Lena Waithe, the writer and actor who stars as Denise in Netflix’s Master of None, is arguably the sitcom’s biggest breakthrough star. While a lot of media attention has been focused on her co-stars Aziz Ansari, Eric Wareheim, and Alan Yang, who are all fantastic in the brilliant and sometimes flawed series, it’s Waithe who provides the show with an emotional core and comedic stability.
Amazon and Netflix are transforming the way independent movies are made and distributed — with far-reaching effects on an entire culture centered around film festivals, back-room negotiations, and subtle prestige battles. At The Ringer, Sean Fennessey takes a panoramic look at the changed landscape of independent filmmaking, where traditional distribution deals become increasingly obsolete.
Dillard has had to wait for more than 15 months for the public to see his movie. After brokering a deal with Blumhouse and WWE Films, Dillard entered a period when he was forced to resume his life and earn a living while tuning up his movie for its wide release. Few had seen Sleight and so momentum was difficult to come by. Artistic purgatory doesn’t pay.
“Here’s the not-so-glamorous side of independent film: All of my student loans defaulted, all my credit cards went into collections, I went back to Bad Robot to help my friends who are chefs there, to help them in the kitchen,” says Dillard. “So I was doing whatever I could, but I still had to keep so much time open for Sleight, and that process sucks — like, it really sucks. And that’s nobody’s fault. It’s the nature of a low-budget [movie], where you can’t just pay somebody 85 grand [to fix all your problems].”
There was no such interregnum for Macon Blair.
“It seems to me like a cool way of doing things,” Blair says of his movie’s quick arrival on Netflix. “If the temperature is already up on a particular title to not let it cool off and then have to re-remind people about it nine months or 12 months later, just sort of strike while the iron is hot.”
In a summer marked by record levels of political angst, Netflix show Stranger Things accomplished an impressive feat. It tells a story of such murky ideological leanings that everyone — from the tinfoil hatters to the vegan socialists — just had to surrender to its expertly executed ’80s pastiche and satisfying emotional pull. (And, sure, all those adorable kid actors.)
Whether you’re still high on the show’s well-calculated nostalgia or already experiencing symptoms of Upside Down withdrawal, here’s a two-part selection of stories to keep you going: from deep dives into the design of the show’s title sequence to a sprawling interview with its creators. See you on the other side!
In fact, perhaps ironically, if you doubt for a moment that there is still a cultural class distinction between television and film or television and novels, look to the eagerness of people who are enthusiastic about television to compare it to film or novels. It’s the new cinema! It’s the new novel! Is TV better than movies? Are movies better than television? Is this show so lovingly made that it can be called … cinematic?
If you ask these questions, let me ask you these questions: Is an avocado better than a hammer? Is a fish better than a skateboard? Who cares? Things are different from each other. Ranking a television comedy against a television drama is bogus enough without dragging movies and books into it. And yet: here we are. Not because these distinctions are particularly well supported by evidence, but because they are expedient, and because they help people organize their cultural worlds – which is a very understandable impulse growing out of the sad, beautiful fact that we’re all going to miss almost everything.
This whitewashing of Jewishness out of pop culture is an old, old story, and it isn’t specific to camp movies; it’s true of plenty of other Hollywood representations of American teens, too. The Czech Jew who wrote the novel that was the basis for Gidget (1959) was inspired by his own surfing daughter, Kathy Kohner, who went on to marry a scholar of Yiddish literature—but that didn’t make it into the sequels. One could even argue that a substantial element of John Hughes’ magic was to take places and performers that could be read as specifically Jewish—Skokie, Illinois, in Sixteen Candles, say, or Matthew Broderick, who not long before becoming Ferris Bueller played Eugene Morris Jerome in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs—and render them approachably all-American, neither too WASPy nor Jewish per se.
—Josh Lambert writing for Tablet Magazine about Wet Hot American Summer and its recent Netflix revival. According to Lambert, unwhitewashed Jewishness and its humor remain at the heart of both versions of Wet Hot American Summer.
Last week, ‘Tig’, a documentary about stand-up comic Tig Notaro–whose career reached new heights in 2012 after she opened a set by announcing she had breast cancer–debuted on Netflix. In January, at Vulture, Jada Yuan spoke with Notaro about the film, the assorted grave misfortunes from 2012 that are now behind her, her plans for marrying and having kids with her partner, Stephanie Allynne–and baring her mastectomy scars through an entire set, before an audience:
You did a topless set showing your mastectomy scars in New York this November. Why did you want to do that?
Well, I felt compelled after my surgery. It amused me to think of going onstage topless and not really acknowledging it. And just kind of in the same awkward way that it is to say, “Good evening, I have cancer, how’s it going tonight? Are you guys having fun?” Delivering it like, “Any birthdays?” And then I kind of put it out of my mind. But then when I started touring again a couple years later, I felt compelled, and I told a few friends that I was thinking about it, and they were all so excited. And then one person said that they were scared I couldn’t get the audience back if I did that, and then another person said they were scared it would be a stunt, and I feel very much like it is a stunt. [Laughs.] But it’s my skin, it’s my body, it healed, and it shouldn’t be taboo. It’s not a big deal. Cancer is a big deal, but my body — the aftermath — is not a big deal. I really did get a lot of feedback that people were stunned when I took my shirt off, and then 30 seconds later they didn’t even notice. I’m in a unique position after that album that I put out two years ago, and this would be the time for me to make that kind of statement and do that sort of action.
When Piper optioned her book to Jenji Kohan, the creator of Weeds, a number of people were asked to sign over something called “life rights.” In short: Some version of our lives could be depicted on the show, and we each agreed not to sue its creators if, for example, the character based on one of us was depicted as snobby, dopey, bitchy, overbearing, short, whatever. There’s a tremendous amount of trust that Piper had to put in Jenji.
If the show was unrealistic, salacious, or just plain bad, it could tarnish Piper’s book, a serious, accessible, and largely sex-free window into the women’s federal prison system. It was also a memoir written by a reluctant memoirist. Piper is a private person who told her story because she believed she could get a lot of people to pick up a book about prison who probably wouldn’t otherwise. Through this “Trojan horse” protagonist who might remind them of themselves, their daughter, or their niece, readers would get a peek into the diverse and complex world of women in prison: who they are, what happens when they get there, and what kind of world they’re dropped back into when they are released. The reaction to the book Orange Is the New Black gave Piper an opportunity to speak out on criminal justice reform—an opportunity very few prisoners have. The decision to give such a personal work over to a stranger—albeit an Emmy-winning one—looks easy now. Back then it wasn’t.
—Larry Smith, husband of Piper Kerman, writing in Medium about the other true story behind “Orange Is The New Black”—his own life.
Photo: PEN American Center, Flickr
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