are nigh on infinite.

Depicting a variety of individuals is exactly what makes for instance heist stories like Ocean’s Eight or Jane Austen’s novels so enjoyable and delicious. Flipping details around, reversing patterns, defying expectations—these are exactly what make a story shine. Women are people and people come in a range of shapes, sizes, and mentalities. Just think of the range of abilities and body shapes Olympic athletes represent, for example.

Just like I do not want all men in my fiction to be cookie-cutter copies, I certainly don’t want all women in my fiction to be cast from the same mold. Expecting all or even most members of any group be an amorphous mass is really rather ill-advised, for it ruins many a good tale and taken to extremes would make stories untellable.

To re-phrase Asher-Perrin: what The Terminator really gets right is that Sarah Connor gets to feel her feels, to react, emote, and flail (like Ye Old Female Protagonist)—AND she gets to win the day.

Asher-Perrin, Emmet. “The First Terminator Movie Gave Sarah Connor One of the Most Compelling Origin Stories”. Tor.com, November 01, 2019.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Mulan in Live Action: Final Trailer

Just over a month to go, and the final trailer for live-action Mulan is here:

 

Disney’s Mulan | Final Trailer by Walt Disney Studios on YouTube

More character moments and more action than in the previous two trailers, that’s for sure! There is apparently going to be a woman in a major protagonist role, which is perhaps tiresome, but then again, it’s a Disney production so it’s not likely the story will be something new and astounding. I’d also ditch the most egregious wirework stunts, but that’s another highly personal preference.

An interesting choice was to show Mulan’s parents discussing her choice and have them wrestle with the implications, but I’m guessing there won’t be too much of that in the movie. And it is still incredibly beautiful.

Mulan is released March 27, 2020.

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Black Widow Special Look Trailer

The Black Widow movie is released in just under two and a half months, and a special look trailer is out.

Marvel Studios’ Black Widow | Special Look by Marvel Entertainment on YouTube

We see more action, but still relatively few plot points are added to the first trailer: for example, the character I assume to be the Taskmaster remains officially unnamed in the clip. We do hear that a new class (a “vault”) of widows has been trained, which has lots of spin-off potential.

What I really enjoy the most, though, is that we see at least three women being pals (well, for certain values of pals at least) and kicking ass while at it. Sure, some of the stunts look a bit ludicrous, but show me a superhero movie that doesn’t have overdone action in it. The point is, women get to do it, too, and not just the lone Smurfette pasted in to flash cleavage. These women—like the other characters in the story—are highly trained and they are finally allowed to act it. Fucking finally!

Leverage Sophie It Is On

Black Widow opens May 01, 2020.

Image: screencap from the tv series Leverage (“The Office Job”, season 4 / episode 12) via Oui, Mais Non (insertusernameici) on Tumblr

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