The 5th annual Portland Black Film Festival took place at the Hollywood Theater on NE Sandy Boulevard, starting on Thursday, February 9th, and ending on Wednesday, February 22nd. The Black Film Festival aims to bring the underrepresented African American experience to the forefront of Portland moviegoers’ attentions by exhibiting typically underappreciated black cinema in what has been justifiably called The Whitest City in America.
“Reed must be the place where we take things apart and put them back together.”
Last weekend, my favorite Reed theater production so far came to life in the Black Box, featuring five actors and five chairs. More Eliot chairs and desks were suspended from the ceiling beyond the stage, tipped sideways, upside down, made strange by the lighting and suggested flight.
When you pick up The Sellout, by Paul Beatty, please don’t read the back cover. While essentially true, it has the same problem as the blurb of any good book: it oversimplifies the novel into something that it actually isn’t. The first time I picked up the book, I read the back cover and then put it down. The same process occurred the next three times I considered adding it to my ever-impending reading list. I just wasn’t interested in another anger-driven, “rage against the man,” drama-filled opinion piece. The current American political situation provides more than enough headlines of blind hatred and negativity as it is. When I finally bought the novel as part of my quest to read all the Man Booker prize-winners, I was blown away. Rather than a family drama unfolding into an outlandish scheme, the novel is—like its protagonist—intelligent, good-humoured, and fed up with a lack of action in the world around it. As a Man Booker winner, it bears greater resemblance to Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings (although it is markedly more brief) than to, say, Hilary Mantel’s historical dramas or Julian Barnes’ introspective societal commentary. The Sellout is far more politically and socially relevant. While not as grounded or perhaps as intense a read as James’ masterpiece, The Sellout and its protagonist, Me, inspire more critical examination of what is going on in the news and also on campus.
On Thursday, October 6, this year’s Visiting Writers Series launched with a winning author, Dao Strom. Born in Vietnam, Strom is currently a Portland-based writer whose newest work, We Were Meant To Be a Gentle People (published in 2015), is a crossroads of music, poetry, and visual art. I attended all but one of the Visiting Writers Series events last year and none of them stood out the way Strom’s set did. There was a microphone and DJ equipment set up stage left with two chairs. Center stage stood a taller microphone. Behind that, against the wall, the screen had been pulled down and images of Strom wearing wings and walking on the beach were projected onto the wall in time with instrumental music playing in the background. Her reading was a beautiful mixture of her own voice singing original work, a collection of instruments, and readings she gave, with key words or definitions or phrases projected onto the screen behind her.
Trevor Noah isn’t American, and it’s a fact he doesn’t let you forget. Born and raised in South Africa, Noah’s identity seems to be inexorably defined by his relationship with his home country. Because of this, race is a recurring theme in his comedy, and he often tiptoes on the line between acceptable and not, in a way that is almost universally amusing. Noah also has a way of guiding his audience down a line of thought, has us hanging on his every word, and then hilariously undermines our expectations.
Rejoice! Isaiah Rashad finally got out of bed, and his new album The Sun’s Tirade sounds like he recorded the whole thing not long afterwards. Hailing from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Rashad is signed to Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), the label for California superstars Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q. The rest of their Black Hippy collective, rappers Jay Rock and Ab-Soul, also call the label home as well as lesser-known artists like SZA and Lance Skiiiwalker. TDE has made a name for itself through the astronomical critical and commercial success of Kendrick and Q, a reputation that was shored up with the release of Isaiah Rashad’s 2014 EP Cilvia Demo. Cilvia was Rashad’s first widely available body of work, and showcased a laid-back, playful rapper and singer with an ear for soulful production and a willingness to tackle subjects like depression and heartbreak in his songs. I was one of many who listened to the album on repeat and quickly became a fan of the guy who wasn’t really doing anything new, but was rather doing the old really, really well.
A release that has been stuck on my mind a lot recently is the new tape from The Savage Young Taterbug, titled Shadow of Marlboro Man. Taterbug is a lo-fi weirdo in the vein of Daniel Johnston, but he can tend to stray a bit weirder, if you could believe it. There’s a raw edge on a lot of Taterbug’s recordings, as if he is shouting at you from alternately the other side of the room and three rooms over, depending on how lo his fi is feeling that day. On some tracks, you can also kinda see Taterbug as being the roguish counterpart to Youth Lagoon, an act that, at least in its infancy, was reserved and fragile. They also have similar vocal deliveries. On this release, the recording quality is actually pretty high, and the songs carry a fair amount of bounce and groove. A standout is “Victor the Vapor Rubber,” equal parts catchy and creepy. Maybe it’s the mindset I’m in, because there’s a fair amount of DNA shared by this song and “Squealer Two.” Guess I’m ready to glam out for Renn Fayre. Stay safe and have fun at the Big Party, dudes, I’ll see you on the other side.
A more serious suggestion: I just finished reading the new book A Murder over a Girl, by Ken Corbett, a couple days ago, and it was absolutely devastating. Corbett tells the real-life story of the court case surrounding the murder of Leticia (fka Larry) Brown, a person of color who is killed during homeroom by her junior high classmate, Brandon McInerney, just weeks after coming out as transgender. The book examines the troubling cross-section of white supremacy, transphobia, toxic masculinity, child abuse, and queer and racial erasure present in both small-town America and the court system that oversees it. Corbett doesn’t go deep into queer theory or issues (even if he is rather knowledgeable about it) but instead lets the story, and the people surrounding it, unfold over the course of the book. A really emotionally challenging read, so be warned if you want to pick this book up.
So, in case you didn’t know, thesis is due next week. This means that, when the editors of this grand publication emailed me to ask me to write a shorter column this week to make room for an advertisement, I wasn’t exactly complaining. In fact, I wondered if I could just send in my thesis abstract and call that good enough for the column. But I’m not sure if any of you want to deep dive with me into the politics of social and textual exclusion in the American campus novel, and if you do, just get a taste of the real thing and spend some time on Reed Facebook (ZING!).
How do you prioritize? Always an important question to a Reed student, and there are many resources available to us that give us insight into how we can prioritize our academic demands (for many of us over spring break, that insight may have been: DROP EVERYTHING YOU HAVE A THESIS DRAFT DUE IN THREE DAAAAAAAAAYS). What we aren’t given a whole lotta insight on is how we can prioritize our cultural consumption. For that, I’m here to help.
I talked at length about The Life of Pablo without even mentioning the music! I bet that’s the first time that’s happened! But honestly, it’s good stuff. I think the noise about the rollout has sometimes overshadowed the actual noise (understatement of the year), but perhaps, like we could say about many things regarding Kanye, what seemed off the cuff is actually intentional. The music on The Life of Pablo indicates a low-key release, at least the lowest key Yeezy could possibly reach for. This is kaleidoscopic Kanye, you try and see one version of him and it is instantly replaced with another version. For a quick sec it seems like Graduation-era Kanye has returned, but then he throws you face-first into 2009 Taylor-interrupting Kanye; some beats would be at home on the first half of Yeezus, while others carry on the glory of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This is mid-career retrospective Kanye, and it seems that it may be a turning point to something different from him. I don’t know what it is, but this album, as inconsistent as it is, makes me think we’ll be getting a more moderate, consistent Kanye in the future. He’s just as likely to prove me wrong (especially if we are truly getting another album this summer) but if he’s still operating at this level, I’ll take it. Kanye 2020.
IDK why “Arthouse Horror” has become such a thing lately, but it has and it should be much better than it is. I was excited for The Witch, I was. And let me tell you, as a piece of craft, that thing is immaculate. But if you go to movies for, ya know, themes and characters and such, The Witch may not be for you. I don’t know if I’m the most suitable dude to go in on why The Witch fails as a certain type of feminist narrative, even if its director Robert Eggers thinks it succeeds, but I know someone who is. She likes her horror gory and her feminism obligatory, heeeere’s Kasie with her hot hot hot take:
Whew, I didn’t know if we were going to make it through that. I’m not talking about the album, or even the pre-release hype cycle of name and tracklist changes, or even Kanye’s extracurricular twitter emissions (Innocent ?????? Yeah right), but I’m talking about the nonstop internet chatter and complaining about all of the above. Yeah, he changed the name at least three times, yeah, he was still putting it together, in a very public manner, up until, and past, the release date. Get over it, no one needs another “ugh Kanye enough already” comment on the music journalism website of your choice (and if you are a “Waves is the superior album title” truther, you can just get out).
Hey buddies! This past weekend was Valentine’s Day, so what better way to celebrate romance than to invite my partner in affection and movie-going to the column so we can argue about movies? This will be the last cultural column before the Oscars on February 28, so we thought we would discuss some of the movies nominated (and not nominated), so you guys know what you should catch up on. Kasie, what’s good in this year’s Oscars race?
On to music! I feel like music in 2015 was characterized by an excessive outpouring of good-to-great but not quite exceedingly excellent music, if that makes sense. Every single week seemed to bring about a handful of exciting or big name releases, to the point that there was never really a quiet period or moment of the year. By my own count, there were somewhere around 200 albums that I listened to that I thought were quite good, which is pretty crazy! That being said, there wasn’t a whole lot that truly dug into me and affected me intensely. But these 25 albums represent some amazing tunes in all genres that did get to me. Take a listen:
Hey y’all. I’m back again for one last semester of this column, so, to quote Ray Arnold, played impeccably by Samuel L. Jackson, “Hold onto yer butts.” Before we get into some new stuff, I want to look back a bit on the year that was 2015. To do so, let’s delve into some lists. Here are my ten favorite books from 2015:
‘Tis the season, folks. Not only the Christmas season, but also it’s Papa Wilcox’s 60th Birthday. Hi Dad! Happy birthday! To honor the patriarch’s entrance into his 7th decade of existence, I combined the two major seasons and watched a classic of the Wilcox household, the 1989 comedy Christmas Vacation. If you aren’t familiar with Christmas Vacation, I suggest you make a trip to Movie Madness and get to know the Griswold family immediately.
In a recent episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast that I was listening to, one of the co-hosts remarked on how, as far as the cultural output calendar goes, October and November are relatively calm months. For them, that means that the fall months are a time for ruminating on the year and catching up on things that they may have missed in the preceding seasons. This all leads up to the wintertime take-no-prisoners mêlée of year-end best-of list season, in which every columnist, blogger, and critic finally publishes their highly curated index of 2015’s best offerings and scours their rivals’ lists and furiously downloads whatever they’ve been foolish enough to ignore. Of course, this is coming from people inside the industry, who get albums, books, and screeners about three months early. For us normies, the months of October and November can feel just as packed with content as the summer and spring seasons that came before. The fall TV season is in full swing, meaning that the best new shows have finally pulled ahead of the pack and we can begin whittling down our interest from the insurmountable mound of programming that the networks and streaming companies have dumped upon us. O veritable mount of fine hour-long dramas and ten-episode sitcoms! How would I ever conquer thee? New vital albums are coming out every week, some that you can’t get enough of (hello, Arca) and some that you can’t help hearing about all the time (oh hey Grimes). That pile of library books that you put on hold in August isn’t getting any smaller. All those movies you heard about when they were getting rave reviews on the festival circuit are coming out.