Thursday, 14 June 2018

#YouthMonth: Check up on your "strong friends"

My original article here.
14 June 2018
In my last two #YouthMonth articles I've admired the youth for speaking that slick talk that we do and for our creative hustles. We're pretty damn golden! This #YouthMonth I want to address something serious, something that we usually avoid talking about and something I wrangle with personally.
As I write this I’ve just found out that celebrity chef and all-around television personality, Anthony Bourdain has committed suicide. Fashion designer Kate Spade also committed suicide recently. In the last few years, the world has lost Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, and many other people to suicide. I have lost two friends to suicide in the last two years.

RIP Anthony Bourdain
RIP Anthony Bourdain
CNN has confirmed the death of American chef, author, and television personality, Anthony Bourdain, who was 61 years of age...

When I was growing up most of the suicide stories on the news were people who were in debt or whose lives were ruined on a tragic Shakespearean scale. Depression, in its many forms, existed then too and many people who suffered from it did commit suicide but it wasn’t reported much and was surrounded by stigma. While there's still a stigma around depression and other forms of mental illness today, we’re moving forward and recognising it and talking about it.

Royce da 5'9"
Royce da 5'9"

The vocal generation

Young people are dealing with a lot of things and, contrary to what older people believe, life is difficult. We're standing on the shoulders of giants like umama uWinnie Mandela and we're trying our best to build the sort of society they envisioned and fought for. The older generation was made of tougher stuff, the stuff of legends really, but they did sweep some issues under the ol' rug and we're trying deal with those issues today. After apartheid, we didn't have the tough conversations we needed to and that can be seen in the racism and inequality that still plague us and we're plagued by sexism and homophobia.

We're the generation that is starting to speak up about things like the sexual abuse that women have been dealing with and continue to deal with. Our Truth and Reconciliation Commision is taking people to task and having them take responsibility everywhere we can, whether it's on Twitter, in the workplace or our universities. We're trying to build a nation here and every topic, no matter how uncomfortable, is on the agenda. Depression is definitely on the agenda because we need to take care of our mental health as much as we take care of our physical health so that we can get on with the business of nation-building.

Popular music dealing with depression

I've been listening to a lot of the new releases in popular music over the last months and I've noticed depression as a running theme with a lot of new albums, especially in hip-hop. J. Cole dropped KOD (Kids on Drugs, King OverDose or Kill Our Demons) in April and explores drug addiction in the music business and just in normal life as a result of modern society's pressures and depression. He goes on to recommend meditation over medication. The ever-controversial Kanye West has been seemingly losing his mind more than usual on Twitter making comments about slavery being a choice and praising a very problematic Trump. I've always been a fan of Ye's music because of its poignant tones of existential crisis. The dude was clearly busy in the studio whilst being crazy on Twitter, though, working on three projects: Pusha T's Daytona, his own Ye and his collaboration with Kid Cudi, Kids See Ghosts

On the latter two projects, Kanye gets into his struggles with mental health (the text on the cover reads: I hate being Bi-Polar it's awesome) and Kid Cudi's struggles with depression and suicidal urges have been in the public sphere for years. In a 2014 interview Kid Cudi stated, "I’ve dealt with suicide for the past five years. There wasn’t a week or a day that didn’t go by where I was just like, ‘You know, I wanna check out.’ I know what that feels like, I know it comes from loneliness, I know it comes from not having self-worth, not loving yourself." He checked himself into rehabilitation for depression and suicidal urges in 2016.

What really got me thinking about depression and mental health more than I usually do, though, was Royce da 5'9"'s Book of Ryan. He has a song on there, Strong Friend, in which he explores depression and suicide in some detail, especially among friends we think of as strong. These strong friends are usually the ones that are hurting the most and are barely holding it together. They keep their pain to themselves because of the stigma associated with mental illness. He encourages people, especially black people, to seek out help and for us to check on our friends more and not to think they're okay because they look okay on the outside. At the end of the song he quotes other personalities (and himself) in the entertainment business who've committed suicide or addressed mental illness:

Depression and other mental illnesses are serious and we have to address them the same way in which we would a disease that afflicts our bodies. Life is difficult for young people and many of us are strong and it amazes me how so many of us overcome almost insurmountable challenges in the pursuit of our dreams. Young people hustle hard but we must also take care of ourselves and our friends. Instead of making it difficult for people who struggle with depression we should create an environment where people can come and talk to us about their struggles. I love how people are sharing information on job opportunities, information on where to get psychiatric help, ways for women to access safe abortion clinics or pretty much anything helpful on Twitter in the form of RT to save a life. That's exactly how we should look out for each other. Check up on your friends this #YouthMonth and beyond, even if they seem to be strong on the outside.

Check out The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), they are SA’s largest Mental Health Advocacy Group.

You can find them on:
Twitter: @TheSADAG (RT to save a life), 0800 21 22 23 or 0800 12 13 14 (24Hrs) or

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Avengers: Infinity War lives up to high expectations

My original article here.
2 May 2018

Ten years, 18 movies, a lot of hype and finally Avengers: Infinity War arrives. The question is, does the movie deliver?
Especially when expectations are so high? When the Avengers first assembled in 2012 it was the sort of ambitious event that comic book fans never dreamed was possible for a film. When 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron landed the magic was still there but Joss Whedon, the man at the helm of both those Avengers films felt the strain and bowed out. After a great showing with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), directors Antony and Joe Russo were hired to direct Infinity War and its 2019 sequel. 

Avengers: Infinity War lives up to high expectations

One epic package

Over the last 10 years, Marvel Studios has managed to deliver blockbuster after blockbuster and the Russos were tasked with taking all of that material and putting it together in an epic package. I am happy to report that they deliver a movie that takes all the different tones and characters from all of the preceding movies and blends them together to produce something quite magical. There are a lot of moving parts in this movie and somehow it all comes together perfectly.

Infinity War is not the best movie Marvel Studios has produced if you look at it as a standalone and it was never meant to be. This is meant to be grand-scale spectacle following 10 years of build up and, yet, the movie manages to have pathos and carry itself with a sort of grace I did not expect. You know that the stakes are quite high coming into the film but you don't expect the movie to make you feel as deeply as it does. As a fan who knows that the movie draws heavily from Jim Starlin's 1991 comic book The Infinity Gauntlet, I knew what to expect coming in but somehow the events that take place managed to surprise and somewhat shock me. 

Avengers: Infinity War lives up to high expectations

All the characters we know and love are all there but this is Thanos's story, for the most part, Thanos on his quest to collect all of the Infinity Stones. Josh Brolin's Thanos is larger than life, he has gravitas, commands respect and dominates all the scenes he is in. As soon as you first see him you feel that you are in the presence of a superior being. He is on a mission to wipe out half of life in the universe, balance the scales, as it were and he has an indomitable will to get it done. He is not just a generic big bad, there is a charm to him and a certain sadness. You almost want to take his side.

Character continuity

We have seen the Avengers assemble and have had a bunch of them onscreen at the same time, but not like this. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) did stand out for me among the good guys and his arc is quite strong and well done. All your other favourites are here and definitely not to be messed with. Events pretty much kick off straight after Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther. All the players in those movies are where we last saw them, in space and in Wakanda. 

Avengers: Infinity War lives up to high expectations

The Guardians of the Galaxy show up (with all the humour they always bring to a party), as do Doctor Strange, Wong, Iron Man, Spider-man, Captain America, Black Widow, Falcon, Scarlett Witch, Vision, and War Machine. There are some surprise characters that are a nice touch as well. The story even takes time to throw in some Norse mythology Easter eggs with Thor's storyline. You can't be a self-respecting villain without some henchmen and Thanos has some zealous and pretty scary ones referred to as his Children. There is the hulking (pun intended) Cull Obsidian, the truly terrifying sorcerer Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight, and Corvus Glaive.

The film is quite long at 149 minutes but the pacing is done so well that you don't get tired of watching or feel like scenes are merely there as padding, which was the case in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Like The Last Jedi, this movie does spend some time subverting fan theories and delivers some nice surprises as a result. Many people will find it annoying that issues aren't resolved and that is to be expected. The movie does all it can to be the spectacle that it is and that we wanted, it delivers a villain worthy of waiting 10 years for and it is a good story that manages to juggle a huge cast of characters and locations quite nicely. 

Avengers: Infinity War manages to live up to very high expectations and though it's quite self-contained it does leave you wanting more, which you will get in the 2019 sequel. As is tradition, stay for the end-credits scene and its Easter egg.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Avengers: Infinity War is upon us

We have waited 10 years to get to this point and it looks like Marvel Studios is going to deliver their most epic movie to date. When that first trailer dropped and I heard Thanos' menacing voice I was simultaneously excited and had chills running down my spine.

"In time, you will know what it's like to lose. To feel so desperately that you're right, yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives."

Marvel has just been going from strength to strength since first giving us Iron Man as an introduction to their shared universe. They have had some low points in their 17-movie run but they had a long-term vision and learned from their setbacks.

The first Iron Man movie has stood the test of time and remains a classic and many still consider it to be the best movie in the MCU. The sequel is less than memorable and then they made up for it again with a solid third installment, post-Avengers. The first Captain America was so-so and then the sequel, the Winter Soldier was so good that the directors, the Russo brothers were bumped up to direct Avengers: Infinity War. The third entry, Civil War served a bit like Avengers 2.5 movie. The first two Thor movies struggled to find their feet but with last year's Thor: Ragnarok they made a gem. The Incredible Hulk is probably their lowest point and one that I always skip when I have a Marvel marathon.

Guardians of the Galaxy came out of nowhere with James Gunn at the helm. It was another Iron Man situation with Marvel taking a risk on fairly unknown characters and making a space opera. The risk paid off because both Guardians of the Galaxy movies are a lot of fun and fan favourites. This opened the door for movies like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange. Marvel also had a big win when they managed to get the rights to Spider-Man from Sony as he is quite critical to the Infinity Gauntlet in the comics and just a great character. Black Panther deserves a post all of its own. I expected it to be good but it exceeded all expectations and is a phenomenon.

We have seen the Avengers assemble 2.5 times now and the Guardians team up twice but on April 27 we see the whole MCU come together to face the Mad Titan, Thanos! It looks like it's going to be a great day at the movies.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Mine by Sally Partridge, Book Review

Image result for mine sally partridge

Sally Partridge’s YA novel, Mine hits harder than Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir. Reading Mine feels like you’re on a runaway train that is threatening to derail at any moment. By the end, you need to catch your breath and check for any injuries that you might have sustained. Yes, it’s that good. Mine is the story of two Capetonian teenagers, Kayla and Fin struggling to make sense of life and love. It’s a story that’s as tragic as it’s beautiful. The story’s gritty and doesn’t treat difficult issues like sex and alcohol with kid gloves. If you live in Cape Town and are familiar with the surrounding areas you’re sure to get even more of a kick out of this novel because the manner in which Sally Partridge writes about the city is like it’s also a character in the story. You’re also in for some great music and comic book references. Music and pop culture play a huge part in the life of most teenagers and Mine is told through that lens.

Kayla Murphy is 16 and totally cool but she doesn’t know it. She doesn’t believe in love because she has been hurt too many times. She has learned time and time again that guys are asshats and only want you for one thing. What she doesn’t realise is that although she might feel broken she is beautiful, with her blue hair, ripped jeans, Vans sneakers and Led Zeppelin t-shirts. She is also an amazing skater, knows more about comic books than most guys and she is a total classical music nerd, with the flute being her instrument of choice. Finlay September is enthralled with her from the first day he sees her zooming by on her skateboard and giving him the finger. He is 19 and has a host of his own issues. He is repeating matric and it looks like he is well on his way to failing again. His situation at home is quite bad, what with his dad who beats him when he is not neglecting him. He has his music going for him, though. He is the frontman of a popular band on the Cape Town circuit, Dark Father. When he gets on stage and spits his hard-hitting lyrics he transforms from Fin to Thor and he is a god. These two characters collide and a love affair like no other ensues. Their love affair is beautiful, intense and tragic because of meddling from outside, miscommunication and trust issues. Both these characters are emotionally intense and have deep-seated issues with loving and being loved.

Sally Partridge excels at portraying characters that you can relate to and whose emotional state mirrors that of many teenagers. Navigating love is difficult and Kayla and Fin deal with many obstacles as they try to stay together and be each other’s mine. Kayla’s character is the most complex and intriguing. She has to deal with bullying, slut-shaming and not knowing when to say no when guys are just using her for sex. Mine takes you on an emotionally intense ride but tells an important story of how difficult life and love is for teenagers these days. Some people might be put off by the swearing, alcohol, drugs and sex in a YA novel but the reality is that this is what teenagers are dealing with and shying away from those themes doesn’t help anyone. Kayla and Fin’s story is worth the bumpy ride.

Inclusive storytelling with Black Panther

My original article here.
26 Feb 2018

Shall we discuss the giant black panther currently in the room? I have been keeping track of the production of Marvel's Black Panther for the last two years and the end result is beyond anything I could have imagined. I honestly thought that Black Panther would be on the same level as Dr Strange and Spider-Man: Homecoming; that it would be solid but serve more as just another introduction of a new character to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You know, setting up all the pieces for Avengers: Infinity War. I should have known better, I really should. I should have know when the legendary South African actor, John Kani appeared as King T’Chaka in Captain America: Civil War and greeted his son, T’Challa, in Xhosa that it was a foreshadow to something that would turn the world on its head. Black Panther is a great Marvel movie but it has also managed to give black people a sense of pride at a time when we need it most. When I went to see Wonder Woman last year I walked out of the cinema grinning from ear to ear because it came at a time women needed a heroine. I walked out of the cinema after watching Black Panther and I was stunned at how good it felt to see a comic movie and relate to it with your heart and soul. As a black, Xhosa-speaking South African I’d venture to say that I got more from the film than a black American did. But, hey, there is more than enough meaning in the movie to go around for everyone. I don’t know if what I am writing next is going to be a review or a verbal rain dance giving thanks to Marvel Studios and Ryan Coogler for telling a story that gives voice to a people.

Inclusive storytelling with Black Panther

I do not dare to give away too much of the plot because you really have to experience it for yourself but, in a nutshell: Black Panther kicks off right after Civil War and T’Challa arrives back in Wakanda to take up his deceased father’s mantle as king. Chadwick Boseman plays the character of a son who has to step up and be king in a quiet and thoughtful manner. His rule is challenged from within Wakanda and also from without. There is also conflict within himself about what sort of king he wishes to be and in what direction he will lead his people. Andy Serkis’s Ulysses Klaue is cruel and has this crazy sense of humour that you can’t help but like. They have Andy Serkis really lay that South African accent on you and it works. Klaue quickly gives way to Erik Killmonger as the main villain of the piece. Michael B. Jordan steals the show and his Killmonger sends chills down your spine whilst simultaneously breaking your heart. Killmonger is the MCU’s most tragic villain and while you know that he has to be stopped the reasons he does what he does, make sense. He is the Hamlet of Wakanda.

Inclusive storytelling with Black Panther

The female characters are my favourite. The women of Wakanda are intelligent, resourceful, and will definitely kick your ass! T’Challa’s love interest is Nakia played by the gorgeous Lupita Nyong’o. She is an undercover spy and can more than hold her own in any situation. Letitia Wright plays T’Challa’s sister, Shuri. At age 16 she is Wakanda’s genius inventor who takes every opportunity to make fun of her older brother. Danai Gurira’s Okoye is Wakanda’s greatest warrior. She is head of the Dora Milaje, the elite, all-female unit that guards the king. She is no-nonsense and loyal to the throne.

Other characters that stand out are Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross, Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out as W’Kabi, Winston Duke as M’Baku, Forest Whitaker as Zuri, and the graceful Angela Basset as Romanda, T’Challa’s mother. John Kani returns from Civil War to portray T’Chaka and his son, Atandwa Kani portrays a young T’Chaka. Another South African television and film veteran, Connie Chiume appears as the elder of the Mining Tribe.

Inclusive storytelling with Black Panther

The Wakanda that director Ryan Coogler and his team have brought to life is a visual miracle. In the trailer, you hear Everett Ross’s character say: “I have seen gods fly. I have seen men build weapons that I couldn't even imagine. I've seen aliens drop from the sky. But I have never seen anything like this.” We have seen places like Asgard and Xandar but we have not seen anything like Wakanda. The research that Coogler’s team did was clearly extensive. They took inspiration from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, and many other African countries to create the aesthetics of Wakanda. Throw in some advanced tech and you have an Afro-tech society like no other. We have long known that black culture inspires many fashion trends so it comes as no surprise that everything in Wakanda drips style. Black culture has also always been at the forefront of music so it makes sense that the music in Black Panther, like in Luke Cage, can almost be seen as a character in its own right. The soundtrack, spearheaded by the urban poet (as Malusi Gigaba referred to him in the Budget Speech) Kendrick Lamar is worth listening to on its own. If you’re a fan of the Black Panther comic books, you’re also covered. The movie digs quite deep into the lore with many of its Easter eggs.

Black Panther is not merely a comic book film but a celebration that I think anyone can enjoy. You don’t have to be black or into comic books to enjoy this movie. It is not perfect but where it falters you can easily forgive those missteps. At some points, the actors butcher the Xhosa language but you can see that they gave it their best and you appreciate the effort. If you have not seen Black Panther yet, go out and do so. #WakandaForever

A note on representation and gatekeeping

I have been involved in nerd, geek, and pop culture ever since I picked up a copy of Spider-Man in my first year of school and I love the community with my heart and soul but there is a large part of our culture that is toxic. The culture still has too many fragile male egos that rail against making room for women or people of colour. There is also still a hipster-like gatekeeping culture that bars anyone with only a casual or mainstream interest in the culture. If you don’t know what happened in The Uncanny X-Men #141-142, you’re not one of us. If you don’t know who the wizard, Radagast the Brown in The Lord of the Rings is, do you even really nerd, bro’? Seeing projects like Wonder WomanLuke CageBlack Panther and the new Star Wars films become more inclusive gives us hope that our culture will get to a point where we can tell the stories that make room for all of us as human beings. I always go back to Grant Morrison’sFinal Crisis as the high-water mark for the grand scale in which comic books can tell stories and a quote by one of the celestial beings (I always forget if it was Zillo Valla or Weeja Dell) monitoring the multiverse is what I think inclusive stories should be: “We all now have names and stories; there are heroes and villains, secrets and lovers.” That is what we all want, to have names and stories in the media. Films like Black Panther bring us closer to that.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

#BizTrends2018: Noteworthy films and film trends for 2018

My original article here.

10 Jan 2018

Welcome to my 2018 edition of trends in film. Let's get right into it.

A Star Wars Christmas 3.0
Disney has a plan to take some of your Christmas bonus money for at least the next 20 years. When it comes to the Star Wars franchise most of us are like, ‘shut up and take my money’. JJ Abrams gave us Episode VII: The Force Awakens in 2015 in his usual fanboy love letter style and then Gareth Edwards gave us a prequel to the original trilogy that we did not know we needed but boy, did we! 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story answered the question of how the rebels got the plans for the Death Star and why it had such a stupid weak spot. We have yet to find out exactly how many Bothans died to get information on the second Death Star but we can’t have it all, now can we?

Now we have Rian Johnson’s much-anticipated Episode VIII: The Last Jedi currently showing in cinemas. After two years of everyone and their dog on the Interwebs theorising, we finally got the lowdown.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a worthy follow up
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a worthy follow up
Let me say it right off the bat that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a great movie and a worthy follow up to The Force Awakens. If you've been following any news about the movie, you'll know that there is a split between some Star Wars fans and film critics.

May 25 2018 sees the release of the second Star Wars anthology in the form of Han Solo: A Star Wars Story. The film went through some rough patches with initial directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street) getting replaced by Ron Howard (Inferno) midway through shooting. The actor from 2013’s Beautiful Creatures, Alden Ehrenreich was cast as Han Solo after an extensive search for exactly the right person for the role. 

Donald Glover is playing the other charming scoundrel, Lando Calrissian. Everyone’s favourite Khaleesi, Emila Clarke plays the female lead and Joonas Suaotamo reprises the role of Chewbacca for which he was a double in The Force Awakens. Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Warwick Davis, Paul Bettany and Clint Howard are also in the cast.

Marvel v DC. . .Joking, it’s just Marvel (DC totally lost)

So much winning for Marvel every year. It’s like that time Donald Trump said: “We're going to win so much. You're going to get tired of winning." They went hard with Guardians of the Galaxy 2Spider-Man: Homecoming and the oh-so-much-fun Thor: Ragnarok. When I first saw the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War and saw Thanos in action it hit me that we watched 17 Marvel movies to get to this point! That is one huge build-up.

Marvel kicks off 2018 with Black Panther on 16 February. The trailers look mad dope and, personally, I cannot wait to see some action go down in Wakanda. The big spectacle that is Avengers: Infinity War starts on 4 May and then they close their 2018 with Ant-Man and the Wasp on 6 July.

Anastasia Steele, Lara Croft, Deadpool, a T-Rex, Grindelwald, and Aquaman walk into a bar

That sure would be an interesting evening at that bar.

Hate it or love it, the 50 Shades franchise keeps on keeping on and Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele return on 9 February 2018 for 50 Shades Freed, the er . . . climactic finale.

The Tomb Raider video games got a much-deserved overhaul with a grittier feel and a Lara Craft that does not look like a pubescent boy’s idea of a woman. 16 March 2018 sees a Tomb Raider movie in the same style as the new video games with Swedish actress, Alicia Vikander (The Light Between Two Oceans) playing Lara Croft.

Our favourite fourth wall breaking merc with a mouth returns in Deadpool 2 on the first of June and we get to see Josh Brolin as Cable, another beloved and pretty badass Marvel Comics character.

On 22 June 2018, we get some dinosaur action with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Chris Pratt is still having a great go as Hollywood leading man material and is still one of the sexy Chrises.

The first dark lord of the Harry Potter world gets his day in the sun in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald on 16 November 2018. I put the first movie off for a long time but when I got around to it it was actually quite charming and I look forward to seeing Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald and a young Dumbledore, played by Jude Law.

For all of its faults, you have to like Jason Momoa’s Aquaman in Justice League. Dude’s got a lot of styles and gets his own movie on 21 December 2018. We hope it follows in the style of Wonder Woman and not Batman v Superman.

More highlights

There is loads more happening at movies in 2018 and I can’t cover it all but here are some more titles to keep an eye out for: Ready Player OneThe Incredibles 2A Wrinkle in TimePacific Rim: UprisingThe New MutantsOcean’s EightX-Men: Dark PheonixMission Impossible 6 (these missions are clearly very possible) and wait for it . . . Mary Poppins Returns.

Here’s to a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious 2018 at the movies.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Original review here
Let me say it right off the bat that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a great movie and a worthy follow up toThe Force Awakens. If you've been following any news about the movie, you'll know that there is a split between some Star Wars fans and film critics.
Some of the fans feel that the movie is not a Star Wars movie at all and lacks the franchise’s essence. Many film critics praised the movie for its strong storyline and for the manner in which it subverts the viewers’ expectation. Director Rian Johnson (The Brothers Bloom) delivers a solid Star Wars movie with many unexpected twists and turns. The Last Jedi captures the magic of Star Wars but is brave enough to turn a lot of the lore on its head and steer the franchise towards a new direction. It does take some missteps as it changes course, though.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a worthy follow up

A New Hope

In 2015, JJ Abrams wrote the most beautiful love letter to Star Wars in the form of The Force Awakens. As fans, we loved it because it was ‘Star Wars’. We looked past the fact that it was a rehash of A New Hope and that it did not really move our favourite franchise forward much. Sure, we got new villains in the form of the First Order, but we must admit that they were introduced as carbon copies of the Empire’s villains. We got a new weapon in the form of Starkiller base (we see what you did with the name there, JJ) and that was pretty much the third Death Star. Snoke was pretty much the Emperor, Kylo Ren wanted to be Darth Vader and General Hux (with his amazing coat) an up-and-coming Grand Moff Tarkin. The good guys followed a similar mould, with maybe the exception of Finn. Don’t get me wrong, The Force Awakens is a great movie but it served as a soft introduction to the new trilogy and did that well. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi has the difficult task of being a Star Wars sequel and moving the story forward in an unexpected direction. It does that well.

JJ Abrams' love letter to Star Wars
JJ Abrams' love letter to Star Wars
Okay, by now we all know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is good. It is frighteningly good.

Luke’s words from the trailer are pretty much what The Last Jedi does: “This is not going to go the way you think”. Johnson gives the Star Wars universe some much needed fresh air by moving away from the beats we expect from a Star Wars movie. The good guys learn that they cannot fight the Dark Side using the same tactics they have been and the Dark Side goes to a place we’ve not seen before. Everything is not so Dark Side and Light Side, The Last Jedi dares to give us a grey area. We are given a new perspective on the Force and how it works and moves through the galaxy. Mark Hamill steals the show as a disillusioned Luke Skywalker. The story pays respect to the older Star Wars characters but it is more the story of solidifying the new characters’ place in the story. Every time you see Carrie Fisher as Leia onscreen you can’t help but feel emotional and her last performance as the character is beautiful. Daisy Ridley’s Rey learns to pick up the mantle as a Jedi, Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron learns to be a better leader and John Boyega’s Finn learns to value what he is fighting for. Adam Driver is brilliant as Kylo Ren and both his and Rey’s struggle with the Light and Dark sides of the Force is portrayed expertly. Domhall Gleeson as General Hux (his coat is so cool!) continues to vie with Kylo for the Supreme Leader Snoke’s favour. Snoke (Andy Serkis) is as menacing and mysterious as ever.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a worthy follow up

The Empire Strikes Back

The movie opens with the rebel scum doing their rebel thing and the First Order doing their chasing and threatening thing. Nothing new here. The Last Jedi opens on the same beat we expect from a Star Wars movie: a Star Destroyer looks cool in space, there is a cinematic battle, the good guys fly their X-wings against impossible odds whilst keeping up their humorous banter, a cute droid beeps, a villain loses his cool and a John Williams soundtrack is pushing all the right emotional buttons. It’s great. Then, all of a sudden our expectations start getting subverted at every turn. All of our YouTube prophets’ fan theories are trampled into the dust and we are in new territory. It’s great! Johnson questions things we believe about the Star Wars universe and opens new avenues of exploration.

The Last Jedi/The Return of the Jedi (They really need to make up their minds)

It’s not all lightsabers and BB8, though. The Last Jedi makes mistakes and they do take away from the vision that Johnson has. My biggest gripe is that the movie is too long. I love long movies but only when it does not feel like padding. The Last Jedi gets to a point where there is a lot of padding and what feels like unnecessary storylines. They introduce places and characters you can’t bring yourself to care about and that takes away from the brilliance of the core plot. At the end of the movie you are tired, happy, confused, possibly angry and then you go home and give it more thought and smile because this is a great middle act. The Last Jedi answers some of the questions we had offhandedly, not at all or asks us questions. The threads are left dangling and both groups of people who liked it and did not like it are left hoping that Episode IX answers all of our questions. YouTube fan theorists get to keep their jobs for the next two years as The Last Jedi leaves a lot of mysteries that need solving.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

“Stories are in our DNA” – local publisher, Charles Siboto, on South Africa’s reading culture

An article I wrote for BooksLive:

Local publisher, Charles Siboto, on our reading culture, competing with international titles and reading as tool to raise our standard of education

The South African publishing scene is a strange one, consisting of many peculiarities and oddities. The first thing that you notice is that it’s not representative of the country and its diverse range of cultures. There are many factors that lend to how lopsided our reading statistics are. The biggest factor is that as a nation we don’t read much and there are no books in most households, so a reading culture is never fostered. I have worked in publishing for four years and can testify that books are luxury items for most households because they are expensive, especially local books. Publishers would love to make books more affordable but the reality is that publishing books is expensive, with the highest cost being printing. In order for publishers to survive, they have to print enough books to cover the cost of producing the books when most of that print run sells. The more books publishers print the cheaper the cost of printing and thus the cheaper the book for buyers, but if those books don’t sell they sit with excessive stock and pay warehouse costs for that stock, which eventually will have to be pulped. The South African publishing scene, thus, is a fine balancing act of publishers trying to make books as accessible as possible while making enough money to continue existing so as to publish more books. Now, as both publisher and reader, I am thinking we can all do more to promote diverse South African literature, especially as readers.

South Africa already has a model of what a healthy, local reading culture looks like in the form of Afrikaans books. Afrikaans publishers are the biggest in the country and Afrikaans readers buy books. The Afrikaans community does have more buying power than most other language groups in the country but the other thing they have is pride in their language. Afrikaans speakers can still largely get by in our economy without having to learn English. Parents know that the country is constantly becoming more and more English but they still don’t stop placing an emphasis on children speaking and reading Afrikaans. In many cases, English is more the supplementary reading. With the other language and culture groups in the country the emphasis is more on English than on the mother tongue, and for the most part, we all know why and I will touch on this later.

Having spent some time reading books by local black writers in English, I know this is by no means a bad thing and it allows for more people being able to enjoy those books. There is an increase of the black middle-class and publishers realise that they have to tap into this market. Young, black and especially female writers are also on the rise and this makes for a great recipe to produce local books that are entertaining, informative, address social issues, expands minds and are just straight up ‘woke’. The problem with publishing in English is that people still buy more international titles than local ones in English. I am one of those people and I have made conscious decision to buy more local titles and readers who can afford to should do this. Afrikaans publishers usually do publish in English and to a smaller scale some of the other local languages but they have realised long ago that they cannot compete with the international market and have opted to focus on their strength, publishing Afrikaans books. Competing with international publishers is difficult because as a country we are not yet confident enough in the power of our own stories and this should not be so. South African publishers publish books of a high caliber that can compete with titles from the UK or the US but they get lost in the crowd. Publishers have had to be much more creative in their marketing a can continue to do so, but as readers, we should also come to the party.

We have great stories as a nation, our cultures are rich in stories that deserve to be shared with the world. I am in no way asking people to stop reading international titles but simply saying that you can read both local and international. It is refreshing to read stories where the heroes and villains are people you can relate to and people that you can imagine meeting when you walk down the street, stories where the lovers and their secrets are people like you. Local books are still expensive to produce but if we all do a little to support the local reading scene it goes a long way. We can do a lot simply by each person in a circle of friends buying one book and then swapping the books among themselves until everyone has had a chance to read every book in the circle. These are things that help to nurture our reading culture. The stronger our reading culture becomes the cheaper and more accessible books will be and publishers will be able to work with more new writers adding their voices to the tapestry of our stories.

The last thing I want to mention, especially having spent most of my publishing career working with children’s books, is that we have to promote our children reading in their mother tongues. This is way easier said than done because the resources are scarce. Resources aside, many black households are afraid to focus on children reading in their mother tongue because they might then miss out on learning English. This is not so, children who can read their own language well can better transition into a second language and excel at it. Being a multilingual society is complex but we gain more when we allow people to read in their own language and learn English in addition. This makes for more people who are truly bi- or multilingual, in the sense that they are equally proficient in multiple languages. This will take some time and resources to fully implement, though. Some publishers do prioritise publishing books for younger readers in multiple local languages and that is a great start and a process that we should support where we can. I come from a family that does not read but I was lucky to fall in love with books because we lived near a wonderful public library when I was a child so I understand that many families are too busy with the business of surviving from day to day to worry about books. But if we are to raise the standard of education and want to invest in a society of knowledgeable people we have to nurture our reading culture. Resources like public libraries help with making books accessible but all of us can add something to the culture. We can do things like buying local books if we can afford them, sharing books, giving away old books or just telling people about the magic of stories. Stories are in our DNA as a species and adding to that collective pool of knowledge only helps us to progress as a nation and as human beings.