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Review: ‘Get Out’ Is a Funny, Brilliantly Subversive Horror Film

Like so many horror films, Get Out is exploring the creepy menace of the suburbs. Usually, similar slasher movies exist to puncture the false veneer of safety that comes with a white picket fence, but in Get Out, the threatening vibe is present from minute one. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is about to meet the parents of his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) for the first time and is nervous when he realizes she hasn’t told them that he’s black. After a long drive, their manse turns out to be exactly what you might imagine—giant, secluded, pristine, and filled with trinkets from trips around the world.

Rose’s father Dean (Bradley Whitford) is a little too eager to call Chris “my man,” her mother Missy (Catherine Keener) is icy and standoffish, and her brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) is weirdly aggressive, but there’s nothing that unusual going on at first. Peele layers in a familiar awkwardness before slowly introducing elements of dread. The house’s maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and the groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson), both black, have strangely placid demeanors; Missy is a psychiatrist who keeps offering to hypnotize Chris (just to help him stop smoking, you understand); and, naturally, there’s a locked basement no one’s allowed to go into (just a nasty case of mold, of course).

It’s best to know as little as possible about Get Out’s second and third acts. Peele’s plotting is as crisp as his knack for visual storytelling, and he doles out tidbits of information with glee, letting the audience slowly figure out the particulars of Rose’s family while they guess at just how deep the malevolence goes. Chris is on edge from minute one, understandably; behind the family’s friendly surface is the kind of passive prejudice he obviously feared from the get-go. The delight comes in watching how Peele heightens that into real terror. Get Out is clearly playing on the discomfort a young African American man might have in visiting a largely white community—something rarely explored by the horror genre.

There are few more frightening monsters to conjure than racism, after all. It’s a topic the genre has brushed up against—with the black protagonist of Night of the Living Dead, a rare sight in 1968, or in Bernard Rose’s 1992 classic Candyman, in which the titular figure in part represented America’s history of slavery and repression. But racism is still a surprisingly uncommon subject matter, and Peele addresses a more insidious fear—of the fallacy of America being a post-racial society, and of the nightmares one can imagine under that benign surface.

Kaluuya, a British actor who was extraordinary in the Black Mirror episode “Fifteen Million Merits” and, more recently, played Emily Blunt’s stoic partner in Sicario, is terrific in the lead role. Williams excels as Rose, weaponizing the lack of self-awareness she deploys so well on HBO’s Girls. The entire cast is perfectly restrained, save for maybe Jones, who feels unhinged from the start, and the delightful Lil Rel Howery, who plays Chris’s friend Rod, a TSA agent with the kind of moxie and deductive powers one might not expect from an employee of that particular agency. He’s a vehicle for the film’s biggest laugh lines—but Get Out is funny throughout, wringing jokes from even the tensest moments.

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Denzel Washington’s Enduring Stardom – The Atlantic

Proof of that stardom is the simple fact that Washington made Fences, a project that has long been ignored by Hollywood because its author, August Wilson, had always insisted on hiring an African American director to adapt his Pulitzer Prize-winning play to film. In 1991, The New York Times reported on Wilson’s efforts to convince Paramount Pictures to hire someone like Spike Lee, Gordon Parks, or Charles Burnett—legendary names in the industry—and the studio’s intransigence on the issue, despite the involvement of A-lister Eddie Murphy.

In the intervening 25 years, the script bounced around the industry and was reworked by Wilson before his death in 2005. In 2009, the producer Scott Rudin offered it to Washington, who agreed but wanted to mount it as a Broadway revival first. Even after the play’s short Broadway run in 2010, it took years for Washington (who had directed two other films, Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters) to make the movie, and what he produced feels reverent and intimate. Fences is a hallowed piece of playwriting, and the film radiates respect for Wilson’s words, stripping away almost everything (from elaborate sets to camera movements) to live in its long, winding monologues and shocking, dense bursts of exposition and plot.

Fences at times feels like a showcase—a preservation of Wilson’s most famous work that is truest to his vision, rather than its director’s. But it’s also a showcase for Washington as an actor, a chance for him to channel his incredible charisma into a part that slyly comments on it. Troy Maxson, the protagonist of Fences, is a charming motormouth who spends much of the film holding court on various topics, some trivial, others not. His magnetism belies his malevolence. Troy is a seemingly settled, stable family man, but he boils with resentment, real and imagined, over the errant path of his life and the athletic achievements of his son, who he fears will eclipse his own past as a baseball prospect.

There aren’t many actors who could pull off what Washington attempts in Fences—to make a stagey film that’s profoundly un-cinematic in a lot of ways and that leans heavily on its performances. There’s little for Washington to hide behind. It’d be so easy for the film to feel inauthentic, like a museum piece in which monologues are delivered direct to camera just for some archival purpose. But Fences feels like a living, breathing work of character, a granular examination of a man’s passions and insecurities, and, especially as it races to its conclusion, the story of a woman (Troy’s wife Rose, played by Davis) who finally begins to acknowledge and push back against her husband’s stifling flaws.

Fences simply could not have been produced without Washington’s sway, but more importantly, it’s a film that succeeds (and was nominated for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay along with its leads) because of Washington’s understanding and care for the material. In recent years, his movie appearances had largely concentrated on action films and thrillers, a genre in which he has always excelled—projects like The Equalizer, The Magnificent Seven, and 2 Guns. Fences was a departure only in that it was the first serious non-genre work he had taken on since Flight in 2012 (which led to his last Oscar nomination).

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Can Marine Le Pen Win the French Presidency?

Indeed, finding common ground with other members of the government would prove difficult for Le Pen—especially in comparison to competitors like Macron, whose centrist, business-orientated agenda could be more appealing to swing votes on the left and right than the FN’s populist agenda. Still, Le Pen’s rebranding has proven effective in communities previously marginalized by the FN. The party has actively pursued more progressive causes such as promoting women’s rights and gay rights, as well as protecting France’s Jewish community from anti-Semitism—often by presenting Muslim immigration as a threat to all three.

“We do not want to live under the rule or threat of Islamic fundamentalism,” she told supporters in Lyon, and accused Muslim immigrants of “looking to impose on us gender discrimination in public places, full body veils or not, prayer rooms in the workplace, prayers in the streets, huge mosques.”

The FN has found common cause with far-right parties throughout Europe who share its anti-Islam and anti-globalist agenda, as well as other governments. Le Pen has praised both Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, noting that if she were elected, the three leaders “would be good for world peace.” Le Pen has been a vocal proponent of rapprochement with Russia. In addition to rejecting the notion of Russia’s actions in Ukraine’s Crimea as an invasion, she also condemned U.S. and EU sanctions on Moscow as “completely stupid.” The FN received an 11-million euro (about $11.6 million) loan from the Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank in 2014, and Le Pen has reportedly asked Russia for another loan to finance her current presidential bid, citing French banks’ refusal to lend.

Fredrik Wesslau, the director of the Wider Europe Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told me in January that Moscow’s ideological affinity with the FN is what attracts it to most of Europe’s far-right populist parties.

“They see a country that’s willing to stick up for socially conservative rights, that’s embraced authoritarian populism, that’s also xenophobic, in particular anti-Islam, which is something that many of these parties can relate to,” Wesslau said. “There’s a lot of overlap.”

And while the FN leader isn’t the only French presidential candidate to support better relations with Russia (Fillon, the center-right candidate, has also supported reconciliation), reports of Russian media coverage favoring Le Pen against other contenders has sparked concerns Moscow might try to interfere in France’s elections similar to the way it did in the U.S. elections.

But for all the challenges Le Pen faces as an untested leader of historically fringe party, one that is often overlooked is her role as France’s sole female candidate. Women have historically been underrepresented in French politics, with female lawmakers making up 25 percent of the National Assembly and 27 percent of the Senate. Édith Cresson became the first and only woman to serve as prime minister in 1991 under President François Mitterrand, but suffered low approval ratings and lost the post after less than a year—a loss some attribute to misogynist attitudes among the Socialist party elites. Socialist party member Ségolène Royal made French history in 2007 when she became the first woman to be nominated as a presidential candidate by a major party. She lost to Nicolas Sarkozy in the second round.

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Review: Netflix’s ‘I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore’ Is a Dark, Goofy Neo-Noir

The protagonist, Ruth, is a nurse living a fairly dull life in an unnamed town. Blair takes special care to focus on the tiny, insignificant details that clearly weigh on her, whether it’s someone cutting in front of her at the supermarket, or a local dog constantly using her front yard as a bathroom. When Ruth’s home is burglarized, the loss of her possessions seems to matter less than the sheer indignity of the matter. The local cops do little more than take a report, leading her to decide to take the matter in her own hands.

But I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is less like Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down than it sounds, at least for most of its running time. Ruth’s confused mission is largely focused on finding her stuff at local pawn shops and taking it back; she’s more interested in reclaiming a little pride than in finding her laptop. She enlists her weirdo neighbor Tony (played by Elijah Wood) as backup, drawn to (if disgusted by) his shamelessness in letting his dog defecate on her property.

Tony is the kind of neighbor you’d probably try to avoid interacting with too much if he lived near you; he has a collection of nunchucks and ninja stars but little social aptitude. But he proves a perfect companion for Ruth, and is eager to use her quest for some ineffable sort of justice as an outlet for his own boundless rage. They’re an odd pair of heroes to root for, and there is something darkly alluring about watching them run amok. Ruth finally secures some small moments of petty triumph—that is, until she meets the shady perpetrators of her burglary and things really descend into chaos.

Blair started out as an actor working with his childhood friend Saulnier, the American indie-horror director who expertly deploys very realistic, very shocking scenes of violence in films like Green Room and Blue Ruin. So I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore’s eventual nightmarish turn makes sense, and there’s certainly something to be said for the bloody creativity on display. But as the film goes on, it gets hard to figure out just what kind of a larger point Blair is looking to make. Is Ruth a modern-day Travis Bickle, similarly angry at society but far less adept at resorting to violence? If so, her heart doesn’t really seem to be in it by the time the stakes get truly deadly.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is most effective as a grumpy, shambolic comedy, a weird buddy picture for Lynskey and Wood that sees the former’s character dabbling in brutish selfishness and the latter’s enjoying a rare chance at a normal human friendship. It’s less interesting as a gory slapstick thriller, but the ending is memorable and Blair’s skill at directing action is undeniable. Still, the film perhaps works best of all as an unexpected treatise on the state of American manners in 2017—and as a story in which the real villain is humans’ collective lack of empathy.

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The Atlantic’s Big Question: Reader Poll

We asked readers to answer our question for the December issue: What was the most significant event to happen on a holiday? Vote for your favorite response below, and we’ll publish the results of the poll in the next issue.

Then, submit your answer to our January/February 2018 question for a chance to appear in the magazine and the next reader poll.

Create your survey with SurveyMonkey

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Who Will Win at the 2017 Oscars?

So keep all that in mind. As always, I obviously cannot condone any form of gambling, and will in no way consider it my fault if anyone happens to lose money based on my advice. Anyone who makes a little scratch, by contrast, and might be inclined to share it with their Oscar Whisperer, will find me easy enough to track down. Those curious about my own end-of-the-year awards, some of which are notably eccentric, can find them here.

A still from La La Land (Lionsgate / Summit)

Best Picture

Nominees: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight

This has long been, and remains, La La Land’s race to lose. It’s become fashionable to lament that this is a bad thing and it would be better if Moonlight were to win instead. There are perhaps good arguments to be made on this score, but most of the arguments being made aren’t very good.

It is without question a promising sign that Moonlight, a movie about the romance between two black men coming of age in inner-city Miami, directed by a black man, is not only a Best Picture nominee but a genuine contender to win. This is especially true given the Academy’s much-noted shortcomings over the last couple of years.

But the widespread critique that La La Land is “only” the frontrunner because it is about Hollywood’s love for itself dramatically shortchanges Damien Chazelle’s film, which is a tremendously ambitious undertaking on its own terms, novel and nostalgic in equal measure. This is not The Artist. Should La La Land come away with the statue, as I strongly suspect it will, it will mean nothing other than that it was a terrific film.

If you’re looking for the upset, definitely go with Moonlight. If you’re looking for a really big upset, try Manchester by the Sea or Hidden Figures. If you want an upset even bigger than that, buy a lottery ticket.

What will win: La La Land

What ought to win: Arrival

Damien Chazelle on the set of La La Land (Dale Robinette / Lionsgate / Summit)

Best Director

Nominees: Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea), Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

The big surprise here, of course, is that Mel Gibson was nominated, despite the facts that a) Hacksaw Ridge was good but not great; and b) not so long ago, Gibson had a very-well-earned reputation as a depraved maniac. But Hollywood can be forgiving, especially if you have the right friends.

In any case, Mel will not be repeating his Braveheart feat by taking home the actual statue. Here, again, the safe money is on Chazelle who, at 32, is already filling up his trophy case. For those who want to split their picture/director votes, Jenkins and Lonergan both have a shot here. Just not a very good one.

Which seems like as good a time as any—and no, it won’t be the last—to express my unhappiness that Arrival, the best film of the year, is not really in the running for any of the major awards. My best explanation for this is that the film ultimately found itself betwixt and between: too big to be the kind of arty film that critics love to champion, but not big enough (its domestic box office was almost exactly $100 million) to force its way into the conversation, à la Avatar, in a “the people have spoken” fashion. Regardless, it’s terrific. Go see it if you haven’t already.

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Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean, and Migos Start the Song of the Summer Race With the Surprising ‘Slide’

But today brings the mostly good news that Ocean has not entirely decided to withhold his talents—a voice that imparts both feeling and attitude, an adventuresome ear, a smart and funny lyrical sensibility—from the radio race. He’s paired up with Calvin Harris, the Scottish EDM star famous for unsubtle but irresistible Top 40 fare like “This Is What You Came For” (his 2016 summer smash, featuring Rihanna) and “We Found Love” (his 2011 summer smash, featuring, again, Rihanna). Rounding out the bill are two-thirds of Migos, the Atlanta rap group enjoying breakthrough national success in 2017 with the tricky-fun album Culture and the No. 1 hit “Bad & Boujee.”

Harris’s knack for consolidating popular trends and nudging them ever-so-slightly forward is on display here, with the beat for “Slide” sucking in Bruno Mars’s recent revivalist funk and Justin Bieber’s airy tropical house for a blend that will only reveal its full potential when heard on the beach. One of Ocean’s latter-day signatures, a squeaky manipulated voice, opens the track with the couplet “I might empty my bank account / And buy that boy with a pipe,” apparently referring to a Picasso painting he wants on his wall.*

The pairing of artists here is notable more for than musical reasons. Asked about the rapper Makonnen who’d just come out as gay, Migos said it seemed “fucked up” and “wack” that he’d previously put on a tough, streetwise persona. The group later gave an apology that said they were fine with gays but that didn’t quite address the stereotypes they’d seemed to endorse. In any case, they are now on a track with Frank Ocean, who shook hip-hop with a 2012 admission of an affair with a man—and who has since scrambled all sorts of expectations about culture, machismo, and sex.

Migos themselves sound great, the stickiness of their distinctive flows suddenly plainer than ever over such a sturdy and sunny beat. Ocean’s verses seem to cryptically, wearily talk about the moment at the end of a night in the club when the lights come up and you see who you might take home; Migos’s lyrics are explicit boasts of wining and dining and heterosexual screwing around the world. The divides between Ocean, Migos, and Harris’s sensibilities couldn’t be clearer, but the song is a reminder of pop’s power to make very different elements slide together.

* This article originally misquoted Ocean’s lyrics as “buy that boy a wooden pipe.” We regret the error.

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Why Are They ‘Stars’?

It makes so much sense to refer to certain kinds of celebrities as “stars.” At their heights, those people inspire the rest of us. They shine, larger than life, above us, and around us. They suggest, in their insistent omnipresence, a certain order to the world. To see the stars—or, more specifically, to believe in them, taxonomically—is to endorse a notion that the people before us on our screens, far from us and yet so close, exist, as the author Jeanine Basinger puts it, “on some plane between ours and that of the gods.”

But: Why are they “stars,” specifically? Why is Hollywood’s Walk of Fame populated by pentagrams of pale pink, rather than some other arbitrary shape? Why is it “stars” who are, obviously and incorrectly, Just Like Us?

The answer has to do with Ovid. And Shakespeare. And Thomas Edison. And Mary Pickford. Stars are stars, certainly, because they sparkle and shine—because, even when they are bathed in the limelight, they seem to have an incandescence of their own. But they are “stars,” much more specifically, because they are part of Western culture’s longstanding tendency to associate the human with the heavenly. They are “stars” because their audiences want them—and in some sense need them—to be.

The broad use of the word “star” to indicate a leader among us dates back, Peter Davis, a theater historian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told me, to the Middle Ages. Chaucer, who was also the first recorded user of the word “celebrity” and one of the first to use the word “famous,” also hinted at the lexical convergence of the human and the celestial: In The House of Fame, Chaucer’s dreamer worries that he might find himself “stellified.” “O God Who made nature,” the dreamer thinks, “am I to die in no other way? Will Jove transform me into a star?”

Chaucer, Dean Swinford points out in his book Through the Daemon’s Gate, was recalling Ovid’s notion of metamorphosis—the idea that humans could be transformed, in this case, into the shiny stuff of constellations. Chaucer’s words also carried architectural implications that would likely have been apparent to his audiences: “Fixing with stars,” Swinford points out, “implies the creation of a mosaic-like decoration of the interior of a cathedral.” The building was an intentional mimicry of the sky, and an unintentional anticipation of Hollywood’s own kind of firmament: It presented stars as a constellation of gleaming lights, always above.

The US Weeklyfied version of stellification is in many ways a direct descendant of Chaucer’s: It emphasizes the role of the celebrity as a body both distant and accessible, gleaming and sparkling and yet reassuringly omnipresent. Stars have long suggested a kind of order—and orientation—within chaotic human lives. They have long hinted that there is something bigger, something beyond, something more.

Little surprise, then, that—especially as the world of science became more familiar with the workings of celestial bodies—the world of the theater seized on their symbolism. Molière, Peter Davis told me, made Chaucerian use of the personified “star”: In School for Wives, in 1662, Horace describes Agnes as “this young star of love, adorned by so many charms.” Shakespeare, too, neatly anticipated Hollywood’s blending of the personal and the celestial in both his plays and his poems. “We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars,” Edmund laments in King Lear, “as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion.” Love, too, in Shakespeare’s mind, makes its highest sense as a heavenly force, reassuring in its constancy: In “Sonnet 116,” the bard finds love to be “…an ever-fixed mark / That looks on tempests and is never shaken; / It is the star to every wand’ring bark, / Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”

It was in this context, Davis explains, that the notion of the human star came to refer, in particular, to the decidedly grounded firmament of the theater—and to the decidedly human person of the actor. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first reference to a “star” of the stage came in 1751, with the Bays in Council announcing, “You may Shine the brightest Theatric Star, that ever enliven’d of charm’d an Audience.” Around the same time, in 1761, the book Historical Theatres of London & Dublin noted of an apparently Meryl Streepian actor named Garrick: “That Luminary soon after became a Star of the first Magnitude.” Garrick would appear again in 1765, in an extremely effusive article written about him in The Gentleman’s and London Magazine: “The rumor of this bright star appearing in the East flew with the rapidity of lightening through the town, and drew all the theatrical Magi thither to pay their devotions to his new-born son of genius….”

By the 1820s, it was common to refer to actors as “stars”—for purposes of salesmanship as much as anything else. Theater touring became popular during that time, in both England and America. British actors, in particular, Davis told me, were often promoted as “stars” for their tours in the U.S. as a way to ensure that large audiences would come to witness their performances. Actors like Edmund Kean, George Frederick Cooke, and Charles and Fanny Kemble were celestially sold to American audiences. Sometimes, Davis notes, the actors were considered to have passed their prime in Britain; they used their American tours to reboot their careers back home. It was fitting: Through the wily dynamics of public relations, “star,” in the U.S., was born.

The term carried through as theater acting gave way to movie acting—as silent films gave way to talkies. “The observable ‘glow’ of potential stardom was present from the very beginning of film history,” Jeanine Basinger notes in her book The Star Machine. But it also took hold, as with so much else in Hollywood history, fitfully. As Jan-Christopher Horak, the director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive, told me, the earliest films didn’t name the actors who starred in them. That was in part because the actors, many of whom had been trained in the theater, were initially embarrassed to be putting their hard-won skills to the service of this strange new medium.

It was also, however, because of the mechanics of the medium itself. On film, Anne Helen Petersen suggests in her book Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama From the Golden Age of American Cinema, the Hollywood star was a function of technology as much as it was one of culture. As early cinema developed in the early 20th century, bulky and unwieldy cameras made it difficult for cinematographers to capture anything beyond full-length shots of actors. “Because viewers couldn’t see the actor’s face up close,” Petersen writes, “it was difficult to develop the feelings of admiration or affection we associate with film stars.” As cameras improved, though, close-ups became more common, emphasizing actors’ faces and humanity. As sound became part of the cinema experience, voices, too, substituted full personas for lurching images. The “picture personality” had arrived. The “star,” yet again, was born.

With that came the star system that would give structure to Hollywood for much of its young life. Mary Pickford, Horak notes, one of the first movie actors to be billed under her (stage) name, soon began making films under her own banner. Charlie Chaplin, long before Andy Warhol would ironize the term, became a superstar. The star itself, in the era of spotlights and marquis banners, soon became a metonym—a convenient and fitting way to describe the people who studded Hollywood’s new and expanding firmament. The term that had taken life in the age of Shakespeare and Molière and early romanticism—a time that would, in some places, find art becoming obsessed with the dignity of the individual and the fiery workings of the human soul—came alive yet again in the glow of the screen.

It may be quaint, today, to talk of “movie stars.” This is an age defined, after all, by that other Chaucerian term: the “celebrity.” It’s an age of actor-founded lifestyle brands and internet-famous felines and people starring in reality itself. But our current celebrities, too, suggest something similar to what “star” has long evoked: orientation, transcendence, a kind of union between mortals and the gods they have chosen for themselves. “Celebrity” comes from the Old French for “rite” or “ceremony”; it suggests that even the most frivolous of the famous are filling a role that is, in its way, profound. Stars—fusions of person and persona, of the fleshy human and the flinty image on the stage and screen—have long offered a kind of structure within the hectic hum of human lives. They have long promised that most basic and inspiring of things: that we can be something more than what we are. “I am big,” Norma Desmond, that fading star, insisted. “It’s the pictures that got small.”

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A Common Theme for This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Documentaries

Of the 10 films nominated for the 2017 Academy Awards in the documentary categories, four deal with the Syrian conflict or refugee crisis. Along with 4.1 Miles, the Netflix original The White Helmets and Watani: My Homeland are up for the short-form documentary Oscar, while the Italian film Fire at Sea was nominated for best feature documentary. The strength of these projects lies in the emotional, and often stark, portraits they paint of their characters. If audiences can imagine themselves in the shoes of Syrian rescue workers, a Greek coast-guard captain, an overwhelmed physician, or a migrant mother, these films may do more than enlighten or inform. Their creators all told me they hoped that, like other documentaries that have mobilized viewers and influenced lawmakers, their films can make far-away problems feel more immediately urgent.

The films’ nominations were announced just four days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration and three days before he issued an executive order suspending refugee admissions from Syria indefinitely and from all other countries for 120 days. The order also temporarily halted arrivals from seven majority-Muslim nations and cut the total number of refugees that would be admitted to the U.S. in 2017 by more than half to 50,000. While the travel ban has since been suspended by federal courts, Trump’s executive order set off protests at airports across the country and pushed the people and issues portrayed in these documentaries back into the national spotlight.

“When I made the film [in 2015], I thought it was very timely because it was when the refugee crisis was in the news,” Matziaraki told me. “I would never ever imagine that unfortunately the film would be so much more timely now in the U.S.” While it’s unusual to have so many Oscar nominees address the same topic, The White Helmets producer Joanna Natasegara told me it makes sense in this case: “Storytelling has always engaged with the most pressing issues of any given time, and documentary perhaps even more than narrative [film].” Those issues today, she said, are the refugee crisis and the war in Syria.

As a medium, documentaries offer an intimacy and focus often missing in daily news. Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, the escalating violence and resulting flood of migrants have been covered by the international press, but in the face of constant coverage, it’s difficult for many readers to sustain the same level of attention day to day. It often takes a particularly horrifying image—a dead toddler washed up on a beach, a blank-faced 5-year-old covered in blood and dust—to re-galvanize interest.

Matziaraki, who grew up in Greece but is now based in the San Francisco Bay Area, said even she felt disconnected from the disaster playing out in her homeland. When she arrived on Lesbos, she found the situation was worse than she’d imagined. “I really wanted to make a film that would [bridge] this gap between our comfort zone and the reality of the world,” she said.

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The Oscars and Frank Ocean: The Atlantic’s Week in Culture

Why Netflix Will Release Martin Scorsese’s Next FilmDavid Sims unpacks the reasons behind why the streaming service will produce the director’s next gangster epic.

Get Out Is a Funny and Brilliantly Subversive Horror FilmDavid Sims relishes Jordan Peele’s excellent directorial debut.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore Is a Dark, Goofy Neo-NoirDavid Sims watches Macon Blair’s directorial debut, which swerves between indie comedy and ultra-violence.

Wikimedia Commons


The Politics of Retelling Norse MythologyLisa L. Hannett unpacks Neil Gaiman’s remarkable new book, which has triggered a debate about who owns pagan tales.

Simon & Schuster’s Completely Avoidable Milo Yiannopoulos DisasterSophie Gilbert criticizes the publisher’s delayed cancelling of the former Breitbart editor’s book deal.

Brooklyn Academy of Music


Escaped Alone Finds Comfort at the End of the WorldSophie Gilbert analyzes Caryl Churchill’s new play, which finds solace amid an apocalypse.



The Maddening Media Obsession With Female Feuds, Katy Perry EditionSpencer Kornhaber discusses the problems with how the singer’s supposed rivalry with Taylor Swift is portrayed.

Frank Ocean’s Surprising Slide Back to PopSpencer Kornhaber listens to the enigmatic singer’s new collaboration with Calvin Harris and Migos.

Eric Miller / Reuters


Scenes From the Mall of AmericaMegan Garber weighs in on the massive shopping center’s announcement of a writing residency in honor of its 25th anniversary.

Why Are They ‘Stars’?Megan Garber connects the history of why celebrities are considered celestial to Shakespeare, Chaucer, and movie cameras.

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