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    The Real Surprise of ‘Passing’: A Focus on Black Women’s Inner Lives

    By making the lesbian attraction between the main characters more explicit, the drama moves beyond mainstream Hollywood’s white gaze.Midway through the new drama “Passing,” Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson), the light-brown-skinned, upper-middle-class protagonist, offers a unique insight into her psyche when she says to her friend Hugh, “We’re, all of us, passing for something or the other,” and adds, “Aren’t we?”Until now, Irene has successfully maintained her cover as both a respectable wife and proud African American woman. But when Hugh (Bill Camp) challenges her by asking why she does not pass for white like her biracial childhood friend, Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga), her response is a revelation, startling me almost as much as it did him.“Who’s to say I am not?” she snaps back.In that moment, I realized that what I had considered the B-plot of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, “Passing,” had risen to the surface in the writer-director Rebecca Hall’s adaptation, giving us a narrative that remains all too rare in Hollywood today: the interior world of a Black woman’s mind.When I teach Larsen’s novel to my undergraduate students, I usually start with the obvious: its racial plot and the ways in which Clare finds refuge from racism by identifying as white, only to be tragically alienated from her Black family and community.But I mainly teach “Passing” through what I think is the novel’s real central conflict: same-sex female desire and the paranoia that begins to overtake Irene, and for that matter Larsen’s story line, as a result of her unconsummated relationship with Clare. In a 1986 essay on Larsen’s novel, the critic Deborah E. McDowell explained why this longing had to appear secondary to the emphasis on race. “The idea of bringing a sexual attraction between two women to full expression,” she wrote, was “too dangerous of a move” in 1929. Instead, “Larsen enveloped the subplot of Irene’s developing if unnamed and unacknowledged desire for Clare in the safe and familiar plot of racial passing.”Rather than explore the ways that Irene comes into her sexuality, racial passing — at the height of segregation in America — was considered a far more urgent and thus more conventional theme than that of Black women’s inner lives. As a consequence, Larsen’s novel ended up passing, too, eventually taking “the form of the act it implies,” McDowell concluded.Visually, Hall compensates for the novel’s restraint through stolen glances, flirtatious phrases, and lingering touches and kisses between Clare and Irene. As Irene’s tension mounts, the film externalizes it through other symbols: a loudly ticking grandfather clock, a pot of water boiling over and even her breaking a teapot at a midday social in her home. In these hints, we see both Irene’s desire to break free from the illusion of middle-class domesticity and heterosexuality that she performs, as well as the threat that Clare’s presence poses to Irene’s sense of control.But, to externalize Irene’s internal thoughts and her sublimated identity, the movie makes what is suggested in the novel far more explicit. For example, Irene’s confession to Hugh never actually happens in the book. Hall opted to amp up that moment, she explained in a video for Vanity Fair, because she wanted “to highlight the latent homosexuality and power dynamics” underlying their shared secret.But for all that movie does so very well — its subtle swing jazz score; its beautiful black-and-white montages evocative of the photographers Gordon Parks and Carrie Mae Weems; and the delightful cat-and-mouse performances by Thompson and Negga — it deliberately limits how much access we have to Irene. Such restrictions, after having a glimpse of Irene’s full personality, further reminded me of how few stories about African American female sexuality and subjectivity have been told on the big screen.In other words, at this moment, when Black artists are being celebrated and validated as never before, what does it mean to invest in films that fully move us beyond a racist or sexist gaze and into their innermost thoughts?Five Movies to Watch This WinterCard 1 of 51. “The Power of the Dog”: More

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    1,200 Miles From Kabul, a Celebrated Music School Reunites

    Students and teachers of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music and their families, almost 200 in the past week, have fled to Qatar to escape Taliban restrictions on music.The plane from Kabul touched down in Qatar around 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Two 13-year-old musicians — Zohra and Farida, a trumpet player and a violinist — disembarked and ran toward their teacher. Then, witnesses said, they began to cry.The girls were among the last students affiliated with the Afghanistan National Institute of Music — a renowned school that has been a target of the Taliban in the past in part for its efforts to promote the education of girls — to be evacuated from Kabul since the Taliban regained power in August.They joined 270 students, teachers and their relatives who, fearing that the Taliban might seek to punish them for their ties to music, have made the journey from Kabul to Doha, the capital of Qatar, with the first group leaving in early October. Most arrived in the past week, boarding four special flights arranged by the government of Qatar, after months of delays. They eventually plan to resettle in Portugal, where they expect to be granted asylum.“It’s such a huge relief,” Ahmad Naser Sarmast, the head of the school, said in a telephone interview on his way back from greeting the girls at the airport on Tuesday. “They can dream again. They can hope.”The musicians are among hundreds of artists — actors, writers, painters and photographers — who have fled Afghanistan in recent weeks. Many have left because they worry about their safety and see no way of earning money as the arts come under government scrutiny.The Taliban is wary of nonreligious music, which they prohibited outright when they led Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. While the new government has not issued an official ban, radio stations have stopped playing some songs, and musicians have taken to hiding their instruments. Some have reported being attacked or threatened for performing. A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in an interview with The New York Times in August that “music is forbidden in Islam” but that “we’re hoping that we can persuade people not to do such things, instead of pressuring them.”The Afghanistan National Institute of Music had long been a target of the Taliban. The school embraced change, adopting a coeducational model and devoting resources to studying both traditional Afghan music and Western music. The Taliban issued frequent threats against the school; Sarmast was wounded by a Taliban suicide bomber in 2014..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-1kpebx{margin:0 auto;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1kpebx{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1gtxqqv{margin-bottom:0;}.css-1g3vlj0{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1g3vlj0{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-1g3vlj0 strong{font-weight:600;}.css-1g3vlj0 em{font-style:italic;}.css-1g3vlj0{margin-bottom:0;margin-top:0.25rem;}.css-19zsuqr{display:block;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}The school became known for supporting the education of girls, who make up about a third of the student body. The school’s all-female orchestra, Zohra, toured the world and was hailed as a symbol of a modern, more progressive Afghanistan.When the Taliban consolidated control over the country in the summer, the school was forced to shut down rapidly. Taliban officials began using the campus as a command center. Students and staff mostly stayed home, worried they would be attacked for going outside. Some stopped playing music and began learning other skills, such as weaving.In the final days of the American war in Afghanistan, the school’s supporters led a frantic attempt to evacuate students and staff. At one point, seven busloads of people trying to flee waited at the airport in Kabul for 17 hours, but were unable to board their plane when the gate was closed amid fears of a terrorist attack. After that, the school began evacuating people more slowly and in small groups. But difficulties in obtaining passports left some musicians stuck for months in Afghanistan.Understand the Taliban Takeover in AfghanistanCard 1 of 6Who are the Taliban? More

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    Thandiwe Newton Feeds Her Soul With Critical Race Theory and Cleo Sol

    The “Westworld” actress talks about her new Audible recording of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and why too much entertainment can be bad for you.For Thandiwe Newton, recording an audiobook isn’t merely sinking into a comfy chair in front of a mic and trying not to trip over the words. Especially when it’s a literary behemoth like Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”The epic undertaking “was a thrill because I’m a Black African-English woman, and I have a perspective which I invite the audiences to join me on,” said Newton, who has reclaimed the spelling of her name given at birth. “I give my emotion to it. I encounter Napoleon — Thandiwe does. I encounter Natasha. I comment with the way I breathe and the energy I put in my body and voice as I digest the different ideas that Tolstoy puts forward, different values.”Still, there were moments far less wondrous.“I practically gag in passages where he’s talking about Negroes,” she said. But when the Audible representatives asked whether she wanted them removed, “I said, my God, no. It’s essential that we see his ignorance, that we feel his lack when he’s so brilliant writing about the psychology of men and war and philosophy and history.”Newton has turned that eye of evaluation on her own life and career. She is an executive producer of “President,” a documentary about the first presidential election in Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe resigned. The film had just been nominated for a Gotham Award and shortlisted by IDA Documentary Awards. She has wrapped “God’s Country,” about a Black professor who relocates from New Orleans to Montana and finds herself the victim of mysterious bullying. And she is currently in Los Angeles shooting the fourth season of HBO’s “Westworld.”“But after that, I don’t want to be hired as an actress anymore,” said Newton — her passions now more aligned with empowering others, writing and producing, and stepping in front of the camera only on her own terms. “I don’t want to give myself anymore. I’ve come to the end of it — and I feel amazing. I feel full.”Still, she went on, “the way I’ve been treated as a woman of color being an actor, the stories that I haven’t been able to tell, the limited characters that I’ve had to frustratingly wrestle with to provide truth, the pain I’ve suffered over being treated badly in work situations, and also the sad, sad waste — because I know that there’s so much more I could have done — I’m now really tired. I just don’t feel that it’s worth what I put in.”These are edited excerpts from the conversation.1. Critical Race Theory The academic endeavor of critical race theory is to reveal what is already happening, which is that we are progressing, we are evolving, and it’s important that we document our progress. And people who want things to stay the way they have been, because it has benefited them to enslave Africa, to exploit India, to abuse South America — you name it, humans have done it. We’re a grubby lot. But we are making progress because every living entity wants to heal. Every living thing is trying to move towards the sun.2. Documentaries, Especially Werner Herzog’s I think you could put a spotlight on literally anybody and create a documentary. And I love documentary because it asks us to really look, really see, really witness. If I could only talk about one, I want to talk about Werner Herzog for sure. “Grizzly Man” is an absolute epic. That’s a Shakespearean character right there, Timothy Treadwell [who lived with bears in Alaska, and was killed by one].3. Shona-to-English Translator My mother speaks five different African languages, but Shona is her first. It’s the language of her childhood, her people, her history, her original culture. And I don’t speak it. And the more I’ve been encountering modern Zimbabwe, looking at my own history, wanting to create an archive for my children, the more I’ve been trying to update my vocabulary. So my Shona-to-English translator has become a real pal in recent years.4. Music as Protest I’m discovering myself through music at the moment in a really interesting way, and it’s kind of mirroring my experience as a woman, as a mother. I’m loving Cleo Sol right now. I love music as protest. I think songwriters, singers, are shamans. They are touching a divine — certainly not all — but they open up the landscape of their spirit, their soul. I think of people like Tommy Yorke, Billie Eilish — performers, creatives, artists who touch a nerve, almost like an acupuncture when you hit that meridian and it just taps into something.I’m fascinated by Kanye West — Ye, as he now is. I’m interested in the art, commerce, media, religion, protest, personal trauma, how that’s all playing out in his work. I don’t think it’s healthy for one person to be so obsessed to have the spotlight on them. One of the sad things about our time is that we’re all gazing at the moon, or gazing at these people who are gazing at the moon, when we shouldn’t be so distracted. It’s like James Baldwin said: Entertainment is a narcotic. I feel like the entertainment business is like getting your vaccination. Some of it is really good for you; too much of it going to kill you.Understand the Debate Over Critical Race TheoryCard 1 of 5An ​​expansive academic framework. More

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    Zazie Beetz and Regina King on Their Big Battle in ‘The Harder They Fall’

    In the Netflix western, the two actresses, playing members of rival cowboy gangs, engage in an epic fight. Here, they break down the scene.“Trudy’s mine,” hisses Stagecoach Mary Fields (played by Zazie Beetz), her eyes blazing.Trudy Smith (Regina King) ducks into a dye barn, its rafters hung with swatches of color.Their eyes lock, Mary empties her shotgun onto the floor. Trudy tosses her pistol to the side.“Let’s go,” Mary spits out. A wild fight scene ensues between the two members of rival cowboy gangs: bodies hit windows, teeth crunch into hands and horseshoes hurl toward heads.Toward the end of the new Netflix western “The Harder They Fall” — a reminder that Black cowboys should be as much a part of the genre as anyone else — Mary and Trudy duke it out in an epic fight that nearly ends in death.Although the director, Jeymes Samuel, is a singer-songwriter known as the Bullitts, he has dabbled in filmmaking, and “The Harder They Fall” is his first feature. In a video interview, he clarified that he wasn’t reimagining the western — he was “replacing” it.“What I was doing with that fight, I’ve done it the whole film,” he said. “The whole film is reverse psychology on what we know as the western and puts up a mirror.”Historians estimate that one in four cowboys were Black, a fact that was hardly reflected in the conventional westerns popular in the 20th century, which were largely devoid of people of color.In creating the film, his aim was to counter two tropes of traditional westerns: people of color shown as less than human; and women appearing subservient and less than men. “Westerns have never given light to women and their power in that period,” he said. That’s why Samuel, who wrote the screenplay with Boaz Yakin, inverted gender roles in the Mary-Trudy battle.“All the men in the film, when they have conflict, they pick up guns,” Samuel said, adding, “It takes the two women to literally throw away their guns and duke it out.”Regina King as Trudy Smith. She, Beetz and their stunt doubles practiced the fight in their off hours.David Lee/NetflixAlthough the actresses, part of a star-studded cast, worked closely with their stunt doubles, Nikkilette Wright and Sadiqua Bynum, most of the final cut features the actresses themselves — because the stunt doubles were simply too good at their jobs. The stand-ins’ work “was too clean,” Samuel said. “In that particular scene, it was perfect and neat, whereas I needed the urgency. When you put Zazie and Regina together, neat went out the window.”Beetz, King, Wright and Bynum practiced the fight on their own time in a hotel conference room in Santa Fe, N.M., where much of the movie was shot. As rough and tumble as the scene may look onscreen, Beetz said in a phone interview that it was all very carefully choreographed.“We also wanted the fight to look scrappy, because we wanted it to look real and intense and how people really would potentially fight,” she said. “I think it’s just a testament in general to the shift in film and the shift in how we see women and their physical abilities.”As part of her preparation, the actress read about Stagecoach Mary Fields, the first African American woman in the United States to be a mail carrier on star routes — routes handled by contractors who were not employed by the Postal Service. (Many of the main characters are based on real historical figures, but Samuel fictionalized the vast majority of the plot.) Fields was enslaved until she was around 30 years old, when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Then she went on to live a whole new life.“There was a lot of formerly enslaved people who moved to the West, and the culture of the United States wasn’t as established in the West,” Beetz said. “So there was more mobility for Black people. And there really were towns that were all Black, and they were self-sustaining, and it was an interesting place where Black people could thrive.”Five Movies to Watch This WinterCard 1 of 51. “The Power of the Dog”: More

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    Kristen Stewart’s Princess Diaries

    Kristen Stewart has sometimes been accused of just playing variations on herself, as if that isn’t half the reason we’re drawn to movie stars. In “Twilight” (2008), she brought a specific and sullen appeal to a heroine conceived as a blank slate for female readers; later, in “Personal Shopper” (2017), when Stewart traded her polo shirts for a rich client’s shimmering dress, you could see both the star and the character regarding her new look in the mirror: Is this me? Could I make it me?At first, her new drama “Spencer” would appear to be a sop for the sort of moviegoer who’d demand a more rigorous transformation from the “Twilight” actress: Directed by Pablo Larraín (“Jackie”), the movie is a psychological portrait of Princess Diana as she unravels, then rallies, over a three-day Christmas holiday. Instead of hiring a British actress, Larraín chose Stewart, a contemporary figure of California cool who met me on the day of our interview wearing a brick-red pinstripe suit, her jacket sleeves rolled up to reveal a small constellation of tattoos.The 31-year-old actress who sat opposite me on a balcony at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood may not have looked like the obvious pick to play the people’s princess, but a funny thing happens as you watch “Spencer”: The distance that initially seemed so vast between the two women will close to the point where it seems like the canniest casting ever. Stewart, after all, knows a thing or two about a life lived in the public eye, the scrutiny leveled at a high-profile romance, and the private moments snatched away by paparazzi.Stewart gave her all to the movie, studying Diana’s posture, mannerisms and accent; the resulting performance, potent and provocative, has thrust her to the front of this year’s crop of best-actress Oscar contenders. “I used to think that I needed spontaneity and anxiety to propel me into something truthful and that if I had too much control over it, it was immediately going to become fabricated,” Stewart said. “I just didn’t have the confidence to hold that and be like, ‘No, you can design something.’”But Larraín had that confidence in her.“She’s like an actress from the ’50s or ’60s,” the director said. “What she’s doing for the story can be at a very grounded character level, but it’s elevated to a poetic level that creates an enormous amount of mystery and intrigue. And that’s probably the best cocktail you could ever find for a performance on camera.”Stewart as Princess Diana (opposite Laura Benson) in a scene from “Spencer.”NeonStewart knew that taking on “Spencer” would be a challenge, and in the days leading up to the shoot, she even developed lockjaw as she ceaselessly practiced her British accent. But once she was on set, finally channeling Diana, her fears melted away: “At the end of week one, I was like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever done. This is the most alive I’ve ever felt.’”Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.What was your first impression when Pablo pitched “Spencer” to you?He was so sure that I should do this, and I thought that was audacious and crazy because it just doesn’t seem like the most instinctive, immediate choice.Did he tell you why it had to be you?He was like, “There’s something about Diana that we’ll never know. You make me feel like that. I’ve seen your work, and I never really know what you’re thinking.” And I feel that way about Diana as well. Even though I feel this overwhelming attraction to her spirit and her energy, there’s something that’s disarming about her. I want to hang out with her. I want to race her down a long hallway. I want to, like, meet her kid.Still, was it a natural step to say yes to this movie?The only reason that you work as an actor for this long is to try and outdo yourself every time. This one was just the proper step up that I couldn’t really say no to. It was ambitious and attractive, and I was like, “If I can’t do that, then I’ll just stop and direct movies instead.” And it’s fun to imagine a larger conversation. It’s fun to imagine if you’re capable of holding that.What emerged of Diana as you researched her?There were so many layers to read. There were so many ways in which she tried to reveal herself, that weren’t necessarily in the form of a direct sentence. She wasn’t allowed to be like, “I’m dying, and he doesn’t love me.” I think the way she expressed herself is so interesting because there are so many lenses between you and that communication.It’s like, to not acknowledge that every single person in the world is sitting here on this balcony with us is wild. We have to pretend they’re not because we’re being nice to each other. Which is nice! But also, we’re talking to everyone in the whole world right now.And I’m asking you to be vulnerable with me, as though what you say won’t be chopped up, reblogged and retweeted by people who aren’t here.You roll the dice, definitely. One could write a very long paper on the exchange between a journalist and an actor. That’s obviously not why we’re here, but yeah.Though Stewart knows something of what Diana experienced with paparazzi, the actress said she was never told “to sit and stay in the way that was so damaging and dishonest.”Ryan Pfluger for The New York TimesBut it kind of is. Diana had to be incredibly savvy about her image and the way it was used, while still radiating utter authenticity. Actors are required to do the same.Every way that we reach out toward each other has to be designed from an interior place. Therefore, it’s a form of manipulation. You want someone to understand you; you want to make someone feel the way that you feel. It’s sad to think about her in general because she’s just the most coveted, loved and also rejected, self-hating person. Those things shouldn’t go together.Unless some of it is cause and some of it is effect. Do we respond to her in a way that causes a little bit of that? When she’s called the people’s princess, does that imply a form of ownership?Of course, which I think she probably tried to cultivate. I think she had to reach out to get any sort of warm acceptance, when obviously at home she felt invisible and unheard and stifled and cold. She was looking sort of everywhere she could for that kind of love. She was the first royal in the entire history of them to reach out and touch people physically, in their face, without gloves on. That rocked people to their core.How did you square some of her contradictions?There were people that were like, “She would never use profanity.” And then other memories would be like, “Oh, gosh, she just came in swearing.” So you can’t know her. With famous people, you hear someone go, “I met them once and they’re not very nice,” but it’s like, “Were you asking them how their day went when they were coming out of the pisser? Maybe they weren’t nice to you in that moment.” People love to have one experience sort of sum up an entire human’s personality. You just have to take everyone’s perspective and shove them together and kind of figure out your own.You’re clearly speaking from personal experience. But in other interviews I’ve read, you demur when asked to draw a direct line between your time in the public eye and Diana’s.Five Movies to Watch This WinterCard 1 of 51. “The Power of the Dog”: More

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    When Women Filmmakers Get to Tell Their Origin Stories

    Movies about men who make movies are common, but female auteurs don’t often get such chances. That’s just one reason two new releases are so surprising.The newly released “The Souvenir Part II” and “Bergman Island” are both films by modern masters that not only delve into the filmmaking process but also draw from the personal lives of the filmmakers themselves.Sound familiar? Self-reflexive movies like these practically double as auteurist rites of passage — think “8 ½,” Federico Fellini’s beguiling ode to creative block with Marcello Mastroianni playing a version of the filmmaker; “Day for Night,” François Truffaut’s chaotic comedy about artistic collaboration starring Truffaut himself in the on-camera director’s chair; and, more recently, “Pain and Glory,” Pedro Almodóvar’s melodrama about an aging filmmaker (Antonio Banderas) in crisis. The list goes on, but with the newest films, there’s a crucial distinction: the masters in question are women.Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir Part II” and Mia Hansen-Love’s “Bergman Island” revolve around two women filmmakers, avatars for the directors, navigating their desires, relationships and creative pursuits in ways that fully reinvigorate the self-referential genre. Spotlighting the intellectual doubts and processes of two very different types of women, these films also raise subtle questions about gender disparity in the movie business and the unique ways in which women artists come into their own. And refreshingly, these films never dabble in obvious, self-congratulatory screeds about sexism — theirs is a magic much more potent and revelatory.“The Souvenir Part II” is the follow-up to Hogg’s 2019 drama about a soft-spoken student filmmaker who falls into a fraught and ultimately tragic romance with an alluring heroin addict. The new movie again draws generously from Hogg’s early years attending the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, England. Still reeling from her lover’s death, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) must build herself back up. The demands of completing her thesis film — a relationship drama based on her memories, that is, the events of the first film — propel her to become a more self-assured individual, transformed by the cathartic powers of creative work. In the end, the presentation of Julie’s finished film doubles as a plunge into her subconscious, a Technicolor fantasia akin to the deliriously joyous endings of golden age movie musicals and a brilliant shorthand for the marriage of art and life.In the press notes, Hogg said that despite being “terribly introverted” in film school, she had “a very clear idea of where I wanted to go, so I was able to blank out the voices, usually of men, that said ‘you can’t do a film like that.’”Indeed, we see Julie contend with skepticism from her own cast and crew, sharing their doubts about her directorial style behind her back or directly to her face in one particularly blustery spat initiated by a boorish male colleague. In conversation with an academic advising committee, Julie must stand her ground in the face of dubious filmmaking veterans accustomed to certain rigid practices.Hogg’s methods are highly improvisatory — her scripts contain little dialogue and are instead filled with descriptions, references to particular memories and images that might encourage ad-libbing and a more organic kind of creation.Now 61, and decades into her career, Hogg has room to experiment. Though she’s not exactly working on expensive and elaborate studio films, she enjoys privileges and leeway not typically afforded to female directors.Vicky Krieps, left, and Tim Roth are a filmmaking couple in Mia Hansen-Love’s “Bergman Island.”IFC Films, via Associated PressTo this day the word “auteur” brings to mind a boy’s club. Consider how new films by male directors labeled visionaries like Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, or Wes Anderson are treated as events. The cult of male genius more pertinently extends to the kinds of money, time and space given for such so-called genius to flourish. Correcting the gender imbalance in the film industry isn’t just a matter of creating more opportunities for women — in effect meeting quotas — but believing in the unique visions of women artists and robustly investing in the cultivation of those visions.Hogg and Hansen-Love are hardly the only women filmmakers to get personal and explore the emotional twists and turns in getting a new movie off the ground. The work of the provocateur Catherine Breillat often has an autobiographical bent. Her “Abuse of Weakness” (2014) starred Isabelle Huppert as a filmmaker who experiences a stroke, as Breillat did, and in “Sex Is Comedy” (2004), the director restaged the behind-the-scenes drama leading up to the filming of one of her most infamous sex scenes. Cheryl Dunye’s “The Watermelon Woman” (1997) starred the director as a video store worker struggling to make a documentary about a forgotten actress from the 1930s. The recent restoration and release of “The Watermelon Woman” certainly helped pull Dunye’s ingenious autofiction out of obscurity. Nevertheless portraits of female filmmakers aren’t exactly well known or particularly numerous.The discrepancies between the way male and female filmmakers are treated are put under a magnifying glass in “Bergman Island.” Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth), directors both, retreat to the island where Ingmar Bergman shot several of his films in order to focus independently on their new scripts. Mia Hansen-Love, who was in a 15-year relationship with the filmmaker Olivier Assayas (“Irma Vep,” “Personal Shopper”), shows Chris procrastinating and suffering from extreme writer’s block, while Tony diligently fills page after page of his notebook with sexually questionable material. Ah, to be an auteur! As Chris, riddled with self-doubt, wastes time exploring the island on her own terms, the more well-known Tony hosts public Q. and A.’s and fields compliments from devoted fans. And when Chris finally shares the details of her latest idea for a movie, Tony seems distracted.No matter, Hansen-Love seems to say. If not Tony, the audience will be fully captivated by Chris’s dream world. A film-within-a-film unfolds, a sweltering romance between a younger couple (Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie) that also takes place on Faro Island and seems to reconfigure Chris’s frustrations and anxieties into new and visceral form.Both “Bergman Island” and “The Souvenir Part II” show an intimate understanding of art’s liberating potential, the power that fiction and fantasy afford individuals still in search of themselves. These aren’t exclusively female ventures — anyone who understands what it means to be diminished and looked down upon will find solace in the possibility of an alternative, an outlet for self-expression that transforms trauma and fear and insecurity into a source of fulfillment and strength.Crucially, Julie and Chris aren’t shown reveling in the success of their films, getting revenge on their male skeptics, or landing multimillion-dollar deals. Their triumphs are private, premised as they are on the satisfaction of creating something true and beautiful in spite of their vulnerable creators — Chris falls asleep in Bergman’s study and awakens in the future as her own film shoot comes to a close, her husband’s approval and the towering cinematic figure so central to her artistic development a twinkle in the past. We’re in her territory now. More

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    She Was an Organist for the Ages

    Jeanne Demessieux, born 100 years ago, was an astonishing player and a virtuosic composer.Few musicians have faced a debut more intense than did the organist Jeanne Demessieux. For years before her first concert — one of six she gave at the Salle Pleyel in Paris early in 1946 — her teacher Marcel Dupré had stoked rumors of her outlandish talent.“Jeanne Demessieux is the greatest organist of all generations,” Dupré, then practically the god of the French organ world, had declared in 1944. She would be, he predicted, “one of the greatest glories of France.”There was tremendous pressure, then, on this shy, workaholic, perfectionist prodigy, who had lived under what Dupré said was his “artistic protection” since 1936 — winning first prize in his class at the Paris Conservatory in 1941 and remaining his student and assistant after that.Pressure, too, from the imposing program of the first of her “six historic recitals,” as the publicity announced them: the Bach C Minor Passacaglia; a Franck chorale; a Dupré prelude and fugue; the premiere of her own, impossibly challenging Six Études; and a symphony in four movements — one she improvised.Yet Demessieux, who was born in Montpellier, France, in 1921 and whose centenary is being celebrated with performances of her complete organ works at St. Thomas Church in Manhattan Nov. 6, 13 and 20, exceeded expectations. Dupré waxed “of a phenomenon equal to the youth of Bach or Mozart.” Maurice Duruflé, then finishing his Requiem, declared that “next to Jeanne Demessieux, the rest of us play the pedals like elephants.” Le Figaro wrote that she was a fairy tale that could be believed in, for she had been “irresistible absolute perfection.”“She certainly earned her place,” Stephen Tharp, the organist for the St. Thomas concerts, who released a recording of Demessieux’s complete organ compositions in 2008, said in an interview. “You like her interpretations, you don’t like her interpretations — but the amount of skill, focus, intelligence it took to play programs of that stature at the Salle Pleyel, in her 20s, and to compose, to improvise, in the way and at the level that she could, was really without equal.”Demessieux became the first female organist to sign a record deal, setting down a fleet run through Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor for Decca in 1947, and paving the way for women such as Marie-Claire Alain and Gillian Weir. Tours began, taking her around Europe and on to the United States, where the critic Virgil Thomson, praising her “taste, intelligence and technical skill of the highest order” in 1953, would think of “masters” like Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne and Olivier Messiaen as the only possible equals of this “extraordinary musician and virtuoso.”Demessieux seemed destined to take a top liturgical position, at Dupré’s St.-Sulpice or even at Notre-Dame. But shortly after her debut, Dupré, who appears to have been fed unfounded rumors that Demessieux had been disloyal, cut off contact with his pupil and resolved to sabotage her career.Instead, Demessieux stayed with her family’s parish church, where she had been organist since she was 12, until she succeeded Camille Saint-Saëns and Gabriel Fauré as titulaire, or chief organist, at the church of the Madeleine in 1962. She prospered at a Cavaillé-Coll instrument with which she had a rare bond, having recorded a transcendent Franck cycle on it in 1959, the high point of an invaluable eight-disc set from Eloquence that came out earlier this year, amply documented with notes by the organist D’Arcy Trinkwon.Although Demessieux was a star in the 1940s and ’50s, when she kept up a punishing concert schedule alongside her liturgical work and her teaching in Liège, Belgium, her status faltered after her death from cancer in 1968, at just 47. The Eloquence set gives her Decca tapes their first release on a major label in the CD era.Part of the reason for Demessieux’s ebbing fortunes can be traced to the rise of neoclassical and period performance practices, which made her impulsive, lyrical, heartfelt style — one that brought a singular lightness of touch to a grand symphonic tradition — seem outdated, especially in the Bach and Handel with which she often opened her concerts.Part of the reason, too, was the difficulty of her compositions, some of which were unpublished until recently and were promoted mostly by students like Pierre Labric. Although her whirling “Te Deum” from 1958, inspired by the Aeolian-Skinner organ at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, has had sustained success, works like her études, her “Triptyque” and her late Prelude and Fugue pushed the frontiers of the possible, and they remain “ferociously hard” even now, Tharp said — “things she really wrote for herself.”While Demessieux sometimes wrote with moving simplicity, as in chorale preludes like “Rorate coeli” and “Hosanna filio David” that speak to the devotional quality of her Catholic faith, many of her pieces have an angst to them, a gnarled bleakness, though they stop far short of atonality.“She uses a voice that I don’t think women were often allowed to use in other ways, and she puts it all into her music,” the organist Joy-Leilani Garbutt said in an interview.Predictably, Demessieux faced sexist stereotypes throughout her career. There were critics who wrote ill of the high heels that were an intrinsic part of her pedal technique, or that she was “too young and attractive to be an organist of the first rank,” as The Boston Globe put it in 1953. Some churches still barred women from their organ lofts, not least Westminster Abbey, which had to give her special dispensation to perform in 1947. Perhaps most scurrilous was the slur that she was merely the creation of Dupré, not an artist in her own right.But Garbutt, a scholar and a founder of the Boulanger Initiative, which advocates women composers, has found in her research that prejudices came with a twist in this case. Demessieux emerged from a tradition in which women organists could and did shine, though she might well have dazzled brightest of all.“She wasn’t the only woman international virtuoso, she wasn’t the only woman composer for the organ, and she wasn’t the only woman professor of organ, or the only woman to hold a major church position,” Garbutt said, mentioning Joséphine Boulay, the earliest woman to win first prize in organ at the Paris Conservatory, in 1888; Renée Nazin, a student of Vierne’s who did three world tours in the 1930s; and Rolande Falcinelli, who succeeded Dupré as professor at the Conservatory in 1955.“But I think Demessieux may have been the only woman to do all of those things in her lifetime,” Garbutt said.This was an era when women had greater opportunities to succeed, Garbutt argues, suggesting that they found grudging acceptance when jobs needed filling after so many men had died in the world wars. The spatial configurations of French churches played a role, too, with organists seated high in the gallery, unseen during Mass. While there were Parisian priests who tolerated or even supported women, others banned them, a rule that some artists used their invisibility while performing to flout. Henriette Puig-Roget, for instance, simply submitted her name as Monsieur Roget, cross-dressed, and substituted for Charles Tournemire at Ste.-Clotilde.Even so, the opportunities were fleeting. “The invisibility was a privilege or a tool that could be used to create their music,” Garbutt said, “but on the flip side it made their work disappear almost as soon as it had been created.” Women have since occupied major organ posts — Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin, for instance, has shared Dupré’s old position at St.-Sulpice with Daniel Roth since 1985 — but equal representation remains a distant ideal.In achieving that ideal, though, it may well be helpful to have historical material like the new Demessieux set. It is a revelation, from the incandescence of her Toccata from Widor’s Fifth Symphony to the jazzy angularity of Jean Berveiller’s “Mouvement”; the reverence of her Bach chorale preludes to the fury of her Liszt. The playing invites superlatives, even as it defies the complexity and artificiality of the organ to such an extent that it allows a rare focus on the music itself.“Who is the greatest organist of the 20th century?” Tharp said. “I really think it’s fair to say she’s a contender.” More

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    ‘Different Way of Fighting’: Lyrics Are the Weapons of All-Women Roma Band

    Many Roma women face pressures to marry young and take on traditional gender roles. Pretty Loud, a hip-hop group from Serbia, wants girls to decide for themselves.Laetitia Vancon and BELGRADE, Serbia — The members of Pretty Loud, possibly the world’s first all-Roma female hip-hop group, don’t write saccharine love songs.Their lyrics focus instead on the pains Roma women experience: marrying and having children too young, feeling like second-class citizens and not finishing high school.“Don’t force me, Dad, I’m too young for marriage,” the six members, who hail from Serbia and are in their midteens to late 20s, sing in one song. “Please understand me, or should I be quiet?” they rap in another. “No one hears when I use my Roma girl’s voice.”Persecuted for centuries, many Roma people in Europe — the continent’s largest ethnic minority — live in segregated communities with limited access to amenities and health care. Women and girls also face gender expectations like being wives and mothers at a young age, which some say cause stress and isolation.The six members of Pretty Loud are in their midteens to late-20s.The group’s youngest members, Elma Dalipi and Selma Dalipi, 15, who are twins, are still finishing high school.“They are taught when they grow up that they will get married, cook and raise kids, but we want to change this,” Silvia Sinani, 24, said of Roma girls, adding that such expectations made it hard for women and girls to finish their educations.One of the band’s goals is to show there is another way. “We want every girl to decide for herself,” Ms. Sinani said.The women of Pretty Loud are hoping their music, authenticity and visibility as performers — already rewriting social conventions in their community in Belgrade, the Serbian capital — can help women and girls elsewhere find their own voices. Formed in 2014, Pretty Loud has danced, sung and rapped on stages across Europe.“It is a different way of fighting,” said Zivka Ferhatovic, 20. “We fight through the music and songs.” Zivka Ferhatovic, left, and Dijana Ferhatovic, members of Pretty Loud, in their house in the Belgrade neighborhood of Zemun.“It is a different way of fighting,” Zivka Ferhatovic, 20, a band member, said of her activism. “We fight through the music and songs.”She added that the group wanted its fusion of traditional Roma music and Balkan hip-hop to confront the everyday realities of many Roma women — be it domestic abuse, sexism or racial discrimination. In one song, they warned that marrying someone abusive would not bring happiness. In another, they addressed their experiences of discrimination. Music was an obvious medium for the band’s members to express themselves and to continue celebrating the signature sound of Roma music.“We grow up with music for when we feel bad and when we feel happy,” said Zlata Ristic, 28. “I sleep with music. I can’t live my life without music.”When she’s performing, Ms. Ristic, said, “I feel like the strongest woman in the world.”Pretty Loud began as a project of GRUBB, an organization running educational and artistic programs for Roma youth in Serbia. On a summer afternoon, they rehearsed for a performance in front of the distorted mirrors at GRUBB’s center in Zemun, a neighborhood in Belgrade where many of the city’s Roma people reside.Pretty Loud began as a project of GRUBB, a center in Zemun, a neighborhood in Belgrade where many of the city’s Roma people live.“We grow up with music for when we feel bad and when we feel happy,” said Zlata Ristic, 28, “I sleep with music. I can’t live my life without music.”Fearing social stigma, the band’s members were initially reluctant to write songs and perform. But others involved with GRUBB helped them to focus their writing and performance on personal experiences.Over time, they grew more comfortable with the idea of melding the personal with the artistic. One performance used a silk sheet with a red spot to theatrically recreate the ritual of inspecting sheets after a wedding as a way of “proving” the bride’s virginity.“It became very poetic,” said Serge Denoncourt, a professional artistic director and longtime volunteer who said he encouraged them to explore the power of art. “They understand there you can talk about anything if you have a way to talk about it.”Now, Pretty Loud’s songs signal a unified hope: to represent Roma women in a modern world free of racism and sexism.A tourist in the Zemun area of Belgrade asking a group of Roma musicians to play for him. Raising her son was like having a “baby doll,” Ms. Ristic said. “We grew up together.” “The whole point of the music is to help them use their voice, not to speak for them,” said Caroline Roboh, a founder of GRUBB. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Pretty Loud’s own community, where members have become role models, a point of pride for them.“Little girls, they come to me and say: ‘Bravo, I want to be like you one day,’” Ms. Sinani said.Even outside their circles, they are amassing supporters who say the group is sending a modern message that Serbia needs to get behind.“Their energy breaks through the walls and spreads love,” said Joana Knezevic, a Serbian actress who watched a recent Pretty Loud performance. “They are women who have something to say.”It is a message that Ms. Ristic, who brings a cheerful energy to the group’s dynamic, learned early on. At 16, she got married and, soon after, pregnant. When the union broke down and she confronted being a single mother, Ms. Ristic became depressed. Raising her son, who is now 11, was like having a “baby doll,” she said. “We grew up together.”Zivka Fahratovic on a youth program on TV Pink in Belgrade. Outside their circles, members of Pretty Loud are amassing supporters who say the group is sending a modern message that Serbia needs to get behind.When Zivka is not studying or helping her grandmother at home, she is a teacher at GRUBB. The organization runs education and artistic programs, working predominantly in Serbia with Roma children and young people.Now, she wants to set an example for women who are unhappy in their marriages, even if they fear raising children alone.“I know when they are divorced, they think their lives stop,” Ms. Ristic said of women. “But I want to show they can continue with their dreams.”It is sometimes a difficult balancing act for members of Pretty Loud, who are trying to live the messages they preach. Some work at Grubb while holding other jobs; others, like the group’s youngest members, Elma Dalipi and Selma Dalipi, 15, are still finishing high school.“We’ve had numerous offers for marriage, but we never accepted any,” said Zivka Ferhatovic of her and her sister, Dijana Ferhatovic, 19. Their determination to finish school is supported by their grandparents and has a personal motivation — they believe their mother, who had her children young, ultimately left the family, in part, because she married too early.“We know the pain,” Zivka Ferhatovic said.After one of Pretty Loud’s most recent performance, the cheers made Dijana Ferhatovic’s chest tighten, she said. “We’re really doing something,” she added, though she called it a small step.Her sister disagreed. “How can you say it’s small?” Zivka Ferhatovic said.The coronavirus pandemic has slowed the band’s activity, and existing inequalities left Roma people in Europe particularly vulnerable to it. (Many of Pretty Loud’s members contracted Covid-19.)Over the summer, as borders reopened in Europe, Pretty Loud again took to stages: to cheers at a United Nations event celebrating refugees, under blue lights in Slovenia, at an audition for a Croatian talent show. And the bandmates have more dreams: of making a real demo for an album, performing in Times Square, writing a book about their lives — perhaps even entering politics.Though not yet household names or able to make a living solely from their music, the band is beginning to attract wider European attention. Earlier this month, a video of their successful audition for that Croatian talent show drew 120,000 views.Ms. Ristic, now a dance teacher at GRUBB, wants to grow her followings on TikTok and Instagram, where she posts Pretty Loud performances. Though it has exposed her to racist and sexist comments, she won’t stop posting, she said.“I don’t delete them because it’s not my shame,” she said, adding: “This is how people treat us. I want to show why we fight.”Pretty Loud members watching a recording of their performance after a show in June in Belgrade. Their songs signal a unified hope: to represent Roma women in a modern world free of racism and sexism.Most of the members of Pretty Loud said there was still room for romantic love, children and marriage in the future — so long as they get to choose when.In the future, Ms. Ristic wants to try just about everything: getting her license and then driving a truck while smoking a cigarette, making music with Serbian artists and raising her son, she said, with strong Roma role models so he grows up respecting women.Most of the members of Pretty Loud say there is still room for romantic love, children and marriage in the future — so long as they get to choose when. But after one marriage, Ms. Ristic has seen enough.“I make my own way forward for me, alone. It’s very hard, but I will try,” she said. “I don’t need husband. I want only fun.”Formed in 2014, the group has danced, sung and rapped its way from rookie status to being featured at events across Europe.Laetitia Vancon More