QUEER CREATIVITY: p.5 “GOLEM GIRL”: p.8 SUNFLOWER, SUN, WAVES: p.10
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CONTENTS Staff of The Monthly Issue 35
Jennifer Zhan Monthly Editor Emma Ruck Creative Director Angeli Mittal Cynthia Zhang Jacob Fulton Designers Austin Benavides Haley Fuller John Riker Maria Ximena Aragon Rebecca Aizin Rayna Song Wilson Chapman Writers
Cover photo courtesy of Ryan Lash
Sunflower, Sun, Waves
Off The Page
Around the World
Letter from the
Back when I lived on campus, I noticed that the display screen for the elevator in Allison Hall sometimes behaved oddly, showing letters instead of a floor number. The last time I remember it happening was March 2020, on the day I moved out of the dorm. When I pressed the down button, “OK” flashed on the screen. At that moment, while I was wondering when I’d be coming back and how long this pandemic was going to last, it felt like a promise. Things were going to be OK. A year later, and I’m still at home, over a thousand miles away. It’s hard to believe that we’re approaching so many anniversaries — this issue is coming out exactly twelve months after Northwestern announced that Spring Break would be extended and at least three weeks of Spring Quarter would move online. I don’t know if it’s actually possible to neatly summarize everything that has happened since lockdown began. Suffice to say that we as a society will probably still be processing this period for many years to come. But in the arts and entertainment world, as in many other areas of society, people found ways to adapt and continue to create. So, in a time when the coming days seem nothing if not uncertain, the theme of the March edition of The Monthly is the future. Our stories in this issue spotlight people who are working toward what they want to see in the world, whether that’s queer narratives in children’s media or increased representation of people with disabilities in art. We highlight alums who are crafting jewelry, writing comics and doing research. And we celebrate shows, music, movies and more from around the world (because the future is international). It’s bittersweet that this will be my last issue as Monthly Editor. I’m grateful to too many people to list for bringing excitement and energy to our magazine, for helping me be thoughtful and intentional about our coverage and for being so open to asking and answering questions throughout the quarter. This has been a constant learning process for me, and I’m so excited for The Monthly to continue to evolve and improve in the future as other editors take the helm. Here’s to spring, growth and the days to come!
Jennifer Zhan 4
NU alum Lindz Amer ’14 on queer representation in children’s media
Written by Haley Fuller / Designed by Jacob Fulton uring their time at Northwestern, Lindz Amer (Communication ’14) was not a “StuCo hotshot.” They weren’t cast in shows, didn’t get into the playwriting sequence and didn’t have a reputation for being one of the stars of the theater department. Seven years later, the nonbinary alum is coming off of a four-season run of “Queer Kid Stuff,” a webseries for kids centered around queer narratives that became a 2018 Webby honoree. Episodes touch on topics from what it means to be gay to mental health, privilege and pride. Amer’s senior thesis work at Northwestern, centered on queer representation in children’s theatre, pro-
vided the background for “Queer Kid Stuff.” For the practical part of the thesis, Amer directed Purple Crayon Players’ performance of “The Transition of Doodle Pequeño,” a children’s play that delves into gender identity, homophobia and immigration, as well as friendship and individuality. The play opened in Norris University Center and was later performed at an Evanston elementary school. After doing a workshop with the students in the audience to prepare them for the ideas in the show, the principal rushed down the aisle toward Amer. “We were in full view of the audience, and she was asking me if we were promoting cross dressing and all this stuff. And I was just like, ‘can we pause this conversation until after the show is over?’” they said. The principal backed off and let them finish, but afterward she had a tense conversation with Amer. Afterwards, the principal called the next
school on the tour, and the school canceled the show. Despite the disappointment and frustration that came with the cancelation of a performance, students at an Evanston middle school did see the performance, Amer said. The administrators there were supportive and told students that paying attention to the play was important. Although it was a difficult experience and required a lot of resilience, it lit a fire under Amer. “It was really interesting to come into contact with that controversy at the very start of my career, and I had a very intense emotional reaction when that was happening,” they said. “ It was this work that I was trying to understand and starting to embark upon for the rest of my career.” “Queer Kid Stuff ” started just a couple years later, after
Amer completed a Master’s in performance studies in the U.K. They watched YouTube when they got homesick, and determined that the platform could be the perfect place for an educational show. After filming the pilot, the show gained popularity and went on to span over 50 episodes. The show was then turned into a live performance that toured around the country. After reaching stasis on YouTube and co-filing a lawsuit against the platform for discrimination against LGBTQ+ creators, Amer has started to move toward other platforms. They’ve been working on creating educational resources and a family podcast called “Activist, You!” that explains different social justice movements through interviews with youth activists. Still in the works are a book proposal based on Amer’s 2019 TED Talk on the importance of exposing children to LGBTQ+
narratives at a young age, a full-length screenplay and a few pilots of a live-action show for preschoolers inspired by characters from the original web series. “I’ve been working on getting back to craft, trying to break into more mainstream work and try and make more queer, trans, nonbinary narratives in children’s media through the big guys,” they said. “I’ve also been trying to figure out what the larger business of it is because we still have an audience that’s not being served.” Communication Prof. David Catlin was Amer’s theater professor for a few years and saw them grow throughout college. He still remembers their ability to transport the entire class to Denmark while they performed
the ghost scene in “Hamlet.” Catlin said he always knew that Amer’s work would make the world better and challenge the status quo. “What I admire about Lindz is that they found a way to take something that is deeply important to who they are and they have taken the idea of stories and storytelling, and they have put their energy and their heart into making something that makes the world better, that helps people identify who they are, and
Photos courtesy of Ryan Lash, Queer Kid Creative
destigmatizes and centers queer narratives, but does so at that really important early age,” he said. Kyra Jones, the assistant director of sexual violence response services and advocacy at CARE, appeared on an episode of “Queer Kid Stuff ” that focused on race,. She said she loved contributing to social justice education for kids, especially on topics that even give some adults trouble. Jones met Amer in their freshman year and took TYA courses together. Jones said
they have only gotten closer since graduation, Jones said. She said it’s been inspiring to see Amer continuously pushing for queer representation in children’s media over the past seven years, even when it’s been tough. Jones appeared on an episode of “Queer Kid Stuff ” that focused on race, and said she loved contributing to social justice education for kids, especially on topics that even give some adults trouble. She said it’s been inspiring to see Amer continuously pushing for queer representation in children’s media over the past seven years, even when it’s been tough. Amer is determined to continue their work, especially as children’s media is slow to evolve and take up new topics, especially those surrounding representation and diversity. “I think people are generally excited, but wary,” they said. “Things are definitely moving forward, so it’s exciting to see that all happen, but it’s also kind of like, ‘Let’s go, I’ve been doing this for a little while.’” ◊
NORTHWESTERN INSTRUCTOR AND ARTIST RIVA LEHRER TALKS RECENT BOOK AND ART SUCCESS
Written by Rebecca Aizin / Designed by Jacob Fulton
iva Lehrer has spent her entire career creating art of people with disabilities or body differences, despite receiving constant rejections from galleries. Lehrer, an art instructor at both Northwestern and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, works with the “socially challenged body,” anyone whose body is deemed unacceptable by outside forces, whether that be people with disabilities, people of color or queer people who are threatened because of how they present themselves. For the last six years, Lehrer has worked on her memoir, “Golem Girl,” which tells her story of growing up with spina bifida. The book won the Barbellion Prize for ill and disabled voices in writing and is a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. In her book, Lehrer discusses growing up in Cincinnati in the 1960s, attending a school for people with disabilities and her frequent hospitalizations. Lehrer said the book attempts to explain what living with a disability is like through her own expe-
riences. “I was trying to talk about my history and a whole community’s history through stories and through their portraits,” Lehrer said. “The biggest realization that I had was my life is completely constructed of other people’s lives.” In many ways, “Golem Girl” is a culmination of the work Lehrer has been doing throughout her entire career. She said her concerns about the influence one’s body can have on their life are similarly expressed as a writer, artist and teacher. Department Chair at SAIC Michelle Grabner has worked with Lehrer for over a decade. She said Lehrer is a “superhero” who thinks broadly about representation in her artwork and teaching. “She’s dealing with disability culture and how we as a culture deal with different bodies and desires, and that by nature is political,” Grabner said. “What makes her such a good teacher is she’s able to see how differences can stimulate and protract the imagination.” Grabner said reading “Golem Girl” has allowed
her to learn about disability history and how people think of themselves. Though her work is currently displayed at the Zolla/ Lieberman Gallery, Lehrer said she has received rejections from other galleries and museums. “Almost every other gallery in Chicago said that they didn’t think they could sell my work because of what I depicted,” Lehrer said. Since she first started her career, Lehrer said she has seen little improvement in the arts community’s acceptance of depictions of people with disabilities. Nevertheless, she remains hopeful for the future. “As any one of us becomes successful, it opens the door for the next person,” she said. Brian Gillham, the director of Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, echoed Lehrer’s sentiments and said many galleries wouldn’t accept Lehrer’s art because it is too “niche.” Gillham was inspired by Lehrer’s ability to raise awareness about the stigma around disabilities and make her subjects feel comfortable. He said
the gallery decided to work with Lehrer because of her backstory and her ability to educate people on disability culture, something that has been underrepresented in the arts community thus far. “With her ability as an artist, she’s able to capture the subject beautifully without it being exploitative,” Gillham said. “The romantic side of art is not just something that looks beautiful, it’s also about learning something you didn’t know before and that’s something Riva has been able to capture with her work.” Lehrer said her work shows younger generations of people with disabilities a world of opportunities, from art to writing. Her advice to both able-bodied and people with disabilities is to “be brave” and find mentors — there is still a lot of work to be done and anyone has the capability to do it. “Don’t hold back, the world needs you. There are people in every field now who can guide you and help you develop your ideas,” Lehrer said. “Sometimes you have to go looking but don’t be discouraged and don’t let people tell you it’s not worth doing.” ◊ Photo courtesy of Riva Lehrer
written by rayna
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Northwestern alumna creates handmade jewelry through nature-inspired business
t seven years old, Evelyn Molina Pérez (SESP ’19) asked her parents to buy her a DIY jewelry kit from Ross Stores. Her early love for jewelry making is how Girasolas was born. Molina Pérez launched the official Instagram account for Girasolas, her handmade jewelry business, in May 2018. She started Girasolas during her junior year at Northwestern, as she rediscovered this childhood passion when looking for ways to destress. The name Girasolas is a combination of three words in Spanish: girasol (sunflower), sol (sun) and olas (waves). Molina Pérez said these words encompass what jewelry making is for her. “I would like to think of myself and my friends as plants, in the sense of how we have to monitor our well-being, monitor our needs,” Molina Pérez said. “The ‘olas’ part refers to those things that plants need, like the sun, the water.” Molina Pérez added that many of her jewelry pieces are inspired by patterns she sees in nature, such as waves or the sun. She usually works with wire using pliers and cutters, and she said she likes how the
wire is malleable, turning into any shape she wants. Her jewelry making initially started as a hobby and later turned into a thriving business when friends started requesting necklaces, offering to pay her in return, Molina Pérez said. When Molina Pérez was a student at NU, sometimes she would have customers pick up orders
several fundraising events where she raffled off her jewelry to raise money for groups supporting Chicago’s Black LGBTQ communities, and she wants to do more in the future. Kourtney Kinchen (Weinberg ’20), who runs a handmade resin jewelry business, Encircled Jewelry, said she and Molina Pérez have supported each other as they both grow their businesses. Molina Pérez and
They’re always so delicately made with love. — Mariana molina Beltran
from the front desk at Foster-Walker, where she worked as a Resident Assistant. After graduating and moving back home to San Francisco, Molina Pérez said she now ships her jewelry or delivers it to customers in the area. She always includes a card from her in the box. “Even though the products are handmade, adding a handwritten thank-you note connects me even more so with the person that’s receiving it,” Molina Pérez said. “That written aspect makes it more personal.” Molina Pérez said she loves how jewelry can make people feel more confident and protected, elevating their mood. In the past, she has organized
Kinchen buy pieces from each other and share each other’s products on social media. Kinchen said Molina Pérez pays attention to details, like how Molina Pérez personalizes customer’s names on the packages. Molina Pérez said her first customer was her cousin, Mariana Molina Beltran, who has always supported her.
Molina Beltran said she places orders all the time. “I love getting the little boxes, how they’re always decorated with your name,” Molina Beltran said. “They’re always so delicately made with love.” Molina Beltran said the complexity of Molina Pérez’s jewelry changed around the time she launched the Girasolas Instagram account, shifting from simple earrings and rings to more intricate pieces. Magdalena Flores (Communication ’19), a friend and customer of Molina Pérez, said they have known each other since freshman year. Flores added she wanted to support Molina Pérez and bought Girasolas jewelry for herself or to gift to other people. Flores also noted Molina Pérez’s unique designs involving intricate wire weaving techniques. She remembers seeing little calluses on Molina Pérez’s hands, which she said show the labor that goes into making jewelry by hand. “It shows the commitment, the craft, the grit that it takes to create a single pair of earrings or a ring, and to me, that dedication is something that’s inspiring,” Flores said. ◊
Photos courtesy of Olivia Pérez Aguilera and Evelyn Molina Pérez
Written by Austin Benavides Designed by Angeli Mittal
Comics writer Michael Moreci discusses his original work and lessons from the industry rom writing comics for the Superman, Stranger Things and Star Wars franchises to his own original works like “The Plot,” “Wasted Space” and “Black Star Renegades” freelancer Michael Moreci (School of Professional Studies ‘07) has been creating adventures with original and established characters for over 15 years. The Daily spoke with Moreci about his career and what lessons he wants to impart on writers entering the industry.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. The Daily: As a fan of the comics genre, what is it like when you get that call or email saying you’re going to write for a property that you’ve been a fan of for many years? Moreci: It’s nerve racking. My early Star Wars work probably suffered from that intimidation factor, because it’s so big and you’re such a big fan of it and it’s so meaningful. Star Wars for me is such a profound thing, I think you eventually have to learn the ability to separate yourself. I know what
a Star Wars Story is, I’ve been living in that universe since I was like four years old. It’s been kind of liberating in a way to gain that perspective and I think it’s the same thing for anybody when they’re writing, whether you get the call to write Superman or the Teen
cal thing — because it’s not — then I think that you can reach a lot more people and make the art of writing way more accessible and way more digestible, where people can look at it and say ‘Oh, this is something I can do. This is not just obtainable, but it’s also something that I can actually sit down and see how it works and functions.’ And I love doing that for young writers and demystifying that process. It’s daunting to tell a story from beginning, middle, end, have character growth and have a consistent theme. If you can make that process all the more easy, that’s something I’m all for. It’s just a democratization of this craft.
“At some point just put all that stuff to the side and say, ‘Okay, this is, this is what I know.’” Titans or the Fantastic Four. It’s very frightening because there’s so much history and the stakes are so high because so many people have not only so much passion for these things but also so many expectations for these things. At some point just put all that stuff to the side and say, ‘Okay, this is, this is what I know.’ The Daily: Are there any characters or properties that you dream of writing for? Moreci: The Fantastic Four has always been something that I’ve loved since I was a kid. One of my favorite things is the Universal Monsters, like somehow being able to play in that sandbox with “Creature from the Black Lagoon” or “Dracula”... So there definitely are things that are still out there that I still have one eye toward, but for most of my time I’ve been lucky to pursue my own stuff. I think as I’ve grown and matured as a writer, it’s more about, ‘OK, what can I create, what can I do,’ and being judicious about writing things that I love because when you’re a
younger writer you’re more willing to write like anything that comes along.” The Daily: At the beginning of the pandemic, you published instructional writing tutorials on your website and you taught a Novel Writing course at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Why do you teach? Moreci: If you can demystify the process of writing as not some magical, mysti-
The Daily: What lessons have you learned from the process of writing, publishing and promoting your own work? Moreci: Writing, especially getting good at writing and making a career writing, takes a long time. February 19 marked my five year anniversary of being a full-time freelance writer. I was writing before then for somewhere around 10 years regularly for journalism, comics, and prose manuscripts. It just takes time and that sucks. It could be discouraging because you don’t know if you will make it. But I would rather someone pursue it, especially if they love it, and be encouraged knowing that it is most definitely a marathon and you should not feel like you failed just because you haven’t published your book or published your comic or become a best seller by X age or X date or X amount of years. That stuff is different for every single writer. I think that that’s part of the journey and part of the excitement — that you do it forever, more or less. ◊
“It’s daunting to tell a story from beginning, middle, end, have character growth and have a consistent theme.”
Photo courtesy of Chad Leverenz
Mak i ng Spac NU alum and researcher Verónica Dávila Ellis talks Latinx music, representation Written by Maria Ximena Aragon Designed by Emma Ruck
erónica Dávila Ellis (Weinberg Doctorate ’20) is a scholar of sound. The Puerto Rican native grew up surrounded by music, and wrote their dissertation at NU about t how Dominican música urbana reveals facets of identity, race and gender amongst women and queer performers. Today, Dávila Ellis is a postdoctoral fellow in Latin American and Latino/a Studies at Smith College and co-founder of the transfeminist pop culture podcast, “The Plátano Diaries.” The Daily sat down with the alum and researcher to discuss upcoming projects and the importance of Latinx representation in academic spaces and beyond.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. The Daily: You’re currently working on a Scalar project that will help listeners and readers navigate the sonic work of Dominican música urbana artists. What will that look like? Dávila Ellis: So Scalar is a digital platform that has an interactive text where people can read and also at the same time access multimedia or other sources. So the idea is that that project will accompany the academic book, and it will allow other audiences to also engage with the critical and theoretical work that I’m doing. Audiences can read my words and listen to the songs at the same time. It’s also a space where I’m
going to put a lot of the materials that I have been accumulating this past six years of research. The Daily: Where do you get the motivation to keep going with a project like this, especially right now during such an unpredictable time? Dávila Ellis: It’s important for me to make this accessible, especially thinking about the community that has helped me develop my research project, they’re probably not going to read my book or dissertation. I can’t pretend that that is going to completely pay the effort or the energy, and the resources that they have shared with me, but it’s a step in that direction. The idea is that it also emulates some sort
of community, right? A space where people can see themselves reflected when they can interact with the music. The Daily: Your work has also been published in media outlets. You’ve written about a range of topics, from the role of music in the ousting of the Puerto Rican governor in 2019 to accountability for artists such as Bad Bunny. Have you ever received criticism for an article? Dávila Ellis: I don’t think directly anyone has contradicted or challenged me. The annoying thing that happens is men trying to correct the things that I’m saying, which is connected to me being a feminist subject in the field researching popular music.
So I got a lot of the, ‘I don’t agree with this thing. But you are right with this,’ and then a long paragraph saying the same thing back to me, because men always want us to tell them that they’re right. The Daily: When you face judgment or challenges regarding your work, how do you keep moving forward? Dávila Ellis: Sometimes this work is not considered worthy of aca-
demic spaces. This is not only work around popular music and reggaeton, but about Latinx people in general. Our stories or experiences don’t tend to be welcome. Going back to community, going back to ‘Why am I doing this, why is this important?’ is what allows you to keep pushing through. I have a lot of privilege. So I’m just trying to use that privilege for something good to the extent that I can. I’m also not a savior, I’m not here to speak about everyone’s Caribbean experience, not at all. But it’s complicated. My family still does
not understand why I do what I do. But speaking about this music really unveils those class and racial dynamics that happen even in our own Latinx community. And that is why I’m doing this work, because I myself was raised, like, ‘Do not listen to this music, do not talk to these people.’ I’m like, ‘Wait, what? Why?’ Really diving into these cultural expressions allows us to talk about those dynamics. The Daily: What advice would you give to Latinx students who want to do research that
explores their identity? Dávila Ellis: Build your community. Look for professors, and researchers that have access to resources and spaces to hold you and support you. I think that was very important for my own trajectory. Insist that your voice and your perspective is important, because it is. It’s hard work. But it’s about challenging institutions, the status quo. We live in a country that is at war against us, so I think gather your people, gather strength and put your voice out there. ◊
Photos courtesy of Johan Gotera (top left), Verónica Dávila Ellis (top right), José Delpino (bottom left), and La Sombrilla Cuir (bottom center and right)
Written by The Monthly Staﬀ / Designed by Cynthia Zhang
AROUND THE WORLD From manga to movies, The Monthly’s staﬀ shares our international recommendations
n today’s increasingly global society, audiences have access to arts and entertainment from creatives in many countries. For our future-themed March issue, The Monthly staff has rounded up a list of nine recommendations — movies, manga, albums and more from around the world — that we think you’ll enjoy.
au” “Bacurau” can be enjoyed on two levels: (Br as a junky, fun gorefest and as an engaging azi parable about colonialism and inequality. Centering on l) the citizens of a very small Brazilian town as intruders invade, the movie transforms into a pulpy, gloriously bloody thriller when directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles drop the curtain halfway through. Go in blind, and the experience will be a rollercoaster.
“El Mal Quere
Inspired by a 13th century novel, Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía’s second studio album takes you on an emotional journey through a toxic relationship that transcends language. The first and last songs on the album, “Malamente” and “A Ningún Hombre,” reveal that dichotomy.
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In Thomas Vinterberg’s Danish film, Mads Mikkelsen gives a phenomenal performance as a history teacher struggling with depression. Desperate to feel alive again, he and three coworkers embark on a “social experiment,” consuming small amounts of alcohol throughout the day. The result is a joyful tribute to the pleasures of drinking that also doesn’t shy away from the tragedies of hitting the bottle too hard.
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Majimbo is a charismatic comedian who’s received stamps of approval from Rihanna bo m i and Beyoncé. She’s best known j for short, humorous Instagram videos Ma a s where she dons ‘90s sunglasses, snacks on l E chips and laughs throughout her commentary on everyday dilemmas (“I didn’t ask for work, work came to me. You can’t come to my territory with your demands, this is my house!”).
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With titles that remind you of the Crayola crayons you used as a kid, Colombian artist J Balvin’s fourth studio album is a must for a (post-COVID) party playlist. The album’s artwork was designed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, and the music videos are just as colorful as Balvin’s sound.
hi ” (C
This psychological thriller follows a group of children who accidentally witness a murder. Constant twists and turns unfold over 12 riveting episodes, brought to life by a talented young cast. Watch with a friend — you’ll want someone to share in your sympathy and outrage and shock, and to process the ending with.
” (Puerto Rico)
do “El Último Tour del Mun
Bad Bunny’s latest experiment with Spanish punk, rock and hip-hop pushes both the singer and listeners out of their comfort zone. Where else could you listen to a workout jam like “BOOKER T” and then a Puerto Rican Christmas song right after?
: Love Is
War” (J ap
Aka Akasaka’s manga is a rom-com that mixes razor-sharp humor with surprising emotional sincerity to form a perfect concoction. Following two teen geniuses and their convoluted mind game war to force the other to confess their crush, the series turns common rom-com tropes into a series of high-pressure farces that are as suspenseful as they are hysterical.
a& Sabrina Cruz’s YouTube Fri channel is perfect for those en who love going down Wikipedia ds rabbit holes. Cruz and her friends have (C an a knack for educational yet entertaining ad content, whether that’s exploring the ethics a) and safety of facial recognition tech by teaching an AI to recognize K-pop stars or asking why dating apps suck while creating a dating simulation for soup. Subscribe, and you’re sure to both learn and laugh.
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“WandaVision” breaks new ground for the Marvel Cinematic Universe
l Studios Courtesy of Marve
he 2019 release “Avengers: Endgame” was a full-blown cultural sensation, a movie that made defending against spoilers feel like life-or-death stakes. After waiting with friends in a line that winded along the halls and down the stairs of the AMC movie theater, I remember watching with awe, but also an acute awareness of my lack of knowledge with the franchise. I had only watched a “Spider-Man: Homecoming” here and a “Guardians of the Galaxy” there, so when I saw all sides join forces against Thanos, I felt a bit lost. At the start of the Disney+ series “WandaVision,” the feeling of being a Marvel outsider persisted, and was perhaps even more glaring. I only knew the titular characters Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and Vision, played by Paul Bettany, from their scenes in “Infinity War” and “Endgame.” Nine episodes later, “WandaVision” had me hooked through its creative approach to storytelling, its emotional depth and cultural resonance in a time when little else is capturing the public’s imagination. “WandaVision” is set after the events of “Endgame,” a curious timeline given Vision’s death in the previous film. Also
striking — the episodes take on a sitcom format, each one emulating a show from a distinct television era. As the styles progress through time, it becomes clear that something is amiss in the idyllic town of Westview. With its stylized sitcom format, “WandaVision” takes a bold approach when it comes to its worldbuilding (or, in this case, town-building). The show establishes its rules early on, from the extent of Wanda’s powers to the passage of time. The first episodes are so straightforward and consistent that the show initially seems out-of-place in the Marvel franchise. When those rules start to crumble and the show zooms out from the confined space of Wanda’s home to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, “WandaVision” shines the brightest. Even without major action scenes, the middle episodes of “WandaVision” use jarring twists and turns to disorient viewers and explore the show’s familiar characters in ways Marvel couldn’t on the big screen. The sheer amount of theorizing among Marvel fans the past couple months may seem excessive, but “WandaVision” plays right to that engagement with its suspense. The week-to-week intrigue helps explain
why “WandaVision” has so much weight in the present moment, but its emotional intimacy with its characters establishes the show’s lasting legacy in the crowded MCU. As implied in the title, the show centers on the connection between Wanda and Vision and brings out their emotions through stunning dialogue and the evershifting backdrop. Most refreshingly, “WandaVision” gives its characters no escape in confronting the most agonizing questions and no choice but to find their true selves. What’s next for the MCU? A couple weeks off, and then another Disney+ show in “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.” Movies “Black Widow’’ and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” also loom on the horizon. Those titles sound enticing on their own, but the success of “WandaVision’’ brightens Marvel’s future. It paves the way as the first major Marvel Disney+ mini-series and expands Marvel’s storytelling to a new medium. The show signals that even after the excitement of “Endgame” and the 23-movie “Infinity Saga,” Marvel still has energy, emotion and more stories to tell. What’s next for me? It feels like a good time to check out those past Marvel titles and get caught up. ◊
Former “Degrassi” star shines on new EP
n October 19, 2007, the “Degrassi: The Next Generation” episode “It’s Tricky” aired on The N, and countless American millennials and zoomers were introduced to Aubrey Graham, the rapper. In the episode, Graham plays Jimmy, whose girlfriend Ashley enlists his help for her set at their high school talent showcase. The performance goes in an unexpected direction; the audience heckles Ashley, understandably so, considering her song is trash. Then, Jimmy jumps in with a surprisingly awesome rap freestyle, completely dominating the stage. I bring up this episode of “Degrassi” for a few reasons. The first is that I am thinking about “Degrassi” and what an enormous cultural milestone it was pretty much every minute of every day. The second is because I was reminded of Jimmy’s rap, and the refreshing enthusiasm he brought to it, while listening to Drake’s recent extended play, “Scary Hours 2.” Watching “It’s Tricky,” even if you had no idea that Graham had at that point already released two little heard mixtapes under the moniker Drake, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to hear that the child star was pivoting away from acting and towards music. Graham was never a standout in Degrassi’s cast, and by the time the episode aired, he’d been sleepwalking through his scenes for two seasons. But during the rap, his performance snaps into focus. The verse isn’t amazing, and you probably wouldn’t peg him as one day becoming arguably the most successful rapper of his generation. But his talent and potential is clear, and you can tell that he loves what he’s doing. “Scary Hours 2” is technically a sequel to 2018’s “Scary Hours,” but the main thing the two have in common is that they’re really warm-ups to actual album drops: the original “Scary Hours” came out five months before
— by Wilson Chapman Drake’s blockbuster “Scorpion,” while this EP is essentially a consolation prize for fans waiting for his followup “Certified Lover Boy,” after it was indefinitely delayed from its original January release date. The projects end up being completely different though, at least in how they succeed in their goals of building up hype for the main attraction. “Scary Hours” included two songs, the forgettable “Diplomatic Immunity,” and the very successful but very boring “God’s Plan.” This underwhelming showing was a foretelling for how dull and lazy “Scorpion” ended up being, an overlong retread of material Drake covered before that, one or two good songs aside, felt completely phoned in. For longtime listeners of the artist, it was easy to view it as a sign that his heart wasn’t in it anymore, that the passion young Aubrey Graham felt while rapping in the gymnasium of the Degrassi Community School was dead. “Scary Hours 2,” however, is a different story, even if it might not look that way at first glance. The three songs on the EP are largely familiar territory for Drake, in terms of production, lyrics, subject matter, and even collaborators. There’s the destined to be number one single “What’s Next,” the relatively muted “Wants and Needs,” and the freestyle cut “Lemon Pepper Freestyle.” All of the songs focus on being rich and famous in some way, which has been Drake’s main subject matter for several album cycles now. In other words, they’re songs Drake could perform in his sleep at this point in his career.
The difference is that this time, Drake isn’t sleeping; his performances on the EP feels sharper than most of his recent output, and that energy does wonders for making the material feel fresh. “Wants and Needs” is mostly a showcase for Lil Baby, whose frenetic verse overshadows everything else on the song, but Drake is in fine form on the other tracks. “What’s Next” is a fairly typical “I’m the biggest star in the world” opener for a project, but Drake’s fast and energetic delivery paired with the memorable synth production makes it bang. The highlight is the excellent “Lemon Pepper Freestyle,” which combines a solid showing from Photo courtesy of OVO Rick Ross, one of his best collaborators, with a great five-minute long blockbuster verse from Drake that combines his musings on fame with reflections on his relationship with his young son. “Scary Hours 2” isn’t exactly a reinvention for Drake, or anywhere close to his greatest achievement, but it is an encouraging sign of what’s to come for the rapper. Between the EP and the solid lead single “Laugh Now, Cry Later” from last year, I’m far more optimistic for “Certified Lover Boy” than I would be if my last taste of Drake had been his anemic mixtape “Dark Lane Demo Tapes.” The “Degrassi” loyalist in me will always follow the erstwhile Jimmy Brooks wherever he leads, but “Scary Hours 2” gives me hope that after a few fallow years, he’s bringing his A-game along with him. ◊