Most new releases dodged the anticipated shadow of “Mulan” last week, but we return to a wider range of premieres this week. New comedies, sci-fi, drama, and animation abound in the Series and Movies sections. Take a look at the documentary section as well – there are some really interesting entries. Let’s get right to it:
The Duchess (Netflix)
showrunner Katherine Ryan
A single mom in London grapples with her wreck of an ex, a stand-offish family, and whether she should have another child.
“The Duchess” is the creation of star and writer Katherine Ryan. A stand-up comedian and actress, she started out with hosting roles in Canada and later the UK. She’s had a recent series of stand-up specials take off on Netflix, and Netflix has had a smart approach to developing shows alongside many of their stand-up personalities.
You can watch “The Duchess” on Netflix with a subscription.
Power Book II: Ghost (Starz)
showrunner Courtney A. Kemp
“Power Book II: Ghost” is a spinoff of the series “Power”. It should work as both a standalone story and as one interwoven with the previous series. It follows a young man named Tariq who wants to move beyond his family’s complicated involvement with organized crime. At the same time, he can’t afford to save his family without repeating many of these complications.
Showrunner Courtney A. Kemp started out as a staff writer on “The Bernie Mac Show”. Within a few years, she was producing on “The Good Wife”. She created “Power”, which just finished its six season run earlier this year.
You can watch “Power Book II: Ghost” on Starz with a subscription. (You may already have Starz through Hulu, a cable provider, or another service that includes it.)
The Idhun Chronicles (Netflix)
directed by Maite Ruiz de Austri
“The Idhun Chronicles” is a Spanish anime-styled series. Refugees of a conquered planet are hunted on Earth by a necromancer’s assassin. A young man named Jack discovers he’s being hunted, too. He needs the help of those refugees to find out why.
The series is based on “The Idhun’s Memories”, a trilogy of novels by Laura Gallego. She also co-writes the teleplays for the series.
Director Maite Ruiz de Austri was the only woman in Spain to have directed mainstream animation until 2018. Her films have been nominated for six Goya Awards (Spain’s equivalent of the Oscars) in Best Animated Film. She’s won twice.
You can watch “The Idhun Chronicles” on Netflix with a subscription.
directed by Arati Kadav
People who pass away appear on a spaceship, where a man named Prahastha takes care of them. He prepares them to move to the next life. He’s been doing this alone for a long time when an assistant arrives. It’s Yuvishka’s job to learn everything he knows.
This is director Arati Kadav’s first feature. In interviews, she’s described the film as fusing Indian mythology to Eastern sci-fi. She’s cited her influences as science-fiction writers Jorge Luis Borges and Ted Chiang, writers who have fused the abstracted edge of the genre to some of its most human moments.
You can watch “Cargo” on Netflix with a subscription.
directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg
Veronica finds out she’s pregnant. She wants an abortion, but she’s in high school, her parents are extremely religious, and the nearest clinic where she can get the procedure done is longer than a day trip away. She asks her former best friend to help her.
The road comedy is director Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s second film to come out this year. I featured the first, a remake of 80s comedy “Valley Girl”, a few months back. Goldenberg has a strong resume of directing on series, ranging from “The Mindy Project” to “Angie Tribeca” and “Looking for Alaska”.
You can watch “Unpregnant” on HBO Max with a subscription.
directed by Maimouna Doucoure
In the U.S., this has been the most controversial movie of the year by a wide margin. That’s saying something considering “Mulan” came out last week. “Cuties” is about a Senegalese-French girl named Amy who lives in one of the poorest areas of Paris. She sees her neighbor dancing and wants to take part, though this is difficult given some of her own family’s traditional customs.
I’ve read that the film criticizes the hyper-sexualization of girls through media and the pressure to participate in that sexualization through social media. Netflix didn’t exactly convey this when it released a hypersexualized poster of the film’s stars – all young girls.
I’ve also read that the film partakes in that hyper-sexualization it intends to criticize. It’s hard to know which is the accurate read because a lot of people decided where they would land based on that initial poster, without seeing the film.
Make no mistake – that poster was hugely problematic. What followed was very legitimate criticism from critics and viewers. Unfortunately, more abusive elements seized on the conversation quickly. Seeing an opportunity, members of the QAnon conspiracy theory movement harnessed anger at Netflix in an effort to recruit. QAnon is a messy organization of conspiracy theorists and their followers who have encouraged and defended acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists.
Needless to say, combining a responsible conversation about abusive marketing with the entry of a domestic terrorist organization created a mess – particularly on social media. Legitimate concerns about the film and its advertising were conflated with conspiracy theories and false claims about politicians and communities who had nothing to do with the film.
Among other things, this resulted in director Maimouna Doucoure receiving death threats for a film that Netflix may have genuinely misrepresented in their marketing – advertising that Doucoure wasn’t involved with.
What’s the takeaway here? At the very least, that marketing decision on Netflix’s part needs to be taken to task and never repeated. How the hell that ever made it past multiple decision-makers is a complete failure on their part.
It’s also important to recognize that there was a legitimate opportunity for criticism and social change here, that was absolutely obscured and ruined by the involvement of evangelical fundamentalists and supremacist extremists pushing conspiracy theories to further the stature of themselves and their organizations.
Conspiracy theory often seeks to connect itself to something true or legitimate. If it’s positioned this way, extremists can pretend as if you arguing against them is actually you arguing against the one true element on which they’ve perched a bunch of false and hateful rhetoric. This attempts to neutralize vocal opposition in order to justify terrorism under the mantle of protecting someone.
QAnon has routinely invented child trafficking accusations (remember Pizzagate?) that obscure and damage real efforts to protect children from actual trafficking. It does this so it can excuse racism and misogyny as “defending children”, when all they’re doing is undermining real efforts to do so in order to enable, empower, and enrich domestic terrorists.
Whatever change needs to happen in response to “Cuties” and its marketing now needs to be disentangled from the involvement of a domestic terrorist movement that wants to position itself as an authority on the matter. That doesn’t help anyone or further anything.
This is Doucoure’s first feature film.
You can watch “Cuties” on Netflix with a subscription.
The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show (Peacock)
directed by Yoruba Richen
For a week in February 1968, regular “The Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson stepped aside for a new host. Jamaican-American singer and activist Harry Belafonte hosted “The Tonight Show” for that week, featuring guests such as Martin Luther King Jr., Aretha Franklin, Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, Nipsey Russell, and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
The move was both subversive and controversial. Belafonte was the first Black person to host a late-night show, and he didn’t shy away from activism in his week-long run. At the same time, he entertained and pursued humanizing both his guests and himself – something that he shouldn’t have had to do, but that emotionally labored to disarm an audience that was struggling (and still struggles) to consider Black people as equal. He showed home video of his family on vacation. He goofed around with announcer Ed McMahon. He did bits, just like Carson did.
Yoruba Richen has produced and directed a number of documentaries that engage how racism intersects both politics and entertainment. This includes “Promised Land”, about post-apartheid South Africa’s efforts to restore land to those it was stolen from, and “The New Black”, which investigates how the evangelical right wing sought to exploit divisions in Black religious communities over LGBTQ rights.
You can watch “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show” on Peacock with a subscription. The premium version of Peacock is currently included with many other services, so you might already have access to it.
Black Boys (Peacock)
directed by Sonia Lowman
“Black Boys” interviews famous Black athletes like Carmelo Anthony, Cris Carter, and Harry Edwards about the experience of being a Black man in the U.S. It focuses on the intersection of sports and social issues, and how celebrity can impact or help various civil rights fights.
This is the second feature documentary from director Sonia Lowman, after “Teach Us All” covered the failures of the education system to implement integration, often through policies like redlining.
You can watch “Black Boys” on Peacock with a subscription. The premium version of Peacock is currently included with many other services, so you might already have access to it.
My Octopus Teacher (Netflix)
co-directed by Pippa Ehrlich
Free diver Craig Foster followed an octopus for most of her life. In a cold, underwater, kelp forest at the southern tip of Africa, the octopus gradually developed a trust in him and allowed him to follow her. This documentary covers the hard-won trust earned over several years, and behavior that hasn’t been recorded before.
This is the first film from director Pippa Ehrlich, a marine science journalist and underwater photographer. She had to specifically train herself to film in 50-degree water for extended periods of time, without a wet suit or oxygen. She directs with James Reed, a wildlife documentarian.
I also want to highlight the involvement of editor Jinx Godfrey. She is one of the most skilled editors working today, having cut historical dramas like the recent “Chernobyl” series and fictionalized biopics like “The Theory of Everything”, as well as “documentaries like “Man on Wire” and “Project Nim”. She’s won two ACE awards (American Cinema Editors), which is essentially the Oscars for editors.
You can watch “My Octopus Teacher” on Netflix with a subscription.
Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.
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