Monthly Archives: December 2013

5 New Year’s Resolutions From Women To Watch


New Year’s resolutions: Sometimes we make them; usually we break them. The annual goals are intended to bring out the best in us — but what if you’re already extremely accomplished?

These five women have worked hard to help others, through businesses, innovation and writing. Four of them were speakers at the TEDWomen conference earlier in December in San Francisco (Katrina Alcorn was an attendee).

You might expect their resolutions to be far-reaching, but for 2014, they’re hoping to focus and maybe even get a little rest. Here’s a taste of what they’re doing and their hopes for the new year:

Maya Penni i

hide captionMaya Penn


Marla Aufmuth/TED

Maya Penn

Maya Penn

Marla Aufmuth/TED

Maya Penn, CEO of Maya’s Ideas, is an animator, designer, entrepreneur, philanthropist — and teenager. Her fashion and accessory line is eco-friendly, and part of the proceeds go to local and global charities.

“Probably get more sleep. Because I tend to stay up always working on stuff, purposefully.”

Jane Cheni i

hide captionJane Chen


Marla Aufmuth/TED

Jane Chen

Jane Chen

Marla Aufmuth/TED

Jane Chen is co-founder of Embrace, which has designed a portable baby warmer that mothers can use at home to prevent infant mortality in developing countries.

“This sounds really cheesy, but it’s really to continue seeing beauty in the world, in everything I do. There’s a lot of suffering that I see in my work … I see babies dying, I see corrupt doctors out there. But there’s so much beauty I see as well, and a lot of that is captured in these mothers who are so selfless, and even if they have nothing, they’ll go to any length to save their babies … I think seeing that, and being very deliberate about seeing the world through that lens drives me to keep doing more.”

Rupal Pateli i

hide captionRupal Patel


Marla Aufmuth/TED

Rupal Patel

Rupal Patel

Marla Aufmuth/TED

Rupal Patel, researcher and creator of VocaliD.org, builds custom synthetic voices for people who can no longer speak. She knows the science, but not the business plan just yet.

“To jump in with both feet in this because I’m a researcher, I have a research lab with multiple projects and I hope that there’s some indication that this can go somewhere, and if it does, if there is, I need to jump in and not kind of be somewhat in and somewhat out.”

Jessica Matthewsi i

hide captionJessica Matthews


Marla Aufmuth/TED

Jessica Matthews

Jessica Matthews

Marla Aufmuth/TED

Jessica Matthews, CEO of Uncharted Play, is a Harvard Business School student running a company that makes play practical, with a soccer ball and a jump rope that can generate electricity.

“I have a lot of resolutions for my business, but I think, separate from that: To work a little bit less. Just a little bit less. … It’s not just making time for family and friends, it’s about making time for myself and saying no to things just a little bit more … Let’s say the next day is my last day; am I comfortable with the time I spent on myself? Finding that balance is something I’m really going to be focusing on in the New Year.”

Katrina Alcorn

hide captionKatrina Alcorn


Courtesy of Katrina Alcorn

Katrina Alcorn, author of Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, has documented how her struggle to balance work and family led to health issues. Lean In helped start the dialogue; Alcorn is hoping to expand it.

“To take every moment I can to be more present and more focused. Check my phone less, check social media less, and be here now.”

What Monkeys Eat: A Few Thoughts About Pop Culture Writing


Cute little babymonkey being groomed by mom while eatingi i


iStockphoto

Cute little babymonkey being groomed by mom while eating

When I was first explaining what I wanted this blog to be like in 2008, I shared with some folks at NPR a theory I have had for some time about writing about popular culture. It goes like this: If you think monkeys are fascinating and you want to understand and be of value to them, it’s not enough to be an expert on what monkeys should ideally eat. You have to understand what monkeys actually eat.

And the same is true of culture. It’s good to know and think about what people ought to watch and read and listen to, ideally; all that is good stuff, and worth talking about, and worth arguing about. But it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a whole other universe of things that people care about and watch and like or get angry about, and whether they ought to or not, the fact that they do — and they way they do — tells you something about them.

So while it is true, as we’ve explained, that Monkey See refers in part to the unique place of monkeys at the junction of anthropology and comedy, it is also true that the way monkeys originally made their way into the naming conversation was that deep down, I wanted to call the blog What Monkeys Eat. (With myself as chief monkey, don’t get me wrong. It’s not a put-down.)

Justin Bieber, Duck Dynasty, Breaking Bad, Gravity, and — yes — even Miley Cyrus twerking are all examples of what monkeys eat. Some good, some bad, some completely baffling. But all things that are making their way into a lot of people’s thinking, and provoking all kinds of conversations that we might not have otherwise.

That’s my own answer to the age-old question of why anyone writes about pop culture, which recently came up in this piece about important versus unimportant stories. How did we get to the point where we’re spending so much time with stories that aren’t about “war or peace or anyone’s ability to find work,” but instead on “fluff”?

The question seems directed less at cultural criticism — why write about television, why write about popular film — than about cultural stories of the moment. Why have conversations about trivial things? Why not limit your conversations to important things?

It’s true that diversion and distraction are part of the reason too, no question, as is amusement. Sometimes funny stories are just funny stories, and funny writing about silly things is just funny writing about silly things. But that’s not the whole story.

Consider the case of Marco Rubio and the water bottle. In and of itself, that story is, indeed, very silly: A Man Drinks Water. But to me, it seemed like a story about how spontaneity is in such short supply in politics that in highly choreographed settings, even small, meaningless things seem fascinating simply because they are unplanned. The water is not important; the authenticity craving that, once identified, could be transformed into a strategy? That’s potentially important. And if you think people are interesting the way a student of monkeys might find monkeys interesting, the way that resonated with people doesn’t have to be good or bad; it just is. You’ve heard of “I think, therefore I am.” This is more, “It is, therefore I think about it.” This kind of thing is often less like gem-polishing and more like seismology. You feel the vibration, and you analyze it, rather than ignoring it on the basis that nothing broke.

The same is true — even more — of the Duck Dynasty story. There are over 750 comments on a post I wrote about that story, even though the post was really very mild. And in those comments, you will see multiple and profound cultural divides that touch on issues of region, class, religion, race, sexuality, trust, authenticity, and power. Duck Dynasty is not important, but that story exposed that divide and, just as importantly, shows how easy it has become to exploit it.

The utter lack of importance of the underlying subject, in fact, is exactly what tells you how close to the surface and at how high a temperature these conflicts are simmering. In fact, it is often those conversations about seemingly insignificant cultural issues that (for me) sheds light on what makes larger issues of war and peace and the economy so difficult to address.

People absolutely make decisions about where to get information based on who understands and relates to them culturally. People absolutely decide they believe this person or that person based in part on whether they know anything about country music or hip-hop or hunting. It would be crazy to believe that the level of anger and frustration that exploded in discussions about Duck Dynasty begins and ends at Duck Dynasty. We’re positively poaching in it, and it’s poaching politics, high art, the environment, foreign policy and every other area of public policy. That story and the reactions to it create a sobering snapshot of a lot of people who are really, really, really angry.

The big picture, always, is just that: it’s a big picture. To get perspective on a huge, world-shaking issue like climate change or war often requires a view from the sky. And when you read great writing about it, it feels exactly that way: like you’re looking at the world from a spy satellite, and huge things suddenly make sense and click together like Legos.

Writing about popular culture is more the view from the ground. It’s looking around at the people you both live with and walk past, looking at what they’re listening to and reading and thinking about, whether it’s what they ought to be thinking about or not.

In short, you don’t have to like the resonance of a moment in order to acknowledge it. And how you write about it is always going to matter more than what you’re writing about. (Don’t believe me? Remember The Story Of Egypt’s Revolution In Jurassic Park GIFs?)

It’s always going to be possible to write well about small things or badly about big things. It’s easy as pie to write dumb, destructive things about war or the economy or hugely critical issues — things that have the capacity to be far more of a scourge and a danger than somebody writing any of the really intelligent pieces that went around about Miley Cyrus twerking. (That, by the way, stoked all kinds of interesting conversations around race, gender, appropriation, tradition … sometimes a twerk is just a twerk, but sometimes it is emphatically not.)

So no, Justin Bieber is not important. But Justin Bieber is, and for me personally, it matters what’s being said, not just what it’s being said about.

Muslim Pop Star Yuna On The Rise In America


Yuna doesn't just make music, but runs a fashion boutique where she sells funky but modest clothes.i i

hide captionYuna doesn’t just make music, but runs a fashion boutique where she sells funky but modest clothes.


Autumn de Wilde

Yuna doesn't just make music, but runs a fashion boutique where she sells funky but modest clothes.

Yuna doesn’t just make music, but runs a fashion boutique where she sells funky but modest clothes.

Autumn de Wilde

Award-winning singer Yuna is already a star in her native Malaysia, where she has been on the rise since her debut in 2008. She’s also an observant Muslim and an entrepreneur. Yuna runs a fashion boutique that sells funky but modest clothes that meet the requirements of her faith. And while she’s climbing the American charts with her new album Nocturnal, she’s not compromising her style or her religion. “I’m a Muslim. I don’t try to hide it,” Yuna says. “I’m also a girl who loves music.”

Yuna spoke with Tell Me More host Michel Martin about her music, her heritage, and her faith.

Interview Highlights

Life as a Muslim “pop star”

When I first started playing music, I was already covered … wearing headscarves. And like normally, people would expect you to change, toss this part of your life away so that you could be like a pop star. But I just like wanted to make music, not really be a “pop star” pop star. And there’s always like people who wouldn’t necessarily agree with what I’m doing right now. But you know…I’m really happy with where I am right now, you know, I’m a Muslim. I don’t try to hide it. I’m also a girl who loves music. And I don’t try to hide that as well.

Risky reach to U.S.

I was doing quite well in Malaysia … everyone was like so excited about my music, and they started accepting me as an artist. And coming out here was like taking a risk. But it’s something that I really wanted to do for a very long time. Like I need to do something with my English music. … Coming out here kind of like enabled me to experiment with a lot of different music, and I really wanted to come up with music that the whole world could relate to.

Writing songs in English instead of Malay

I kind of like always struggled writing in Malay, because Malay is such a beautiful language. And it gets really hard, you know, if you want to make it into a song. It’s kind of tricky. You have to make it sound beautiful, use the right words. And with English, you can be direct, like writing a letter to someone.

Stay true to yourself: the message behind her song “Lights and Camera”

Being in the spotlight, you know, you tend to kind of like forget who you are. And being an artist … it could be like a very superficial job. It could be very pretentious as well. People just kind of like see the surface of it, and not really getting into like who this person really is. And you know, they don’t know what’s going on with this person. As that person, sometimes you kind of like lose track of who you are. And usually everything is moving so fast, and you know, you kind of get lost in everything. So I just wanted to write like a strong song about, you know, knowing who you are, and being yourself no matter what.

Remodeling With Canadians


'Property Brothers' Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott at the Scripps Networks Upfront in April 2013.i i

hide caption‘Property Brothers’ Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott at the Scripps Networks Upfront in April 2013.


Donald Bowers/Getty Images

'Property Brothers' Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott at the Scripps Networks Upfront in April 2013.

‘Property Brothers’ Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott at the Scripps Networks Upfront in April 2013.

Donald Bowers/Getty Images

My holiday break last week took an unexpected detour when a broken bone (not mine) changed our plans for a full family get-together. Thus, I was left with a few days of unanticipated free time on my own, which led me to the obvious conclusion: if I can’t be fully relaxed and immersed in holiday joy the entire time, this is the perfect time to clean out my closets.

As I documented in detail, I moved this fall, and have just about reached the point where you’ve been in a place for a few months and can look around and say what isn’t working, where clutter builds up because it doesn’t have a home, and which cabinet seemed like it needed to be filled with precisely that set of items, but in fact has rarely been opened. You also are, by then, tired of temporary furniture solutions (the folding table I was using in my little dining space) and tired of looking at the closets that never quiiiiite got organized, so it’s time to Do A Bunch Of Things To Your Place That You Were Too Tired To Do Right After Painting The Whole Thing.

As it turns out, the best possible accompaniment to a ten-day stretch of working on your house is home-improvement television, gobbled on demand, forever and ever, day after day. It also turns out that many of the popular home repair and renovation shows on HGTV are Canadian. Specifically, they are Torontonian. In fact, I learned that originally, the Love It Or List It spin-off Love It Or List It Too, which kind of made no sense to me in terms of its need to exist even before I found out that the designer was former Bachelorette Jillian Harris, began in Canada as Love It Or List It Vancouver. And they can’t call it that without reminding you that the regular one is secretly Love It Or List It (Toronto), so in the United States, it’s really just More Of That One Show.

But that’s not all.

Property Brothers, starring twins Drew (realtor) and Jonathan (remodeler) Scott, is also Canadian. So is Income Property, where the host guides people through buying and renovating a place they can rent out. (This means he operates largely in basements, and that means his show is the one that made me happiest about having left my basement apartment, since he makes it appear that all basements are deathtraps full of ants and mold and possibly monsters.)

Also Canadian: the Mike Holmes empire, which has spawned (among others) the wonderfully named show Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV’s sister network DIY, which, obviously, I watched until I ran out of it. So, by the way, is Property Virgins, which I don’t watch because: that’s weird.

So as it turns out, the United States basic-cable television audience is learning all about decorating from watching the gradual renovation of all of Toronto.

(You should also know that almost all of these shows have obviously amped-up faux drama and are accused with varying levels of seriousness of being utterly phony, so they are best taken as stories, not necessarily documentaries.)

As we discussed regarding House Hunters a while back, home fixup shows have a way of making everyone look spoiled rotten from the inside out. Love It Or List It is a show where (allegedly) people have their houses renovated while also looking for new houses, and at the end, they decide whether to stay in their fixed-up house or find a new one. My favorite LIOLI moment was the couple who not only demanded heated floors in the bathroom (the wife discussed the idea of unheated bathroom tile the way you or I might discuss the idea of living in an outhouse), but absolutely freaked out at the idea that plumbing issues might meant they wound up with electric heated floors instead of hot water heated floors. She insisted that these two things are nothing alike, due to the wonderful “ambient” heat that water provides.

Please keep in mind: we are talking about the bathroom floor. Heating the bathroom floor. That is what we are talking about. Heating the bathroom floor. If I recall correctly, they ultimately left their renovated house and its pathetic wrongly heated bathroom floors to some other sucker.

The great thing about watching home improvement TV while working on your own apartment is that you can watch people tear up their basement floors to find serious plumbing issues, and you can think to yourself, “Oh my, what would I do if that happened to me?” And then you can think, “Oh, that’s right. I would throw all my stuff out the window, jump out after it, and be gone in five minutes.”

On the other hand, the problem comes when you combine different shows. Mike Holmes, for instance, presents himself as a super-competent, super-cautious, super-thorough dude who goes around fixing the problems left behind by quick-hit, low-budget contractors. And it’s hard not to think, “He would probably not approve of the work that is done on Thirty Minutes To A Whole New Bathroom or whatever.”

As it turns out, this is at the heart of the home-improvement television craziness: aspiration versus anxiety. “Look at that house! That’s wonderful! My house, on the other hand, is terrible.” Or, “Look at those people! They’re jerks who complain about heating their floors! I would never do that, because I am normal.”

So when you’re in the process of cleaning out your own apartment, you feel empowered to create a beautiful “retreat” for yourself (this is what people say now, at least in Toronto, instead of “bedroom”). That’s the aspirational part. Particularly when you live by yourself, it can put your head in a very experimental place, like, “Maybe I’ll move the dresser over there! What do you think about that? There are no rules! I am all-powerful!”

But you also feel like your exposed power cords are even worse than you thought they were before, once you’ve seen a contractor install an entire system designed to hide every cord in the house. That’s the anxiety part. That’s how they get you: “This looks great! It needs more.”

Day 6: In This Game, Things Might Get ‘Weird’


House musician Jonathan Coulton has a laugh while performing on Ask Me Another.i i

hide captionHouse musician Jonathan Coulton has a laugh while performing on Ask Me Another.


Becky Harlan/NPR

House musician Jonathan Coulton has a laugh while performing on Ask Me Another.

House musician Jonathan Coulton has a laugh while performing on Ask Me Another.

Becky Harlan/NPR

This is the sixth day of Ask Me Another‘s 12 Days of Xmas series.

With parodies like “Eat It,” “Addicted to Spuds,” and “Like a Surgeon,” “Weird Al” Yankovic’s songs were pretty much begging to be made into an Ask Me Another game. In this bonus round from Season One, we pay tribute to our favorite accordion-playing, pop culture-loving, food-punning parodist. House musician Jonathan Coulton makes contestants sing along to Weird Al’s songs in the game “Two Tickets to Parodies.”

Cinnamon Can Help Lower Blood Sugar, But One Variety May Be Best


Studies suggest cinnamon can help control blood sugar, but if you want to incorporate more of this spice in your diet, consider using the Ceylon variety.

hide captionStudies suggest cinnamon can help control blood sugar, but if you want to incorporate more of this spice in your diet, consider using the Ceylon variety.


iStockphoto

If I say cinnamon, you say … sugar? It’s a popular combination, of course.

But if you’re interested in the health-promoting effects of cinnamon, you may want to think anew about the spice.

For instance, says John Critchley, executive chef at Bourbon Steak Restaurant in Washington, D.C., why not add it to savory dishes? He uses cinnamon to create a spice and herb rub for lamb loin. He also whips up a great spinach salad with raisins, pine nuts and cinnamon.

Critchley is a fan of the intense aromatics in cinnamon, especially in Saigon — a cousin of the Cassia varieties of cinnamon most commonly used in the U.S. and Europe. And he says adding cinnamon to spice blends is a great way to layer flavors when you’re cooking.

And when you start to look at the potential health-promoting effects of the spice, there’s even more incentive to experiment with it in the kitchen.

Cinnamon comes from the bark of trees. It has long been considered a medicinal plant. There are several varieties, harvested from southern China to Southeast Asia.

John Critchley, executive chef at Bourbon Steak Restaurant in Washington, D.C., uses cinnamon in many savory dishes, including a spice and herb rub for lamb loin.i i

hide captionJohn Critchley, executive chef at Bourbon Steak Restaurant in Washington, D.C., uses cinnamon in many savory dishes, including a spice and herb rub for lamb loin.


Allison Aubrey/NPR

John Critchley, executive chef at Bourbon Steak Restaurant in Washington, D.C., uses cinnamon in many savory dishes, including a spice and herb rub for lamb loin.

John Critchley, executive chef at Bourbon Steak Restaurant in Washington, D.C., uses cinnamon in many savory dishes, including a spice and herb rub for lamb loin.

Allison Aubrey/NPR

For years, there have been hints that adding cinnamon to your diet can help control blood sugar. And a recent spat of studies adds to the evidence that the effect is real.

“Yes, it does work,” says Paul Davis, a research nutritionist with the University of California, Davis. He authored a recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Medicinal Food that concluded that cinnamon lowers fasting blood glucose.

“According to our results, it’s a modest effect of about 3 to 5 percent,” Davis says. This is about the level of reduction found in the older generation of diabetes drugs, he says.

And that makes the findings of interest not just to the 25 million Americans who already have diabetes, but also to the 80 million other people — nearly 1 in 4 of us — who have elevated fasting blood-glucose levels. Doctors refer to this as pre-diabetes, meaning that blood sugar isn’t high enough to meet the cut-off for a diagnosis of diabetes, but it puts these people at a high risk of developing the disease.

There’s also a recent meta-analysis concluding that cinnamon can help lower lipid levels, including LDL cholesterol (the unhealthy type) and triglycerides.

What’s not well understood is exactly how much cinnamon is optimal, and whether the effect is transient. It’s hard to tell from the studies whether it leads to a significant, long-term reduction in blood sugar.

For people who already have diabetes, cinnamon is not an alternative to medication. But for people with pre-diabetes who are interested in using diet to manage their blood sugar, it’s one of many strategies worth considering, says diabetes educator Emmy Suhl of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.

“The evidence is still inconclusive,” Suhl notes, but cinnamon “is inexpensive,” “and it tastes good.”

So, is there an ideal variety of cinnamon to be sprinkling into your oatmeal, or blending into your spice rubs and salads?

Well, as we recently reported in The Salt, Cassia cinnamon is the variety you are most likely to encounter in a grocery store. But Cassia can contains high levels of coumarin, a naturally occurring ingredient that, when eaten in large enough amounts, can cause reversible liver toxicity in a small group of individuals sensitive to it.

“So the warning is for cinnamon lovers is to beware of excessive intake of Cassia,” says diabetes educator Angela Ginn.

And Ikhlas Khan, a researcher at the University of Mississippi’s School of Pharmacy who recently looked at the amounts of coumarin in cinnamon-flavored foods in the U.S., recently told The Salt that people who do want to use cinnamon for medicinal purposes should consult their doctor before taking large amounts.

Some experts suggest you invest instead in Ceylon cinnamon, a milder — and pricier — variety of the spice that comes from a tree distinct from, but related to Cassia.

How much Cassia is too much? For an adult who is sensitive to coumarin, the limit is about a teaspoon a day, according to the daily tolerable intake set by the European Food Safety Authority.

So if you’re a cinnamon lover and your goal is to increase your daily intake, using Ceylon cinnamon can reduce the risk of consuming too much coumarin.

Another option: cinnamon capsules. In many of the studies evaluating the benefits of cinnamon, researchers have used cinnamon supplements. And as word has spread about the potential health benefits, sales of supplements have grown — about 20 percent over the last few years, totaling $32 million in 2012, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.

Films With Black Actors, Directors Go To 11 In 2013


Monica Calhoun (left), Melissa De Sousa and Nia Long star in The Best Man Holiday, one of this year's eleven top-grossing films starring black actors and by black directors.i i

hide captionMonica Calhoun (left), Melissa De Sousa and Nia Long star in The Best Man Holiday, one of this year’s eleven top-grossing films starring black actors and by black directors.


Michael Gibson/Universal Pictures

Monica Calhoun (left), Melissa De Sousa and Nia Long star in The Best Man Holiday, one of this year's eleven top-grossing films starring black actors and by black directors.

Monica Calhoun (left), Melissa De Sousa and Nia Long star in The Best Man Holiday, one of this year’s eleven top-grossing films starring black actors and by black directors.

Michael Gibson/Universal Pictures

As we near the end of 2013, NPR is taking a look at the numbers that tell the story of this year — numbers that, if you really understand them, give insight into the world we’re living in, right now. You’ll hear the stories behind numbers ranging from zero to 1 trillion.

When it comes to race and film, the number of the year is 11.

I started the count recently at a movie theater just outside of Washington, D.C., where I met Kahlila Liverpool. We were there for a movie and a meal with the D.C. Black Film and Media Club, a local Meetup group that attends group screenings of films featuring black actors and by black directors.

Director Steve McQueen works with his cast on the 12 Years a Slave set.i i

hide captionDirector Steve McQueen works with his cast on the 12 Years a Slave set.


Fox Searchlight Pictures

Director Steve McQueen works with his cast on the 12 Years a Slave set.

Director Steve McQueen works with his cast on the 12 Years a Slave set.

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Liverpool and I bought tickets to see Black Nativity, but there were three other films starring black actors and by black directors listed above the box office at the multiplex.

This year’s list, though, goes on to include a total of eleven films, each grossing from about half a million to more than $100 million. It’s almost double the number of last year’s group of comparable films, and it comes after perennial criticism of Hollywood’s lack of roles for black talent on and off screen.

“I was surprised at how many black films were out this year,” Liverpool said. “I told one of my friends in California, ‘Oh my gosh! There’s tons of black movies out! Did you notice that?’ “

Moviegoers and critics have also noticed the range of this year’s eleven films that shatters the stereotype of “black film.”

They span the gamut of genres from Oscar bait introducing audiences to untold historical epics (12 Years a Slave and Lee Daniels’ The Butler) and smaller dramas about urban life (Fruitvale Station, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete) and about marital infidelity (Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor), to a Christmas musical (Black Nativity), plus romantic comedies (The Best Man Holiday, Baggage Claim and Peeples) and more straight-up comedies (Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain and Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas).

(Besides the top-grossing eleven, there were also smaller films starring black actors, by black directors that received shorter theatrical runs including Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George and Sheldon Candis’ LUV. A number of this year’s films by black directors, such as Spike Lee’s Oldboy and Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, featured white actors in leading roles. Black actors also had a number of leading roles in films directed by white and Asian-American directors, including Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, 42, and After Earth.)

A Boom-And-Bust Cycle

Filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, a producer for Django Unchained who wrote and directed the 1990 hit House Party, says he’s not all that surprised by this year’s long list of films.

“There’s a number of market forces that all came together and made something possible,” he explains, “The most important thing about Hollywood is that it works on historical precedent.”

Writer-director Tina Gordon Chism sits on the set of Peeples with producer Tyler Perry, who also wrote and directed Temptation and A Madea Christmas this year.i i

hide captionWriter-director Tina Gordon Chism sits on the set of Peeples with producer Tyler Perry, who also wrote and directed Temptation and A Madea Christmas this year.


Nicole Rivelli/Lionsgate

Writer-director Tina Gordon Chism sits on the set of Peeples with producer Tyler Perry, who also wrote and directed Temptation and A Madea Christmas this year.

Writer-director Tina Gordon Chism sits on the set of Peeples with producer Tyler Perry, who also wrote and directed Temptation and A Madea Christmas this year.

Nicole Rivelli/Lionsgate

In recent years, that precedent has been set by successful black filmmakers like Tyler Perry, whose films have consistently raked in tens of millions of dollars at the box office.

Hudlin says they’ve proven time and time again that films with black actors, by black directors can reach a large audience. He also credits a growing behind-the-screen network of black film executives and producers helping to nurture projects.

But he warns this year’s crop of films follows a traditional boom-and-bust cycle in Hollywood.

“We saw in the 1970s an explosion of black filmmakers, then not so much. Then in the 80s and 90s, we had another explosion of black filmmakers, and then not so much,” he says.

In 1992, Hudlin directed the big-budget Eddie Murphy comedy Boomerang, which featured an all-star cast including Halle Berry, Robin Givens, Chris Rock, David Alan Grier, Martin Lawrence, and Eartha Kitt.

The film came out in the same year as Spike Lee’s biopic Malcolm X starring Denzel Washington in an Oscar-nominated role, plus thrillers like Ernest Dickerson’s Juice with Tupac Shakur and Omar Epps, Kevin Hooks’ Passenger 57 starring Wesley Snipes and Bill Duke’s Deep Cover with Laurence Fishburne. There were also smaller releases including Julie Dash’s historical drama Daughters of the Dust and Bébé’s Kids, an animated film featuring black protagonists directed by Bruce W. Smith and written by Hudlin.

‘End’ Of An Era?

For Hudlin, it all seemed to add up to a turning point.

“We thought, ‘OK, here we are! We’re switching gears! We’re going to the next level!’ ” he says, “But the fact is that was the end of an era.”

Kasi Lemmons directs a scene for Black Nativity, one of two films this year starring black actors by a female director.i i

hide captionKasi Lemmons directs a scene for Black Nativity, one of two films this year starring black actors by a female director.


Fox Searchlight Pictures

Kasi Lemmons directs a scene for Black Nativity, one of two films this year starring black actors by a female director.

Kasi Lemmons directs a scene for Black Nativity, one of two films this year starring black actors by a female director.

Fox Searchlight Pictures

That era can be kept alive with a more solid infrastructure of support in Hollywood, according to Wesley Morris, a film critic for Grantland who has seen all eleven of this year’s group of films.

Only one of them — Universal Pictures’ The Best Man Holiday — was produced by a major Hollywood studio.

“They can’t all just be independent movies. They can’t all just be movies about slaves. And they can’t all star the same three actors,” Morris says, “And I think this year, you got a real sense that that is definitely something that is not only possible, but it’s viable as well.”

Back at the movie theater, Liverpool, who is African-American, told me that seeing more black actors in films by black directors provides not just more entertainment options, but also personal affirmation.

“It’s really important to validate my experience and see some of my experiences portrayed on screen,” she said.

Still, what Liverpool doesn’t see enough of on screen is black women in leading roles.

Only three of this year’s top eleven films starring black actors, by black directors were carried by a lead female role. Of the three, one was played by the writer-director-producer of Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas — himself.

Booking A Flight For The ‘Golden Age Of Hijacking’


The Skies Belong to Us

Brendan Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired. He is also the author of Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II.i i

hide captionBrendan Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired. He is also the author of Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier’s Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II.


Will Star/Random House

Brendan Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired. He is also the author of Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II.

Brendan Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired. He is also the author of Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier’s Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II.

Will Star/Random House

Imagine air travel in the 1960s when flying the skies meant luxury. You could light up a cigarette on board and enjoy a five-star meal.

Going to the airport wasn’t a hassle. There were no security screenings, and boarding a plane was just as easy as getting on a bus.

“You’d be dropped off at the curb and walk through the whole terminal onto the tarmac, to the top of the boarding stairs and sometimes onto the plane without a ticket, without showing anyone your ID,” Brendan Koerner, author of The Skies Belong To Us, tells NPR’s Arun Rath. “Without having your body or your luggage searched at all.”

Koerner says the ease of air travel came with big consequences: People seeking money or fame would carry a gun or a bomb on board a plane and take it hostage.

Interview Highlights

On the U.S. skyjacking epidemic

By the end of the ’60s, you were having 30-40 hijackings a year. There’s a couple of great ones. Raffaele Minichiello, an Italian-American Marine, who had a pay dispute with the Marines, decided to solve his problem by hijacking a plane from Los Angeles to his native Italy where he was greeted as a folk hero and ended up signing a contract to star in a spaghetti Western after serving just 18 months in prison there.

On the romanticism of hijackings

A lot of people saw them as an adventure. I think part of that goes into the way these hijackers operated. They weren’t out to cause mass death and destruction. They were in it to negotiate. And that made sense for the airlines to comply with them. […] It was really a more transactional experience than a kind of terrorist experience.

On implimenting airport security

The first year that they had this universal screening, there were actually no hijackings that year after they instituted it. Passenger numbers actually went up about 15 percent. So people liked the idea of not having their plane commandeered by a person with a bomb.

Booking A Flight For The ‘Golden Age Of Hijacking’


The Skies Belong to Us

Brendan Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired. He is also the author of Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II.i i

hide captionBrendan Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired. He is also the author of Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier’s Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II.


Will Star/Random House

Brendan Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired. He is also the author of Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II.

Brendan Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired. He is also the author of Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier’s Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II.

Will Star/Random House

Imagine air travel in the 1960s when flying the skies meant luxury. You could light up a cigarette on board and enjoy a five-star meal.

Going to the airport wasn’t a hassle. There were no security screenings, and boarding a plane was just as easy as getting on a bus.

“You’d be dropped off at the curb and walk through the whole terminal onto the tarmac, to the top of the boarding stairs and sometimes onto the plane without a ticket, without showing anyone your ID,” Brendan Koerner, author of The Skies Belong To Us, tells NPR’s Arun Rath. “Without having your body or your luggage searched at all.”

Koerner says the ease of air travel came with big consequences: People seeking money or fame would carry a gun or a bomb on board a plane and take it hostage.

Interview Highlights

On the U.S. skyjacking epidemic

By the end of the ’60s, you were having 30-40 hijackings a year. There’s a couple of great ones. Raffaele Minichiello, an Italian-American Marine, who had a pay dispute with the Marines, decided to solve his problem by hijacking a plane from Los Angeles to his native Italy where he was greeted as a folk hero and ended up signing a contract to star in a spaghetti Western after serving just 18 months in prison there.

On the romanticism of hijackings

A lot of people saw them as an adventure. I think part of that goes into the way these hijackers operated. They weren’t out to cause mass death and destruction. They were in it to negotiate. And that made sense for the airlines to comply with them. […] It was really a more transactional experience than a kind of terrorist experience.

On implimenting airport security

The first year that they had this universal screening, there were actually no hijackings that year after they instituted it. Passenger numbers actually went up about 15 percent. So people liked the idea of not having their plane commandeered by a person with a bomb.