Heathers: Distasteful and Violent or a Witty Take on High School Reality?

Review of Heathers

Written by several TeenTix Newsroom writers, edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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This month, three writers from the TeenTix Newsroom sat down to watch and discuss a dark comedy classic, the 1989 movie Heathers. The film follows a feared clique of teenagers all named Heather; Veronica, a girl who dreams of popularity; and an unstable school bomber named J.D. as they make their way through high school. Read on to learn what our teen writers think about this controversial film. Esha Potharaju

The bratty politics of high school cliques dashed with murder, Heathers might be a pretty accurate representation of what it’s like to be a teenager. The teenage mind tends to blow things out of proportion—in J.D.’s case, perhaps literally so. When your crush doesn’t like you, the whole world feels like it’s about to end. By capturing these overexaggerated feelings and twisting the whirlwind of high school into a dark tale, the film is actually quite relatable. It’s reassuring to see someone with similar circumstances take a dark path, because you know you can’t manage to do something worse than that despite all your embarrassments. So while there aren’t literally any Heather-cides taking place in the average school, the emotions that Heathers depicts aren’t too far off from that of the average teenager. But this morbid appeal of Heathers, viewed through the eyes of a watcher from 2021, is easily drowned out by the obvious problems: the film features homophobia, fatphobia, and dismissive attitudes towards eating disorders and suicide. It’s hard to ignore how different J.D.’s actions, particularly his casual use of a bomb in a school setting, would be interpreted if he wasn’t white. A classic, though rightfully not through the eyes of all, Heathers provides a dark kind of comfort to teenagers. Winona Ryder and Christian Slater in Heathers © 1989 New World Pictures Frances Vonada

The edgy cult classic Heathers, directed by Michael Lehmann, holds a certain appeal for teens today, especially after the popular off-Broadway musical of the same name and the resurgence of ‘80s culture and fashion. Heathers is highly entertaining, upping the stakes of highschool popularity politics and taking the phrase “social suicide” to a new level. However, the characteristic violence and characters’ cavalier attitudes have not aged this movie well.

So many issues are treated with indifference in this film including school shootings and bombings, eating disorders, and suicide. The film is darkly humorous and intended to be satirical, but a bleak look at the world is not comforting right now.

I’m sure Heathers will always be appreciated by people with nostalgia for the ‘80s and those who like Mean Girls with more death, but it is not my cup of tea currently. Winona Ryder and Christian Slater in Heathers © 1989 New World Pictures Kyle Gerstel

Although campier than an East Coast kid’s summer, Heathers is a brilliant black comedy that deserves to be studied just as much as To Kill A Mockingbird. Its fearless screenplay twists high school movie cliches into macabre messages both about teenage angst and society as a whole. Like Veronica accidentally falling into the dark schemes of J.D., the film reveals its satire in a way that allows the audience to enjoy the violence before realizing they’re part of the problem. While the film could’ve easily become “low art,” as many chick flicks and teen slasher films do, its witty balance of the creepy and comical makes the film a “killer” exploration of the teenage mind that maintains remarkable relevance and entertainment value today.

Lead photo credit: Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, and Kim Walker in Heathers 1989 New World Pictures

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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The Reason I Jump Combats Stereotypes of Autism

Review of The Reason I Jump presented by SIFF Cinema

Written by Teen Editor Anya Shukla and edited by TeenTix Teaching Artist Vivian Hua

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I’m not sure if I was overly emotional last Tuesday, but I started crying about five minutes into The Reason I Jump; the waterworks didn’t stop until the end of the hour-and-a-half-long movie. Each new beautifully-shot scene added new depth to my understanding of autism.

The film is based on the book of the same name by Naoki Higashida, a nonverbal autistic teenager from Japan. Directed by Jerry Rothwell, The Reason I Jump tells the story of five youth— Amrit, Joss, Ben, Emma, and Jessina—with autism. The movie strives to emulate the experience of living with autism, featuring crisp, detail-filled shots and a soundtrack with large amounts of ambient noise. The Reason I Jump also highlights lines from Naoki’s book, interspersed as voiceovers.

The Reason I Jump begins by telling the story of young Amrit and her mother, Aarti, both of whom live in India. Amrit’s story begins with a blue and white blur, almost like eyelashes blinking double-time. Hazy colors and facial features shift in and out of focus. As the camera zooms out, the object onscreen becomes apparent: a black, faintly-rattling fan. As the voiceover mentions, this is how those with autism view their surroundings: “For me, the details jump straight out first of all, and then gradually, detail by detail, the whole image floats up into focus.” Bright red honeycombs that transform into the fabric for a curtain. A flame that turns into a candle, sitting in a pool of water. As someone without personal experience with autism, this idea showed me that autistic people have a different—but no less valuable—way of seeing the world.

However, Aarti initially tried to make Amrit follow social norms. “I tried to stop her from being herself,” her mother said, holding her face in her hands. But when she read Naoki’s book and realized what life with autism is like, she began to think differently. “I am so estranged from my own child,” she admitted. “I do not know how I fit into a mother’s role.”

The camera did not look away from her pain; the moment felt like a violation of personal privacy. My tears, which had slowed to a trickle, came back in full force.

Contrary to stereotypes of those with autism—that they tend to pursue STEM and enjoy numbers—Amrit is an artist. She paints, sculpts, draws; her creations feature vivid colors, stylized faces. A smiling girl sitting in a rickshaw, hand up in a wave. Two women holding hands in front of a turquoise, apartment-building-filled background. My first thought when I saw her paintings was that they should be in an art gallery. And by the end of the movie, they were: Amrit held her first solo show. Film still from The Reason I Jump directed by Jerry Rothwell.

The relationship between Ben and Emma, two friends who are both nonverbal and autistic, is similarly heartwarming. However, instead of art, their method of communication is the letter board. Each board has the entire alphabet printed on it, and the two point to individual letters until they slowly spell out sentences. The process is time-consuming—both of them sometimes find themselves losing focus while speaking—yet exciting. Before they learned about letter boards, neither Ben nor Emma could participate in extensive coursework. “They wasted our time,” Emma said. Now, they can take charge of their learning.

Even without spoken communication, the two have been close since childhood, as evidenced by a series of pictures with the two of them together. “He was my first friend,” Emma says of Ben while they are on a walk together. Ben reciprocates: “Emma is my North Star.” As the voiceover mentions, Ben and Emma’s story exemplifies that people with autism also crave human connection and should not be pigeonholed as loners.

My one issue with the movie came at its end. Throughout the film, voiceovers from Naoki’s book had been paired with shots of a nonverbal autistic boy (Jim Fujiwara) exploring nature, climbing over bridges, holding tight to chain-link fences. However, in the last five minutes of The Reason I Jump, the boy walks with purpose through a neighborhood, making his way to a house. Inside sat the English translator of Naoki’s book, David Mitchell, who had been interviewed several times during the movie. Now, he translates a page from Japanese to English. The boy presses his face against the window, then leaves. Mitchell looks up, and sees the ghost of the boy’s breath on the window. There seems to be some meaning to this sequence of events, some symbolic connection. But for a movie without overt symbolism, a movie about human beings and their unfettered, organic relationships to one another, it feels like an unwelcome intrusion.

That being said, all of The Reason I Jump’s subjects overcome many barriers—societal and cultural stigma, lack of resources—to communicate with others. And most importantly, the movie demonstrates that autistic people are whole humans, with emotions, dreams, and a desire for interaction.

The Reason I Jump screened at SIFF Virtual Cinema, January 8 - February 25, 2021. For more information see here.

Lead photo credit: Film still from The Reason I Jump directed by Jerry Rothwell

This review was written as part of mentorship program where members of the Teen Editorial Staff receive one-on-one mentorship by Press Corps Teaching Artists and professional critics. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who lead the TeenTix Newsroom and curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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The Henry Celebrates Art That’s Public, Free - and a Complete Surprise!

Review of Set in Motion presented by The Henry Art Gallery

Written by Teen Writer Rosemary Sissel and edited by Teen Editor Mila Borowski

Dupille We Will Dance Again

It’s an average, nameless day in the middle of February. A busy Seattle street is littered with mask-obscured faces, socially-distanced storefronts, cloud-colored skyscrapers, rain-slicked cars, lingering snow-dirt-mush, a city bus, and, then, suddenly, in a flurry of color - figures - hair - legs - wheelchair - dancing!

Wait, dancing? That can’t have been right. Not here. Not now. In the middle of a street. In the middle of COVID. In the middle of 3rd Avenue and—where did it go?

The aerosol-protected faces are still here, storefronts still proclaiming the same pandemic precautions, skyscrapers still reflecting the dreary clouds, cars, and slush still accounted for, and the bus is just turning onto the next street. Then it’s gone. And so is the dancing.

For a few otherworldly moments, the bus carried a magical spell of transportation. Not to a different physical place, but to a different mental plane. It carried adventure, enchantment, and mystery. It carried color as a celebration, not as a trap to force the eye towards an item for purchasing. Instead of an ad, COVID announcement, or other PSA in the long rectangle underneath the bus windows, it carried art.

University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery placed its latest art installation on buses.

This art installation proudly flaunts its free, completely public design—and it’s cheeky. It’ll drive past without a second thought, show off while flirting with stoplights, or glare up at you while you pay your fare and climb inside it.

Throughout the city, a total of ten stunning, evocative, vibrant pieces peer out at the world from the sides of buses, RapidRide bus lines, and routes from north to south.

These art-surprises do a lot more than just upend the average, nameless day: they ask questions about femininity and race, collage identities over borders, photograph histories, soar between people and land, implore us to “find one another,” splice pain and rebirth, test the poetry of computer-generated messages, memorialize incarcerated family members, knit metaphors between immigrants and naturalized plants, and celebrate dancing-to-come.

There is so much in every fascinating, multilayered piece that it is really difficult to grasp any of them in a fleeting, average-day moment. Almost as difficult as it is to make it through my detail-heavy, comma-drenched summary of them. Photo courtesy of Sound Transit.

COVID has been full of difficult sentences like that. Days that run into weeks that run into months, all full of terrifying numbers we need to scrounge up emotions for, when it’s becoming hard enough to scrounge up enough anything to pay attention to the teacher talking to me through a computer screen while I destroy my attention span by checking emails or finishing something I forgot about because I was too busy dissolving into sentences that never end, just linger…

And then the dancing. Is just. Such. A delicious surprise!

We have time, here in this cocoon of a review, to reflect upon it. Time to let our eyes twirl from the bouncing arms to the jangling bracelets to the swirling hair to the smiling faces, all celebrating in the midst of the words: “we will dance again”. We can savor Natalie Dupille’s work, a fountain of watercolors raining down, cleaning away the dreariness for a few welcome moments. The Henry’s website tells us that she’s inspired by queer dance parties—havens of connection, identity, and community. What a beautiful message in just one small bus ad. And every art piece is just as fabulously nuanced and important!

COVID is forcing the art world to do many things, from rethinking art as an experience and redefining ideas like ‘share’ and ‘group’ to asking questions like “what is public?” and “how does physical space exist?”. The Henry has driven up to meet the challenges of our time, offering a beautiful and convincing argument in support of art for everyone, art for free, and—best of all—art that comes as a completely unexpected surprise.

This exhibition ran on Seattle buses through the end of February. Either traveling on foot or gazing out through the windows of one’s closest route, this event gave anyone the opportunity to be catapulted outside the average, nameless day to a world filled with societal change, wonder, and magic!

Set in Motion ran from December 2020 to February 2021. For more information see here.

Lead photo credit: Natalie Dupille, We Will Dance Again, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Ser o No Ser: Opening the Narrative of Shakespeare

Review of house of sueños, presented by Seattle Shakespeare Company

Written by Teen Writer Esha Potharaju and edited by Teen Editor Triona Suiter

House of suenos recording photo courtesy of Seattle Shakespeare Company

I’m brown, a girl, and rather opinionated. Shakespeare’s words were never meant for me; I recognized that early on. Sure, I’ve acted out a few lines for English at school. I took some reading comprehension tests on why a midsummer’s night wasn’t much to do about nothing, or something like that. But it’s not like I could ever relate to them. If Shakespeare’s narratives don’t reflect me, like stories are meant to, why must I consider them classics? Out of all the real, beautiful stories from around the world, from the Mahabarat to the Genji Monogatari, why must Hamlet be the only one universally recognized as a shining gem?

In Seattle Shakespeare's new podcast house of sueños, playwright Meme García retells Hamlet in their own Salvadorian-American voice, nuanced by intergenerational and personal trauma, to ultimately ground the play in a narrative that, for once, isn’t just for white people. house of sueños is an audio drama about two sisters investigating their father’s mysterious disappearance in the wake of their mother’s wedding. house of dreams in Spanish, the drama explores Latinx identity, colonialism, and trauma.

"I think that one of my things that I'm most excited about house of sueños is that you take this classic—quote unquote ‘classic’ story, right, 'cuz white supremacy's told us this is a classic story. And you're like how—I'm not pulling myself up to that story. Rather, I'm forcibly dragging that play to meet my life. And that I can use these words to kind of talk about things I've had to sit with for most of my life,” García says in a bonus episode, a conversation about their play.

García’s use of language is a central pillar of the play, something the play’s audio format allows it to focus on. The story is spun purely through words and voices. Actors make excellent use of the medium, seeming to have poured their souls into this work. Characters’ personalities are conveyed through tone and speech patterns alone. Emotion is raw in the actors’ voices, which are complemented by an eerie yet beautiful soundtrack composed by Coby Gray. García's poetic writing, heavy with surreal imagery, only serves to enhance the experience of this play. “It is an old place. And it sits like a bug caught in amber. Floating in time.” How beautiful is that?

While the majority of the play is original dialogue, during particularly intense scenes, its Shakespearian roots surface in the form of Hamlet lines retold in a combination of Spanish and English. García reframes these dialogues into contexts completely different from how they were used in Hamlet. Yet, they do it in a way that the weight of the lines still rings clear, if not clearer, because García is allowing these lines to resonate with a wider range of people, specifically Spanish-speaking Latin-Americans.

Hamlet is a play that tackles mental health and suicide, issues that anyone of any background can experience. “The speech, ‘to be or not to be,’ has just kind of haunted me most of my life,” García says in the bonus episode.

In house of sueños, the line “ser o no ser” is uttered by older sister Rina, a seventeen-year-old deadset on finding her papi and rejecting societal norms. Rina’s character brings up colonization and its inflictions on generations of her community. Seen as “rebellious” and “unstable” by her mother, who believes assimilating to the white mindset is what’s best, Rina is rejected by the members of her own family. This line, meaning “to be or not to be” in Spanish, opens an iconic and meaningful line in Hamlet—a line carrying the heaviness of suicide and contemplation—to groups of people with experiences that will cause them to interpret the line in a way vastly different than the white perspective it has always been looked at.

By opening up the narrative of Hamlet, García provides a space for Spanish-speaking BIPOC who have similar experiences to feel a sense of belonging. “Belonging is protection,” therapist Marlene H. Kenny says in the conversation with García. In a world where the white narrative is pervasive, works like house of sueños that turn pieces over-glorified by whiteness into real-life cultural experiences are extremely important.

Shakespeare’s words may not be meant for me, but house of sueños has taught me that I can pull those words down and look them right in the eye by telling a narrative of my own.

house of sueños runs from January 27 to March 17, 2021, and is available on Rough Magic, Seattle Shakespeare Company's podcast. For more information see here.

Lead photo credit: house of sueños recording photo. Courtesy of Seattle Shakespeare Company

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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The End of October: A Journalist Writes a Pandemic Thriller

Review of Lawrence Wright: Online presented by Seattle Arts and Lectures

Written by Teen Writer Yoon Lee and edited by Teen Editor Anya Shukla

End of October

There’s a certain existential dread that comes with reading pandemic stories, but compared to the other major book about massive, species-threatening diseases (World War Z), The End of October has a certain flair of dread: influenza. As I learned during Lawrence Wright: Online, a recent event at Seattle Arts and Lectures (SAL), the author has surprisingly firsthand knowledge of infectious diseases.

The flu is so common that the “usual” variants of the disease are seen as regular occurrences. As such, the impact of influenza is often lost on us. However, Lawrence Wright’s The End of October drives home the now all-too-familiar terror of a hidden killer that is transmitted through the very air we breathe; a danger that we cannot see.

The End of October documents an epidemiologist, Henry Parsons, as he scrambles to contain a newfound disease that has killed dozens in an Indonesian refugee camp. Deemed Kongoli flu, the disease rages through the camp and soon breaks out into Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in the midst of its three-million-strong pilgrimage—a nightmare for an epidemiologist hoping to contain a deadly disease. Now, stuck in Saudi Arabia, Henry has to figure out how to fight this epidemic as countries begin to go to war and the chances of his family’s survival in the US continue to wane.

Wright may seem an unlikely author of The End of October, as he has written extensively about politics and Al-Qaeda, both in books and as a journalist for the New York Times. However, he began his career in journalism by covering diseases.

“I think the hardest part of writing is where the ideas come from. Sometimes they take decades to become realized,” said Wright during the SAL event. “They all stem from being a young reporter in 1976, I was living in Atlanta, and that was where the Center for Disease Control was located. I did several stories out of there.”

One of the stories Wright followed as a reporter was the swine flu epidemic of 1976. At this time, many believed the disease to be a rebirth of the 1918 flu which had killed between 50 and 100 million people. “That experience was very meaningful to me. I would go over the Center for Disease Control, and the people I met there I thought were remarkable. Noble, in a way. They were intelligent, they were humble, they were brave, they would go to these hotspots that I wouldn’t be caught dead in,” Wright said. “It really made an impression.”

His roots in reporting on epidemiology are skillfully woven into The End of October. Almost every health official, epidemiologist, biologist, and researcher is portrayed as brave, intelligent, and humble, all traits that Wright evidently picked up on when reporting at the CDC 45 years ago. His experience as a political reporter is palpable. The fictional Kongoli flu first started in a refugee camp in Indonesia, a refugee camp largely made up of gay Muslims with HIV. In the novel, Henry automatically fears the political and religious outcry as conspiracy theorists begin honing in on these already oft-targeted communities. Additionally, the next major Kongoli outbreak is during a historic migration to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. Wright here excels through his experience in Middle Eastern politics and religion, navigating the significance of this event, as well as the nebulous workings of the Saudi Arabian government. He seems to make similar political commentary during the later conflict of the story, a fleshed-out portrayal of Russian cyberattacks and eventual worldwide bio-warfare. Wright covers these issues with intelligence and maturity.

I have two major complaints, however. Henry Parsons functions as a protagonist, but he exemplifies the stereotype of a good doctor with a horrible past. Other characters also lack development: almost all are either cartoonishly evil and uncaring or extremely humanist and sympathetic. (This excludes the characters that follow a subplot regarding Russian intervention in US affairs and their attempt to bring it into the public light by publishing it in a newspaper—once again, demonstrating Wright’s expertise in politics and journalism.) There are also a few, painfully-written sexual scenes. They aren’t long, at most a paragraph, but most could have easily been excluded without significant impact to the plot. These scenes often took me out of an otherwise serious and professional atmosphere.

The End of October is a bit lacking in the character department, but as documentation of a civilization-threatening disease, and the political gun-pointing that follows a deadly pandemic, is impeccably written and strikingly relevant to our current times.

Lawrence Wright: Online was presented by Seattle Arts and Lectures on February 9, 2021. To learn more about Lawrence Wright and The End of October click here.

Lead photo credit: Lawrence Wright author photo. Courtesy of Lawrence Wright website.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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You’ve Come To The Right Place

Review of A Thousand Ways (Part One): A Phone Call, presented by On the Boards

Written by Teen Writer Kyle Gerstel and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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“I regard theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” - Oscar Wilde

My cellphone illuminates a face as I sit alone in my bedroom. With every answer to the AI bot’s line of prompts and questions, her figure strengthens. What is something you walk around with? A hand appears. Can you speak more on that? A limb. She sits on the carpet, rolled up in a ball. We gaze at one another, hypnotized by the strange sense of intimacy. This is more than interactive theater—it’s theatrical interaction.

When first given the opportunity to review A Thousand Ways (Part One): A Phone Call, I was slightly nervous—there’s a social stigma around experimental theater and I wasn’t sure if it would be too “artsy” for me to appreciate. At the beginning of my journey, an unsettling voice emerged, like a cross between Alexa and Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey: “You’ve come to the right place.” Had I?

That depends: did I wish to be challenged, touched, and transcended in space through the power of voice alone? In my interview with the creators of A Thousand Ways, Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone (known collectively as 600 Highwaymen), they expressed that the show was about “two people trying to imagine one another across this distance, but also about two people trying to create something together.” These ideas make the piece particularly resonant at this time of isolation without ever feeling nauseatingly relevant.

Questions, prompts, and bits of narrative are delivered by an AI bot to facilitate the conversation, establishing place and context in order to unlock less tangible details and create the possibility that audience members might be able to not only visualize each other, but gain a deeper understanding of their own character in the process.

I admit that it did feel awkward at the start, but as Silverstone said, “Awkwardness is useful—once you pass through it, you arrive at a place of poetics and comfort, you’ve accomplished something.” To engage in a shared experience at this time when there are so few was incredibly refreshing, even if it was with a stranger and an AI bot.

The show originated before the pandemic as a commissioned project for an art gallery regarding listening. “Oftentimes, we find that our first idea is not so great,” they told me, “and this idea of listening wasn’t so exciting. What was more exciting was the idea of making yourself visible and holding one another in the stillness and the darkness of this moment.” Thus, A Thousand Ways was born.

“It just started with me getting on a conference call with two people who didn’t know each other and asking them questions, giving them prompts,” Browde shared. “We would listen to how they responded, what gave people permission to expand upon things, and what sort of questions elicited reactions that we were interested in as makers. Sometimes it was the more pedestrian or simple things that felt the most meaningful.”

Silverstone added, “Early on, when we were working on this project, it always seemed like people were having a miserable time, and it took a while to get comfortable with the idea that they’re not miserable, they’re just having an experience, and even though they’re not performing enjoyment, that doesn’t mean they don’t like it.” Removing the “performance” aspect of performing arts made the experience even more provocative for me—I felt comfortable letting my guard down, which allowed me to fully participate in and enjoy the project.

Despite the immense vulnerability and active imagination required to fully participate in the piece, it’s both highly entertaining and rewarding to reflect upon. 600 Highwaymen achieved this by building the show on principles of gaming: “The audience is behaving in a way where there are incremental steps forward and a built vocabulary over time, always reaching for the thing right in front of you instead of focusing on the show as a whole.” This task-based approach makes it much more accessible than what is felt after the fact.

By requiring a “rigor to your presence as an audience member to show up, both for yourself and the other person,” A Thousand Ways fosters a connection between theatergoers that other pandemic art has failed to pull off. However, these are only fragments. “It is experienced by the participants on the call; all we’ve done is make the invitation.”

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Anastacia-Reneé Tells the Story of a Queer Black Woman

Review of Anastacia-Reneé's (Don’t be Absurd) Alice in Parts presented by Frye Art Museum

Written by Teen Writer Alyssa Williams and edited by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren

AR Promo 2 video still

Anastacia-Reneé’s exhibit at the Frye Museum, (Don’t be Absurd) Alice in Parts, tells the story of her character, Alice Metropolis, who is a queer Black woman living in a neighborhood that’s in the process of gentrification. The exhibit tells its story through furniture, objects, poems, and short video clips. Alice has breast cancer, a story element that sheds light on the inequities of medical treatment based on race. Not only does Alice fight cancer of the body, but she also fights cancer of the mind: white supremacy and racism.

One part of the exhibit that stuck with me long after the show was a short clip of Alice holding a bottle of alcohol and talking to the camera. She talks about how when she goes through tragedies and unimaginable hardships in life because of her race, she has to just “keep it moving.” This speaks to society’s expectation for Black women to be caretakers in the home, in society, in the Black Lives Matter movement—to care for everyone but themselves and never slow down. The bottle of alcohol symbolizes how these standards damage her mental health and cause her to be in desperate need of a break.

At the end of the exhibit, Alice dies from cancer. There is no victory in Alice’s story. Her story sends a message about how we as a society have failed Black women, how receiving support has to be destigmatized, and that we have to give more support to each other. Alice physically died from cancer, but she also symbolically died from facing the cancer of white supremacy and racism without the support that she needed. (Don’t be Absurd) Alice in Parts is not just Alice’s story. It’s the story of many Black women living in America today. Anastacia-Reneé. Alice in Parts. 2020. Photo by Michael B. Maine.

After virtually visiting the exhibit, I listened to Anastacia-Reneé and her team discuss the exhibit and its messages (this discussion is available on the Frye Art Museum YouTube channel). Her team is a wonderful group of Black women who are deeply in touch with today’s societal issues, so listening to them was an eye-opener for me. They said that Anastacia-Reneé’s work represents the words that Black women fear to say in public today. These words are about how people treat Black women like puppets and make decisions for them and define how they should act. These words are about the expectation for Black women to be “strong” and get through everything on their own without struggling. These words are about not feeling safe in their own home.

Despite their struggles, they also talked about having hope, finding support among each other, experiencing joy in their hobbies and in life, and continuing to fight back. When asked “when the fight (for racial justice) is over,” one team member responded saying that the fight won’t end until people like Alice can go to sleep at night not wondering if they’ll become the next hashtag (a reference to Black victims of police killings), and until they can go out in public bringing their full self and not worrying about retribution. We have a long way to go as a community, but I believe that this exhibit is a message of hope for the future.

This exhibit and its messages around affordable housing, police brutality, and gentrification are especially important in the perspective of recent events, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the storming of the capital by white supremacists, and the inequities and discrimination in America based on race, class, gender, or ability becoming more apparent. The exhibit was wonderfully put together and made me think deeply about where we are as a society with respect to race. I highly recommend this exhibit to those who want to better understand the struggle of living as a Black woman today.

(Don’t be Absurd) Alice in Parts is available to view at the Frye Art Museum from January 30 - April 25, 2021. For more information see here.

Lead photo credit: Anastacia-Reneé. Alice in Parts (video still), 2016. Digital video (black and white, sound) 30:36 min. Courtesy of the artist.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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The Ripples of a Single Life: A Film About A Father Who

Review of A Film About A Father Who, presented by Northwest Film Forum

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

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A Film About A Father Who is a documentary that slowly untangles the grand web of secrets of the family, unveiling the mystery of its story through a kaleidoscope lens of points of view. Directed by Lynne Sachs, this film is about the love life of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., and the resulting complications in the lives of his lovers and children. Taking the audience down a progressively darker path of secrets, this film unleashes a detailed and multifaceted history to the viewer through simple moments of reflection and powerful shots of people’s raw truth.

The intentional layout of this film allows the viewer to access increasingly adverse secrets about Ira as it progresses, heavily contrasting the fun-loving man the audience is initially introduced to with the final depiction of the man. This juxtaposition was at first offsetting, as the tone at the start is loving towards Ira, while the end showcases all of the hurt relationships Ira leaves in his wake. However, this closing quote by the filmmaker explains these discontinuities of emotions, saying, “This is not a portrait. This is not a self-portrait. This is my reckoning with the conundrum of our asymmetry.” Asymmetry is quite the word choice for the concluding emotion provoked by this film. From the variety of perspectives, one is never given a universal opinion of Ira shared by any of his relations. However, that comes as no surprise because of the variety of family members Ira had amassed throughout his unusual life.

The interviewees’ view Ira from a range of perspectives, seeing him as an exciting and adoring father to someone who was barely ever there at all. The filmmaker herself continually attempts to take a neutral if not forgiving tone as she has many happy memories with Ira. But as other voices are heard, such as the then 19-year-old Diana who Ira brought to the U.S. and started another family, the happy-go-lucky tone of the film is drowned out by the hard realities.

Ira’s complex family dynamics stemmed from the secret family he created. After divorcing the filmmaker's mother—Ira’s first wife Diane—due to an affair he had, Ira takes Diana to be his new companion and has several children with her. Although the film’s title refers to Diana as Ira’s second wife, Ira himself says he was only married one time, to Diane. Ira goes on to have more children with other women, but believes he must keep these children separated from his first family and his mother in order to receive his inheritance. This separation is very damaging to these “hidden” family members and his relationships with them.

A quote from one of the “hidden” daughters, Madison, contains the pain that this unusual family dynamic caused. Through tears she describes a simple dream that was unattainable for her in her youth: “That’s what I’m going to strive for, not a perfect family, but to have a dad and a home.” Clips of her wedding pass by on-screen. The value that has been instilled in this dream was clearly caused by the lack of its fulfillment in her childhood. This moment is just one of many that provide an intimate glimpse into the relationships of this family.

This deep dive into such an interesting family dynamic and the varying perspectives it contains was eye-opening. Having the long-term perspective of 35 years of filming as the filmmaker looks back at her childhood as an adult gave this film a more sophisticated tone. Instead of reacting to Ira’s actions in the moment, the audience is given a variety of different reflections to his behavior seen through the lens of many years. The relationships between Ira and his children are powerful because in spite of the distance he placed between them and himself, they each created their own unique form of love for him. Their mature and varied reflections give the audience powerful food for thought and room to form their own opinion of Ira’s choices. This film contains so many real life details that flesh out what it really feels like to live in a complicated world. I would recommend not only watching this film once, but many times in order to absorb all the intricacies of this richly detailed documentary.

A Film about a Father is available to stream on the Northwest Film Forum website from January 22 to February 21.

Lead photo credit: Lynne Sachs, director of Film About A Father Who. Courtesy of Cinema Guild.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Two Takes on Isolation and Connection

Review of Choreographic Shindig VI presented by Whim W’Him

Written by Teen Writer Valentine Wulf and edited by Teen Editor Triona Suiter

Whim W Him dancers Michael Arellano seated and Karl Watson in Madison Olandt Mike Tyus Elsewhere for Choreographic Shindig VI Filming and direction by Quinn Wharton

Whim W’Him’s Choreographic Shindig VI is a collection of two filmed dance pieces (Elsewhere and Grassville) that both touch on similar subjects. Confinement, isolation, and our relationship with technology and nature are addressed in both pieces, albeit in vastly different ways.

Elsewhere by Mike Tyus & Madison Olandt begins with dancers in a bleak warehouse, their faces covered, as they leap across the concrete floor, trying to escape from whatever it is that’s trapping them. As the piece goes on, they hold TV screens in front of each other’s faces, showing the faces of other dancers on each other’s bodies. The dance is brilliantly choreographed and the use of the TV heads conjures familiar images of video conferences with rows and rows of disembodied heads in boxes on a screen. The imagery becomes more striking as it transitions from television screen to a field, where the dancers look around—at first confused, and then relieved, as they fall into a pile on the beach and soon end up back in the warehouse. The dancers move with incredible precision and in perfect time with each other—it’s clear this piece has a message to convey, and the dancers execute it brilliantly. While we once used television screens and the online world as a form of escapism from the real world, now that we’re forced to be onscreen and are forbidden from even so much as stepping within six feet of other people, it’s the outside world that seems like a novelty. The message is clear and thought-provoking.

The same cannot be said about Grassville by Anabelle Lopez Ochoa. The brief description accompanying the piece mentioned it was about connection to nature and reconnecting with each other, but this isn’t clear from anything in the houseplant-brandishing choreography. You watch in anticipation for something to click and the message to suddenly make sense—but it never does. Something about the piece feels incomplete, like it desperately wanted to go somewhere profound but wasn’t quite sure how to do it.Whim W'Him dancer Andrew McShea in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Grassville for Choreographic Shindig VI. Filming and direction by Quinn Wharton.

Despite the unclear message, the dancers are phenomenal. Wearing houseplant headdresses designed by Mark Zappone, they leap and twirl through a stark white house that feels like something you’d see in a dream. The choreography is as bold and striking as Elsewhere, and the dancers move in such perfect time with each other that it’s like watching one person. Grassville teeters on the line between self-aware humor and raging pretentiousness, but the dancers alone make up for the mediocre through-line. The bizarre camera angles and shaky shots don’t do them justice.

Elsewhere fully embraces the reality of the world we’re living in right now and takes advantage of the opportunity to perform a dance on film. The special effects, cuts, and transition between warehouse and shore would have been impossible to convey effectively in front of a live audience. Part of where Grassville fails is that it doesn’t do this. Grassville immediately stands out as something that should have been performed on a stage. It feels forced and strange on camera, which takes away from the message that choreographer Ochoa was trying to convey—connecting with nature and adapting during a pandemic.

Choreographic Shindig VI is intended to be two pieces about the pandemic. Elsewhere is so obviously about the pandemic that it’s clear even without reading the synopsis. Grassville, on the other hand, could have been about anything. A houseplant rebellion? Not watering your plants? Maybe the real message of Choreographic Shindig VI is that I need more heavy-handed symbolism.

Choreographic Shindig VI premiered online in September 2020 and is available to stream on the Whim W’Him website.

Lead photo credit: Whim W'Him dancers Michael Arellano (seated) and Karl Watson in Madison Olandt & Mike Tyus' Elsewhere for Choreographic Shindig VI. Filming and direction by Quinn Wharton.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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90.TEEN: Modern Sound in an Old-Fashioned Medium

Review of 90.TEEN presented by KEXP

Written by Teen Writer Lauren Rohde and edited by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname

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For myself and many other teens, the radio was a staple of car drives with parents. From All Things Considered to classical music stations to pop radio, the sounds of our childhoods can be easily defined by disembodied voices and sounds playing from a car stereo system. A group of teen DJs have the opportunity to hone skills such as DJing, radio technology, and curation through 90.TEEN, KEXP’s youth-run radio show. The DJs, who are part of KEXP’s Youth DJs program, produce and program the show under the mentorship of KEXP’s DJs.

KEXP, whose offices are located in Seattle Center, specializes in alternative and indie music, usually rock. Since the station was founded by undergraduate students at the University of Washington, it seems fitting that students would once again have an opportunity to contribute to Seattle’s radio scene. The four young DJs of 90.TEEN, Vega Vi, Sofiiak, Sebastian Mendoza, and 9 Coleman-Harvey, have established interests in music production and broadcasting, and it’s clear to see their joy while they broadcast. Their excitement to be broadcasting, even in the wee hours of the morning, is evident in their voices. The January 16 episode features a selection of laid-back but funky beats, each song flowing into the other and occasionally interjected by the mellow voice of DJ 9. The songs put you in moods that range from chilled-out to wanting to get up and dance, a great backdrop for homework, relaxing on the couch, or an early morning commute. 90.TEEN DJ, 9 Coleman-Harvey. Photo by Tariqa Waters

As a form of media, radio is relatively antique. Radios became popular for general use in the 1920s, where the cheap cost of broadcasting provided the masses with entertainment. Throughout the 20th century, radio has been a mainstay for providing us with news, entertainment, and background noise to soundtrack our days. In the advent of the digital age and the rise of podcasts and streaming, most radio has been relegated to the car. 90.TEEN creates an opportunity to spark young peoples’ interest in broadcasting and radio, giving the broadcasters of the future the skills they need to produce high-quality broadcasts. In a way, KEXP is keeping radio alive: driving up interest in young people and increasing their involvement in broadcast not only gives them an outlet for self-expression, but also ensures that the medium will be a constant in our lives for generations to come. Left: DJ Sebastian. Photo by Diego Mendoza. Center: DJ Sofia K. Photo by Kennady Quille. Right: DJ Vega Vi. Photo by Niffer Calderwood.

The tastes of teens often inform pop culture, and the organizers of 90.TEEN know this. By giving youth an outlet to play music they enjoy, listeners gain a better understanding of what’s “hip with the kids” and teens see their interests represented. One thing all the teen DJs have in common is their passion for music. Each of them are multimedia artists, but much of their inspiration is driven by music. Some work in record shops, some are part of high school music groups, and others even make music themselves. The teens’ passion for music shines through in their broadcasts and in their biographies on the 90.TEEN page of the KEXP website; it is clear that they take pride in their art and work hard to produce a great show.

Through 90.TEEN, young people have the opportunity to breathe new life into an old-fashioned art form. Producing sounds that are distinctly modern, youth DJs hone their skills and produce a high-quality radio broadcast that is fully entertaining and inspiring. They are provided expert mentorship and taught skills needed to succeed in an area of high interest. And succeed they have: the broadcast is a blast to listen to, not only for the selection of music but also for the clear dedication of the DJs.

90.TEEN airs live on KEXP Saturday mornings from 6-7 AM. It is available to stream anytime on the KEXP website.

Lead Photo Credit: 90.TEEN, a youth show on KEXP

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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A New Way To Interface With History

Review of Behind the Seams: Fabulous Footwear presented by MOHAI

Written by Teen Writer Frances Vonada and edited by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren

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Fashion serves as an extraordinary mark of humanity because it is such a personal channel of expression, yet countless outside forces also influence it, including the political and social climate of the time. This is why Behind the Seams: Fabulous Footwear is a window into not only the fashion history of Seattle but also the lives of people who lived years ago.

Curator of Collections at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), Clara Berg, presented this hour-long event, which is currently available for free on MOHAI’s YouTube channel. The event features 13 pairs of shoes designed or sold in Seattle, from the early 1900s to the present, sorted into categories such as “small details” or “embellishments”.

The artifacts themselves were stunning. One silver pair of shoes from the 1920s featured delicate silver and gold leather woven across the strap—a detail that could have only been hand-sewn. A pair of brown leather pumps with a narrow spike heel came straight off the runway of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, with black leather contrast around the toe box, forming a sort of harness around the front of the wearer’s foot.

A pair of 1920s evening shoes made of pale pink silk include a delicate detail at the toe: two silver leather wings clasped together by a button. The outer sides of the heels mimic this element with two more dainty buttons. Berg points out that these details were small enough that they would likely not be noticed by people other than the owner. And yet, we are privy to these details, giving us a glimpse into this person’s life. Peach silk heels with silver decoration, sold by Turrell’s, ca. 1925-1929. MOHAI.

Berg says, “Artifacts are really powerful because they’re these physical objects that have outlived people… [They] can tell you a lot about what people had valued, and what people spend time with, what kinds of things they thought to save. But there’s also this mystical quality of artifacts. We can sort of imagine it: ‘Why did they love this pair of shoes?’, ‘What did they wear it to?’, ‘What kind of events did this pair of shoes get to see?’”

The event is a feast for the eyes, but the most memorable aspect is the context that surrounds each piece, especially the shoes in the “referential” category. Inspired by previous eras, the designers of these shoes incorporated the signature silhouettes or embellishments of a previous time, creating a new piece that is reminiscent of the original style.

This type of inspiration and reinvention is not limited to shoes, and you can trace parallels in design throughout fashion history. The bold shoulder pads of the 1980s exaggerate the strong uniform lines that were fashionable in the war-time of the 1940s. Similarly, platform shoes from the 1940s also inspired the platform shoes of the 1970s. The relationship between styles in different eras connects and unifies history tangibly and visibly, which is fundamentally different from an academic understanding of history.

When I asked Berg about what the markers of current fashion are, she touched on the pandemic, the topic of race, and climate change, all of which are major issues today. In light of climate change, designers are looking for sustainable options for clothes and textiles that are created with green farming practices. Designers are also focusing on creating clothes without exploiting workers, as well as making pieces durable enough to last several years to avoid contributing to the literal millions of tons of textile waste per year. This is a tall order in addition to the effort to lift up and support Black and Indigenous designers, who have been historically sidelined in the industry.

On a lighter note, the pandemic has influenced fashion by evolving comfortable clothing to be more stylish, lending some flare to outfits for around the house. I asked Berg what she believes style will be post-pandemic, and she was unsure. Will people rush out of their house dressed to the nines to celebrate? Or will comfortable clothes prevail?

Whatever the future holds, viewing fashion pieces like shoes in this new light provides a window to a previous era. By dressing in vintage styles, studying the artifacts, or simply admiring the aesthetics, these extant pieces allow us to interact with history at an emotional level normally inaccessible in a classroom. They connect us to past lives and unite us in the long continuum of human history.

Lead Photo Credit: Hand painted "You're Turning Violet, Violet" heels, artist Rachel J. E. Sprauge for Hourglass Footwear, 2013 MOHAI, Gift of Hourglass Footwear.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Ryan Murphy Proves, Once Again, How It Is Possible To Be Both Gay And Homophobic

Review of The Prom, a Netflix film

Written by Teen Writer Anna Martin and edited by Teen Editor Anya Shukla

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The Prom opens with a musical number sung by Meryl Streep and James Corden. Streep grins and sings with generous help from autotune, while Corden twirls around the screen, in a limp-wristed impression of a gay man. This is one of the best scenes in the movie—it only gets worse from here.

The Prom is based on the Tony-nominated musical of the same name. It follows four washed-up Broadway actors (two of whom are played by Streep and Corden) in a misguided attempt to restore their reputations by forcing themselves into the life of a teenage lesbian, Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), whose prom was canceled after she tried to take her girlfriend (Ariana Debose) as her date.

The musical numbers are over the top and colorful, Murphy, at the very least, understands how to do a musical. That being said, he does lean too much into it at certain key points. “Campy and fun” is a weird energy to bring to a scene where Emma is being bullied for her sexuality. The goofy acting choices and bright colors may work for some of the more upbeat musical numbers, but for scenes trying to address the trauma of homophobia, it felt offensive and in bad taste. I was left once again wondering if Murphy has ever even met a lesbian and if he thinks this is a normal reaction to death threats.

I have no doubt Pellman is a fine actor, but her constant smiling is unnerving. Her introductory song is about being out as a lesbian in a small, intolerant town, but she never once breaks from a cheerful grin. The only emotions she shows throughout the whole movie are just happy or sad, making her performance feel stiff and robotic.

Her girlfriend showed more emotion in her practically nonexistent screen time than Pellman did the whole movie. Dubose’s performance is by far the best acting in this movie. The couple's chemistry was excellent, but the lack of screen time made every scene with the two girls together feel like dropping in on a much better romcom halfway through. In a movie that was 20 minutes too long, Murphy somehow didn’t spend enough time with the main couple.

Instead, that time is devoted to James Corden’s impression of a gay best friend from a ‘90s sitcom, and Meryl Streep’s aforementioned singing. It felt clueless at best and mocking at worst. Both of their performances were playing to the back row, making these characters seem campy and ridiculous in moments that were supposed to feel sincere.

Not only were Murphy’s edits from the original plot in bad taste, but they also made the writing worse. He cut most of the screentime from the gay couple and gave it to the Broadway actors, making the plot make less sense while also feeling insufferably long.

The only redeeming parts of this movie are Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells. If you are going to, watch The Prom for Rannells’ character following a group of teenagers around a mall, trying to sing the homophobia out of them, and Kidman’s character trying to Fosse dance the fear of being the victim of a hate crime out of a traumatized seventeen-year-old lesbian. Both of these instances work and are the best parts of this movie.

On the flip side, the worst part about all of the terrible casting and directing choices was that all the Broadway actor characters, and Emma to some extent, were based on real people, who played themselves in the Broadway show. Murphy took a show that was one of the first positive, lesbian-centered musicals and shifted the focus away from the main characters. Not only was this movie badly directed and acted, it grossly misunderstood its own source material, ruining everything that made it great.

Netflix, next time save us all the trouble and just film the musical.

Lead photo credit: Tracey Ullman, James Corden, Andrew Rannells, Jo Ellen Pellman, Ariana DeBose, Nico Greetham, Logan Riley, and Sofia Deler in The Prom (2020). Photo by MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX/MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX - © 2020 Netflix, Inc.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Throwing the Nazis an Artistic Middle Finger: The Story of Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe

Review of Jeffery Jackson: The Artists Who Risked Their Lives Using Art to Defy the Nazis from Town Hall Seattle

Written by Teen Writer Bayla Cohen-Knott and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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There are a lot of things wrong with the world right now. I don’t even have to list them; just saying ‘wrong’ and ‘world’ makes my stomach clench and a multitude of problems rush to my head. When I get these feelings and thoughts I feel overwhelmed and anxious. I feel like I have no power and I’m jealous of those who’ve figured out their plan.

It is in these times of feeling lost in what to do that it’s useful to learn about people who found creative ways to support causes they found important. A lesser-known, but striking example is the story of Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe. Their story is told by author and historian Jeffrey H. Jackson in his new book Paper Bullets: Two Artists Who Risked Their Lives to Defy the Nazis. I was lucky to hear Jackson tell part of this story at an event hosted by Town Hall Seattle. His reading of a few select excerpts from his book and continued talk put me directly in the lives of Lucy and Suzanne and made me notably curious as to what was going on in their heads.

Lucy and Suzanne are better known by their artistic aliases Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. They lived in Paris in the 1920s where they immersed themselves in the thriving arts scene. Lucy was a writer and Suzanne was an illustrator. Together, though, they produced hundreds of photographs, often with Lucy in the male persona of Claude Cahun, that confronted traditional ideas about gender and sexual identity. Photo courtesy of Town Hall Seattle

In 1937, Lucy and Suzanne moved to the island of Jersey to lead a more quiet life. That quiet life was disrupted, however, when WWII began. The Nazis saw Jersey as a strategic spot to hold and quickly took it over. Lucy and Suzanne now lived in occupied territory. This was dangerous for many reasons, but because of a few specifically. First, Lucy and Suzanne were in love. Secondly, Lucy had Jewish heritage. And thirdly, the two were communists. All three of these things made them targets of the Nazis, so they kept their lives secret, living very privately as “sisters.” These things could have scared them into submission, but instead, they motivated Lucy and Suzanne into action.

That action was passing notes. Well, not like in math class, more like to German soldiers. Lucy and Suzanne wrote hundreds of notes on little slips of paper that they then left on tables, under windshield wipers, and even in the pockets of soldiers themselves. The notes were meant to demoralize German troops. They signed the notes “The Soldier With No Name.” This gave the Nazis the idea that the notes were coming from the inside, a worrying notion. In case they were caught, they carried with them a powerful sedative to use to end their lives, instead of being killed by the Nazis. For four years Lucy and Suzanne left these notes for the soldiers and risked their lives every day to do so.

Their action was halted, however, when German police arrived on their doorstep. The Germans searched their home, uncovering incriminating evidence that they were, in fact, both “The Soldier With No Name.” Lucy and Suzanne were arrested, interrogated, put on trial, sent to prison, and sentenced to death.

Against the odds, they survived the war after nearly a year of suffering in prison. Jeffrey Jackson, the author of Paper Bullets, was able to piece together this complex history and show the reader a real look into the turmoil of wartime resistance. As Jackson said at the closing of his talk, Lucy and Suzanne show us how “small acts of protest have significance.” This story of their protest against the Nazis is one that is important to tell, especially in a time like ours where many people’s values are threatened by those in power. Learning about Lucy and Suzanne can show us how to draw on our own experiences to make change. They were motivated by their love for one another, their heritage, and their politics. They drew on their creativity as multidisciplinary artists and their experimentation with gender and sexual identity. And with that, they put together a personal rebellion to do their part in defeating the Nazis.

So, I ask you: What is something you believe in? A movement you think is important? What are your passions or interests? And how can you use your personal experience and creativity to make a difference?

To learn more about Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe and hear from author Jeffrey Jackson you can watch the recorded video of his talk with Town Hall Seattle on their website media library. The event was put together in collaboration with Third Place Books, and Paper Bullets is available for purchase through their website and in stores.

Lead photo credit: Jeffrey H. Jackson, photo courtesy of Town Hall Seattle

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Twisted Flicks: Jet City Conquers the Pandemic

Review of Twisted Flicks: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians presented by Jet City Improv

Written by Teen Writer Kyle Gerstel and edited by Teen Editor Triona Suiter

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Laughter is contagious. Unfortunately, another (much less enjoyable) thing called COVID-19 is too, which has forced theaters across the country to shut down for the majority of 2020. Luckily, the theatermakers at Jet City Improv are masters at saying “yes, and” and have invented new, creative ways to share their art in quarantine. I had the opportunity to watch their most recent venture, Twisted Flicks: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and I’m happy to report that they are on their way to conquering this pandemic with laughter, the best medicine (note: TeenTix does not endorse laughter as a replacement for vaccines).

Since 1997, Jet City’s Twisted Flicks have entertained audiences by irreverently voicing new dialogue and sound effects for the scum de la scum of cinema. Now, they’re utilizing Twitch to perform with a similar format from their homes, screen-sharing the film on a live-streamed Zoom meeting and receiving audience suggestions via a virtual chatbox. The bridge between audience and performer is one of the things I cherish most about theater, so this replication of that interaction felt refreshing and rare in quarantine. I hope non-improv theaters borrow this device for their productions as well to inject some of the energy of live theater that is lost online.

As for the actual show, improv either whisks you away or it doesn’t—this, unfortunately, didn’t. The performers were sensationally silly and Art Koshi’s improvised score seamlessly blended in with the emotions of the scenes, but I wasn’t captivated by the show’s structure. In the post-show Q+A, improviser Daryl Ducharme commented, “We’re still figuring out virtual improv. It’s okay to experiment and even fail a little bit because that’s how improv became what it is now.” While I believe it was a worthwhile experiment, the long form’s confinement to planned visuals as well as the lack of audience participation for the bulk of the production made it less engaging online. Behind the scenes of Jet City Improv's Twisted Flicks: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Photo courtesy of Jet City Improv.

The scenes worked best when the actors were fully committed to their characters, impressively mimicking the emotions portrayed on-screen while supplying the story with much-needed emotional weight. Incorporating flourishes such as sound effects and pop culture references added splashes of entertainment value, but they only succeeded when held together by strong characters. There were quite a few moments that caused me to laugh aloud, from anti-humor one-liners such as “be there or come later and be there then” to inevitable quips about COVID, but the improvisers often didn’t build upon the situations for maximum comedic synergy, which made the piece no greater than the sum of its one-liners.

While some of the humor was lost in translation online, the charisma and communal values of Jet City weren’t. From the preshow to the Q+A, the cast made me feel more in touch with the local arts community than I have for months, effortlessly creating a collaborative environment despite the challenges of performing virtually. One actor even dressed in a Santa suit and performed the show as Santa performing the role of Santa in the film (“so meta,” as one improviser cheekily commented). However, this casualness was a double-edged sword, causing many performers to not act with a straight face, which snapped my sense of escapism and detracted from the jokes.

Despite the foundation not succeeding for me as an audience member, the show was a pleasant change of pace for quarantine entertainment. I look forward to seeing how Jet City improvisers continue to refine their craft and provide laughter to our community at this time when all we have is each other.

Check out Jet City Improv’s improvised romps from now till the end of time, on their website.

Lead photo credit: Screenshot from Jet City Improv's Twisted Flicks: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Photo courtesy of Jet City Improv.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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An Auditory Exploration: The Canterville Ghost

Review of The Canterville Ghost presented by Book-It Repertory Theatre

Written by Teen Writer Nour Gajial and edited by Teen Editor Mila Borowski

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As we approach the holiday season, who doesn’t love getting cozy and watching a performance? Even during a time where we cannot enjoy an in-person play, Book-It Repertory Theatre continues to bring the arts community together through broadcasting Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost, converting the play into an auditory performance. Although viewing this production online is not the same as viewing it live, I had the opportunity to enjoy it in the comfort of my own home, and given that it was pre-recorded, I had the flexibility to view it at my own time.

The Canterville Ghost is a short story by Oscar Wilde about the Otis family, who move to an English country house which they soon find out is haunted. The Otis family, who are from America, do not find the eeriness of their house intimidating. In fact, they decide not to mention it at all. We soon discover that in their basement lives a ghost with a troubled past. Although we do not know the name of the ghost, we know that he was the first owner of this country house and was looked down upon in his past life since he killed his wife. Every morning he leaves a bloodstain in the living room near the fireplace to prove his existence and to scare the family, but the Otis family is unphased. Every night, the ghost attempts to scare the family, but instead, the young Otis twins ridicule him and play tricks on him instead. Even Mr. and Ms. Otis offer him medicines and supplies to help him instead of reacting to his tricks. By this point, the ghost feels offended and decides to stop scaring the family. However, it soon becomes evident that the elder daughter of the Otis family, Virginia, has some fear building up around living in the haunted house. One day she comes across the ghost and he confides in her. They both share vulnerable stories and the ghost confesses that he wants to die officially and doesn’t want to continue his presence as a ghost. Virginia is destined to help the ghost and as she helps him confront death, she learns an important lesson that love is stronger than death.

One of the most exciting features about this performance is that it can only be viewed as an audiobook. Personally, I thought this fit perfectly with the theme of the Canterville Ghost since it is a fantasy story and it gave me an opportunity to create my own image for the performance. However, given that there were no visuals, the story was heavily dominated by the voice of the narrator, which created continuity between the scenes. I could tell that the audio was high quality since it was extremely clear and had many dimensions (background noise, character noise, and narrator voice). Often the narrator would lead the plot with the characters in the scene talking in the background. In this audiobook style, it was extremely helpful that I was able to distinguish each character by their unique voices and tones. Just by hearing their voices, I was able to track character development throughout the storyline which added depth to my understanding of the plot. Even though there were no formal transitions between scenes, I relied on the background sounds and pauses to establish a change in time in my head which strongly imitated a set change on a stage in real life. Although I have not listened to very many audiobooks, I had a great experience listening to the Canterville Ghost and am inspired to check out more auditory performances.

Overall, I was very satisfied with viewing this performance. Even though I didn’t see the production in person, or have visuals to aid my understanding, I had the freedom to create my own fantastical visuals in my mind which was equally enjoyable. The Canterville Ghost was humorous, exciting, and kept me on my toes even in the comfort of my own house. Although audiobooks are not the most conventional method of viewing a performance, Book-It Repertory Theatre did a very effective job in conveying the story while keeping the viewer entertained. During this time in quarantine, it can be difficult to view live performances, however, I had an awesome experience listening to this audiobook and encourage others to check it out!

This event is streaming from December 8th, 2020 through June 30th, 2021. For more information see here.

Lead Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Book-It Repertory Theatre

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Una manera única de celebrar: ¡Navidad!

Review of ¡Navidad! presented by Pacific MusicWorks

Written by Teen Writer Jaiden Borowski and edited by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren

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I began ¡Navidad!, Pacific MusicWorks’ most recent show, with a certain sense of anticipation. I have been desperate for the holiday spirit this year and was eager to experience holiday cheer in any form. Without the usual winter activities and just a light sprinkle of snow in Seattle, the only Christmas spirit that I have found this year has been through time-tired songs and classic movies. In ¡Navidad! I hoped to find a fresh way to celebrate the holiday season. The impressive vocals by Danielle Sampson and Tess Altiveros, combined with creative instruments, gave me the sense of newness I craved.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the tone of the music, which, with its Cuban, Mexican, Guatemalan, Bolivian, and Peruvian origins, was completely distinct from the style of classic European and Western Christmas music that I had anticipated. As a member of the Latinx community, it was wonderful to experience and learn more about music from Latin America and its intricacies. Although the words (translated to English through subtitles on the bottom of the screen) were centered around the usual religious stories of Jesus’s birth, the tone of the music was refreshingly original to me. As opposed to Western holiday songs, ¡Navidad! provided a new way to enjoy the season through music. Pacific MusicWorks' ¡Navidad!. Photo by Philip Tschopp.

While the instrumentalists wore matching masks, the two sopranos stood maskless, (six or more feet apart), and artfully conveyed the emotions of the songs through their voices and facial expressions. Sampson and Altiveros’ voices were at once powerfully distinguished from each other and beautifully combined. One did not have to understand the words to fully appreciate the impressive, clear, and strong notes of the singers. Distinct drums and various other percussion instruments, played by Antonio Gomez, added to the unique and layered sounds.

The intermission provided a short film shot during this past summer in 2020, with the piece Sonata Seconda for Violin and Continuo as its audio. With the simple scene of a group of friends coming together for a feast, it evoked in me, and I’m sure many of the other audience members, a certain sense of nostalgia for pre-COVID times. At once both a feast for the eyes and ears, the bright tableau contrasted with the lonely and darker times of 2020’s version of the holidays.

Tekla Cunningham, the piece’s co-artistic director, shared a thought during the intermission about the power of the audience which resonated deeply with me: “Concerts have always been a kind of sacred space, outside of the demands of day-to-day life. A shared moment when time can truly stand still… One in which you as a listener play an equal and essential part.” Even during quarantine, when in-person performances and audiences are impossible, shows like these can still bring us together in some manner. The enjoyment of these songs unifies us even beyond the screen, as art always has the potential to do. The novelty of ¡Navidad! specifically accomplished this because it felt like a new experience that the audience could discover together. Both a relaxing and powerful take on Christmas music, ¡Navidad! is sure to add cheer to your holiday season!

This event streamed online on December 12th. For more information see here.

Lead photo credit: Pacific MusicWorks' ¡Navidad!. Photo by Philip Tschopp.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Revisiting Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels

Review of Fallen Angels

Written by Teen Writer Owen Chilcote and edited by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname

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Few filmmakers are able to highlight the longings of modern people as stylishly as Wong Kar-wai.

The Chinese-born director has made a name for himself with an exceptionally consistent filmography. Ranging from the hyperactive and kaleidoscopic Chungking Express to the internationally renowned In the Mood For Love, each of his films manages to accomplish the astonishing balancing act of being both stylistically unique and emotionally resonant. However, of all of his exceptional work (most of which are playing in a glorious new 4K restoration at SIFF), no film is a sharper distillation of his signature hyper-kinetic melancholy than his 1995 masterpiece, Fallen Angels.

Fallen Angels was originally conceived as the third part of 1994’s Chungking Express—a movie divided into two distinct stories linked together primarily through motifs—and an observant viewer could find the traces of that film in this one. The fragmented structure, based upon two different relationships, is certainly familiar, and symbols of blond hair and cans of expired pineapple (which feature prominently in Chungking Express) reappear and gain new meaning in Fallen Angels. But the movie really works much better as a darker foil to Chungking Express than as a direct sequel. Brigitte Lin and Faye Wong in Chungking Express (1994).

Take, for example, the brooding contract killer and his “partner,” whose character dynamic—along with some John Woo-style shootout sequences—make up the first half of the movie. While the primary conflict in Chungking Express was the characters’ inability to express their feelings to each other, in Fallen Angels it is their unwillingness to allow themselves to be emotionally connected to another person. The film lets us know this fact almost immediately during the opening monologue: “We’ve been business partners for 155 weeks now. We’re sitting next to each other for the first time today. We seldom see each other because it is hard to control one's emotions. Partners should never get emotionally involved.”

Interior monologues like the one quoted above appear regularly throughout the film. Along with well-placed pop song selections, they take up the majority of the soundtrack, replacing conventional dialogue. And for good reason, as they act as the glue that holds this film together, connecting each of the deeply atmospheric vignettes into a whole.

There’s really very little tangible narrative structure to Fallen Angels. Even as someone who’s seen the movie multiple times, it’s hard to pin down a concrete plot. Each scene gives way to the next at such a quick pace that all that’s left are images and snatches of dialogue. It’s hard to make a great argument for the overall value of these structural choices (or lack of such), but this high a density of memorable moments is incredibly hard to find in any other film.

Fallen Angels is ultimately defined by its late-night neon-soaked atmosphere, not its story. Much of the credit for this atmosphere is owed to Wong’s go-to cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, who assembles a stunning collage of seductive pop-art imagery. Shot primarily at night using only extreme wide-angle lenses, the film's visuals are kinetic and propulsive, each shot more exciting than the last.

The movie is a barrage of seductive images: a motorcycle ride, a woman's face reflecting onto a jukebox, a ride in an ice cream truck, a digital video ode to a father, the best shot of someone eating noodles I have ever seen on film. Each image gives way to the next in a rapid-fire montage of gleeful improvisation. Every moment, however mundane, manages to be funny or moving or cool or even all of those at once.

This is why Fallen Angels works so well. Even though the movie is loose, goofy, and sometimes more ambitious than it needs to be, Wong’s ultra-romantic sensibilities and clever writing add a surprising amount of emotional depth and technical savvy to an exhilarating romance movie destined to be a future cult classic.

Lead Photo Credit: Wong Kar-wai's Fallen Angels (1995).

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Being Kazakh, Watching Borat 2, and Being Kazakh While Watching Borat 2

Review of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Written by Teen Writer Isabelle Nurzhanov and edited by Teen Editor Anya Shukla

ENTER BORAT MOVIE REVIEW 1 MCT

From the Kazakh paper Karavan, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is "... certainly not anti-Kazakh, anti-Romani or anti-Semitic… It is a cruelly anti-American movie.”

Pardon the melodrama, but Borat has always been a bit of a specter hanging over my head. Thankfully, most people my age have not seen the film, or at least don’t recall it if I say my ethnicity. For a certain section of movie-goers aged around 25 to 50, however, the Kazakhstani character Borat is usually what first comes to their minds when I answer some variation of, “What are you?”

With the sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, being released this past October, I was curious to see how exactly the Borat films portrayed Kazakhstan, and what the years of “my wife” jokes were all about. The sequel to the 2006 film, a mockumentary based upon a fictional Kazakhstani reporter visiting America, follows the same titular character as he attempts to give his daughter as a diplomatic gift to Vice President Mike Pence.

The movie is…fine. It fulfills its purpose of satirizing the American culture and, more specifically, a particular strain of American patriotism. But the political satire moments are not surprising, nor do they ever seem to go further than the same kind of humor that has propped up SNL for the past four years. This film isn’t doing anything groundbreaking by documenting bigotry or complacency, even if they are being expressed in absurd ways. Yes, we shouldn’t let ourselves get desensitized to that absurdity, but it’s what we’ve been seeing for a while now. The escalating absurdity of COVID and politics is the set-up and punchline to joke about 2020. And with the election already over and bigger systemic problems still existing and causing harm, the satire here feels insubstantial. Is this it? Do we really need scenes of Borat dressing as President Trump to go to the Republican National Convention, or convincing anti-maskers at a rally to sing a song about the “Wuhan Flu”?

As good as the intentions are in exposing the ugly racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and sexism (and tolerance of that discrimination) beneath the veneer of old-fashioned Americana, these issues seem obvious to anyone who is Jewish, nonwhite, female, LGBTQ+. Of course, it can be cathartic to see your experiences on screen, but it can also just be frustrating to have a movie be what validates your oppression as truthful. It’s exhausting to know that people will believe a movie over what minorities are actually telling them.

The comedy is a toss-up; since the film is so heavily reliant on uncomfortable scenarios, it’s truly dependent on whether you’re a fan of cringe comedy or not. I admittedly had to pause multiple times throughout the movie to catch a break. In addition, the emotional throughline of Borat and his daughter’s relationship falls flat, with the ridiculous and unscripted nature of the premise barring any kind of big character development between the two. Tulebaev Steet, in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photo by Nurgissa Ussen on Unsplash.

Beyond the content of the film, I question the usage of Kazakhstan, specifically. The screenwriters could’ve easily used a fictional country. But then again, it is darkly humorous to see American’s perceptions of “strange foreigners” from a real, albeit obscure, country. Even funnier is the idea that some people may think the country portrayed does not exist at all. (Note: True story. After I had told someone I was from Kazakhstan, they informed me that they “thought Borat had made it up.”) Despite this, the usage of Cyrillic and vague Slavic accents does make it seem as though Russian culture is all there is and all there ever was in Kazakhstan, which is slightly worrying with the context of Russian imperialism in Central Asia and the knowledge that most Westerners are unaware of the region.

The character of Borat didn’t intend to portray the real-life experiences of being Kazakh, but he has become a part of those real-life experiences. Despite Cohen’s intention of using Kazakhstan as a commentary on American’s ignorance of foreign nations, Borat seems to be the first thing Americans mention to any Central Asian person they meet. From the other Central Asian folks I know, online and in my family, most of them have had Borat references and jokes directed towards them. Do the films’ benefits outweigh those jokes towards Kazakhs and Central Asians? In the age of asking for more representation in American film and television, is it okay that this is what we get? I can’t speak on any kinds of anti-Semitism or anti-Romani sentiment, but I don’t think Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is anti-Kazakh, and I largely agree with the quotation from Karavan above. Despite these concessions, I’m still left wondering: is this the best filmmakers, comedians, and celebrities can do?

Lead photo credit: Sascha Baron Cohen in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Amazon Studios/TNS

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Exploring the Italian Identity Through Food and Film

Review of Bread, Love, and Cinema: Italian History Through Film and Food presented by SIFF

Written by Teen Writer Lily Parker and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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When someone says Italy, most people think of things like the Roman Empire, pizza, Catholicism, Mussolini, spaghetti, gelato, and pizza. Maybe I'm just hungry, but food is certainly a defining element of Italy. And so, argues Dr. Antonio Iannotta, is film, though that is an area fewer people consider. In his virtual SIFF class Bread, Love, and Cinema: Italian History Through Film and Food, Iannotta explores food scenes from nine Italian movies and connects them to the broad historical context in which they were created. Having visited Italy before, I have experience with Italian food and culture, but I have also seen exactly zero of these movies. With that said, looking at food through film was an eye-opening way to understand the Italian identity. I was especially impacted by the scenes from the films Bicycle Thieves, Rocco and His Brothers, and Big Night.

Ladri di biciclette, or Bicycle Thieves, is a 1948 movie that tells the story of Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani), a father who embarks on a wild goose chase with his son Bruno to find his stolen bike and save his job. The scene Iannotta played from this movie follows the pair at a restaurant. The dichotomy between Bruno and a rich girl at the other table is especially striking, as she continues getting dish after dish while the boy eats fried bread and mozzarella (a cheap peasant dish made from leftovers). After WWII, Italy was wracked by divisions and debt, as well as an unstable government and weak law enforcement. This made security uncertain, with life easy for thieves and difficult for decent people like Antonio as well as filmmakers. Director Vittorio De Sica funded the film out of his friends' pockets, shooting only on location and using amateur actors (Maggiorani was a factory worker). Despite this, the film was a huge success worldwide, and it had special meaning to Italians who saw Antonio's struggles mirrored in their own lives. Its appeal to all audiences comes through the compelling relationship between father and son who, like bread and mozzarella, are much better together.

Made and set in the sixties, Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and his Brothers) follows a family from southern Italy that moves to newly industrialized Milan. The story of moving North for opportunity related to many Italians at that time, as the country quickly gained economic power in the North while the agrarian South remained almost as poor as it had been during WWII. The core of this movie, however, is family. The selected scene focuses on their mother, clearly the glue of the household, feeding her boys coffee and bread before shoving them out the door to find work. Despite poor food and little means, the family works together to make life better, revealing the deep ties and perseverance of the Italian spirit.

Big Night is actually a 1996 American film starring Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, but Iannotta included it because it accurately represents the experiences of Italian immigrants. The stars play two brothers, Primo and Secondo, who open a restaurant in New Jersey in the fifties. The problem? Americans have a very different idea of Italian food than Italians. One scene shows a customer who asks for spaghetti and is appalled when no meatballs come with it. This is because southern Italy was much poorer—meat was almost never available, and diets consisted mostly of breads and vegetables. Spaghetti and meatballs is an authentic Italian dish, but one that originated in America, where meat was much more commonly accessible. It is here Iannotta emphasizes the diversity in Italian food, both within Italy and throughout the world. From city to city you will find different dishes, but each is grounded in a strong Italian identity.

I have never truly looked at Italy from an Italian point of view, only from textbooks and tour guides. Iannotta’s depth of knowledge and passion for the subject area revealed a side to Italian culture I had not seen before. The flow of the class worked well for an online setting. Iannotta would briefly introduce the movie, play a clip, and then dissect it, allowing people to first draw their own conclusions before adding his take. Though the films weren't played in exact chronological order, it was still easy to grasp the general arch of the stories and how they fit with one another. Zoom’s chat and Q&A functions are no replacement for in-person relations between teacher and student, but Iannotta made the content accessible and answered every question posed with grace and depth. Through this class, my eyes were opened to the Italian identity, capturing perfectly how food is inexplicably tied to culture, and to family. One thing is for certain. I am going to buy a vat of gelato and watch every single one of those movies.

Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) | 1948, dir. Vittorio De Sica

Poverty and Nobility (Miseria e nobiltà) | 1954, dir. Mario Mattoli

An American in Rome (Un americano a Roma) | 1954, dir. Steno

The Gold of Naples (L’oro di Napoli) | 1954, dir. Vittorio De Sica

Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli) | 1960, dir. Luchino Visconti

The Big Feast (La grande abbuffata) | 1973, dir. Marco Ferreri

We All Loved Each Other So Much (C’eravamo tanto amati) | 1974, dir. Ettore Scola

Big Night | 1996, dir. Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci

Facing Windows (La finestra di fronte) | 2003, dir. Ferzan ÖzpetekLead photo credit: Courtesy of SIFF

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Dragon Mama: Are We the Same or Could We Not Be More Different?

Review of Dragon Mama by Sara Porkalob at American Repertory Theater

Written by Franklin High School student, Kalie Vo.

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Dragon Mama is a production that delivers emotional moments to create one life-changing experience. The story is unforgettable not only in the drama, but also in presentation. Regardless of the viewer’s perspective, this story holds the potential to leave an impact. Brought to life through the talent of solo actress—Sara Porkalob, this performance highlights being an anti-model-minority in a nonfiction approach unique to her mother’s life and demonstrates the events of what happened before and after Sara’s own birth.

The play focuses on Maria, with a complex family structure along with financial and emotional struggles while growing up. She is burdened in her childhood with the role of being a parental figure to her four siblings whose single mother is busy working to provide for them. The viewer spectates Maria as she grows from being an irresponsible teenager into an adult struggling to find her path in life. She also explores her sexual identity while raising her child and copes with mental issues. Maria’s coming of age is nothing like what most people imagine their life to become. This piece exists to let people know that the value of their experiences do not have to be measured by the common standard of success and that Maria, despite her bad choices in life, was able to strive for a fulfilling purpose and attain happiness, while moving the audience along the way.

One notable aspect of the play is the strong portrayal of family relationships. The one-sided connection between Maria and her mother, and Sara to her mother, is representative of many immigrant family dynamics. Maria’s mom was often too busy working to spend quality time with family as shown by a time where without notice, Maria and her younger siblings do not see their mom come home for over 24 hours. Not being able to spend time with family means not being able to guide them, not being able to give affection, and not being emotionally present while they grow up. This lack of guidance influences Maria into making many irresponsible choices later on. For some viewing her play, they might resonate with the experiences of feeling like their parents never loved them since they never showed up for them. Despite this, Maria still receives silent displays of support, like when her mom pays for her abortion or lets adult Maria leave the household to find herself. These events cause the audience to reflect on their own relationships and memories with their parents.

Part of what makes this performance unforgettable is how the play does not sugar-coat the reality of mental health. When Maria gives birth to Sara, she experiences depression and her whole family is there to see it happen. Her depressive episodes are uncomfortable to watch but remind us that Maria is a real human with flaws and she was never meant to be a role model. With that in mind, witnessing Maria’s life at her extremes can create a sense of relief for young people watching because it tells them that it’s okay to be doing terrible.

Whether the audience relates to, or could not be more different from Maria, watching this life-changing production offers the audience a new perception of life along with insight. It forces spectators to acknowledge stigmas and issues that often come with the reality of living in poverty as an immigrant. For those who have lived a privileged life, it brings awareness and growth. For those who resonate with Maria’s experiences, it brings healing and growth. Regardless of perspective, the personal story each audience member has to compare and contrast with Maria’s is what creates this special awakening.

Lead photo credit: Sara Porkalob in Dragon Mama at American Repertory Theater. Photo by GretjenHelene.com

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Criticism 101 workshop at Franklin High School in Ms. Roh's Asian American Literature class, taught by Press Corps teaching artist Omar Willey.

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