Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Sept. 24 2016 11:40 PM

Watch Obama’s Moving Speech at the Opening of the National Museum of African American History

President Obama spoke today at the opening ceremonies for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the newest addition to the National Mall, which opened Saturday. Former president George W. Bush, who signed the bill to create the museum, also addressed the crowd, describing slavery as America’s original sin and noting that “a great nation does not hide its history.” But the first black president speaking at the opening of a national museum dedicated to African American History was bound to be a historic moment in its own right, and Obama did not disappoint. He opened with a heartbreaking example of the ways America has chosen to tell its own story over the years, describing a block of stone that is now on display in the new museum:

On top of this stone sits a historical marker, weathered by the ages, and that marker reads “General Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay spoke from this slave block during the year 1830.” I want you to think about this. Consider what this artifact tells us about history, about how it’s told, and about what can be cast aside.
On a stone where day after day, for years, men and women were torn from their spouse or their child, shackled, and bound, and bought, and sold, and bid like cattle, on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over 1,000 bare feet. For a long time, the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history, with a plaque, were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men. And that block, I think, explains why this museum is so necessary, because that same object reframed, put in context, tells us so much more.

Sept. 24 2016 8:51 PM

Bill Nunn, Do The Right Thing’s Radio Raheem, Has Died at 62

Bill Nunn, the actor best known for playing Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece Do the Right Thing, has died at the age of 62, Variety reports. Nunn was a regular in Lee’s movies, beginning with 1988’s School Daze. Lee saluted the actor on Instagram, saying he was “now resting in power.”

Though Nunn worked constantly over the years, most recently appearing in USA’s Sirens, his greatest role was as Radio Raheem, the boombox-carrying Public Enemy fan whose death at the hands of police sparks the conflagration that ends Do the Right Thing. He has the single most memorable scene in the film, a restaging of Robert Mitchum’s celebrated monologue about love and hate in Charles Laughton’s 1955 film The Night of the Hunter. While the original scene was infused with menace, Lee and Nunn reimagined it in a way that made Raheem seem charming, even with Mitchum’s tattoos replaced by brass knuckles and Nunn throwing punches at the camera. Mitchum was telling the story for cynical reasons; Raheem seemed to sincerely believe that love would inevitably conquer hate.

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Nunn’s screen presence was mesmerizing, and he used it to great effect throughout his career, but this scene was something more. His version of Mitchum’s monologue—along with his death scene, which quotes Billy Wilder—was the opening bell for a new era in black filmmaking, one that would take what it wanted from white cinema history, remix and recontextualize it, and use it to tell uniquely black stories.

Sept. 24 2016 6:30 PM

Paramount Discovers Dangers of Letting 4-Year-Olds Develop Movies, Takes $115 Million Write-Down

Years ago, reporters assigned to the “financial catastrophes caused by four-year-olds” beat were mostly chasing broken gumball machines and stolen allowances. The demographic gained a much greater ability to wreak fiscal havoc with the development of in-app purchases, but, as the Wall Street Journal reports, one budding young film mogul has set a record that will likely stand for a long time. On Wednesday, Paramount Pictures’ parent company Viacom revised its earnings-per-share expectations to account for “a programming impairment charge of $115 million in its filmed entertainment segment in its fiscal fourth quarter related to the expected performance of an unreleased film.” This is Wall Street speak for, roughly, “We don’t even remember making this Monster Trucks movie. It just sort of had its own momentum after a while, you know? It felt like it was happening in some other department of the studio. No one wanted to be the first person to say what a bad idea it was, and looking at how much money we were spending gave us a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs so eventually we just stopped looking. And now we’ve got this thing, this film, quote-unquote, and oh my God, have you seen the trailer? We’re all going to get fired. We all deserve to be fired. But we’ll probably fire the marketing department instead.”

Sept. 23 2016 4:00 PM

The Instant (Genius) Way to Make Your Juices & Booze-Free Drinks Better

This post originally appeared in Genius Recipes from Food52.

If you’re only shaking your bottle of bitters into Manhattans—or you don’t own a bottle at all—you’re missing out on some of the elixir’s most impressive tricks. Let’s fix that!

You can apply bitters much more widely than you probably realize, because they aren’t the type of ingredient to just beach themselves on top of everything else. Instead, they wriggle in and help existing flavors bloom, much like a subtle jolt of salt or acid or heat can.

Sept. 23 2016 3:30 PM

The Story of John le Carré and His Father, the Anti-George Smiley

When reading a novelist’s memoir, it’s easy to retroactively psychoanalyze their characters through the lens of the author’s childhood. Generally this is inadvisable; fiction is a glorious playground, which can be explored free of whatever one’s parents did or failed to do. But the true lover of John le Carré’s work must make an exception for his memoir The Pigeon Tunnel.

The towering, bombastic, infuriatingly charismatic Ronnie, le Carré’s terrible (and mostly blessedly absentee) father, is the the chain that runs through each of the slightly disjointed tales that make up the book, despite le Carré’s desire to confine him to a single chapter. “I didn’t want him elbowing his way to the top of the hill,” le Carré explains, but there he arrives, just the same. He describes his father as “a crisis addict, a performance addict, a shameless pulpit orator and a scene-grabber.” Ronnie beat up his mother, and he beat up le Carré himself, and spent much of his life in and out of prison (rubbing elbows with, among other notorious London lowlifes of the era, the Kray twins).

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The case has been made by many writers, including le Carré himself, that his heroes (especially the great George Smiley) are largely a reaction to James Bond, who le Carré once called “a neo-fascist gangster.” Smiley is short, fat, and bald, repeatedly cuckolded by his young and beautiful wife. Karla, Smiley’s antagonist, is himself an ascetic monk of a man, pulling no triggers, presiding instead like a puppet-master over a vast network of spies and operatives. In a genre where our hero typically tricks the villain into monologuing, it’s notable that Smiley’s first encounter with Karla (there will be only two) results in Smiley himself monologuing disastrously while Karla sits in dead silence.

Certainly an anti-Bond, then, but the memoir reveals him also to be an anti-Ronnie. It’s Ronnie who lived in hotels and squats, juggling identities and leaving secret families and girlfriends in his wake, Ronnie who drove fast cars and was quick with his fists and his verbal sparring. It’s no accident that George Smiley fails on every level to rise to the standards we have come to expect from our spy heroes. The most tense moments in the le Carré oeuvre involve, at most, riffling through a desk or replacing one document with another. Smiley does much of his work in the back of a taxi, or sitting at home, deep in thought.

Generally speaking, people who dislike le Carré novels find them boring. I too find them boring, but gloriously so. You may pick up The Pigeon Tunnel in hopes of learning more about le Carré’s own background in intelligence, and you will be mildly disappointed. His novels already contain anything of interest one might want on that score, and what remains are the dullest realities of espionage: the interminable waiting in uninteresting towns, the attempt to build a relationship with low-level functionaries who may or may not someday be of use, years of tedium punctuated with single moments of abject terror. Le Carré’s own career in the field ended when his identity was burned by Kim Philby, the notorious member of the Cambridge Five, an incident to which he devotes very little space. More delicious is the detail that in 1987, in Moscow, a mutual friend offered to introduce le Carré to Philby, who was then both dying and engaged in writing the second volume of his memoirs. Philby had hoped that le Carré would help him do so, a suggestion so absurd that le Carré feels no need to emphasize it other than a flat “I declined to meet him.”

His friendships with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and his deeper relationship with Alec Guinness receive similarly brief air time. Le Carré was concerned when Burton was cast as Alec Leamas: “How on earth will this beautiful, thunderous, baritone Welsh voice and this overpowering Triple Alpha Male talent fit inside the character?” His relief while watching Burton undergo the transformation of shrinking himself down to the role is palpable; however bankable, a le Carré hero must leave bombast and machismo at the door. Le Carré knows plenty about the trappings of toxic masculinity, and has rejected it.

The Pigeon Tunnel, fundamentally, is an exercise in self-knowledge; the audience being himself as much as  devoted followers like me. Even the title underscores this point, deriving from a shooting range in Monte Carlo stocked with game birds to which Ronnie once took le Carré while on a gambling binge. The pigeons who were not killed by the guns of the shooters promptly returned to the tunnels that confined them, despite having every chance to fly off.

“Quite why this image has haunted me for so long,” le Carré writes, “is something the reader is perhaps better able to judge than I am.”


Sept. 23 2016 2:30 PM

The New Concert Film Let Hope Rise Is Pitching Itself as a “Theatrical Worship Experience.” What Does That Mean?

Not many bands as successful as Hillsong United require introductions. The group performs in packed arenas all over the world, and its albums debut near the top of Billboard charts. “We’re the biggest band you’ve never heard of,” singer Jad Gillies says early on in Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, a slick new concert film that gives Hillsong the same flattering big-screen treatment that Katy Perry and One Direction have received in recent years.

Hillsong United is a Christian worship band, which means it plays music for listeners to sing along to as a form of spiritual devotion. That’s what Let Hope Rise attempts, too. “This film is intended as a theatrical worship experience,” reads a message onscreen as the movie begins. “The filmmakers welcome your participation.” During musical performances, the lyrics are projected karaoke-style to encourage theater crowds to sing along. “These songs are written for people to sing, not just to listen to,” band leader Joel Houston tells the camera at one point.

Sept. 22 2016 3:38 PM

Listen to the Title Track from the Weeknd’s Next Album, Featuring Daft Punk and a New Hairstyle for The Weeknd

Abel Tesfaye, better known as the Weeknd, has released a new collaboration with French electronic duo Daft Punk entitled “Starboy.” The song not only serves as the title track for the Weeknd’s upcoming album, a follow-up to last year’s Beauty Behind the Madness, it also marks the first new music from Daft Punk since 2013. Listen via Apple Music here:

The title track’s release is timely, considering it name drops a certain A-lister who is currently in the middle of a high-profile divorce: “Brad Pitt/ Legend of the fall, took the year like a bandit.” Almost certainly just a coincidence, but—still. Tesfaye also unveiled the new album’s cover art on social media, revealing that he has changed up his signature hairstyle, something which is newsworthy in and of itself.

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Starboy drops Nov. 25.

Sept. 22 2016 12:44 PM

Michelle Obama Does a Spot-On Barack Impression, Describes Her Husband as “Swagalicious”

Many have tried their hands at a Barack Obama impression over the past eight years—Jay Pharoah, Fred Armisen, and Reggie Brown, to name a few—but it’s hard to argue that anyone has more material to work from than Michelle Obama. The First Lady and savvy pop culture critic stopped by the Late Show to show off her best imitation of her husband for Stephen Colbert, explaining that she, Sasha, and Malia have all gotten pretty good at imitating Barack’s mannerisms.

Michelle explained to Colbert that the president can get a little professorial around the dinner table—that is, when he’s not gossiping. She also recounted some of her biggest faux pas while in the White House, like mispronouncing names, as well as a few favorite moments. Oh, what we wouldn’t give to have a sleepover at Buckingham Palace.

Sept. 22 2016 12:44 PM

Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?

This article originally appeared in the fall/autumn of 2012. We’ve reprinted the post for the first day of the season, below.

It’s the first week of fall—or perhaps I should say “autumn.” How did autumn become the only season with two names?

Before it was autumn and fall, it was harvest. While the modern names of winter and summer have been around for more than 1000 years, the names of fall and spring are more recent—and less constant. This is partly because the two seasons were long viewed as secondary to summer and winter. As late as the 18th century, English speakers were less likely to think of the year as having four seasons, focusing instead on the coldest and warmest portions of the year. Even when they spoke of fall, they couldn’t agree when, exactly, it took place. In the 17th and 18th centuries, dictionaries by both Thomas Blount and Samuel Johnson noted that some thought that fall began in August and ended in November, while others contested that it began in September (at the equinox) and ended in December (with the solstice).

Sept. 22 2016 12:24 PM

Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X Is Exactly as Absurd and Cartoonish a Battle of the Generations as You’d Imagine

Survivor is, as Survivor would have it, a game of strategy. It’s not only the players, who have to outwit, outplay, and outlast one another; it’s the show itself that has to figure out a way to get attention, even as it begins its 33rd season. This year, Survivor has decided to troll the hot-take industry and maybe stoke ratings by splitting its 20 contestants into age groups, and then milking stereotypes about those age groups for all they are worth. Welcome to Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, which premiered Wednesday night.

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