Author Archives


The Fault in Our Stars: On Fake Celebrity Interviews

Collage by Katie Kosma

Soraya Roberts | Longreads | November 2018 | 11 minutes (2,670 words)

“I play with my breasts, not to show off but to demonstrate a kind of revulsion. I simply transform myself into a voice for all the tormented souls of this world.”

That’s Courtney Love in 1996 in SZ, the magazine belonging to one of the largest newspapers in Germany, Süddeutsche Zeitung. It sounds a little crazy, but then, she’s a little crazy. And anyway, Tom Kummer, the Swiss journalist who attempted to style himself after Hunter S. Thompson, always filed outlandish exclusives and cover stories like this from Los Angeles — Pamela Anderson on her aching implants, Mike Tyson on eating cockroaches, Bruce Willis on immorality. From the mid-nineties to 2000, he was kind of a celebrity himself. Beloved by editors, he also wrote for the German magazines Der Spiegel and Stern and Switzerland’s Die Weltwoche. In fact, it was in the latter that, roughly two years before the Love interview, he wrote, funnily enough: “She plays with her breasts not to show off but to demonstrate revulsion. She wants to embody the voice of all tormented souls in the world.”

Tom Kummer had been flagged for fabrication before, but it wasn’t until an exposé in Focus magazine in 2000 that it was confirmed: he had never interviewed Love, or Brad Pitt or Sharon Stone or Kim Basinger, or anyone really. SZ followed with a breakdown of his deceit, like The New York Times would with Jayson Blair in 2003; it published an apology for the “falsified” stories and fired editors Christian Kämmerling and Ulf Poschardt. You would think Kummer would at least nod at contrition — like Janet Cooke in 1982, like Stephen Glass in 1998 — but he took the Jonah Lehrer route instead and talked boundaries. He even had a name for his approach: borderline journalism. “I wrote impressionistic, creative, literary descriptions of the life of stars in the form of so-called interviews,” he told The Guardian in 2011, adding, “Everybody loved my stuff and I guess they were addicted to some kind of illusion that stars should talk like I made them talk.” He claimed he was never asked for proof, that his editors had approved of his methods. As Stern’s publisher told the Times, they — Kummer and his editors — “appeared to have a different idea of journalism.” Read more…

RomCon: Our Failure to See Black Romantic Comedies

Tyler Perry Studios‎, Homegrown Pictures Screen Gems, New Line Cinema, Sneak Preview Entertainment, FoxSearchlight, Universal Pictures

Soraya Roberts | Longreads | November 2018 | 10 minutes (2,438 words)

When I think romcom, I think white — Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers — white women, white houses, white stories. But I was weaned on white culture. More striking is that Vanity Fair film critic K. Austin Collins, who had a “low-whiteness diet” growing up, thinks the same thing. So does The Undefeated culture critic Soraya Nadia McDonald, who attended a predominantly black high school and remembers kids “losing their minds” over Love & Basketball. Yet the first thing that enters her mind when she thinks of romcoms is her favorite, Bridget Jones’s Diary. “It’s funny because even in my head the movies are segregated,” McDonald says. “I can list off a whole bunch of movies with majority black casts that of course are romcoms, I just didn’t necessarily think of them that way.”

Earlier this week Rebel Wilson, star of next year’s Isn’t it Romantic, was shamed into apologizing for claiming to be “the first ever plus-sized girl to be the star of a romantic comedy” and then blocking the black women on Twitter who reintroduced her to Queen Latifah and Mo’Nique. “To be part of a problem I was hoping I was helping makes it that much more embarrassing & hard to acknowledge,” she tweeted. No kidding. While both my boyfriend (white) and I (half-white) have seen a number of black romcoms, including Queen Latifah’s, we were ashamed to realize that we were as complicit in their erasure as Wilson — we likely would have forgotten them too. For this, Collins has understanding, if not sympathy. While he sides with Rebecca Theodore-Vachon — one of the first to call out Wilson — he also recognizes that the critic is occupying a space of lucidity independent of the white-washed culture that formed Wilson (and me and my whiter boyfriend): “It is true that it would take a mental adjustment for her to think of some of those movies as romcoms because no one advertised them as those things.” Read more…

Let’s Talk About Sex Scenes

Anna Sastre / Unsplash / Pexels / Collage by Katie Kosma

The first sex scene ever filmed was not a sex scene at all. It was a kiss. And there was way less kissing than talking. May Irwins’ make out session with John Rice, a recreation of the smooch from the Broadway musical The Widow Jones, took all of one second. Filmed in 1896 at Thomas Edison’s Black Maria Studio, the soundless footage — titled, simply, The Kiss — opens with Irwin deep in conversation with Rice. While it is impossible to tell what they are saying, the two actors appear to be discussing logistics. Thirteen seconds in they seem in agreement. Both pull back, Rice dramatically smooths out his moustache and, while Irwin is still talking, he cups her face and the two of them peck. Or, on his end, nibble. All in all, the actual moment their lips touch is almost nothing — 94 percent of the first sex scene was actually the discourse around it.

Were this to happen today, the actors would have had clearer direction. Last week Rolling Stone reported that HBO would be hiring intimacy coordinators for every show that called for it after “The Deuce” star Emily Meade, who plays a prostitute in the series, asked for help with her sex scenes. The network consulted Intimacy Directors International (IDI), a non-profit established in 2016 that represents theatre, tv and film directors and choreographers specializing in the carnal. “The Intimacy Director takes responsibility for the emotional safety of the actors and anyone else in the rehearsal hall while they are present,” their site explains, alongside a standard set of guidelines called The Pillars: context (understanding the story), communication, consent, choreography and closure (signaling the end of the scene). Read more…

The Others: Why Women Are Shut Out of Horror

In the shower scene from the film Psycho, Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) screams in terror as Norman Bates tears open her shower curtain. (Photo: Bettman/Getty Images)

He’s coming. Hide. No, not there. Oh god. No. No! *Fade to black* “What’s happening? WHAT’S HAPPENING?! IS SHE DEAD? DID HE KILL HER?” I hear my boyfriend sigh. This is how I watch horror movies, with my hands mostly over my eyes. I watch through my fingers, obscuring all the scary parts. It’s like being a prisoner, nose to the bars of my cell. I miss a lot, or sometimes nothing at all. Sometimes I’m not fast enough. Like with Hereditary, that moment provoking a collective gasp from the entire theatre, or, more recently, with “The Haunting of Hill House,” where ghosts drop into the scene with the phantom grace of house spiders. I jump and scream and laugh, but as sure as this is the sense of injustice — I know that at night I will have to keep my light on, check under my bed, shut the doors until they click. I know that every shadow, every sound, every movement will terrorize me. But even though I know this, I will do it again and again and again. This torture, I will welcome it.

There is no genre I enjoy more than horror even though, as a woman, it seems that I shouldn’t. There’s Don’t Breathe, in which an old blind man who started out as the victim actually ends up trying to artificially inseminate the young woman who burgled him; It Follows, in which a young woman is haunted by the sentient STD her boyfriend gave her; The Innkeepers, in which a young woman is trapped in a cellar with the ghost of an ancient bride who was jilted by her groom; Drag Me to Hell, in which a young woman who refuses an old woman a loan ends up cursed, her face gnawed by a toothless demon. These are the horror movies in the past 10 years that I have been unable to get out of my mind, that I have loved — despite the nightmares — four movies about young women who are tormented, none of them written or directed by women. What does that say about me? What does that say about horror? Read more…

The Denial Diaries: On #MeToo Men With No Self-Awareness

Francesco Carta / Getty, Collage by Katie Kosma

Dan Harmon had no plans to say anything about the way he had treated Megan Ganz. But then, in January, the writer who used to work for him on “Community” accused him of sexual harassment on Twitter. Though he was advised not to respond, the women he worked with told him that if he was serious about making amends, he needed to talk about where he went wrong. So a week after Ganz’s tweet, Harmon spent seven shaky, breathless minutes of his podcast, “Harmontown,” on a systematic breakdown of the self-deceptions — including calling himself a feminist and those who questioned him “sexist” — that enabled him to harass Ganz. “I did it by not thinking about it,” he told his listeners, “and I got away with it by not thinking about it.”

Read more…

We Stand on Guard for Bieber

Dominic Lipinski / AP, Illustration by Katie Kosma

Soraya Roberts | Longreads | August 2018 | 18 minutes (4,330 words)

Stratford, Ontario, doesn’t announce itself. The first time I traveled there, in mid-February, I drove into its center before knowing I was actually in it. I had not noticed a sign. All I had seen were miles of flat snowy farmland — the odd silo, field upon field — a row of frosted evergreens lining the horizon. Stratford, population 31,465, is like any other small tourist town in Ontario — shabby strip malls, magisterial churches, brick Main Street, overpriced eateries. Like so many Canadian cities, it’s the kind of place where a kid could be born and, happily enough, have just as much chance of staying as leaving.

People generally visit Stratford in the summer for its renowned Shakespeare festival, but I went during the off-season. A couple of miles ahead of the town center, my boyfriend and I passed what appeared to be a school bus holding zone — about a dozen of them, parked like blocks of life-size Legos — before arriving at the Stratford Perth Museum. It was 10 a.m. on a Saturday, the opening time for the press day of the “Steps to Stardom” exhibit, which traced Justin Bieber’s life, all 24 years of it, back to his Stratford childhood. It was quiet. The exhibit scarcely announced itself either, aside from two festive planters flanking the entrance, each festooned with curlicued silver-sprayed twigs wrapped in bows and billowy purple gauze, a color that, for those in the know, announces JUSTIN BIEBER as surely as it might have once announced royalty. In the next room, even quieter, the “Railway Century” exhibit politely stood by with its black-and-white photographs of the industry that had built the town that had built Justin Bieber. Read more…