Congrats to the 2019 Hugo Winners!

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Best Novel
The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)
Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Saga)
Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Macmillan)
Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)

Best Novella
Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells (Tor.com publishing)
Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com publishing)
Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com publishing)
The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com publishing)
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson (Tor.com publishing)
The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press / JABberwocky Literary Agency)

Best Novelette
“If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” by Zen Cho (B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, 29 November 2018)
“The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections,” by Tina Connolly (Tor.com, 11 July 2018)
“Nine Last Days on Planet Earth,” by Daryl Gregory (Tor.com, 19 September 2018)
The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander (Tor.com publishing)
“The Thing About Ghost Stories,” by Naomi Kritzer (Uncanny Magazine 25, November-December 2018)
“When We Were Starless,” by Simone Heller (Clarkesworld 145, October 2018)

Best Short Story
“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2018)
“The Court Magician,” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, January 2018)
“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” by T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine 25, November-December 2018)
“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” by P. Djèlí Clark (Fireside Magazine, February 2018)
“STET,” by Sarah Gailey (Fireside Magazine, October 2018)
“The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat,” by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine 23, July-August 2018)

Best Series
Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)
The Centenal Cycle, by Malka Older (Tor.com publishing)
The Laundry Files, by Charles Stross (most recently Tor.com publishing/Orbit)
Machineries of Empire, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
The October Daye Series, by Seanan McGuire (most recently DAW)
The Universe of Xuya, by Aliette de Bodard (most recently Subterranean Press)

Best Related Work
Archive of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works
Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, by Alec Nevala-Lee (Dey Street Books)

The Hobbit Duology (documentary in three parts), written and edited by Lindsay Ellis and Angelina Meehan (YouTube)
An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953-2000, by Jo Walton (Tor)
http://www.mexicanxinitiative.com: The Mexicanx Initiative Experience at Worldcon 76 (Julia Rios, Libia Brenda, Pablo Defendini, John Picacio)
Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing, by Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon (Tin House Books)

Best Graphic Story
Monstress, Volume 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
Abbott, written by Saladin Ahmed, art by Sami Kivelä, colours by Jason Wordie, letters by Jim Campbell (BOOM! Studios)
Black Panther: Long Live the King, written by Nnedi Okorafor and Aaron Covington, art by André Lima Araújo, Mario Del Pennino and Tana Ford (Marvel)
On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden (First Second)
Paper Girls, Volume 4, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Cliff Chiang, colours by Matt Wilson, letters by Jared K. Fletcher (Image Comics)
Saga, Volume 9, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman (Sony)
Annihilation, directed and written for the screen by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer (Paramount Pictures / Skydance)
Avengers: Infinity War, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Studios)
Black Panther, written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, directed by Ryan Coogler (Marvel Studios)
A Quiet Place, screenplay by Scott Beck, John Krasinski and Bryan Woods, directed by John Krasinski (Platinum Dunes / Sunday Night)
Sorry to Bother You, written and directed by Boots Riley (Annapurna Pictures)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
The Good Place: “Janet(s),” written by Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, directed by Morgan Sackett (NBC)
The Expanse: “Abaddon’s Gate,” written by Daniel Abraham, Ty Franck and Naren Shankar, directed by Simon Cellan Jones (Penguin in a Parka / Alcon Entertainment)
Doctor Who: “Demons of the Punjab,” written by Vinay Patel, directed by Jamie Childs (BBC)
Dirty Computer, written by Janelle Monáe and Chuck Lightning, directed by Andrew Donoho and Chuck Lightning (Wondaland Arts Society / Bad Boy Records / Atlantic Records)
The Good Place: “Jeremy Bearimy,” written by Megan Amram, directed by Trent O’Donnell (NBC)
Doctor Who: “Rosa,” written by Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall, directed by Mark Tonderai (BBC)

Best Editor, Short Form
Gardner Dozois
Neil Clarke
Lee Harris
Julia Rios
Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
E. Catherine Tobler

Best Editor, Long Form
Navah Wolfe
Sheila E. Gilbert
Anne Lesley Groell
Beth Meacham
Diana Pho
Gillian Redfearn

Best Professional Artist
Charles Vess
Galen Dara
Jaime Jones
Victo Ngai
John Picacio
Yuko Shimizu

Best Semiprozine
Uncanny Magazine, publishers/editors-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, managing editor Michi Trota, podcast producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky, Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue editors-in-chief Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and Dominik Parisien
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews
Fireside Magazine, edited by Julia Rios, managing editor Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, copyeditor Chelle Parker, social coordinator Meg Frank, special features editor Tanya DePass, founding editor Brian White, publisher and art director Pablo Defendini
FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, executive editors Troy L. Wiggins and DaVaun Sanders, editors L.D. Lewis, Brandon O’Brien, Kaleb Russell, Danny Lore, and Brent Lambert
Shimmer, publisher Beth Wodzinski, senior editor E. Catherine Tobler
Strange Horizons, edited by Jane Crowley, Kate Dollarhyde, Vanessa Rose Phin, Vajra Chandrasekera, Romie Stott, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and the Strange Horizons Staff

Best Fanzine
Lady Business, editors Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay & Susan
Galactic Journey, founder Gideon Marcus, editor Janice Marcus
Journey Planet, edited by Team Journey Planet
nerds of a feather, flock together, editors Joe Sherry, Vance Kotrla and The G
Quick Sip Reviews, editor Charles Payseur
Rocket Stack Rank, editors Greg Hullender and Eric Wong

Best Fancast
Our Opinions Are Correct, hosted by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders
Be the Serpent, presented by Alexandra Rowland, Freya Marske and Jennifer Mace
The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
Fangirl Happy Hour, hosted by Ana Grilo and Renay Williams
Galactic Suburbia, hosted by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts, produced by Andrew Finch
The Skiffy and Fanty Show, produced by Jen Zink and Shaun Duke, hosted by the Skiffy and Fanty Crew

Best Fan Writer
Foz Meadows
James Davis Nicoll
Charles Payseur
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
Alasdair Stuart
Bogi Takács

Best Fan Artist
Likhain (Mia Sereno)
Sara Felix
Grace P. Fong
Meg Frank
Ariela Housman
Spring Schoenhuth

Best Art Book
The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, illustrated by Charles Vess, written by Ursula K. Le Guin (Saga Press /Gollancz)
Daydreamer’s Journey: The Art of Julie Dillon, by Julie Dillon (self-published)
Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History, by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer (Ten Speed Press)
Spectrum 25: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, ed. John Fleskes (Flesk Publications)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – The Art of the Movie, by Ramin Zahed (Titan Books)
Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, ed. Catherine McIlwaine (Bodleian Library)
There are two other Awards administered by Worldcon 76 that are not Hugo Awards:

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book
Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt / Macmillan Children’s Books)
The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform / Gollancz)
The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black (Little, Brown / Hot Key Books)
Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)
The Invasion, by Peadar O’Guilin (David Fickling Books / Scholastic)
Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman (Random House / Penguin Teen)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Jeannette Ng
Katherine Arden
S.A. Chakraborty
R.F. Kuang
Vina Jie-Min Prasad
Rivers Solomon

And the 1944 retro Hugos:

Best Novel
Conjure Wife, by Fritz Leiber, Jr. (Unknown Worlds, April 1943)
Earth’s Last Citadel, by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner (Argosy, April 1943)
Gather, Darkness!, by Fritz Leiber, Jr. (Astounding Science-Fiction, May-July 1943)
Das Glasperlenspiel [The Glass Bead Game], by Hermann Hesse (Fretz & Wasmuth)
Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis (John Lane, The Bodley Head)
The Weapon Makers, by A.E. van Vogt (Astounding Science-Fiction, February-April 1943)

Best Novella
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Reynal & Hitchcock)
“Attitude,” by Hal Clement (Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1943)
“Clash by Night,” by Lawrence O’Donnell (Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore) (Astounding Science-Fiction, March 1943)
“The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” by H.P. Lovecraft, (Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Arkham House)
The Magic Bed-Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons, by Mary Norton (Hyperion Press)
“We Print the Truth,” by Anthony Boucher (Astounding Science-Fiction, December 1943)

Best Novelette
“Mimsy Were the Borogoves,” by Lewis Padgett (C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner) (Astounding Science-Fiction, February 1943)
“Citadel of Lost Ships,” by Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories, March 1943)
“The Halfling,” by Leigh Brackett (Astonishing Stories, February 1943)
“The Proud Robot,” by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner) (Astounding Science-Fiction, October 1943)
“Symbiotica,” by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding Science-Fiction, October 1943)
“Thieves’ House,” by Fritz Leiber, Jr (Unknown Worlds, February 1943)

Best Short Story
“King of the Gray Spaces” (“R is for Rocket”), by Ray Bradbury (Famous Fantastic Mysteries, December 1943)
“Death Sentence,” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1943)
“Doorway into Time,” by C.L. Moore (Famous Fantastic Mysteries, September 1943)
“Exile,” by Edmond Hamilton (Super Science Stories, May 1943)
“Q.U.R.,” by H.H. Holmes (Anthony Boucher) (Astounding Science-Fiction, March 1943)
“Yours Truly – Jack the Ripper,” by Robert Bloch (Weird Tales, July 1943)

Best Graphic Story
Wonder Woman #5: Battle for Womanhood, written by William Moulton Marsden, art by Harry G. Peter (DC Comics)
Buck Rogers: Martians Invade Jupiter, by Philip Nowlan and Dick Calkins (National Newspaper Service)
Flash Gordon: Fiery Desert of Mongo, by Alex Raymond (King Features Syndicate)
Garth, by Steve Dowling (Daily Mirror)
Plastic Man #1: The Game of Death, by Jack Cole (Vital Publications)
Le Secret de la Licorne [The Secret of the Unicorn], by Hergé (Le Soir)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Heaven Can Wait, written by Samson Raphaelson, directed by Ernst Lubitsch (20th Century Fox)
Batman, written by Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker and Harry L. Fraser, directed by Lambert Hillyer (Columbia Pictures)
Cabin in the Sky, written by Joseph Schrank, directed by Vincente Minnelli and Busby Berkeley (uncredited) (MGM)
A Guy Named Joe, written by Frederick Hazlitt Brennan and Dalton Trumbo, directed by Victor Fleming (MGM)
Münchhausen, written by Erich Kästner and Rudolph Erich Raspe, directed by Josef von Báky (UFA)
Phantom of the Opera, written by Eric Taylor, Samuel Hoffenstein and Hans Jacoby, directed by Arthur Lubin (Universal Pictures)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, written by Curt Siodmak, directed by Roy William Neill (Universal Pictures)
The Ape Man, written by Barney A. Sarecky, directed by William Beaudine (Banner Productions)
Der Fuehrer’s Face, story by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer, directed by Jack Kinney (Disney)
I Walked With a Zombie, written by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray, directed by Jacques Tourneur (RKO Radio Pictures)
The Seventh Victim, written by Charles O’Neal and DeWitt Bodeen, directed by Mark Robson (RKO Radio Pictures)
Super-Rabbit, written by Tedd Pierce, directed by Charles M. Jones (Warner Bros)

Best Editor, Short Form
John W. Campbell
Oscar J. Friend
Mary Gnaedinger
Dorothy McIlwraith
Raymond A. Palmer
Donald A. Wollheim

Best Professional Artist
Virgil Finlay
Hannes Bok
Margaret Brundage
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
J. Allen St. John
William Timmins

Best Fanzine
Le Zombie, editor Wilson “Bob” Tucker
Fantasy News, editor William S. Sykora (striken from ballot July 21)
Futurian War Digest, editor J. Michael Rosenblum
Guteto, editor Morojo (Myrtle R. Douglas) (added to ballot July 21)
The Phantagraph, editor Donald A. Wollheim
Voice of the Imagi-Nation, editors Jack Erman (Forrest J Ackerman) & Morojo (Myrtle Douglas)
YHOS, editor Art Widner

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Review of Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan

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This is a hard science fiction novella published by Tor.com on April 16, 2019. It runs 216 pages. Egan is an Australian mathematician and programmer who has won multiple awards, including the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Hugo Award, and the Locus Award. This review contains spoilers.

Matt is the designer and operator of a self-sustaining aquaculture rig called the Mandjet. When the twin back hole Taraxippus passes the solar system, it pulls the Earth into a different orbit, increasing summer heat in the Southern hemisphere to life-threatening levels. Matt tries to get his family in Australia to join him on the rig, but they refuse. As the perihelion summer arrives, refugee populations migrate north and south, looking for livable temperatures. Matt finds Mandjet has become part of a flotilla aiming to settle in Antarctica. Meanwhile conditions are deteriorating in Australia. Can Matt rescue his family? Fight off pirates to get them to safety?

In case you’re wondering, Taraxippus is an ancient demon that frightens horses, and the black hole’s passing is a novel approach to climate change. The presentation here skips along in a shorthand version of what I’m sure could have been a lengthy novel. Egan spends some time on the black hole and how its passing might affect the solar system. He’s also clearly interested in the details of the aquaculture rig. After the climate change effects are clear, he turns to how this might affect his characters. People react in different ways, some clinging to their old concerns, with others realizing that life has changed forever. In classic hard SF methodology, Egan hits us with an emotional wallop at the end.

On the not so positive side, this was intellectually interesting, but didn’t quite click for me. There was a reasonable plot, but not much of an action line to develop it. The characters didn’t seem deep, and Egan seriously soft-pedals the kind of violence I’d expect from the sudden pressure on half the Earth’s population. There doesn’t seem to be much response from either local or world government to address the crisis—no intervention from the Northern hemisphere, for example, that would have come out of this disaster in reasonable condition, and nothing about the politics it should generate. Plus, this would have been way more enjoyable if Egan had scattered the kind of emotion we get at the end throughout the piece.

Three and a half stars.

Review of John Wick, Chapter III: Parabellum

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I’m not sure you’d class this as speculative fiction, but we’ll go with that. It’s a neo-noir flick about a nebulous underground organization and features a lot of fight scenes. This follows the films John Wick (2014) and John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017). It’s directed by Chad Stahelski, and written by Derek Kolstad, Chris Collins, Shay Hatten and Marc Abrams. It stars Keanu Reeves as John Wick, Halle Berry as Sofia, Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King, plus Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, and Ian McShane. Visual effects are provided by Method Studios, Image Engine and Soho VFX. This review contains spoilers.

Ex-hitman John Wick is the run after he is “excommunicated” by the High Table and a $14 million contract is put on his head. He goes from place to place asking for help, and is followed by a non-binary Adjudicator for the High Table, who extracts the organization’s vengeance on anyone who appears to have helped him. Wick calls on Sofia in Casablanca and she takes him to the desert where he meets an Elder who offers him a chance for reinstatement if he will kill Winston, manager of the Continental Hotel in New York City. Wick at first agrees, but then balks and makes a stand at the hotel. He and Winston prevail and Winston shoots him as a show of faith to the Adjudicator. Wick falls from the roof and is rescued by the Bowery King, who wants to start a war against the High Table.

There are three stand outs in this movie. The first, of course, is the fight choreography, as this is pretty much what happens, only briefly interrupted by conversations. Keanu Reeves seems to do most of his own stunt work, and Halle Berry gives is a serious try, which adds a lot to the authenticity. The action line and intensity escalate to the climax, followed by a slight twist when Wick gets shot. The second stand out is the visual style. Production moves to different venues as Wick looks for help, and as background, we’re treated to pouring rain, dark warehouses, pulsing nightclubs, desert dunes, and even a brief, atmospheric ballet performance. This artistry serves as a foil for the brutal fight scenes, and makes sure we have something to look at when they’re not fighting. The last stand out is the dogs. The film features Belgian Malinois, Belgian Shepherds and, of course, Wick’s pitbull, which he leaves with a dog sitter when things get brutal.

On the not so positive side, there’s nothing much but fight scenes here. Otherwise it’s pretty empty. Wick presents a lot of desperation and clings to memories of his dead wife and her puppy, but that doesn’t bring much to the film. The fight choreography was pretty decent, but eventually you catch people waiting to get hit or shot.

Three stars.

Review of Spiderman: Far from Home

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This is a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film co-produced by Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios, and distributed by Sony Pictures. It is the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), directed by Jon Watts, written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, and staring Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Zendaya as MJ, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, and Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio. This review contains spoilers.

Peter Parker was one of the population blipped out of existence for a while by Thanos, so he’s having to do extra school work to catch up. The high school has planned a summer tour in Europe to provide credits, and Peter is hoping to get closer to MJ on the trip. Meanwhile, a mysterious elemental has appeared in Mexico, along with Quentin Beck/Mysterio who says he is there to fight these interlopers. Nick Fury tries to recruit Peter to help against the elementals, but he ignores the calls. However, when the school trip is in Venice, a water elemental appears and Peter gets involved in the fight along with Mysterio. Peter then meets with Fury, who gives him a pair of glasses containing an AI that Stark meant for his successor. Peter doesn’t want the responsibility, so passes the glasses off to Mysterio, who turns out to be false—only a former employee of Stark Industries and his cronies who are faking the elementals with technology. Can Peter prevail against the empowered Beck? Can he work up the nerve to tell MJ how he feels about her? And is that really Nick Fury he’s been talking to?

This is a great plot in the time-honored Spiderman tradition. Peter is trying to concentrate on his personal life while Nick Fury wants him to step into Tony Stark’s shoes within the Avengers organization. Peter thinks this is ridiculous and makes distracted, half-assed decisions that leave him in trouble. Under pressure, of course, he regroups, gets it together and comes through with a solid performance. Were we expecting anything else? Things seem great for a little while. The tour is safely back home; he’s established a relationship with MJ—and then things go wrong again, leaving us with a couple of cliffhangers in the post-credit scenes. I also have to give special mention to the poor clueless teachers who were trying to chaperone this tour.

On the not so positive side, it seems a little bit of a stretch that Stark would have chosen the 16-year-old Parker to step into his leadership position. Maybe he saw the potential, and of course Peter does step up when the pressure is on. Also, the post credit scenes involving Nick Fury call the reality of what’s going on into serious question. This was also a very long movie, though it turned out to be worth the investment in time.

Great fun. Highly recommended.

Five stars.

Is the term “racist” losing its meaning?

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One thing that’s emerged from the US political campaigning in the last week or so is the willingness of EVERYONE, to scream that the other side is racist. This is a problem that’s been growing for a while. In 2017 John Worther wrote a piece for CNN where he notes that liberals overuse both the terms “racist” and “white supremacist,” mostly as a way to shut down discussion or as a weapon to fight other social philosophies. So far, this has been fairly successful. Universities, companies, government, publishers–all have stopped what they were doing when called racist, evaluated, apologized and changed their policies in an effort to better accommodate minorities. We’ve reached the point; however, that people on all sides seem by default to call the other’s attitudes and comments racist. This suggests that the term has become just meaningless name calling.

Worse, in many cases it seems clear that people are crying “racist” when they don’t get their way, or are not allowed the additional privilege they expect based on their personal achievements and/or ethnic group. This is something that whites have been doing for a long time, but now it seems minorities are doing it, too. In 2018, for example, US African American skater Shani Davis called the results of a coin toss racist when he didn’t win the opportunity to represent the US in the Olympic opening ceremonies. About the same time, Fox News president John Moody was vilified for commenting that athlete choices for the Olympics should be based on ability rather than race, pointing out that that the Summer Olympics, for example, normally has a much higher number of black athletes than the Winter Olympics.

One of the problems with claiming “cultural appropriation” is that it defines particular elements of culture as belonging to some racial or ethnic group. This also suggests that ethnic culture should not be exchanged or modified in any way in encounters with other cultures. Doesn’t this damage everyone?

Since I mentioned attacks on Zoe Saldena for not being black enough for a movie role in the last post, I thought maybe I should go on and look at some related issues. About the same time, Scarlet Johansson withdrew from a starring role as a transgender man in the film Rub & Tug. The attacks on Saldena didn’t really start until the movie was ready for release, so were something of an embarrassment but not a deal killer. However, the Rub & Tug project seems to have stalled after Johansson withdrew. This is basic economics. A big name star attracts investors, who want to make money on their investment. If the film tanks with an unknown in the starring role, they won’t get beans. Apparently none of Hollywood’s transgender actors have been able to inspire confidence, so the movie is likely dead. Isn’t this retrograde progress for the transgender community, if not downright bad press?

Johansson said a lot of nice, politically correct things at the time, but she also mentioned that she thought actors should be able to play any role they wanted, which caused a definite kerfuffle. This same discussion about “cultural appropriation” is going on in the publishing world. What happens if we limit actors/writers/publishers to playing only to their own ethnic group?

Is the term “person of color” racist?

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Following the Yesterday review seems like a good time to consider this question. Looking through the interviews and publicity appearances after the film, I’m stuck by star Himesh Patel’s apparent discomfort during discussions of the casting decisions. This suggests that a microaggression is taking place, in other words, an uncomfortable reference to his racial/ethnic background and to himself as a “person of color.” He’s clearly a very talented actor/singer/musician, so why shouldn’t he have been cast in this role? Doesn’t his discomfort mean the whole fanfare about the casting is actually coming off as racist?

The week I wrote this review, there was a national flap when the four-person “Squad” of young, liberal, aggressive, “women of color” Congresswomen (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar) got into a Twitter fight with President Trump. This let to various people airing viewpoints. For example, Tucker Carlson’s guest Roger Kimball denounced “person of color” as a racist term because “the idea is that somehow you are trapped by your skin color.”

Certainly the term sets up a division that causes discomfort within various groups. For example, Nadra Widatalla writes in the LA Times that the term is meant to be inclusive, but that means it erases the ethnic identity of persons it’s applied to. It lumps everybody not legally defined as white into a big melting pot, regardless of their status in society. It gives Asians and African Americans equal status as minorities, for example, when actually Asians are so successful in US society that they might as well be defined as white, while African Americans generally experience the greatest discrimination.

In this same interview on the Carlson show, Kimball commented that the term is also meant to give virtue to a particular group of people based on their skin color. This virtue has been apparent for a while. We can assume people like Rachel Dolezal and Elizabeth Warren wouldn’t be trying to claim “person of color” status if it didn’t confer particular advantages. Arab Americans wouldn’t be trying to withdraw from the white race and become “people of color” unless there weren’t social and political advantages to the move. And Danny Boyle wouldn’t be using a discussion of his casting decisions for publicity unless he thought it would help sell the film.

Some political commentators went further than Kimball, complaining that the four women of The Squad are actually demanding power and privilege in political decisions because of their race. This kind of identity politics goes beyond just black/white relations, too. Just a while back, Zoe Saldena was judged not black enough to play Nina Simone in the biopic of the singer’s life. This suggests that there is a hierarchy within the “people of color” community that gives greater virtue to persons with darker skin. But then, isn’t looking at skin color as a qualification inherently racist?

Maybe Ibram X. Kendi, Director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center on NPR, gets it right. He says we should recognize the equality of all racial groups. Does this mean getting rid of designations based on color?

Review of the Film Yesterday

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This is an alternate reality romantic comedy film released in June of 2019 by Universal Pictures. It’s directed by Danny Boyle, written by Richard Curtis, and based on an original screenplay by Jack Barth and Mackenzie Crook. Himesh Patel makes his film debut as Jack Malik, and Lily James stars as Ellie Appleton, Kate McKinnon as Debra Hammer, Joel Fry as Rocky, and musician Ed Sheeran himself. This review contains spoilers.

Jack Malik trained as a teacher, but he’s trying to make it as a singer/songwriter instead. His childhood friend and fellow teacher Ellie works as his manager, getting him gigs at birthday parties and finally a festival, where attendance is so poor that Jack is ready to give up. He’s on the way home on his bike when the lights blink on a global scale. Jack is hit by a truck and wakes up in a hospital. His friends hold a little celebration when he gets out, and he finds they have never heard the song “Yesterday.” Actually, they’ve never heard of the Beatles at all, or Coca-Cola, or cigarettes. Seeing this as an opportunity, Jack starts playing Beatles songs for his gigs and soon attracts a bigger following. Ellie gets him a deal to record a demo for a record producer, and after he performs on TV, he’s approached by musician Ed Sheeran to open for a concert in Moscow. After the tour, Jack signs with agent/manager Debra Hammer and starts work on a double album of Beatles songs, which everyone thinks he wrote. All this success is causing stresses in his relationship with Ellie, and Jack is finally approached by two people who DO recognize the songs. He feels increasingly under pressure. Is he doing a disservice to the real John, Paul, George and Ringo in this new reality? Should he tell the truth about what he’s doing? Or go on to be rich and famous?

This is a great little romantic comedy based on the alternate reality premise, with a solid plot and just a touch of satire. Besides Jack’s struggling non-romance with Ellie, we’re offered the moral questions about his misrepresentations and how these are likely to affect him as a person. James is sweet as Ellie; McKinnon turns in a scary performance as the agent; Fry provides great moral support as roadie, and Sheeran does a pretty good job at playing himself. The huge standout is Patel, of course, who has a background in TV soap opera. He’s competent at the acting, but he really lights up the screen on the musical performances, which were recorded live with no overdubs. According to Boyle, this is why Patel was cast, and nobody seems to notice that he’s actually an African/Asian immigrant to the UK playing a part that was 100% certain to have been written for a white actor. In an interview, Boyle said this is an example of talent beating out the system. That’s also what makes this a different, standout film.

On the not so positive side, being a romantic comedy, this is fairly simplistic, and wends its way to the ending fairly uninterrupted by angst, violence or much in the way of action at all. That means it’s very predictable, given the premise, although Boyle does arrange for a couple of pleasant surprises.

Recommended. Should be very successful as a date movie.

Four and a half stars.

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