Welcome to season 2 of The Pop Cult Podcast! Thanks so much to those of you who’ve been with us from the beginning, and welcome to any new listeners out there. We have big plans for the second year of the podcast, including doubling down on talk about diversity, feminism, and story in all of the pop culture we love. The first episode of this season is a nice showcase of those things that we really do love speaking about. We’re talking about Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two Oscar-nominated films that we think you should seek out. The spoilers for this episode are minimal, as neither of these films has a spoiler-able plot, but we do talk in detail about both, so keep that in mind if you are a purist.
Hidden Figures is up for discussion first, and both Jeffrey Bryan and I loved it. This movie was kind of perfectly designed to make me love it. It’s a period piece about black lady scientists who break through racist systems and institutions while eating barbecue and drinking homemade hooch (and wearing 60s business clothing and HATS). This is everything I love in the world. It’s based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly about three of the women who made huge contributions to the NASA space program that (white, male) history has not acknowledged in a significant way (until recently).
The story around the three main characters, Katherine G. Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), Mrs. Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) is very much based in fact, which helps the film pack a real narrative punch. You should check out interviews with the real Katherine Johnson, because she is smart and funny and inspiring.
We talk a little about the main cast in the movie, and found each of the women pretty darn delightful in the roles. We both hadn’t been exposed to Taraji P. Henson’s work before this, and she impressed us with her range. Jeff commented off-air how impressed he was at the many facets she is playing here (nerd, wife, genius, mother, scientist, black person, black woman), and it’s a great point. That is all contained in a confident performance, and her lack of an Oscar nomination is a little infuriating.
Janelle Monáe is having quite the year, and we were both here for her performance, and particularly the stand she takes in a courtroom. Trailblazing is an understatement here, and Monáe captures the magnitude of her character’s win with grace and joy. I’m stumping for Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis on a buddy cop show. Hollywood, you have my number if you need more super ideas.
We talk further about the dangerous territory of “white man saves the world” that Hidden Figures flirts with, and the film’s joyous tone that lifts spirits in the new world we’re living in (#darkesttimeline). I could watch Monáe and Spencer flirt on behalf of their friend for hours on end, and the tone of this film struck a great chord with both me and Jeff.
In the second half, we talk about Moonlight. This is the Oscar-nominated film by Barry Jenkins based on a stage play called In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue (written by Tarell Alvin McCraney). Moonlight is a look at the life of a man as he grows up in Florida, first as a boy, then teenager, then young adult, as he shapes different phases of his identity. The actors who play the lead character in the film are Trevante Rhodes (“Black”), Ashton Sanders (“Chiron”), and the impressive debut of Alex Hibbert (“Little”). The names the character chooses/has put on him are markers of his identity, and the film works within mood and tone more than traditional plot.
We talk about the structure of the film, and the way the pace and structure interact to give a thoughtful, organized, calm film that leaves a definite impression. Jeff has thoughts about the way the film portrays a coming out story. He praises the film for existing outside the two categories of gay film he has seen in the world. It’s not a pun-filled, sexy times romp with blond people, and it’s also not a depressing look at life as a homosexual person. He admits that the second category is Important, but that it also wears down people seeking out films that represents their experience. This movie does have themes of struggle, but we love how the film doesn’t feel like it exploits that.
Pop Culture Kool-Aid Picks
Jeff has given American Crime Story: The People VS OJ Simpson a try, and his viewing of it in a post-election world is particularly brutal. I’m on the record with my thoughts about Sarah Paulson and her wigs, and totally co-sign this recommendation.
Jeff has a second pick this week, and he’s staying very much on brand with a comic book. He’s recommending Mockingbird #1: I Can Explain. It’s written by Chelsea Cain, and takes on a character that hasn’t been in the lime light for Marvel just yet.
For me, this week was all about The Great British Bake Off. If you have the opportunity to see this wholesome and good-hearted show, please do seek it out. These are home bakers who give up their weekends to try to win a baking competition with no discernible prize. You’ll especially want to check it out if you want to meet the British version of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler you never knew you needed.
Jeff said that Hidden Figures made three times the amount of Live by Night and Silence combined but when we double checked the math it actually looks like it made TWENTY times the amount of both of them combined (via boxofficemojo.com).
I also kind of mis-pronounced Mahershala Ali’s name like 3 times. I think it should be “MaHERshala” instead of “MaherSHAla” that I was going for. My bad, Cottonmouth. Please don’t end me.
Thanks so much for joining us this week! Don’t want to miss an episode? Go ahead and subscribe on iTunes or on Google Play! We’d love to hear from you! If you want to get in touch, Jeff is @jlabryan, and I’m @laurencheal.