The Brother Always Dies First: on sex, death, and cinematic depictions of race is an excellent essay by author Steven Barnes, exploring two propositions regarding race in American cinema:

Proposed: Black men cannot have sex in movies without it hurting the box office.

Evidence: No non-white male is able to have sex in a movie and have that film cross $100 million at the domestic box office.

Exception: After thirty years of observation, there are now actually THREE movies that contradict this! Huzzah! (Do you know what they are? Answers at the end.)

Proposition #2: It is NOT true that “the black guy always dies first.” This is easily proven as far back as Night of the Living Dead. The reality is rather more difficult to wrap minds around. It is this: there are countless films in which ALL the black characters die, or all the black males die. And there are NO American films in which all the white characters die, if anyone else at all survives. Not one.

I have compiled a list of over ONE HUNDRED such films, which appears at the end of this article.

Explanation: A “character” is someone with at least one line of dialogue.

Exception: On January 17, 2020, I finally saw a movie that contradicts this, the very first American film I’ve ever seen or heard of where black people survive while all the white people die. Not a bad movie, either. The name is in the footnotes.

Some of this I was semi-conscious of, at least in the “the black guy always dies first” sense. But I certainly hadn’t taken as deep a dive into it as Steven has (and, gee, I wonder why, as I look at my nearly-translucent white skin…).

Baby Yoda and ‘The Dark Crystal’ Prove We Still Need Puppetry in the Age of CGI: “Frankly, I don’t always want my entertainment to look effortless. Instead, I want to stand in awe of these feats of creation: painstakingly crafted miniature worlds, marionettes that fire arrows, extraterrestrial tots that beg you to scoop them up and kiss them on the forehead. I want to shout, ‘How the hell did they do that?!’”

Plex Offers Over a Thousand Ad-Supported Movies on Demand: The films are “free” as in “ad supported”, but it’s still an interesting move. While I’m a long-time Plex user, I’m not sure if I’ll take advantage of this (I have an extensive personal movie and TV collection as it is, plus some of the big-name streaming services), but it may well be worthwhile for plenty of other people.

Sometime between January 27th and October 30th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

I watched all of Love Death + Robots on Saturday, and while much of the animation was impressive and parts of it were interesting, and I enjoyed a few of the episodes, as a whole, it was rather “meh”. They definitely weren’t kidding about the NSFW warnings, though: bloody, gory violence, language, and lots of nudity with a definite “male gaze” issue throughout many of the entries.

Speaking about the Netflix animated anthology series in a press release, Miller made it clear that viewers should expect mature content.

“I’m so f**king excited that the creative landscape has finally changed enough for adult-themed animation to become part of a larger cultural conversation,” he said.

While some of that excitement is justified – the vast majority of LDR looks great and many of its 18 short episodes are amusing, clever and shocking in the best possible way – gratuitous female nudity once again sticks the male and female characters on an entirely unbalanced playing field. Nudity on screen is fine – we’re all for it, in fact. But this is something different.

My personal rough rankings of the various pieces, from most to least enjoyable (if you’re cherry-picking episodes, for me, 1-8 are worth watching, 9-12 are not terribly objectionable, 13-18 are the most skippable):

  1. Three Robots: One of three entries adapted from short works by John Scalzi, all of which ended up in my top picks. Amusing story of three robots touring the ruins of Earth.
  2. Fish Night: I liked this one because it’s pretty and weird, though I’m not surprised to see it’s one of the lower-rated episodes on IMDB.
  3. Zima Blue: Neat animation style, and an interesting story with a fun ending.
  4. When the Yogurt Took Over: Hyper-intelligent yogurt saving humanity. Just silly.
  5. Helping Hand: When an EVA goes wrong, an astronaut has to figure out if she can save herself. Made me cringe, but because of what was happening, not because of how it was presented.
  6. Ice Age: Another short and silly entry. Remember to clean out your freezer!
  7. Alternate Histories: Goofball explorations of possible timelines prompted by killing Hitler in various ways.
  8. Good Hunting: I really liked the overall arc of the story of this one, though it’s also the first (in this ranking, not in presentation order) to use sexualized violence as part of the plot.
  9. Blind Spot: An average high-speed heist story, with a rather unsurprising final resolution.
  10. Suits: Farmers in mech suits defend their fields from an invading horde of aliens. Shrug.
  11. Lucky 13: I’m generally not big on military SF; most impressive for digitizing actress Samira Wiley so well that I actually recognized her character as the actress (and checked to see if it was really her, or if they’d just designed a character who strongly resembled her).
  12. Sucker of Souls: Archaeologists and mercenaries against vampires. With cats.
  13. Beyond the Aquila Rift: Not an entirely uninteresting story, but spent a little too much time on the sex scene (and sure, there was arguably a shock payoff for that at the end, but still…). It felt more like a “look what we can render/get away with” scene.
  14. The Dump: Relied too much on hick stereotypes and male-nudity-as-(unfunny) humor.
  15. The Secret War: WWI Russian soldiers battling an unstoppable enemy. Similar reaction as with Suits, only that one was was slightly more interesting due to the mechs.
  16. Shape-Shifters: Werewolves, lots of gore, and hoo-rah! militarism.
  17. The Witness: While the story itself wasn’t bad, and the animation style was neat, it ends up being primarily watching a terrified naked woman run away from a male pursuer.
  18. Sonnie’s Edge: Mentally controlling giant beasties to fight each other is rather cliché, but using off-screen gang rape as a motivating factor and more “look, they’re letting us animate naked women (at least until we kill them)!” scenes failed to impress me.

My Gilliam Film Collection
My Gilliam Film Collection

A collection I’ve wanted for a long time, and finally completed: All of Terry Gilliam’s films (except for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which isn’t out yet) are on my Plex server in HD. He’s just the sort of gloriously weird that works well for me.

It’s funny, though, thinking about it. I tend to think of myself as not being a big fan of dystopian fiction*, and yet that’s a large part of his work. But even in his darker films that don’t always end on happy notes, there’s often a definite line of optimism, hope, and the characters fighting against that dystopia — I think there’s a good argument to be made that there’s a hopepunk element to much of his work, which is why it resonates with me.

* I’m certainly less so now than I was in my youth when I first discovered Gilliam. Something about being aware of the dystopia we live in makes it a lot less escapist, doesn’t it? And, unfortunately, there’s definitely evidence that Gilliam doesn’t always recognize his own racial and sexual privilege, with his unfortunate comments about the #metoo movement and diversity in media programming, which could also partially explain his draw towards dystopian fiction: He can view it from what he perceives to be a “safe” distance, just as I did when I first discovered it. Meanwhile, there are lots of people (who, as I think about it, I really don’t think I can remember much representation of in his films) who are far more intimately, immediately familiar with the realities of living in dystopian worlds.

Huh. Well, that went astray from my original intention of “hey, I’ve got all the movies I can from one of my favorite directors!”

Sometime between November 14th and November 29th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!