Using Film as a Lens for History: Two Views on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

Review of Metropolis

Written by Teen Writer Yoon Lee and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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The 1927 Fritz Lang film Metropolis is among the most influential films to ever exist, spawning discussion and setting standards that would influence the entire science fiction genre going forward. However, as is the case for any near-century-old film, many aspects are impossible to address without considering the historical context of its creation. As such, interpretations of this film from any time period can be an opportunity to further understand its context, and the viewpoints of those that viewed it in its prime. Among the best ways to pursue this opportunity is to view the reviews and critiques by audiences of the time. Of the multitude of high-profile figures that viewed and spouted their (often disapproving) takes on “Metropolis,” among them prolific science fiction author H. G. Wells, an often overlooked 1929 review is that of Shim Hun. This oversight is both due to the non-Western nature of the review, being written by a Korean, and due to Shim being an author targeted by Imperial Japanese censorship and subjugation.

Metropolis is a German science-fiction drama that presents a futuristic utopia existing above a bleak underworld populated by mistreated downtrodden workers. When the privileged Freder discovers the poor, and often fatal, conditions under the city, he becomes intent on helping the workers. He befriends the rebellious teacher Maria, who preaches to the workers of Metropolis, but this puts him at odds with his authoritative father Fredersen, master of Metropolis. Fredersen seeks out the deranged genius Rotwang to impersonate Maria so that the workers can be fooled and controlled. Brigitte Helm in Metropolis, 1927.

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We the People: Stand Up For Our Democracy

Review of Stand Up Seattle: The Democracy Project, presented by Museum of History and Industry

Written by Teen Writer Disha Cattamanchi and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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The past couple of years have been embroiled with conflict and controversy—from a grueling year of the pandemic to an election that forced our political system to go under incredible scrutiny moreso than any other time in the past decade, the United States has been in a state of reflection. In fact, it could be said that the whole world has been in a state of reflection about the policies (explicit and implicit) that govern our social, political, and environmental issues. However, the lens that we have viewed news through has been on a more global or national scale, rarely exposing the unsettling truths about our ignorance locally. Common news coverage for most Americans, such as CNN, FOX, ABC, and MSN, covers a more national perspective in representation, rarely zooming in on Seattle. This local perspective is tackled by Stand Up Seattle: The Democracy Project, an interactive exhibit at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) that explores social justice issues in an artistic yet informational way. Stand Up Seattle neutrally covers a wide variety of topics, such as Asian-American immigration, Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ protests, environmental issues, news resources, systemic racism, and involvement in democracy. With exhibits that engage your sight, hearing, and touch, Stand Up Seattle is a phenomenal localized outlook on Washington’s democratic history.Photo courtesy of Museum of History and Industry.

The doorway into Stand Up Seattle is the viewer’s first immersion into the interactive atmosphere of the exhibit. A walkway that surveys the visitor’s involvement in democracy ensures that visitors of all ages will have an immensely fun time going through the interactions. The entirety of the exhibit is displayed in the national—and very patriotic—red, white, and blue. The exhibit has a wide array of artifacts, such as a harpoon head from the Makah tribe’s whaling culture in the 1800s, to Pride T-shirts from recent protests, which are displayed throughout the exhibit. Materials used in Seattle protests were also shown to the public. It was an unsettling experience to see a spent tear gas canister, gas masks, and bottles of eyewash all right next to me. By displaying these objects that were key parts of protests, the exhibit attempts to accustom visitors to vital social justice history in Washington. It brings a nuanced depiction to marches and protests we may have only visualized in our heads or seen on our screens, humanizing the protesters that were on the streets fighting for their rights.

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When Social Media, Spanglish, and Shakespeare Meet, Romeo y Julieta is the Result

Review of Romeo y Julieta, presented by Seattle Shakespeare

Written by Teen Writer Katherine Kang and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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Romeo and Juliet is a classic play that almost every student is familiar with. But what if the script was modernized to include trends that Gen Z-ers are familiar with, such as Instagram, TikTok, and even masks?

Seattle Shakespeare did just that with its production of Romeo y Julieta, a multilingual adaptation of the famous and bitter love story of Romeo and Juliet. With a gender-bent and diverse cast, the production was a perfect way to begin Pride Month. From the allusions to queer culture to a Spanish, English, and Spanglish script, this show was a celebration full of love, drama, and emotion.

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Art in Stages with HUE Festival’s Homecoming

Review of Homecoming, presented by Seattle Public Theater

Written by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren and edited by Teen Editor Anya Shulka

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When I think of art, I imagine a piece that’s been worked to finality by its artist—and chances are, I’m not the only one. American society treats movies, music, and visual art as completed pieces on platters readily served up to a crowd that’s eager to tear them apart. But is this right? Is art only art when it meets some arbitrary benchmark of being “finished”?

HUE Festival, produced by the Seattle Public Theater, states its goal is to highlight shows by women of color playwrights and to “provide these new works with an opportunity to live and breathe before a community of theater lovers while also giving playwrights the opportunity to hear their work out loud for future development.” Starting on June 9 with Homecoming, written by Sandra Holloway and directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton, a series of plays are presented online with the same goal in mind.

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Heroes and Villains: Magical MoPOP Exhibit Shows Off Disney Costumes

Review of Heroes and Villians: The Art of the Disney Costume, presented by MoPOP

Written by Teen Writer Anabelle Dillard and edited by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname

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Calling all Disney fans! The newest MOPOP exhibit, Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume, is a must-see for Disney lovers, costume enthusiasts, and budding fashionistas alike. Featuring over seventy original costume pieces from a variety of Disney movies and TV shows, from Mary Poppins to Once Upon a Time to Dumbo, the exhibit is a delightful romp through the fantastical worlds of Disney. Although the mannequins are stationary, the costumes come to life thanks to creative staging and lighting; some are placed in dynamic poses or on spinning platforms, reminding visitors that these were real costumes worn by real actors. Soft instrumental covers of Disney classics and the simple presentation allows the costumes to take center stage, making guests feel as if they have stepped into the costume design workshops for their favorite movies.Pirates of the Caribbean Costume. Photo courtesy of MoPOP.

The exhibit opens with one of the most iconic Disney princesses: Cinderella. While the rest of the costumes are sorted into “hero,” “villain,” or “other,” the first room focuses solely on various adaptations of the classic fairy tale, allowing museum-goers to compare and contrast several of Cinderella’s dresses in the context of their respective films. Anna Kendrick’s willow-inspired green and gold gown from Into the Woods (2014) has a completely different feel than Brandy’s bejeweled peplum dress from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997), reflecting the grittier, semi-realistic themes of the former and fun, contemporary tone of the latter. My personal favorite was Lily James’s gown from Cinderella (2015), a film that never fails to make my fashion-design-loving little heart sing with joy. While the film isn’t exactly period-accurate (a detail I am willing to excuse, albeit begrudgingly, for the sake of fantasy), the vibrant colors and over-the-top dresses make for a fun, nostalgic viewing experience, and seeing the costumes in person was no exception. The blue ball gown is actually made up of several layers of thin fabric in different shades, making the dress look like something out of a watercolor painting, and the voluminous petticoats underneath make the dance scenes truly magical. Interviews with the incredibly talented Sandy Powell, an award-winning costume designer with a history of fabulous period pieces, pull back the curtain to reveal just how much thought and effort went into production, including over ten thousand crystals and more than three miles of hems that made up the iconic blue ball gown, as well as the creative use of color theory and patterns to quietly convey important character details. 102 Dalmatians Costume. Photo courtesy of MoPOP.

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Let Yourself Listen in on Someone’s Innermost Soul at Long Last With STARFISH Project’s 2020 Vision: Through Our Eyes

Review of 2020 Vision: Through Our Eyes, presented by STARFISH Project

Written by Teen Writer Rosemary Sissel and edited by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren

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A face, speaking directly to the video camera. Alone. It’s almost overwhelmingly intimate. To stare into someone’s eyes—eight people’s eyes—as they share their pandemic stories. Their insecurities, anxieties, quiet hopes, and innermost dreams. It’s terrifying—and everything we need. STARFISH Project’s 2020 Vision: Through Our Eyes allows us the long-lost luxury (and necessity) of hearing others open up their souls.

The hour-long recording begins with one person, alone in a Zoom call. More people join, but no one speaks. The scene cuts to a poet, writing alone, dramatically lit so that her writer’s block broadcasts against a backdrop of utter darkness. She grabs a piece of paper inscribed with the words “I can do this,” crumples it up, and throws it away.

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The Reincarnations of Ellen Ripley: How Media Portrays Women

Review of What the Femme: The Evolution of Ellen Ripley, presented by SIFF

Written by Teen Writer Esha Potharaju and edited by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname

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***SPOILERS: This is a review of a class that analyzes the Alien film franchise using a feminist lens. As such, there are moments in both the class and review when the plot of the films is discussed in detail.

“I just had a thought. What would you think if Ripley was a woman? She would be the last one you would think would survive—she’s beautiful,” confessed Ridley Scott, the director of the cult classic sci-fi film, Alien. The lead character, Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver), is lauded as a feminist icon. One of the first female action heroes, she is independent and undefined by the men around her. Anthony Hudson, horror fanatic and film programmer, walked us through the many facets of Ripley’s feminism in their lecture, "The Evolution of Ellen Ripley,” the latest installment in SIFF’s “What the Femme” series

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Part Gallery Exhibition, Part Homage to the Seattle Music Scene, "Gary Simmons: The Engine Room" Waits to Roar to Life at the Henry

Review of Gary Simmons: The Engine Room at the Henry Art Gallery

Written by Teen Editor Lily Williamson and edited by TeenTix Teaching Artist Leah St. Lawrence

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Stepping into the space that houses the Henry Art Gallery’s new exhibit Gary Simmons: The Engine Room, I was immediately immersed in grunge. From the silvery engine sculpture near the entrance to the colorful, large paintings adorning the walls, each component is imbued with a unique punk-rock feel, and every piece seems to fit perfectly in place.

The exhibit makes smart use of the museum’s sizable lower-level galleries. Each of its components—three large-scale paintings, a silvery sculpture of an engine, and an imposing architecture installation—is neatly placed in the airy, grand space, and the bright colors and grunge feel juxtapose nicely with the grandeur of the gallery. When I entered the room I was struck by this—it seemed like the exhibit had been designed for the space. And, it was. Artist Gary Simmons crafted each piece in the exhibit for the Henry Art Gallery, working directly with the exhibit’s curator, Shamim Momin, and LANGSTON, an arts and culture organization that centers Black artists, to design the show.

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Sci-Fi Meets History in Book-It’s The Effluent Engine

Review of The Effluent Engine, presented by Book-It Repertory Theatre

Written by Teen Writer Valentine Wulf and edited by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren

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Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction, usually set in the Victorian era, which imagines an alternate reality of steam-powered technology. Beyond the specific literary definition, it’s also a more general term used to describe a certain aesthetic: a futuristic and romanticized vision of the 1800s—almost always revolving around Europe, Victorian England specifically.

Book-It Repertory Theatre’s audio play adaptation of The Effluent Engine, originally a short story by N.K. Jemisin, is a refreshing exception to the overwhelmingly European genre. The Effluent Engine follows the story of Jessaline Dumonde, a spy trying to stop France from recapturing Haiti in the aftermath of the Haitian revolution.

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A Wide Range of Talent MoPOP’s Sound Off!

Review of Sound Off, presented by MoPOP

Written by Teen Writer Jaiden Borowski and edited by Teen Editor Anya Shukla

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MoPOP’s annual Sound Off! event began as so many things do nowadays, with a click on an emailed Zoom link. However, in contrast to the routine of school Zoom meetings, this webinar began with sweet vocals that washed over the audience as we eagerly awaited the beginning of the performances. I pleasantly floated through the calming yet powerful lyrics and melodies, unaware that the song, “Cashitis,” was in fact made by a 2016 Sound Off! performer, Parisalexa. This caught me quite off guard, as the song sounded like it had been professionally made rather than recorded by a young adult. As the quality of her song would suggest, Alexa is now a highly-acclaimed, professional R&B singer/songwriter. Such successes paired nicely with this year’s performers, who all proved to be extremely talented as well.

The show began with an introduction that was recorded inside of MoPOP, a great way to incorporate the museum without unsafely cramming the audience inside. Members of MoPOP briefly explained why the Sound Off! event was so important to them, with many appreciating its public yet supportive environment for new artists. I was especially impressed by the professionalism of the set, which boasted a huge screen with digital graphics and gave the Zoom meeting a more concert-like feel.

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Death Is Not Game Over in Playdead’s INSIDE

Review of INSIDE, a Playdead videogame

Written by Teen Writer Valentine Wulf and edited by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname

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The Danish word “hygge” has no direct English translation. It means a general sense of atmospheric coziness and peace and is regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture. Puzzle platformer INSIDE, created by Copenhagen-based studio Playdead, can best be summed up as whatever the opposite of hygge is.

INSIDE, like its stylized-in-all-caps one-word title, is bold, ominous, and minimalist. The game stars a faceless boy in a red shirt, who the player controls through a few simple gestures. There are no points. There are no levels. There is no backstory. The title card fades into a forest, and you’re off. Instead of being forced to memorize different commands and controls and navigate menus and maps, INISDE’s clean interface and simple controls help create an immersive, endlessly interactive world that unfolds more like a film than a video game.

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MOHAI’s Creating a Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt Creates Community Too

Review of Creating a Neighborhood: Democracy on a Human Scale Scavenger Hunt presented by Museum of History and Industry

Written by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname and edited by TeenTix Teaching Artist Sarah Stuteville

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The pandemic has lowered our standards for art. At least, I think that it has lowered mine. While watching virtual plays or clicking through online art galleries, I am reliably disappointed by the lack of energy. There is no moment of serendipity as you and a stranger admire the same sculpture, no shared laugh between audience members of an improv sketch. An ongoing exhibit at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) shatters this thought. Creating a Neighborhood: Democracy on a Human Scale Scavenger Hunt is not just good for a virtual museum experience, it is simply a great museum experience.

Creating a Neighborhood: Democracy on a Human Scale distinguishes itself through its scavenger hunt format and goes beyond the hackneyed Google Street View layout of many virtual museums. The brave souls who embark on this scavenger hunt walk a one mile ‘trail’ starting at the MOHAI building. Participants stop at eight locations, each representing a moment when civic engagement shaped Seattle, such as with the construction of the Naval Reserve Armory. Now the MOHAI building, the Naval Reserve Armory was built after citizens lobbied for its construction. As the exhibit explained the physical impact of citizens’ civic actions on the composition of the city from its parks, industry, and public art, it was enthralling to imagine what might have been. What would we see now had white settlers not ousted the Coast Salish people from the city? How would Seattle be different with a 61-acre park, which would have been called The Commons, stretching from South Lake Union to Downtown? What would Seattle be without Microsoft? Photo courtesy of Museum of History and Industry.

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Theatresports: A Spark of In-Person Light

Review of Theatresports, presented by Unexpected Productions

Written by Teen Writer Lauren Rohde and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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To be honest, I had forgotten what it was like to see live theater. It had been over a year since I had seen any kind of theater in person; every production I’ve either seen or have been a part of during this time has been on Zoom. To drive to a real theater again, to stand outside waiting to be let in, and to get our tickets taken and led to our seats after fourteen months of no live theater was certainly a surreal experience. Of course, Unexpected Productions and the Market Theater took many safety precautions for this showing of Theatresports, including running the house at less than 25% of their usual audience and temperature checking every patron who entered the theater. Despite the changes, what they were able to foster through improv was as much performance as it was a social space, fulfilling an audience with much-needed laughter and joy.

Entering Post Alley, I felt a buzz of excitement among the staff at the theater. It was very clear everyone was anxious and itching to be back and doing improv, and the smell of fresh popcorn and busy chatter of voices only heightened the reality of being in a theater space again. I walked into the theater to find about three-fourths of the seats covered by t-shirts decorated with the faces of donors; these enforced social distancing and marked out areas audience members couldn’t sit. A large projector behind a keyboard showed a camera navigating the theater, panning over to patrons as they waved to the camera and to the empty stage as it awaited performers. This camera streamed the show live on Twitch for the viewing pleasure of people remaining at home, and occasionally, a chat with a suggestion popped onto the screen.Theatresports. Photo by Bill Grinnell.

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FutureWave: Connection Across Time and Space

Review of FutureWave, presented by SIFF

Written by Teen Writer Lark Keteyian and edited by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname

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As much as I enjoy seeing my peers' work showcased and celebrated, I'm often hesitant about grouping artists together just by their age because it suggests that young artists are all telling related stories. But in the case of SIFF's FutureWave series—seventy-five minutes of short films from artists under the age of eighteen—this categorization allowed me to approach the festival with a different critical eye than I would have applied to films by young artists mixed in with films by artists with more experience. I spend most of my time around young artists, and I've noticed that while our art is as compelling as art by adults, the work put into it is more visible because we’re often still sorting out how we want to tell our stories. The moments where this effort was present in the work of the young artists showcased at FutureWave were just as compelling for me as the moments that broke outside of their form and context to deliver beautiful, emotionally impactful scenes.

"Sparring", directed by Victor Xia, tells a stylized story about two relationships: the fractured, abusive one between a boy and his father, and the healing friendship between the boy and his friend. Both are built around cyclical violence, moving from the shock of the father hitting his son to an exceptionally beautiful scene that I will be thinking about for months to come: the boy boxing with his friend in slow-motion, the close shots moving with the boys' bodies, Simon Kwan's original score creating an intimate atmosphere out of the physical space between the actors. Xia is also a poet, and it shows—this three-minute film is concise and impactful, only using the shots it absolutely needs to get its deep and complex feelings across. "Looking Forward From Yesterday". Alexis Bigby. Courtesy of SIFF

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Bringing an Italian Crime Scene to Life on Screen!

Review of Accidental Death of an Anarchist, presented by UW School of Drama

Written by Teen Writer Nour Gajial and edited by Teen Editor Triona Suiter

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Although the pandemic has been restricting to many, it has not stopped the UW drama department from curating a professional show. Last weekend, I had the privilege of viewing Accidental Death of an Anarchist performed by the UW School of Drama. Through an online livestream, the performance reached a broad audience while respecting safety precautions during the pandemic. The show was two hours long with a ten-minute intermission—perfect for a lazy Sunday evening! The livestream started promptly and the actors took their spots on screen.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a story written by playwright Dario Fo based on real-life events in Italy in 1969. In the first scene, we jump into an interrogation of the protagonist called the Maniac. Throughout the show, we follow the Maniac as he conjures up new plans to figure out who killed the anarchist. Although the Maniac is portrayed as a male character in the main storyline, the UW drama team decided to have a female lead play this character. The actress playing the Maniac was full of energy and stayed immersed in her role. As a viewer, the character’s expressions kept me engaged and brought a lot of excitement to the performance. In my opinion, the character’s demeanor could have been enhanced if the background of the actors’ screens were unique to the setting in the story. That being said, through costume changes, the group was still able to portray time changes during the show. Unlike many other shows, Accidental Death of an Anarchist ends with a question posed to the audience where the viewers decide what happens next. Although this is not a conventional conclusion to a performance, it left the audience to form their own opinion about the plot which felt very engaging and left me thinking about the performance even after it had ended. Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Photo courtesy of UW School of Drama.

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Big Ambition from the Big Opera Show

Review of The Big Opera Show, presented by Seattle Opera

Written by Teen Writer Jaiden Borowski and edited by Teen Editor Mila Borowski

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Having seen the art world respond to a global pandemic in a myriad of ways, from a socially distanced movie theater to pre-recorded modern dance (confined by a computer screen), I was eager to see how opera would adapt as well. The online production of The Big Opera Show, and online fundraiser for Seattle Opera, seemed the perfect way to explore this art medium digitally. Because I have not seen much opera in person, I was hopeful that the medley of performances The Big Opera Show provided would give my fresh perspective much to enjoy.

Although I am quite new to the opera form of art, I was not going into this experience completely clueless. An opera that I had the chance of viewing during the long-ago pre-covid times was The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, which made a point to inform the audience that the performers were using microphones. This was notable because, traditionally, performances by the Seattle Opera do not utilize microphones. While microphones can be used to blend operatic voices with electrically amplified instruments to create a cohesive piece or assist a performance that consists of more dialogue than usual, it is not the norm. Because of this, I was curious to see how the required use of microphones for the online format would affect the gravity of the performance. Thankfully, the performers’ voices translated powerfully even through my laptop’s speakers.

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Rep 4: Online vs. On-Stage

Review of Rep 4, presented by Pacific Northwest Ballet

Written by Teen Writer Serafina Miller and edited by Teen Editor Anya Shulka

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From The Nutcracker to new works, if you’re thinking about dance in Seattle, you’re probably thinking about the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB). In their most recent online release, the PNB showcased several premieres—designed to be performed in a virtual world, as well as filmed in early February and March by dedicated PNB dancers—along with older pieces that had been recorded in years prior. As a lover of dance, I was quite excited to see how a professional company had been adapting to this new presentation style.

The show opened with a Western-inspired piece by Donald Byrd. The dancers explored this new frontier with a dance style to almost mimicked line dancing. Using sharp angles and movements one would be hard-pressed to deem classical, the dancers shadowed a style that the audience would typically associate with the Old West. Yet, the movements still held a rigidity typical of older ballets, a far cry from the unfettered appearance I associate with Western dances. This first piece was interesting to watch; the concept was fairly easy to grasp but felt too removed as an audience member. Without being able to feel the collective environment of a theatre, it almost felt too peculiar to grasp through a screen. Rep 4. Photo by Angela Sterling.

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All Black Women Are Iconic

Review of Iconic Black Women: Ain't I A Woman, presented by Northwest African American Museum

Written by Teen Writer Carolyn Davis and edited by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname

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Hiawatha D.’s Iconic Black Women: Ain’t I A Woman virtual exhibit is a beautiful way to give much-needed appreciation to Black women. It is available virtually at Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) and is filled with paintings of iconic Black women of the past, present, and future. Women like Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams, Michelle Obama and her children and many more to come are part of this collection. I am grateful to have been able to see Hiawatha D.’s art in person, before the pandemic, and enjoy the commemoration of iconic Black women. This collection of artworks originated as branding for his business partner and now wife Veronica Very’s nonprofit. There were originally going to be only 15 women in this exhibit, but Hiawatha D.’s passion for appreciating Black women expanded that number to more than 50 pieces. Each painting fits into one of three categories: elders, ancestors, and queens.

Artists seldom create an entire exhibit dedicated to Black women, although the power it holds to educate and inspire viewers makes it vital. Black women have been fighting to succeed and be seen for so long, and artwork is a perfect tool for people to understand this fight. Entering a space that an artist created solely to worship the many iconic Black women of the past, present, and future is extremely powerful and is what I think makes this collection so formidable. As Hiawatha D. says, “all Black women are iconic”, there will never be an end to appreciating them. Yet Hiawatha D. understands the versatility of Black women who need to be celebrated, which is needed when trying to narrow down the iconic Black women of the world to about 50. The variety in the women shown in his exhibit is important and shows viewers how many known and unknown Black women have made an impact on the world. Furthermore, the beauty of his paintings makes the experience all the better. Hiawatha D.’s career has consisted of illustrating Black people, and the skillful artistry showcased in his work transforms the experience.

Iconic Black Women: Ain't I A Woman? Photo courtesy Northwest African American Museum.

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Jacob Lawrence’s The American Struggle: Remembering Those History Forgets

Review of The American Struggle, presented by Seattle Art Museum

Written by Teen Writer Yoon Lee and edited by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren

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The idea of the American struggle is one often mentioned in discussions around U.S. history—the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and all of the not-so-glamorous areas in between that lend credence to our current status of “world superpower” and therefore our so-called moral superiority. One facet of this struggle is rarely remembered: the effect people of color and women had on the foundation and mettle of the United States. Even with the efforts of historians, new school curriculums and media like Hamilton, this essential part of the American soul is often forgotten.

One lesson in this perception of history can be found not by looking forward, but by looking back. More appropriately, by piecing together the past, which is exactly what the Seattle Art Museum exhibition for Jacob Lawrence’s The American Struggle sought to do.

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Night of the Kings: A Love Letter to Storytelling

Review of Night of the Kings, presented by

Written by Teen Writer Audrey Liepsna Gray and edited by Teen Editor Mila Borowski

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A slow-moving shot of a thick forest opens Night of the Kings, slowly panning up and revealing a massive penitentiary in the midst of the trees. Shouting voices fade in to join the gentle ones of the birds and cicadas, and the prison looks grey and imposing. The camera cuts to a distressed boy sitting in the back of a police truck, looking back and forth between the forest and the dingy prison wall on either side of him. It’s in these very first reels that we’re given a taste of Night of the Kings’ unique sensory atmosphere. The film intrigues our senses through its vivid depictions of the domain we’re pushed into, right from the beginning up until the end of the film. Rich colors, precise use of lighting, and ambient use of sound play important roles as the film establishes its environment in a way that felt more thoroughly brilliant the longer I watched.

Night of the Kings is a 2021 film written and directed by Philippe Lacôte. It begins with an introduction of La Maca, a prison ruled by its inmates with their own laws and customs. We follow a young new prisoner (Bakary Koné), who arrives at La Maca to turmoil inside. The Dangôro, leader of the inmates and sole authority within the microcosm, is old and sick, and tradition dictates that when the Dangôro is no longer able to lead, he must take his own life. The current Dangôro, Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu), is being challenged and pressured from all sides to step down. In a pitch to bring peace to the prison on the night that he must die, he designates the newest inmate as the prison’s storyteller called the Roman. On the night of the red moon, the Roman must tell a story to last the hours of the night and keep his audience enraptured. If he doesn’t, he pays a price—in his own blood. It’s through the story he tells and the night’s events in the prison, coupled with expertly used sensory depictions, that we’re shown the complex world of the prison and the world outside it. It’s a place of vibrant color, expressive art, and a fascination with the fantastical and spiritual. As the bright day turns into a vivid and spiritual night, we can see the importance of storytelling to the inmates and the film’s attitude towards the art it depicts.

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