Don’t Miss Marco Polo

Marco Polo‘s trailer suggested beautiful cinematography, Clue-worthy, who-killed-the-butler plot twists, and gratuitous nudity à la HBO, plus Orientalism, fetishism, yellow peril, and the “Mongol barbarian” stereotype common even in China, so imagine my surprise watching the series and discovering that along with stunning wardrobes, fight scenes and landscapes, Marco Polo, far from shallow, delivered well-characterized characters with fascinating motivations, friendships, and relationships, acted by an international cast, wuxia martial arts, and strong female characters.

Novelist Jeannie Lin has already stated the case for the show (spoilers) elegantly. Expecting a typical absurdity about an Italian boy in a spooky Asian land, I watched instead a just, strategist, human khan, the relationships between him, his advisors, and family and they between themselves, where Marco Polo plays a role but the Asian characters steal the show and shockingly, most screen time, with nary a stereotype in sight or any ogling of “weird customs”!

Marco Polo, while following the Mongols, also humanizes their Chinese rivals. We can’t tear our eyes away from Chin Han as frightening Song chancellor Jia Sidao, and my family’s already agreed we wouldn’t watch the show without Benedict Wong’s khan, but we love so many characters: the poetic martial arts master, the wildly diverging ministers of defense and the treasury, the badass empress, the playful, athletic princess Khutulun, who refuses to marry until she meets her wrestling match. Lagertha (Vikings) finally has company! Enjoy the rare historical script at once pretty and accessible! Binge that ish on Netflix!

The Knick: Racism & Sexism in 1900 NYC

“A look at the professional and personal lives of the staff at New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital during the early part of the twentieth century,” IMDb describes Cinemax newcomer The Knick, and while the set’s operating theater sees a lot of bloody surgery and historically accurate innovation thanks to a consulting surgeon, nurse, and historian, The Knick brings something more valuable to the medical drama: a cross-section of New York’s social dynamics in 1900.

While Emily Nussbaum’s New Yorker review pans The Knick as merely delivering “the facts,” but history is a matter of perspective, which perspective has emerged from white writers similarly disinterested in minorities, so the frankness, the magnifying glass that The Knick plays on race in 1900 NYC is rare on television in 2014, including in the show she compares favorably to The Knick, Masters of Sex, where Cate at BattyMamzelle says the characters “mention it in hushed tones.”

Contrast that to the Knickerbocker’s Dr. Algernon Edwards confronting point-blank two white surgeons adamant that he not touch a patient due to his color. Edwards forces conversations still taboo in 2014, when “oversensitivity” remains an accusation in answer to concerns of exclusion. The audience’s experiences flesh out the skeleton of injustice presented, and the audience lives vicariously through Edwards facing and conquering the establishment. Nussbaum dismisses his character as “a model minority who is all decency, without edges or idiosyncrasies” and dismisses likewise moments that would contradict this opinion. If his first altercation demonstrated “his virility,” his second did not. He seems deviant.

André Holland, playing Edwards, describes his resourcefulness, cleverness and ego:

“I think he’s very precise, not only in his work but also socially, in the way he sees the world. I also think that he does have some ego about what he’s doing. I think that he’s done the work, he’s put in the time, and he really, truly believes in his heart that he can be one of the world’s best surgeons…It’s not just a guy who’s a put-upon character; he has a real point of view about what he’s doing. So he sits on the abuse and the insults and he finds a way around it for as long as he possibly can. Even in the scene in episode three or four, when he has a showdown with Dr. Gallinger, what I wanted to explore was this man who is both standing up for himself but also taking a tiny bit of joy in the fact that he has the knowledge and he has the power. He takes a little bit of what it would be like to be in control, and he enjoys it. And I think that’s human and it’s more interesting than him just being the black man who has to suffer in silence.”

So, perhaps perspective matters in who finds The Knick worthwhile. For those who have sat on insults, investigating science and the struggles of Jewish and Black doctors vs. white doctors, citizen vs. newer citizen, upper vs. lower class, women vs. men- the show is a feast, helped by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler’s writing, beautiful cinematography, costumes and sets, a stellar cast, “propulsive editing,” Chris Martinez’s unexpectedly fitting electronic soundtrack, and recently, some fascinating romantic developments.

I am so excited about Edwards’ romance. He and his lady love, whom I won’t spoil, are so genuinely sensual, perhaps because her character’s frank and the nudity isn’t self-conscious or objectifying but natural. Particularly given the closed-door sex scene, as others were not, one senses the authenticity and centrality of the characters foremost, and I was struck by the frame by frame juxtaposition of her and Edwards, equally topless, as if that foreshadowed the equality of their relationship. Maybe I’m reading into it. Either way, I’m happy to hear The Knick’s been renewed.

Ubisoft Reveals Female Supporting Character in Assassin’s Creed Unity

Perhaps in response to criticism, games studio Ubisoft Montreal has been offering glimpses of Élise de la Serre, whom Assassin’s Creed: Unity (Nov. 2014) director Alex Amancio describes as “driven, fiercely independent and deeply in love with Arno.” Even if she’s only a love interest in the male protagonist’s story, rather than a full actor, I’m glad to see some strong female presence in Unity. I still hold out hope for more playable female protagonists. At least they’ve learned since two years ago that women did indeed make history. Also, may I say that their trailers are still the bomb?

Self-aggrandizing Journalism

The journalists I respect risk a lot in the hopes of raising awareness of or pressuring oppressive agents, so I’m disappointed at the coverage of Ferguson, which has focused on “looting and rioting” rather than the protesters linking arms to protect storefronts and police or that several incidents, like the broken windows at a nearby McDonalds, are the result of adults fleeing tear gas, sometimes with kids in tow. That is beside the journalists exploiting protests for face time and career advancement, abusing locals, and trampling memorials for Michael Brown. This comment from journalist Matty Giles says it all:

As another media member who was down there videoing and taking photographs – my photos of members of the community doing anything other than rioting were not accepted by the networks. When I took pictures of men standing shoulder to shoulder protecting stores that had been broken into, no one cared. When I got video of Antonio French pleading with a young man who wanted to fight the cops, and managed to talk him down and calm him down – no one is interested in that story. The networks want sexy photos of police with guns raised and people fighting each other.

I left on Monday. The story of how police treat that community, and how they have subsequently treated people thereafter is one that should be told, but no one is listening to that story.

After seeing ISIL exploit the genuine sacrifice of the Syrian people, I know the pain when opportunists rush in. Check out #OperationHelporHush or http://operationhelporhush.org/ to fund supplies for protesters. I’m really shocked the police haven’t announced any plans for change at this point -it wouldn’t be hard to pacify the public from a practical standpoint, wave some false promises, and that, too, Syrians know; take some tips from us, Ferguson- but at least Atty. General Holder’s supportive. Keep on, Ferguson.