The May Incluvie Movie Highlights features 3 fantastic coming-of-age films. We explore butterfly-inducing Sneakerella and Crush, and the sadly timely feature - The Fallout, about the after-effects of a school shooting. Movie Critic Teri Elam joins in to discuss Alice, a 2022 blaxploitation inspired film starring Keke Palmer. In addition, we give a nod to movie theater blockbusters - Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent - for being better than expected on the incluvie scale! Join in with your hosts: Cathy Yee and Hazel Bolivar!
CATHY: Welcome to our Incluvie Movie Highlights for May 2022. This is the show where we shine a spotlight on our favorite new movies that stand out for diversity and identity, and share our thoughts. From Incluvie.com, I’m Cathy Yee!
HAZEL: And I am Hazel Bolivar, on today’s episode we will showcase a guest highlight by Incluvie writer Teri Elam on the movie Alice. Then, we will cover three teen movies that explore a wide range of emotions and coming-of-age experiences. Those movies will be Sneakerella, Crush, and our featured highlight for the month, The Fallout.
CATHY: But, before we get into those, we’re going to take a quick look at some notable new releases in theaters.
CATHY: One of the biggest releases of the past month is the MCU’s new Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
HAZEL: You may be wondering, what does this movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch have to do with diversity in media? Well, given that the film has an average Incluvie score of 3.9, the answer is: not nothing!
CATHY: That’s right! While I was watching the film, I was thrilled to see Wong again, Doctor Strange’s best friend, and the leader Kamar-Taj, played by Benedict Wong - noble and charismatic through and through. I’m thankful he’s still alive. I also loved America Chavez, played by Xochitl Gomez. She’s central to the story given her power to travel between universes. Even with such great power, I felt that her character wasn’t used to her fullest potential. I know she’s just a kid, but throughout the movie, she was helpless - until the very end. Her chat with Wong in Spanish, making fun of Doctor Strange, was also very funny.
HAZEL: The film also stirred some interesting conversation within the writing team at Incluvie, particularly surrounding Wanda Maximoff playing the role of the villain. If you found yourself on Wanda’s side while watching this movie, definitely check out both Atreyo Palit and Daleyna’s articles on the subject, and if you want a list of Easter Eggs Cathy noted while watching, check out her article too, on Incluvie.com.
CATHY: Also in theaters, I went out to see Nicholas Cage’s new comedy - The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. It was going to be my one non-Incluvie movie, just for laughs.
HAZEL: I did not get a chance to see this one, but I have a feeling it wasn’t the greatest movie on Earth for diversity.
CATHY: It actually was surprisingly good! Chilean actor Pedro Pascal as Javi has a cute little bromance with Nick Cage. Also Tiffany Haddish is in the movie… for a few minutes.
HAZEL: I guess we’ll take that, did you like the movie overall?
CATHY: I did! It was really funny and had a lot of slapstick humor. It is definitely a fun, ridiculous movie to unwind with.
HAZEL: Maybe I’ll go out and see it then. Moving on from what’s new in theaters, let’s get into our Highlights for the month of May.
CATHY: First on our list of highlights is a guest segment on Alice. The film stars Keke Palmer, and was written and directed by Krysten Ver Linden. The story follows an enslaved woman named Alice who after running away through the woods, learns that the year is actually 1973, after the Civil Rights Act passed - well outside her enslaved reality. Incluvie movie critic Teri Elam had a lot of thoughts on Alice, and I wanted to bring her onto the show to ask her a few questions about Alice and how it resonates today. With that I am happy to bring onto the show, Teri Elam, welcome.
TERI: My name is Teri Elam, and I write film and TV reviews for Incluvie, and I am here today to talk a little bit about the film Alice.
CATHY: Thank you so much for joining us! So when I was watching Alice there was one scene that I would love to hear your thoughts on. It’s after Alice escapes and meets the truck driver played by Common, who helps her learn about the world of the 70s. When she’s at his house, she reads through a plethora of books about the Civil Rights era and Black Activism, and I would love to hear about your feelings upon watching that scene and its meaning.
TERI: In thinking about how I felt when Alice learned about the civil rights movement, and that things were so different than she had known, there was a really moving scene where she is reading about the Emancipation Proclamation. Of course, it is a hundred years or more after its first delivery by Lincoln, and she is really learning a painful lesson that she has been, and is in fact free. Keke Palmer's tears, or, Alice's tears at that time are kind of like a baptism of fire, I think, between who Alice is and who she is becoming. I feel that using the blaxploitation genre, Ver Linden, the filmmaker subverts the subversive in a way. She bridges Alice's enslavement on a plantation with discovering her true power. Now, historically I read that the genre was considered exploitative, and I can see that. I kinda see it also as that old saying "I can talk about my family, but you can't." And I feel like, Ver Linden instead exploited the genre to tell a story about the evolution and revolution of Black freedom. She gave us glimpses of Diana Ross and Pam Grier. Iconic images from covers of Jet magazine, which my family, you know, subscribed to and we got weekly along with Rolling Stone. And then there was Frank's attempt, or, Frank played by Common's attempt to, in my attempt be like Rerun from What's Happening, back in the day, and he was pop-locking or, trying to pop-lock to Stevie Wonders "Higher Ground." Though not the best pop locker, Frank was Alice's astute resident historian, giving her a kind of "Black to the Future" so to speak, quick-paced lesson, blasting through slavery, Jim Crow, and reconstruction straight into the Civil Rights Movement. After watching it again recently I see the genius in Alice's narrative arc. She was freed during the Black Power Movement which followed the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, in the film the words of Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, and Angela Davis Liberated Alice. Thus, her becoming kind of a Christie Love or Foxy Brown type where she dawns the superficial representation of freedom and power, which is an afro. Ultimately, I think that is powerful even after I revisit this film, again and again, I am finding more of the power in the moment and how the filmmaker did use blaxploitation as a vehicle to show that.
CATHY: Absolutely. Looking at this film in today's context, I wanted to ask if you think something like what happened in Alice could possibly be happening today, or if that was just an extreme thought experiment.
TERI: I think, the more complicated but quicker question to answer is, do you think a similar scenario like Alice could happen today, and to what degree. Honestly, I wish this movie was an extreme example. If you had asked me this question a few years ago, pre-Trump let's say. I might have been naive enough to claim this could never happen today. By "it" I mean the twentieth-century enslavement of Black people, but it really did happen in the twentieth century in the U.S. and that's not long ago. I mean, Ver Linden based her film on stories from a 1963 true event, but without even getting too deep into politics, the scenario of Alice could easily happen in many ways. What I mean by that, is that the story to me was really about the power and freedom of truth and knowledge, and Alice didn't know she was free or even had the option to be free, so she was enslaved literally and figuratively for the first half of the movie. But, thinking about knowledge or the lack thereof is complicit in a lot of the quote-unquote "isms" today, racism, sexism, and homosexism. You have for instance men making decisions about women's bodies using uneducated opinions as guidance. You have elected officials suppressing the votes of citizens who think differently than they do to remain in power. In a country where gay marriage is currently legal, you now have states battling corporations because they use the word "gay." Not to mention, the history of race, but particularly in the U.S. this education being suppressed and limited, which is what happened to Alice. I mean, they are literally banning books in the twenty-first century. In thinking about that scene where I think Alice was reading Anna Karenina and kind of got caught by her quote-unquote "owner." I mean, think about that and think about that now putting in context banning books today. So, I don't necessarily think Alice as a whole could happen today, but, in a way, parts of it is still happening today.
HAZEL: Thank you so much Teri for sharing your perspectives on Alice with us. Teri also wrote a really excellent full review on the film, which you can find on Incluvie.com. Alice is currently available to be bought or rented on Video on Demand.
CATHY: Next on our list is Sneakerella! The Disney+ film is a fun retelling of Cinderella, but with a gender-bent twist. Chosen Jacobs stars as El, a teenage boy in New York City who has a passion for designing sneakers thanks to his late mother. He works at the shoe store she opened and is given a hard time by his evil step-father and step-brothers. While waiting in line for the coolest new shoe drop, he meets and quickly befriends Kira King, played by Lexi Underwood. She serves as the princess charming of the story and is the daughter of famous former basketball player and sneaker creator Darius King, played by NBA champion John Salley. Throughout the film we follow boy Cinderella - El, along with his lesbian best friend Sami, in a colorful, magical, and music-filled journey to prove to himself and the world that he is a talented designer.
HAZEL: This is definitely a lighthearted film that is appropriate and perfectly enjoyable for the whole family. In an interview with CelebSecrets, John Salley celebrates the film for being “a female empowerment movie” as well as a film that can give Black children a way to see themselves without being “stereotyped” or “pigeonholed.” He looks to himself as an example, showing that just because he was a basketball player, doesn’t mean he couldn’t become an actor, in a musical no less. Though I will say, for me, the music didn’t really stand out as much as I would expect for a Disney film.
CATHY: Really? I loved the music!
HAZEL: Okay It’s not that the music was bad, I enjoyed it, it’s just that none of the songs really stood out as a real banger for me.
CATHY: But In Your Shoes was such a moving song about remembering his mother!
HAZEL: That one was very good, and it points to the film having a strong emotional core to it. One place where I saw that shined was in the step-father character, who wasn’t irredeemably evil. Reviewer Collier Jennings, writing for But Why Tho? Recognizes that “Though the “evil stepparent” trope is common in so many movies, [the stepfather] is revealed to be working through his own grief over losing El’s mother. This small change helps add more dimension to what’s usually been a stock role.” I think in many ways the small changes in characters make the film stand rather well on its own.
CATHY: A lot of the changes to the classic Cinderella story were really fun. Aside from being genderbent, I enjoyed seeing the film take place in an accurately diverse New York City. I also loved the fairy godfather character being a Latino man that tends to a garden and gives El and his friend a vintage car instead of a pumpkin carriage. All of these culminate to the film having a really cool style that may make the classic Cinderella story enjoyable for a modern audience.
HAZEL: Changes aside, I have seen critiques of Disney being a bit too comfortable making reboots of their old stories. Laura Cameron writing for Wired, wrote in her article “Sneakerella Proves Disney Needs to Try Harder” that Disney should be “putting its massive power behind new shows and giving them a chance to shine.” I personally agree, and though I think Sneakerella is an enjoyable family movie, I do hope to see new Disney projects with diverse cast and crew be created that don’t rely on old movies that have had a fair share of remakes already. Overall, I would rate Sneakerella a solid four out of five for its Movie Score, and for the Incluvie Score, I would rate the film a five out of five.
CATHY: I would also agree with those ratings! I think the film earns a four out of five for the Movie Score for being a magical feel good movie. I would also give it a five out of five for the Incluvie Score for the cast, the genderbends, and for giving inspiring portrayals of young women and Black youth. Sneakerella is currently available to be streamed on Disney+. After a quick break, we’ll move on to our last two highlights, Crush and The Fallout.
HAZEL: Next on our list of highlights is Crush, a Hulu original film following a high school student who loves making art named Paige, played by Rowan Blanchard, who is accused of being the notorious KingPun, a vandal who creates amusing pun-related graffiti around the school. To get out of being in trouble she joins the track team in hopes of getting to know her long-term crush Gabriella, played by Isabella Ferreira. Paige, however, is assigned to be trained by Gabriella’s twin sister AJ, played by Auli’i Carvalho, and finds herself in a big web of feelings and high school confusion. Also this movie is quite simply, very gay.
CATHY: Gay indeed.
HAZEL: Supremely Gay™.
CATHY: The film is written by Kirsten King and Casey Rackham both of whom are queer women. It is also directed by Sammi Cohen, who is also a queer woman. It is incredibly exciting to see queer filmmakers making stories for queer youth. Also exciting is the racially diverse casting. I was really happy to see the Native Hawaiian Auli’i in the cast, known for voicing Moana, being a bisexual actress playing a bisexual character, especially as we come to the very end of AAPI Heritage month and begin LGBT Pride Month!
HAZEL: I do hope everyone had a happy AAPI heritage month. Did you get the chance to reflect on your heritage, Cathy?
CATHY: I did! I got some boba, made 2 Asian friends, and reflected to the usual amount.
HAZEL: And soon I get to be proud to put the L and T in LGBT.
CATHY: Just one more day.
HAZEL: I know, I am still very much ashamed until then… Back to Crush! The casting overall is very diverse throughout, and the film doesn’t shy away from playfully using tropes to add to the comedy of the film. For example, a scene that goes through the stereotype versions of lesbians that exist at the school, as well as the casting of gay actor Tyler Alvarez as an aggressively straight best friend character. At its core though, this film is a typical high school romance film done very well. A review written on Autostraddle by Analyssa recognizes that “It’s formulaic, but if the formula ain’t broke, must we fix it? Isn’t enough for a movie to just be sweet and delightful?” ….“What does differentiate Crush, ultimately, is its queerness.” I would say that the way that the film presents queerness is great to see because it is not about being unaccepted, instead, it is set in a school that is mostly queer. The director of the film is quoted in a Huffington Post article as saying that she hopes Crush makes LGBTQ kids “feel seen and celebrated,” which I think the film achieves, and then some.
CATHY: I also wanted to point out Paige’s mother played by Megan Mullally being such a strong character who serves as a way to see a different family structure than what is traditionally presented. She is a single mother by choice who decided to go to a sperm bank and raise a child on her own, while still prioritizing her sexuality. She is also really funny, being overly open with her daughter and being very flirtatious with the school’s track coach.
HAZEL: That plot was so gross, in a fun way.
CATHY: I know, it really went into the teenage experience of being like “ew, gross, mom!”
HAZEL: Okay no, but it was actually gross. Bordering on foul. But you know what, I love her character and her enthusiasm for safe sex.
CATHY: Absolutely. Incluvie writer Teri Elam also wrote about this movie and she notes “Crush is unlike most high school flicks I've seen lately or ever... It represents an openly Queer student body in the clear majority.”
HAZEL: Ugh, I wish I went to that school. Honestly, I feel that aspect of the film is what makes it such an important film today. Especially during a time when there are a multitude of Anti-LGBTQ bills being proposed, and some even passing, that specifically target LGBT youth. Take for example the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill that passed and was rightfully met with much student protest. Crush perfectly humanizes queer youth who are often vilified, and that a world where LGBTQ youth are not only tolerated but celebrated is possible, even if it doesn’t always feel like it right now.
CATHY: Along with being important, this film is also just plain fun. It’s predictable at times, sure, but it brings out those crush butterflies you feel. Overall I would give Crush a movie score of four out of five, and of course give it an Incluvie score of five out of five for starring Rowan Blanchard, Auli’i Carvalho, and Isabella Ferreira - for some Latina, Hawaiian, and multiracial queer representation.
HAZEL: I completely agree, I too would give Crush a four out of five for its movie score, and a five out of five for its Incluvie score. If you would like to read Teri’s full review of Crush, by the way, be sure to check it out on Incluvie.com. Crush is currently available to be streamed on Hulu.
HAZEL: Our featured highlight for the month, is a film that actually came out earlier this year, and unfortunately, it has become very relevant today. Before we delve deeper into it, we do want to give a content warning for gun violence for this section of the podcast. We will not go into detailed descriptions of gun violence, but if you would prefer to avoid hearing about the topic, you may want to skip the rest of this episode. That being said the film is The Fallout, which chronicles the experiences of a high school student named Vada, played by Jenna Ortega, after she survives a school shooting, and explores the emotional toll the event has on her, and the impact it has on her relationships.
CATHY: This film is exceptional. It’s thoughtfully directed and performed to delicately present the nuanced emotions that arise after experiencing trauma. It is honestly incredible that this is Megan Park’s directorial debut because every piece of this film feels masterfully done. In an interview with Slash Film, Park goes into the many ways in which she carefully considered every aspect of the film. Starting with perhaps the most difficult aspect, the presentation on-screen of the school shooting. The film’s school shooting scene is contained to a bathroom stall, where Vada and popular girl Mia hide, joined by a young boy named Quinton, finding refuge. Park notes that for “The bathroom stall scene, it was important to me that we stayed in that bathroom stall and we did not show anything outside of that stall, even when people were giving me notes otherwise.” ie not the shooter or shooting itself.
HAZEL: There is an attention to detail and a carefulness that guides the direction of the film, but it is not too careful to not tackle difficult emotions and topics. If anything, it allows the cast to more deeply explore the complexity of what they are depicting. An article by Instyle also shows that “Park gave Ortega a “fun” take for each scene, allowing the actress to do whatever she wanted.” Ortega also recounts that she “never really had the opportunity to show such range or get to know a character so well.” This definitely shows because the vulnerability on display in this film is so moving.
CATHY: Vada’s character is outstanding, and I was also fell in love with Mia’s character, the popular girl, played by Maddie Ziegler’s. She’s the cool dancer girl who lives in a big house, but she is presented very vulnerably. We learn that she has two fathers who are busy traveling for work and are not there for her to process the school shooting trauma. There is a loneliness that is felt, and makes the relationship between her and Vada so compelling, exploring what it means to face trauma with someone, and how the large feelings that accompany can be confusing.
HAZEL: Everything in this film is so carefully thought out, even Vada being portrayed as a half-white, half-Latina young woman is made relevant within the plot of the film. Every relationship in the film develops beautifully, from Vada’s relationship to her little sister, her parents, her therapist, and the students and friends she went through the trauma of a school shooting with. The film also does not make any simple conclusions about healing, and instead acknowledges that healing isn’t linear, and is never really necessarily complete.
CATHY: Given the recent tragedies in Uvalde, Texas, Laguna Woods, California, and Buffalo, New York, I think it’s essential that stories depicting the effects of mass shootings not take a simplistic approach to addressing the vast emotions that surround events like these. The Fallout, I believe, is a perfect example of how artists can create works about trauma in a meaningful way, and hopefully bring more people to see how essential it is for action to be taken to prevent gun violence.
HAZEL: I completely agree. Honestly. Given its masterful direction and incredible performances, I would rate The Fallout a perfect five out of five for its Movie Score. I would also rate the film a five out of five for its Incluvie Score for how thoughtfully Megan Park wrote and directed this film to represent a diverse group of students.
CATHY: There really is nothing negative that I can say about this film, and I agree that it deserves a five out of five for its Movie Score and a five out of five for its Incluvie Score. The Fallout is currently available to be streamed on HBO Max.
HAZEL: That’s our show for the month of May, thanks so much for listening, and be sure to join us next time for more, Incluvie Movie Highlights.
CATHY: This episode was hosted and executive produced by me, Cathy Yee, and co-hosted, produced, and edited by Hazel Bolivar. Additional research and writing by Bianca Sbrocchi. You can visit Incluvie.com to see the incluvie score for a movie and read reviews focused on diversity and identity in media. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram, or support us on Patreon @incluvie, that’s I-N-C-L-U-V-I-E.