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A mere thirty-seconds into last week’s premiere episode of ‘American Horror Story: Coven’, I found myself rushing to my Twitter account to announce that I was already in love. Now, two weeks into the show, I’m wondering if I might have spoke too soon. Currently in its third season, the FX anthology series has been both reviled and revered for its distinct mix of horror and high camp since debuting in 2011. It’s definitely an acquired taste, with latex-wearing ghosts, alien babies, mad Nazi doctors, and demon-possessed nuns.
But the charm of ‘American Horror Story’, at least for me, is all that craziness coupled with what on the surface comes off as a sense of self-awareness, of melodrama, what with its references to the B-horror movies of yesteryear, and an acute tendency to go over over-the-top whilst never taking itself all the way seriously. And that’s the spiel many fans of the show tell themselves and others whenever the narrative gets decidedly ridiculous or messed up. Of course, the danger in that reading is in giving the series (and by extension showrunner Ryan Murphy) more credit than it deserves.
This is a show that is often as problematic as it is delightfully bizarre, and navigating the thin line between being critical of its faults and being entertained by its eccentricities is perhaps the most difficult part about being a fan. Despite its pride in producing complex female characters, the series has the simultaneous tendency to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about women (especially those who own their sexuality) and to punish women (all three seasons have used rape as a plot point). Obviously there’s also the casual racism, ableism, and homophobia that’s become a staple in all Ryan Murphy shows - used as a device to develop or at the very least place emphasis on the quirky, outrageous, sometimes vile characters that make up the series multiverse.
On the first episode of ‘American Horror Story: Coven’, we got our first taste of this sort of vile character (or caricature) when we met Kathy Bates as historical figure Delphine LaLaurie, a New Orleans socialite who in the 1830s was revealed to be socialite by day, sadistic serial torturer and killer of slaves by night. We’re taken to her underground lair, where her slaves are caged and beaten, some literally covered in blood, with one particularly gory shot showing a person with all the skin on their face peeled off.
The crowning moment, as it were, is when she strings a young black man up for apparently making love to her daughter, suffocating him by covering his face with a bull’s head in an attempt to, bizarrely, create her very own minotaur. Later, we see another slave’s pancreas removed from his abdomen with a hook. Gore is nothing new on this show, which often pays homage to the slasher films of the mid-70s and 80s. But in this case, it isn’t the images themselves that are disturbing. It’s the context in which they’re being presented… — American Horror Story - Slavery As Torture Porn?
New Interview on Shadow & Act: Una Noche director talks Cuba, Representation, Women in Film, and Spike Lee
In Una Noche, Lucy Mulloy’s debut feature film, a brother and sister living in Havana embark on a dangerous journey with their friend, floating on a raft bound for Miami. Even ahead of its release this month, the film has garnered Mulloy numerous accolades, and even a stamp of approval from director Spike Lee. In April, the movie also made waves when lead actors Javier Núñez Florián and Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre (who became a couple during production) disappeared en route to the Tribeca Film Festival, only to resurface days later with the revelation that they were seeking asylum in the United States.
At its core, though, Una Noche is a compelling portrait of a teenage girl, a coming-of-age story set in a context rarely seen. I talked with Mulloy about the Una Noche, her working relationship with Spike Lee, her experiences as a female filmmaker, the importance of representation, and what made her, a British director, so keen on telling a Cuban story…
Read the interview here.
COMING SOON [speakers blow out] TO OWN ON DVD [children scramble for the remote] AND VIDEO CASSETTE [atomic bomb explodes in living room]
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