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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: “Birds of Prey,” Tan France, and more

Feb. 17, 2020
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Watch: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020, dir. Cathy Yan)

Watching Suicide Squad back in 2016, I found Harley Quinn easy to detest. Not because I was falling back into my internalized misogyny as I initially thought, but because she was no woman at all. She was man-made, a projection of male fantasies, a manifestation of what men thought of women. Birds of Prey reintroduces Harley—emancipates her, first from her abusive (literal) clown boyfriend, then from the male gaze. 

Directed by Cathy Yan, Birds of Prey is a female-led, female-backed project that pops off the screen with its fast-paced storytelling and vibrant cinematography. Alongside Harley are superheroes Black Canary, Huntress, and Renee Montoya, and with Yan’s phenomenal direction, the audience is given an authentic portrayal of women friendship; a vast improvement from an earlier superhero movie that merely placed all its female heroes in one frame and deemed it empowering.

And it’s so fun. The non-linear storyline and borderline fourth-wall breaks allow room for playfulness, and the soundtrack is reminiscent of a getting-ready-for-a-night-out playlist.

Margot Robbie astounds in both the chippy and more emotionally intense moments; she adds acting ticks from I, Tonya to her spirited characterization of Harley, fully fleshing out the antihero in her first solo gig.

It can be so exhausting, walking into a movie like Birds of Prey or the all-female Ghostbusters remake already painfully aware of the online discourse that surrounds it. Feminism, at least the neoliberal kind permeating mainstream media, has been made synonymous with anything female—”female” meaning disruptive of the status quo; “status quo” being white maleness. Female presence in public spaces—cinema screens, comic books—is deemed aggressive and invasive. Birds of Prey is indeed all that—aggressive and invasive, evinced by its eleven-word title—but in a way, unaffected by what dudes on the interwebs are saying. Try to enter the cinema with as little awareness of online discourse as you can, or don’t—just let it surprise you.

Birds of Prey is in cinemas now.Binge: Next in Fashion

Likeable, intelligent, and with an efficient sense of ethos, Netflix’s latest reality competition offering has a template not too dissimilar from its predecessors but whose self-awareness is a cause for elevation. It never feels dated, thanks in part to its charismatic hosts, Queer Eye’s Tan France and fashion it girl Alexa Chung, who were muses of the internet long before the show.  

It shares the same vein as MasterChef as opposed to America’s Next Top Model, in that the drama and tension are all centered on the craft rather than the contestants. Personal lives of the cast are frequent points of discussion, but it’s always rooted in their vision and who they ultimately are as designers. 

Because all contestants already have experience working in the industry, they are unafraid to start conversations about their work, which are often personal and directly stitched to their identities. The streetwear episode is undoubtedly the most important one: Kiki Kitty and Farai Simoyi, who are both known for streetwear, had to defend their work to an unsatisfied panel. “We were given streetwear, and we design from our perspective, and the thing that I’ve noticed in the fashion industry is it’s mostly one voice that’s heard,” Simonyi said in the show. It’s an eye-opening watch even to people outside the industry. The show delivers not only good fashion, but good TV.

Next in Fashion is streaming on Netflix.Listen: “Let’s Be Friends” by Carly Rae Jepsen

This anti-Valentine’s single from perpetually smitten popstar Carly Rae Jepsen is the newest anthem to sing in your bedroom. Its danceable hook and narratively cohesive lyrics are formulated perfectly, sure to be played on your way home from your next bad date. “Catch you later! / Never gonna see you again / See you never,” she whisper-sings in the post-chorus, followed by a sassier monologue come the song’s bridge: “I mean, you're sort of a dick sometimes / But someone out there is surely gonna love a dick / Uh, check, please.” While lyrically a bit more pessimistic than the usual CRJ hit, it’s a welcome change. If Carly says we’re done with love, then we’re done with it. 

Watch the lyric video here.