The book Amos Oz’s daughter wrote about his abuse of her as a child is causing shock waves, with many relating to it as the truth, not a literary work. It is a deceptive and unbalanced effort by an entitled person
Neeraj Kabi is one of those few actors who own the OTT space. His latest film, ‘Sherni’, promises to be yet another thrilling adventure. Did you know that the actor jumped on the opportunity to do the film as soon as he got to know that Vidya was in the leading? Interestingly, the film’s director, Amit Masurkar had attended Neeraj's acting workshop, only to later cast him in ‘Sherni’. As the film releases today, the actor, in an exclusive interaction with ETimes, shares the experience of shooting for ‘Sherni’, working with Vidya Balan, and much more.
How did a little girl who loved Westerns grow up into an icon of queer cinema? As she wins a Teddy award, the filmmaker talks about a life devoted to the movies
When Jenni Olson accepts the Berlin film festival’s coveted Teddy award this month – for “embodying, living and creating queer culture” – she will join the ranks of past recipients including John Hurt, Joe Dallesandro and Tilda Swinton. “Me and Tilda, you know?” laughs the 58-year-old as she winces in the morning sunlight which is streaming into her home in Berkeley, California. With her youthful features, crisply side-parted hair and apostrophe-shaped eyes, she might have been drawn by Charles M Schulz.
“When I started my little gay film series at the University of Minnesota in 1987,” she says, “I never could’ve imagined that one of the largest film festivals in the world would recognise my work.” Along the way, she has been co-director of the San Francisco international lesbian and gay film festival as well as an influential curator, critic and archivist. She has taken her compilations of film trailers – including Homo Promo, Jodie Promo (Foster, that is) and the Jewish-themed Trailers Schmailers – to festivals around the world. Her vast collection of LGBT-themed film prints, along with the promotional materials that featured in her near-exhaustive collection The Queer Movie Poster Book, was acquired by Harvard last summer.
Former England international played for Villa from 2007-11
‘Amazing to be back,’ says 35-year-old, who has one-year deal
Ashley Young has rejoined Aston Villa on a free transfer from Internazionale. The versatile 35-year-old, who scored 38 goals in 190 appearances for Villa between 2007 and 2011, has signed a one-year contract.
“It feels amazing to be back – it feels like I’ve not left,” he told VillaTV. “I’m just delighted to be back, seeing some old faces, being back at the training ground, seeing the facilities and how well they’ve grown. You can see how much the club has evolved since my time and I’m just ready to get down to work.”
The rear foot elevated split squat – using a chair – can be incredibly useful in improving the structural balance of your body
This is the “ticks-all-boxes” lower-body exercise you never knew you needed. Not only will it strengthen your legs and bum, and generate better mobility (and flexibility) in the hips and ankles, it will also improve your stability. You do one leg at a time, which works each side of your body in turn, and helps with balance. Try not to wobble: staying still works your core.
The re-release of Mira Nair’s unflinching 1988 story of street children, prostitutes and drug dealers shows it has lost none of its power
Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! from 1988 was developed through journalistic research into the street children of Mumbai with her screenwriting partner Sooni Taraporevala; now it is re-released and what strikes you is not simply its energy and vitality and its Dickensian storytelling appetite, but its fierce unsentimentality. This is a movie that withholds the resolution for which the audience might find itself longing, showing only how street children cannot imagine their own future as street adults, seeing only imprisonment or death. I found myself contrasting Garth Davis’s recent film Lion from 2017, about the true story of a street kid who fell asleep on a train and finds himself transported thousands of miles away to Kolkata without any means of getting back or explaining to the uncaring officialdom what has happened. That movie was able to offer us a happy ending. Salaam Bombay! can’t and won’t.
The beginning is not so very different. Krishna, later to be nicknamed Chaipau (played by non-professional Shafiq Syed) has been working in a circus to pay off a family debt; when the cruel owner sends him to buy three cans of food, poor Krishna returns to finds the circus gone: just a bare patch of land where the big tent was. It’s a stunningly bleak image which, in its way, governs Chaipau’s worldview for the rest of the film. With what little money he has, he buys a train ticket to Bombay (Mumbai), where his three cans are of course immediately stolen.
From a Lagos slum, Olamide became one of Africa’s biggest music stars. A new, global deal is taking his vivid pop to the wider world
Bariga, a sprawling northern suburb of Lagos, Nigeria that is home to more than 700,000 people, is infamous for its impoverished housing and gang culture – and for pushing a raw, jarring sound into the Nigerian mainstream. Olamide, long one of Africa’s biggest music stars, was one of the kids responsible for that shift: 13 years ago, he was walking the streets of Bariga, plotting his way out.
“Surviving was hard,” says Olamide, now sitting in a comfortable Lagos home on a sunny Friday afternoon. “Bariga was not far from the other slums you see across the world, from Mumbai to New York and London – life in the ghetto is almost always the same everywhere. There were days when being able to afford three square meals was a big deal for my family. All of that motivated me to hustle hard – I wanted to see the whole world and experience different cultures from what I grew up seeing.”
Jeff Bezos founded his spaceflight company two decades ago, at the turn of the millennium. You may not have known that, because Blue Origin spent years developing its rocket technology in secret. But by now you’ve probably heard, because Bezos wants everyone to know: Blue Origin is sending passengers to space, and he’s going on the inaugural trip himself. He shared the news this week on Instagram, in a high-production video set to heartfelt music, with one dramatic, made-for-camera moment. Bezos, wearing a cowboy hat and aviators, drink in hand, smiles at his brother, Mark. “I really want you to come with me,” he says. “Are you serious?” Mark asks, eyes wide.
Their trip—what Bezos calls the “greatest adventure”—is scheduled for July on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, named in honor of Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space. The Bezos brothers will travel just beyond the edge of space, experience a few minutes of weightlessness, and then return to Earth in a parachute landing in the West Texas desert. In the short time from takeoff to touchdown, Bezos, the richest man in the world, would become the first person to fly on his own rocket to space.
But of course, Bezos is not the only space billionaire out there. Not to be outdone, Richard Branson is reportedly considering taking a ride on his spacecraft in July too, about two weeks before Bezos’s flight. Branson also founded his spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, in the early 2000s. Virgin’s space plane recently carried two pilots to the edge of space, and it’s ready to fly more. (Virgin Galactic, when asked about Branson, didn’t deny the possibility.)
No word yet on whether Elon Musk, who also founded his spaceflight company, SpaceX, about two decades ago, plans to hop on a Falcon 9 rocket and beat them both. Musk has been uncharacteristically silent during this little spectacle, but he could certainly chime in. SpaceX is the only one of the three companies that has moved beyond test flights, and regularly flies NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.
This is the reality of modern human spaceflight. NASA is no longer the most exciting name in the game, and the refrain ad astra—“to the stars”—carries a bit more emphasis on the ad. Bezos wouldn’t be the first rich person to buy their way to space—the first space tourist flew in 2001, paying some $20 million for the experience—but he could easily take the ride again, just because he liked it. For two decades, these space billionaires have been talking about dreamy and urgent reasons for exploring space, but their first step off Earth is turning a visit to space into the ultimate status symbol.
When Blue Origin was founded, Amazon was crawling out from the implosion of the dot-com bubble, and Bezos, the 48th-richest person in the world at the time, bankrolled the new venture with millions of dollars from his personal fortune. Few knew it even existed until a few years later, when Bezos started buying land in Texas for a launch facility. Only in the past several years, as Blue Origin has begun to publicize its work, have more people come to associate Bezos with space travel. Two weeks before his historic flight, Bezos will step down as Amazon CEO, motivated in part by his desire to devote more time to the space business.
Bezos, a sci-fi fan since childhood, has an Interstellar-esque hope for humankind’s future in space. As high-school valedictorian, he told his classmates he wanted to save the Earth by sending millions of its inhabitants into space. He now envisions many space stations, kept in perpetual motion to produce artificial gravity, orbiting Earth. Some outposts would replicate idyllic versions of familiar cities, national parks, and landmarks. Others would contain factories and their harmful pollution. Our home planet, with its boundless beauty and finite resources, would be reserved for residential and light industrial use.
But Bezos has always wanted to go to space himself, in his own lifetime, since he was 5 years old and watched Neil Armstrong walk on the surface of the moon. Bezos has been maneuvering toward that dream ever since. In the 1990s, as Amazon grew, an ex-girlfriend told reporters that “the reason he’s earning so much money is to get to outer space.” As Franklin Foer wrote in an Atlantic profile of Bezos, a friend claimed that Bezos began bulking up—a regimen that produced his infamous muscles-and-puffer-vest look in 2017—“in anticipation of the day that he, too, would journey to the heavens.” Between the shipping and the handling, the web servers and the streaming, the sexting scandal and the not-paying-federal-income-taxes, Bezos had a loftier dream.
In that sense, Bezos built Blue Origin for himself. Perhaps he always imagined he would be one of its first passengers. Plenty of men throughout history have tried out their inventions on themselves first; Henry Ford, for example, drove the first automobile he designed. This is just the first time in history that anyone has had the wealth, power, and technology to hire people to build a spaceship for semi-personal use. Many members of Bezos’s generation dreamed of becoming astronauts as children, but most of them applied to NASA.
“I want to go on this flight, because it’s a thing I’ve wanted to do all my life,” Bezos explained in the video that featured his brother. “It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me.” Bezos is a businessperson, but the space-tourism business that follows this first flight, with other customers paying millions of dollars for the experience, seems almost like an afterthought. Blue Origin is auctioning off one of the seats on Bezos’s flight, and the proceeds will go to a nonprofit that the company founded to support STEM education. The current high bid stands at $3.8 million and is expected to climb this weekend, when Blue Origin turns the auction into a live bidding war.
A trip to space will certainly help rank Bezos in the public’s mind as a top space billionaire, a title so far dominated by Musk, and score him a win over his peers. And Bezos could use the bragging rights. Blue Origin is working on an orbital rocket called New Glenn—for John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth—but the company is far behind SpaceX on this front, a fact Musk rarely resists pointing out. The two billionaires have feuded about space matters for years, scuffling over launchpads and satellites, but in the past year the lighthearted tone has drained from these exchanges. Blue Origin has lost out to SpaceX on billions of dollars’ worth of government deals, including U.S. national-security launches and a coveted NASA contract to develop a lunar lander that would take Americans to the surface of the moon for the first time since 1972. When NASA announced the winner in April, Musk, ever the antagonist, piled on with a joke that Blue Origin “can’t get it up (to orbit) lol.”
Bezos, reportedly “livid,” had Blue Origin formally challenge the decision. Many had expected NASA to choose more than one recipient for the moon-landing contract, in its usual spirit of competition and strategic redundancy. The NASA administrator is at least somewhat on his side; Bill Nelson praised a Senate bill passed yesterday that preserves NASA’s contract with SpaceX but directs the agency to go with at least two companies for the lunar mission, a provision that critics have dubbed the “Bezos bailout.”
These rivalries, whether over lucrative government contracts or first-in-space bragging rights, are changing the stories we can tell about why people go to space at all. The space billionaires have their own ideas about humankind’s future—Bezos with his space habitats, Branson and his space-tourism business, Musk and his Mars city (“I’d like to die on Mars,” he has said, “just not on impact”). But these futures all start in the same way, in the straightforward but dangerous act of blasting into the sky. Only a small group of people can do that now, including the billionaires. Who’s ready to go first?
Korean Pop band SEVENTEEN are back with their mini-album 'Your Choice' and it is all about the power of love. On Friday, the 13-member band dropped the official music video of their title track 'Ready To Love'.
Even before he signed on to the Hollywood adaptation of Wicked, Jon M. Chu helped his characters defy gravity. In a scene from the director’s forthcoming musical film In the Heights, a torrent of emotions literally sweeps the lovebirds Nina and Benny off their feet. As they sing the ballad “When the Sun Goes Down,” the fire escape on which they’re perched tilts, and the world shifts sideways. They leap onto the side of their apartment building, dancing weightlessly in the twilight glow.
This isn’t how the original Broadway production staged the song, but it’s the way Chu’s imagination works: A love song is also a chance to challenge the laws of physics. His cinematic version of the Tony-winning musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, about a tight-knit immigrant community living in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, works the same way. The movie isn’t a re-creation of its source material but a spectacle that makes a few New York blocks feel like a universe.
Though Chu is a film director, it may be more appropriate to think of the 41-year-old as a magician whose favorite trick is injecting wonder into stories, even those grounded in reality. His movies are maximalist feats of controlled chaos committed to celluloid: Dance-offs are staged in the pouring rain, weddings take place in indoor jungles, and a neighborhood gossip session turns into a Busby Berkeley–style number at the local pool. With his most recent film, the 2018 hit Crazy Rich Asians, Chu showed that he could, through the same sleight of hand, revive a stale genre while providing a launchpad for Asian movie stars and mainstream Asian stories. The movie became the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade, while its cast—the first all-Asian ensemble in a studio film in 25 years—went on to score a slew of magazinecovers and prestigiousleadingroles.
Not to give away the secret, but Chu’s guiding principle is a simple one: Music, movement, and marvel can translate ideas in ways dialogue cannot. “Words are not sufficient,” he told me over Zoom recently. “For me, three notes can say what a paragraph could never say. One picture can say what a whole [essay] can’t say.”
So far, the approach is working. In the Heights, out Thursday in theaters and on HBO Max, is being lauded as a feel-good summer film that will ease audiences out of the pandemic. Hollywood has come to trust Chu as a maker of movie musicals, and the long-awaited adaptation of Wicked is next on his list. Even Miranda, who ushered in a new Broadway era with his smash hit, Hamilton, considered the filmmaker a mentor as he migrated behind the camera for his forthcoming directorial debut, an adaptation of the musical Tick Tick ... Boom! Miranda told me he kept Chu his “No. 1 on speed dial,” adding, “He really has been a guiding force.”
These are triumphant times for Chu, whose career finally appears to be matching the soaring scale of his films. He might as well be floating, like Nina and Benny. It seems almost impossible that only six years ago, he was wondering if he’d get to make another movie at all.
If the events of Saturday, October 24, 2015, were scenes from a Jon M. Chu movie, there’d be nothing but silence.
The day before, Chu’s musical fantasy film Jem and the Holograms bombed so badly that it set a box-office record low. Critics despised it. Some superfans sent him death threats for changes he’d made, Chu said—even though he was an ardent fan of the original ’80s cartoon himself. Chu was devastated, but on that morning, by some sick twist of fate, he was scheduled to deliver a speech to his fellow filmmakers at the Film Independent Forum in L.A. about the joys of directing.
He almost canceled the talk, but around 5 a.m., the disappointment gave way to an urge to hold himself accountable for his failure. The speech he hastily rewrote wouldn’t be perfect—indeed, the final product is an awkward, if rare, look at a filmmaker processing disaster in real time. But it was a necessary exercise. “I needed to say some things out loud, in a way, not even to [the audience] but to myself,” he said. One of those things was a question he’d been avoiding: “You’re an artist; what are you trying to say?”
Chu had always thought he knew the answer. As a film student at the University of Southern California, he produced charming amateurcreations demonstrating an affinity for escapism informed by the work of Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg. Chu admitted that he was the kind of kid who kept love letters he’d written and received in a box and who wanted to make earnest crowd-pleasers. “I grew up very naive,” he told me. “I believed in fairy tales and love ... I had this vision of [my life as] a Disney musical.”
So when Spielberg himself called Chu at the end of his senior year, Chu felt like his vision had become reality. Spielberg had seen one of his student films—a musical about stay-at-home moms—and put him on the studio track. For Chu, the call validated his ambitions. But it also quieted a latent fear that his career would be defined by his identity. “I did not want to be ‘the Asian American filmmaker,’” he said. “I wanted to be the filmmaker.” Chu reasoned that his favorite filmmakers weren’t defined by who they were, but by what they made. He was so afraid he’d be “put into this box” by audiences and by studio executives that when he made a short film at USC about a Chinese teenager who feels like an outsider, he stopped showing it after a single screening. The project, titled Gwai Lo in reference to a Cantonese term for Westerners that Chu heard himself called when he visited Hong Kong as a 16-year-old, was a musical in which dancing “ghosts” haunt the lead over his confused cultural identity. “It was really hard to share, because I didn’t know if I was being overdramatic,” he told me. “There was not a lot of discussion about what the Asian American identity was, so …” He paused. “I just hid it away.”
Chu’s parents, Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants who met in the States in the late 1960s and raised their family in the Bay Area, always encouraged him and his four older siblings to embrace American culture. (Chu is even named after a character from the hit ABC show Hart to Hart.) While his father opened a restaurant—the popular Chef Chu’s in Los Altos—his mother sent the kids to etiquette lessons and ballroom-dancing classes, hoping they’d learn to never feel out of place among their white peers. “They wanted me to fit in 100 percent,” Chu said of his parents. “This was their idea of America, that in this place we never had to feel othered. For good or for bad, we took that in, and it worked for us.”
Fitting in meant that when Chu began making Hollywood movies, he went for trendy projects that tapped into his interests rather than anything too personal. He directed some of the sequels to Step Up, which capitalized on the late-2000s street-dancing craze, and became well liked for delivering films on time and scoring healthy box-office returns out of low budgets; it’s why studios went on to hire him for franchises such as G.I. Joe and Now You See Me, and why Justin Bieber’s team tapped him to make the pop star’s concert documentaries.
Chu felt unstoppable. He was earning a living as a Hollywood filmmaker, staging the kinds of grand scenes he loved. He wasn’t critically adored, but industry executives trusted him and fans appreciated his work. So when Jem failed, it dawned on him that he was successful, but not satisfied. In trying to avoid being pigeonholed, he’d inadvertently become a filmmaker without a perspective—a journeyman directing movies that, as he put it to me, “anyone could have made.”
After that speech in 2015, Chu had a lot to ponder: Was he wrong to have shied away from his identity? Was making mostly sequels a bad thing? In an earlier interview, he cheekily referred to himself as a “slave to the studio business,” but during our Zoom call, he winced at the memory, telling me he doesn’t really think of himself that way. “I was aligned with the studio system … because I had not made my small independent movie that showed who I was,” he mused. “I was an exciting young person, and I was down to have that label.” He remains proud of the movies he directed before the heartbreak of Jem; they were “waterslides,” he said—fun to make and fun to watch.
In the months after Jem, he figured it out: “I always promised myself I would do stuff that meant something to me, my family,” he said. But “I found myself in an actual, professional storyteller position, ignoring all the stories I was told.”
Invigorated, in 2016 he pitched himself to direct Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights, two films that had spent years searching for financing and the right creative team. For the former, Chu brought in family photos, making the case that he understood the heroine’s story of discovering her self-worth on a personal level. For the latter, Chu framed the story—a sprawling tale of a predominantly Latino neighborhood fighting to preserve its culture—as a collection of its denizens’ sueñitos, or “little dreams.” “This movie is about How big can you dream, and can we see those, can we feel how big that is?” Chu explained. “Almost like art installations invading the space of Washington Heights.” He won over Miranda with the approach, as well as with their similar backgrounds. “We both are first-generation” Americans, Miranda said. “He understood that the characters in this show are navigating what home means.”
During production of both films, Chu took advantage of his years in the studio system. He’d played so often by executives’ rules that he knew how to convince them to play by his. For the Step Up sequels, he’d recruited talent who didn’t have traditional agency-assisted representation. For Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights, he cast a similarly wide net, pushing back against studio notes urging him to find stars who “test international”—as in, high-profile actors with potentially global appeal—so new ones could be born. And as he continued to play to his creative strengths with jaw-dropping set pieces, he also sought ways to stave off his fear of being boxed in and to accept that risk. On the set of Crazy Rich Asians, he wrote the word joy on a Post-it and stuck it on his monitor, a trick he’d picked up from the author of the novel on which the film is based, Kevin Kwan. On the set of In the Heights, he’d repeatedly ask himself and his collaborators, “Are we proud of what we’re doing here?”
He wanted them to chime in if anything ever felt off—to take, as he put it, a “magnifying glass” to the material. Leslie Grace, who plays Nina, grew up in a salon like the one in which the number “No Me Diga” takes place, so she proposed small details—where a hairdresser might leave her towel, for instance—that helped the story feel more substantial. “We’re so used to seeing the Latinx community through this little scope, and Jon was adamant about ‘No, let’s blow it up,’” Grace told me over Zoom. Melissa Barrera, who stars as Vanessa, told Chu she wanted her character to address a little girl as “mi vida,” a Spanish term of endearment; it’s how her mother and grandmother spoke to her when they raised her in Mexico. They filmed a take that ended up in the final cut, one of many improvisations Barrera said Chu encouraged. “He makes everyone feel important,” she said.
Making Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights helped Chu figure out what he’s trying to say with his films. Through them, he’s arguing for telling fresh stories via beloved, old-school Hollywood styles. But he also wants to do more than entertain; he wants to help audiences reflect on their own connections to what’s happening on screen. “Escaping isn’t good enough,” he said. A truly transporting film? “It’s not a window. It has to be a mirror.”
The TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, the historic venue with celebrity handprints preserved in the concrete pavement outside its handsome doors, normally seats almost 1,000 people. On Friday, June 4, it welcomed only 350—all masked and either vaccinated or negative-COVID-tested attendees of the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival—but the difference in crowd size seemed negligible as soon as the screening of In the Heights began. The audience didn’t seem so scattered or socially distanced when every number elicited applause; a woman near me danced in her seat so much that the rest of her sparsely occupied row vibrated. Afterward, I caught snatches of conversations among those milling about the premises, chuckling over how many tissues they’d used to wipe away their tears.
As almost every director does at a major preview screening, Chu introduced his film, walking in from stage right to a spotlit lectern. Seeing him gave me déjà vu: Three years ago, I’d watched him make that same walk to deliver his opening remarks about Crazy Rich Asians, at the same theater, for its premiere in L.A. “What a moment,” he’d said then, in a tone that conveyed the thrill and the weight of the expectations around the film. This time, there was a lightness to his step. The day before the In the Heights screening, he’d told me over another Zoom call that after such a long pandemic-induced delay, he’s “surrendered to the universe.” “I accept whatever happens to this movie, that it’s the right thing, the thing that is supposed to happen,” he said.
These days, Chu is no longer afraid of being seen as a filmmaker who can only tell stories about his race. Instead, “I feel scared about being behind the conversation,” he said. As much as he’s tried to be an advocate for representation in Hollywood, he hears the criticisms that come his way—such as those regarding Crazy Rich Asians’ casting and its narrow focus on East Asians—and wants to, if he can, use what he’s learned. He told me he’s arrived at “sort of a Zen place” about the way no film of his will address every criticism or highlight every perspective; only a sustained stream of movies, from a variety of directors, can come close to achieving that. In other words, he said, “I can’t be the only one.”
Chu is fairly certain he won’t be. The triumph of Crazy Rich Asians reminded Chu of a day when his parents visited his elementary school and delivered a presentation about Chinese New Year. Chu remembers being mortified; they had encouraged him to immerse himself in American culture, yet here they were with lion dancers and food from Chef Chu’s. But his friends—actually, the entire school—loved the experience, because, Chu came to realize, his parents exuded pride. They showcased confidence. Opening a Chinese restaurant where none existed, sending their children to etiquette classes—these were their magic tricks, how they and so many other immigrant parents overcame cultural barriers.
Since he started making Crazy Rich Asians, Chu himself has become a father of two, with a third on the way. Like him, his children have been named after pieces of pop culture—his daughter, Willow, after the ’80s film, and his son’s middle name is Heights, after In the Heights—continuing a tradition his parents began. “It’s the silliest thing that our kids learn: Sharing is caring,” Chu said, laughing. “Sharing is the oxygen of change … The sharing of food, of images.” Making these films in that way has been “so freeing,” he said, “and so healing for me.”
To Chu, success isn’t getting a phone call from Spielberg, or even becoming a filmmaker. “Success is a pattern of consistency,” he said. “To me at least, the version of success that I think about [now] is something that’s tried and true, that’s in the roots.” It’s not about constructing waterslides, but constructing runways to help others—talent and audiences alike—drive their narratives forward. Chu is no longer levitating just fictional characters. He’s helping stories take flight.
The best immune systems thrive on a healthy dose of paranoia. The instant that defensive cells spot something unfamiliar in their midst—be it a living microbe or a harmless mote of schmutz—they will whip themselves into a frenzy, detonating microscopic bombs, sparking bouts of inflammation, even engaging in some casual cannibalism until they are certain that the threat has passed. This system is built on alarmism, but it very often pays off: Most of our encounters with pathogens end before we ever notice them.
The agents of immunity are sorisk-averse that even the dreadof facing off with a pathogen can sometimes prompt them to gird their little loins. Ashley Love, a biologist at the University of Connecticut, has seen this happen in birds. A few years ago, she stationed healthy canaries within eyeshot of sick ones, infected with a bacterium that left the birds sluggish and visibly unwell. The healthy canaries weren’t close enough to catch the infection themselves. But the mere sight of their symptomatic peers revved up their immune systems all the same, Love and her colleagues report today in Biology Letters.
Love, who did the research as a graduate student at Oklahoma State University, had an inkling that the experiment would work before she did it. In 2010, the psychologist Mark Schaller, at the University of British Columbia, and his colleagues described a similar reaction in humans looking through photos of people who were sneezing or covered in rashes. The study subjects’ immune cells then reacted aggressively when exposed to bits of bacteria, a hint that the pictures had somehow whipped the body into fighting form, Schaller told me.
That 2010 study, Love told me, “sort of blew my mind,” because it didn’t follow the typical trajectory of the immune system reacting to an ongoing assault. Instead, the cells were internalizing visual cues and buttressing themselves preemptively—raising shields against an attack that hadn’t yet happened, and perhaps never would. It was what you might call bystander immunity, and it was totally bizarre.
Love decided to try her own version in domestic canaries, among the many bird species susceptible to a pathogen called Mycoplasma gallisepticum. She infected 10 canaries with Mycoplasma, then placed them in sight of microbe-free birds. In parallel, she had two other cadres of healthy canaries scope each other out, as a symptomless point of comparison.
Throughout the 24-day experiment, the uninfected canaries acted as most songbirds do, feeding, chirping, and bopping cheerily around their cages. But about a week in, the birds dosed with Mycoplasma became mopey and lethargic, and developed a nasty form of pink eye. “I could approach the cage and just pick them up,” Love told me. (Some Mycoplasma species can cause disease in humans; this one doesn’t.)
The birds watching their beleaguered peers never got infected themselves. But when Love and her colleagues examined the canaries’ blood, they found that some of the birds’ immune responses had swelled in near lockstep with the sick birds’ symptoms. Cells called heterophils—inflammation-promoting foot soldiers that fight on the front lines of many avian infections—had flooded the bloodstream, similar to how they would in the presence of Mycoplasma, Love said. The birds’ blood was also rife with so-called complement molecules, which can shred bacterial cells, or flag them for other types of destruction.
The uptick was temporary. As the symptoms of the sickened birds abated, their observers’ immune cells quieted down as well. Love told me she suspects that these little flare-ups might have primed the watchful birds for a possible tussle with the pathogen—perhaps cloaking them in a light layer of armor, akin to a very crude and very ephemeral vaccine.
To confirm that idea, Love would have needed to expose the onlooker birds to Mycoplasma while their immune systems were still raring to go, an experiment she is working on now. Without those data, “it’s hard to know what this means,” Jesyka Meléndez Rosa, an immunologist at Humboldt State University who wasn’t involved in the study, told me.
The immunological surge did seem driven by the disease cues that the other birds emitted, because samples taken from the canaries who’d peeped on only healthy birds stayed comparatively inert. But what the researchers found could have just been a blip—noticeable, yet not strong enough to alter the trajectory of a subsequent infection. A bystander immune response could even be a net negative for the witness, wasting precious bodily resources or unnecessarily damaging healthy tissues. Heterophils and complement molecules also comprise just a small subset of the immune system’s arsenal, much more of which would be marshaled into quelling a Mycoplasma invasion. Letícia Soares, a disease ecologist at Western University who wasn’t involved in the study, told me she wished she’d been able to see how well the observer birds’ immune responses simulate what happens in infected birds who eventually recover.
Still, the potential payoff is “huge,” Meléndez Rosa said. A well-timed burst of immune activity, especially one kick-started in advance, could theoretically help the birds thwart illness and death, or maybe even stave off infection entirely. Birds are also “highly visual” animals, Soares told me, capable of tuning in to even slight changes in appearance. That intel could then spark a body-wide stress response, like a security camera tripping alarms throughout a well-protected building. “The idea of that is fascinating,” Soares said.
The connective tissue that links visual cues to immune activation is still scientifically foggy. At first, “it all seems kind of magical,” Schaller, the University of British Columbia psychologist, told me. But it’s also sensible (literally) for animals to glean information from their environment and react accordingly. “We’re stimulus-response devices,” he said. “We perceive something in some way, and our body responds.” Several experts told me that they wouldn’t be surprised if nonvisual signals—including the sounds, sensations, or even smells of a stranger’s sickness—could clue animals into the risks of infection as well. Love told me she hopes to figure out whether animals can tune their immune responses to the severity of the disease symptoms they see.
The paper speaks to the strange appeal of visible disease, says Cécile Sarabian, an expert in sickness behaviors at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute who wasn’t involved in the study. The signs and symptoms of infection are often a pain for the individual who experiences them. But they also “alert others, and prepare other potential hosts,” she told me.
Spotting symptoms alone isn’t good enough. In the past year and a half, SARS-CoV-2 has benefited from its ability to spread silently from person to person. Humans have also taken a multitude of other measures—masking, distancing, and the like—to keep the coronavirus at bay, acts of avoidance that Schaller says count as a kind of behavioral immunity. Still, Schaller and others think it’s interesting to consider what sorts of infections count as truly “asymptomatic.” Even if an infected person isn’t feeling outright ill, they might be beaming out slight signals that betray their status, and influencing those around them. “We’re pretty sensitive to some pretty subtle stuff,” Schaller said. “It could be that we are able to pick up on other people’s sicknesses, even if those people are not yet aware.”
If an infection is to persist in a population long term, it must become communal; perhaps the experience of it is as well, in ways we don’t yet appreciate. Soares, who’s had longCOVID for more than a year, told me that we urgently need to understand “how this societal crisis will affect our health in general.” This pandemic, and many that have come before it, is a reminder of what researchers are now starting to systematically define: Even those who aren’t directly touched by a pathogen can still feel its effects.
Film critic Lisa Nesselson returns to the studio after a pandemic-prompted hiatus to tell us about the latest comedy from director Bruno Podalydès, as he skewers the jargon-infested, productivity-obsessed contemporary world of work in "French Tech". We also discuss a debut movie that explores a teenage girl's connection with an older man, as 20-year-old Suzanne Lindon directs and stars in "Spring Blossom", which was written when she was only 15 years old.
A new exhibition on the seminal Manchester label is the start of a musical homage taking in the roots of Joy Division, the Smiths et al
I wonder if the founders of Factory Records always knew their work would be exhibited in a museum one day, so decided to curate it all from the off?
From its inception, Factory used a cataloguing system that gave a FAC number not only to every record released, but to its artwork, films, related miscellany and even the odd living being, including the office cat, Feline Groovy (FAC 191).
MacKenzie Scott announced donations of $2.7 billion to 286 organizations. More than three dozen of the recipients in Scott's latest round of giving are California community colleges and universities, arts groups and nonprofits that work for social justice.
In his novel ‘The Memory Monster,’ Yishai Sarid imagines a Holocaust historian becoming dangerously immersed in his work. In an interview marking the book’s publication in English, the writer explains why it’s important to ask provocative questions about Shoah education
This is supposed to be the season of unleashed, exuberant exhibitionism. Many of us have swaddled our pale bodies in Lycra and terry cloth for more than a year; the theory of Hot Vax Summer is that we’re long overdue to expose them to the cruel light of other people’s eyes. In the music video for “Solar Power,” Lorde basks on the beach in a lemon-yellow crop top, the symmetry of her rib cage its own work of art. “Forget all of the tears that you’ve cried; it’s over,” she sings, shooing away our literal and metaphorical winter of COVID-19. (Predictably, the outfit she wears—$615 plus tax!—sold out immediately.) I watched most of Physical—Apple TV+’s new series about a 1980s aerobics queen-in-waiting—with this in mind, idly running my hand over and over my unsculpted midriff, fighting the impulse to throw on a leotard and sweat joyfully along to “Space Age Love Song.” This is the conflict at the center of American consumerist fitness spectacle: Even when it’s at its most transparently questionable, the promise is almost impossible to resist.
Physical, created by the playwright Annie Weisman, digs into a window of history, when making people hate their body became a thriving pillar of American commerce. It’s a strikingly beautiful show about ugly things: self-hatred, mental illness, rampant capitalism, politics, the Summer of Love gone to seed. The directors, who include Craig Gillespie (I,Tonya; Cruella), render the San Diego setting with sun-dappled luminosity; the overall aesthetic is somewhere between beachy ’70s hedonism and brittle ’80s plasticity. Sheila (played by Rose Byrne) is a housewife with an eating disorder so virulent, it gets its own accompanying monologue, also delivered by Byrne. While Sheila stares at her reflection in the opening scene, her permed curls popping against green patterned wallpaper, the voice calls her pathetic for trying to carry off “the disco-sex-kitten look at your age.” When she runs errands, it reminds her that she’s “pale, pasty, fat, gross, disgusting.” During a discussion about an upcoming dinner party with her uninterested husband, it tells her, “You’re the only one who thinks about food this much, you fucking freak.”
The writer and body-acceptance activist Katie Sturino calls this kind of innervoice “a self-shit-talking spiral.” It’s almost as unpleasant for viewers to endure as it must be for Sheila; critics have lamented the show’s pitch-black tone and Sheila’s judgmental gaze, which is sharpest when she directs it toward herself. Maybe the popular assumption was that a Reagan-era dramedy about the VHS home-fitness boom would be as tonally giddy as Netflix’s GLOW, or as deliberately nostalgic as Stranger Things. Defined by Weisman, who based Sheila’s interior life partly on her own experiences with an eating disorder, Physical is something else instead. Dark and caustic, it’s also unnervingly clear-sighted about the ways people really see themselves, and the money they’ll spend for just the promise of deliverance. After watching Sheila teach her first aerobics class and shout tough-love slogans at her students, her fellow instructor Bunny (Della Saba) looks reluctantly impressed. “People usually want to be cuddled in this country,” she says. But Sheila, the show promises in a flash-forward to a glitzy VHS shoot, is about to make a fortune by projecting her own insecurities and self-loathing out into the homes of millions.
Byrne plays Sheila a bit like a rubber band stretched to its fracturing point, so tense she almost vibrates. Her husband, Danny (Rory Scovel), is a wormy academic who plays on Sheila’s lack of confidence to get her to arrange a threesome with one of his students; he’s so lazy that he even outsources the seduction to his wife. Sheila spends virtually the entirety of her waking life thinking about wanting to eat. Her 4-year-old daughter is an afterthought; she has no friends. Her only hobbies are going to a ballet studio that closes in the first episode, and renting a motel room where she methodically eats her way through three cheeseburgers, vomits, showers, and then sits meditatively between sheets that still smell of grease.
But when Sheila first discovers aerobics, via a seemingly carefree blond woman whom she stalks from a mall parking lot into a class, something changes. The music, the beat, the quick-changing sequences—they occupy her mind, allowing her to move and forget herself until the class ends. Physical captures the frenetic release that she feels in a montage of cuts back and forth. At home, her fingers drum frantically on the kitchen counter; in the studio, her hips circle around and around in sensuous, undulating bliss.
Sheila seems obviously inspired by Jane Fonda. Both come from wealthy and difficult families (one episode reveals a traumatic incident from Sheila’s past that offers an explanation for why she’s so unhappy); Fonda also lived with bulimia, from her teens until her 40s. Like Sheila, Fonda attended ballet class to keep fit, until she injured her foot on a film set and, in 1978, began practicing aerobics. The workouts, she told Slate’s Willa Paskin in a riveting episode of the podcast Decoder Ring, filled the hole that her eating disorder occupied in her life. In 1982, she released Jane Fonda’s Workout, a groundbreaking video aimed at bringing aerobics to women who couldn’t or didn’t want to go to a studio. It sold more than 17 million copies and spawned a home-fitness empire, not to mention a sticky fitness motto, shouted gleefully by Fonda, mid-lunge: “No pain, no gain.”
Sheila taps into this sentiment, and the show promises that it’s what will make her an icon. (Somewhat irritatingly, the entire season suffers from the Peak TV complaint of prologue-itis, with the real juicy stuff likely saved for Season 2.) The more Sheila channels her destructive inner monologue into her classes, exhorting her students to embrace discomfort, the “sweet spot” where real change happens, the fewer her cruel voice-overs become. It’s cathartic for her, as it clearly was for Fonda. But what about the rest of us? What happens when you grow up internalizing the idea that judging yourself is normal and quieted only with excessive effort? What becomes of an entire culture raised on the argument that our troublesome, too-big, too-weak, too-much bodies can be loved only when they’ve been conquered?
The only certain aspect of the past 15 or so months is that everyone’s experience has been different. The pandemic sharpened inequities in capital, but also safety. It clarified how fragile social-support networks can be, how disproportionately mothers bear the brunt of schools and child care shutting down, how the ability to take optimal care of our bodies is a privilege not everyone has. And yet somehow one of the dominant messages of the current moment, as many Americans are reentering the world, isn’t that society needs to change, but that our bodies do. The pandemic, one New York Times article from March scolded, is “a wake-up call for personal health.” Quarantine weight gain, according to WebMD, is “not a joking matter.” Gwyneth Paltrow popped up in March confessing that she’d gained 14 pounds in quarantine by indulging in bread and alcohol—not to be relatable, but to help hawk a diet book dedicated to “intuitive fasting.”
Here is my story: I gained 37 pounds during the pandemic because I was pregnant, and lost 30 of them the first month after having twins because I was so exhausted and anxious and depressed that I didn’t eat. The other seven pounds stayed with me. In January, I tried “intermittent fasting,” which is basically the same thing as starving, only with a timetable. It worked, in the sense that I lost a few more pounds, but it also became my obsession. I thought about nothing but eating. I inhaled recipe books and food blogs on weekends like a day trader doing lines in a Pearl Street–bar toilet. Eventually there came a point when I didn’t want to waste so much of my mental energy thinking about food, or craving food. My body is fine. It’s strong. I can hold two 20-pound babies at the same time. I’ll never wear an “extreme crop top” (thank you again, New York Times!) but I can eat three meals a day and free my mind for something, anything, else.
Watching Physical, with its access into the exhausting obsessiveness of Sheila’s mind, I kept thinking about the argument that the since-gone-depressingly-conspiratorial Naomi Wolf made in The Beauty Myth that self-loathing is what society uses to keep women from organizing for what they actually desire:
It’s true what they say about women: Women are insatiable. We are greedy. Our appetites do need to be controlled if things are to stay in place. If the world were ours too, if we believed we could get away with it, we would ask for more love, more sex, more money, more commitment to children, more food, more care. These sexual, emotional, and physical demands would begin to extend to social demands: payment for care of the elderly, parental leave, childcare, etc. The force of female desire would be so great that society would truly have to reckon with what women want.
Physical tells just one part of this story, from one moment in time. It presents us with a character who finds in exercise a release from her own darkest impulses. But it also exposes how commonplace those impulses are, and how easy it is to capitalize on them. Hot Vax Summer should feel like liberation, not a prescription for what supposedly ails us. I came away from Physical with a question—what if we didn’t want to look the way we’ve always been told we should look by a $78 billion industry with a very vested interest in supplying an unattainable ideal: sinewy and razor-hipped, hairless and waist-trained and uncomfortable? What are all the other things we could want instead? Where would we even begin?
This article contains mild spoilers for the first two episodes of Loki.
For 13 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe built up the Infinity Stones as objects of grand power, capable of manipulating all existence when united. In Avengers: Infinity War, they turned half of the cosmos to dust; in Avengers: Endgame, the surviving heroes chased them down across time. In Loki, the Disney+ series released today, they’re nothing more than colorful paperweights.
The cheeky gag befits a series about a trickster god, but it’s a surprising one for Marvel to pull. The studio has never dismissed its own storytelling this way—more than a dozen films insisted on the profundity of the stones. Yet in a single scene, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) learns that the objects he’s long sought—and by extension, the objects fans have long been conditioned to care about—are mere office supplies at the Time Variance Authority, the bureaucratic entity that has captured him. Not only that, but Loki’s told that the TVA controls time itself, and thus has “allowed” his every move. His actions have never been his own.
By placing a fan-favorite character in an unfamiliar world populated with unrecognizable characters, and then promptly introducing him to an existential crisis, Loki challenges Marvel’s tried-and-true formula of lighthearted action plus airtight continuity. Each of the studio’s films and TV shows has not only told its own story but made sure to connect to the others through shared characters, common settings, and scenes that advance an overarching narrative. WandaVision was stylistically weird as a sitcom pastiche, but the series remained tethered to the MCU’s conventions, as a dutiful sequel to Endgame and a precursor to the next Doctor Strange film. Loki, however, is neither epilogue nor prologue, at least not in the two episodes screened for critics; its structure, ideas, and visual language feel unconstrained by the MCU’s blueprint. Instead, the series traffics in true comic-book storytelling. It’s an experimental, self-contained, and thoroughly welcome reprieve.
After all, Hiddleston’s not even playing the Loki that audiences know, but a Loki “variant” from another timeline—in other words, a version of the villain without all of the MCU-imposed character development. He’s been boiled down to the central components of his personality—petulant, entitled, mischievous—and given room to be chameleonic as soon as the series begins. In Episode 1, he’s a fish out of water, verbally sparring with his handler, the TVA agent Mobius (Owen Wilson), in what amounts to a supervillain therapy session. In Episode 2, he becomes the TVA’s key to hunting down another Loki variant, putting on the guise of an untrustworthy informant. Plopping a well-defined character into audacious scenarios feels classically comic-book-ian: The younger Loki trying to prove that he can be redeemed in the Loki: Agent of Asgard comics is very different from the politician who campaigns on a platform of lies in the miniseries Vote Loki, for instance, but neither iteration abandons his impish core.
The look of the new Disney+ show, too, evokes comic-book versatility: The TVA’s headquarters is awash in mid-century-meets-futurist architecture, while its agents’ missions will take them to branched timelines riffing off the aesthetics of works such as Before Sunrise and Inglourious Basterds, according to the head writer Michael Waldron. As a result, the show looks nothing like previous Marvel properties.
Loki also complicates the MCU’s tendency to situate its central conflict between two characters who represent opposing values. In the show, Loki’s threatened not by a superhero but by another Loki version whose trickery he begrudgingly admires. And the greater threat appears to be the TVA itself: Everyone Loki meets at the organization comes off as somewhat inhuman—alien not just in lifestyle, but in personality. If even the wackiest MCU characters emanate some humanity, the TVA staff remain strangely apathetic, even cruel. One TVA captive gets disintegrated for arguing with an agent; the hunters—agents who prune the branches of errant timelines—use devices that wipe out all living things affected by a variant.
Such brutal efficiency, the show suggests, comes from the all-powerful nature of the Timekeepers, a trio of unseen figures who created every TVA agent and who keep the so-called Sacred Timeline intact. The administration’s staff worship the Timekeepers like gods, believing wholly in their mission to keep the flow of the universe’s events to one trajectory. The TVA conducts its affairs so tightly that an office drone Loki meets has never heard of a fish, and Mobius admits that he yearns to ride a jet ski but cannot for unspecified fears of damaging the timeline. These are small, seemingly throwaway revelations that ultimately feel more sinister than absurd. At the TVA, continuity is essential, but suffocating.
That’s a provocative idea from a studio that’s known for meticulously planning every step of its storytelling. And it’s a risky one: As much as Loki may buck tradition, it remains a Marvel show, watched by fans who celebrate that granular attention to the bigger picture. Waldron also worked on the script for the Doctor Strange sequel. The chances that this six-episode season eventually yields a tie-in to that Sacred MCU Timeline are high.
Yet two episodes in, Loki plants the idea that order as exemplified by the TVA—and in a meta way, by the MCU—is nowhere near as fun as leaning into the chaos of comic books. Whenever Loki disrupts the TVA’s strategy and encourages Mobius to tag along, he introduces a sense of play that Mobius begins to relish. Similarly, Loki, in drawing inspiration not from the established MCU method but from the looser narratives of comic books, feels like a refreshing reset for the franchise. The series indicates to fans that it might not be essential for everything to be thoroughly connected. Perhaps some stories can be enjoyed as, say, stand-alone variants.
In One Thousand Dreams, award-winning photographer Robin Hammond hands the camera to refugees. Often reduced by the media’s toxic or well-meaning narratives, the portraits and interviews capture a different and more complex tale
Robin Hammond has spent two decades crisscrossing the developing world and telling other people’s stories. From photographing the Rohingya forced out of Myanmar and rape survivors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to documenting the lives of people in countries where their sexuality is illegal, his work has earned him award after award.
But for his latest project the photographer has embarked on a paradigm shift: to remove himself – and others like him – from the process entirely. Instead, as part of an in-depth exploration of the refugee experience in Europe, the stories of those featured are told by those who, arguably, know them best: other refugees.
A witty investigation into the misogyny and bro culture of the world of startups and social media apps
From John Carreyrou’s award-winning Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup to Reeves Wiedeman’s WeWork shakedownBillion Dollar Loser, the real-life stories coming out of startup land are so far-fetched that you could be forgiven for thinking there’s no ground left for invention.
So what role can fiction play in this world with no boundaries – between home and work, love and business, purpose and profit? Tahmima Anam’s fourth novel attempts to answer this by taking inspiration from her experience as executive director of ROLI, a music technology startup founded by her husband.