Category Archives: History

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America Book Review

We are all born with talent, ambition, and the desire to succeed. The problem is that while some of us are allowed to see that success come to fruition, others are denied simply based on the fact that we are born with certain skin colors or sex organs.

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo, was published last December. In the book, Ms. Oluo looks at how white and male supremacy is bringing us all down. Using examples from history, pop culture, sports, politics, and other aspects of our culture, she tells the story of how we are all being dragged down by the idea of who is superior and who is inferior.

I loved this book. The author is able to talk about these very delicate topics in a way that is provocative and eye opening without getting her soapbox. Sometimes, all it takes is one conversation to change the world. This book is the conversation starter we desperately need right now.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, Politics

Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy/Lincoln: Divided We Stand Review

We can learn a lot about a specific group of people and their culture by their food. Without stepping into a lecture hall, we receive a history lesson, learn about their traditions, and hopefully begin to see them beyond the stereotypes.

Last night, CNN continued to air first of two series. Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy follows the Italian-American actor and cookbook author as he travels around Italy and samples the food that is specific to each region.

The second series, Lincoln: Divided We Stand, is narrated by Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us). This program tells the story of the 16th President in a manner that humanizes him and his story. Instead of just relying on the facts found in a history book, the audience takes a deep dive into the world from his perspective.

So far, I enjoyed both programs. Tucci approach to his family’s native land is that of love, respect, and curiosity. Like many Americans whose family came from elsewhere, he uses food to introduce viewers to an Italy that only the locals know. Instead of lionizing Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln: Divided We Stand introduces the viewer to the man behind the myths.

Do I recommend both? Yes.

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Godless Review

When one thinks of the Western genre, the image of shootouts, cowboys, Indians, and a mass expanse of untamed wilderness. Most of the main characters are men. If there are any women, they are either the sweetheart/love interest of the hero, a prostitute wearing next to nothing, or an extra in the background.

The 2017 limited Netflix series, Godless, takes these tropes and fleshes them out. In the American West of the 1880’s, the town of La Belle, New Mexico has lost most of it’s men in a mining accident. The women are in charge, taking the places of their fathers, husbands, and brothers. Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery) is a widow living on the outskirts of town with her son and mother-in-law. In the middle of the night, she shoots an intruder. Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) is a former follower of Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), a criminal with a very long rap sheet.

When Frank discovers that Roy is in La Belle, it will be up to the women to defend their home from Frank and his murderous gang.

After watching only a couple of episodes, I have been hooked. I love that instead of being limited in scope, the female characters have finally been given their due. Strengthened by their mutual loss, the women come together to take a stand. From a writing standpoint, I also very much appreciate the equality between the men and women in terms of the spotlight. Each is given a turn to shine without sacrificing who they are and what they believe.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Filed under Feminism, History, Netflix, Television, TV Review

The United States vs. Billie Holiday Review

There is something about the power of music. A beloved song has a way of making it’s way into the listeners brain, conscious, and perhaps helping to change things for the better.

Billie Holiday is one of the most beloved singers of the 20th century. Though it has been six decades since her physical form left this Earth, her performances and songs continue to leave a mark on fans. The new biopic about her life, The United States vs. Billie Holiday dropped yesterday on Hulu.

The film stars singer/actress Andra Day as Holiday, Garrett Hedlund as Harry J. Anslinger, and Trevante Rhodes as Jimmy Fletcher. The audience follows Holiday as she battles drug addiction, racism, and gets involved with FBI agent Jimmy Fletcher. Woven into the narrative is the iconic and dark song Strange Fruit, which sadly is as potent today as it was during Holiday’s life time.

I really wanted to like this film. Day’s performance is worthy of the accolades she is receiving. Unfortunately, that is where I have to draw the line. Frankly, I was bored. I wanted to be hooked, but I was not. Whatever tension and drama I anticipated was sadly lacking. Especially with Anslinger’s obsession and persecution of Billie Holiday. That should have been more exciting that it was actually was.

Do I recommend it? No.

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Filed under Feminism, History, Hulu, Movie Review, Movies, Music

Yellow Wife Book Review

When we are young, we have dreams and ideas of where life will take us. Adulthood and reality has a way of bringing us back to Earth.

Sadeqa Johnson‘s new novel, Yellow Wife, was published last month. Set in the 1850’s in Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown is a slave with privileges that few of her class have. Just shy of her 18th birthday, she dreams of marrying her sweetheart and the freedom that has been promised as a birthday present. The dream is shattered when she is forced out of her home.

Taken to a jail in preparation of being sold, her fate is changed when she is chosen by the jail owner. Pheby’s status is murky. She is still a slave. But she is also the lady of the house and the mother of her owner’s children. Known as The Jailer, he can be both kind and barbaric. Pheby knows that if she is survive, she must rely on her wits.

I loved this book. It is enthralling, engaging, and so dam good. There has been a lot of discussion about giving a voice and a spotlight to people who’s history has been either simplified or ignored completely. It would have been easy to just give lip service to this idea. Pheby is smart, brave, and likable, qualities that are sometimes missing in female characters. Especially in women of color. Though her story is set in a specific time period, she is one of those women who is instantly relatable. It is a quality that creates classics and forces readers to reckon with their own prejudices.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Radium Girls Review

Change does not happen from nothing. It requires the will to see it happen and the bravery to stand up against those who would prevent such change.

Radium Girls premiered in 2018. Based on a true story, it takes place in the 1920’s. Sisters Bessie (Joey King) and Josephine (Abby Quinn) are employed by American Radium (based on the real company U.S. Radium Corp). Their job is to paint watches and military dials with radium. In order to paint within the miniscule lines, they had to wet the brushes with their lips. When Josephine starts to get sick, Bessie starts to put two and two together. But when the company starts to push back, she realizes that getting justice is easier said than done.

The narrative is the classic underdog/working class vs. the big bad men who keep them down. Though the story is in the same genre as Iron Jawed Angels, Norma Rae, and Suffragette, I didn’t getting the same “yes I can” rush that I usually get with these kind of films.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Radium Girls is available for streaming on Netflix.

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World on Fire Character Review: Uwe & Claudia Rossler

*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series World on Fire. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. When we meet Uwe & Claudia Rossler (Johannes Zeiler and Claudia Mayer) in World on Fire, their introduction comes by way of their neighbor, Nancy Campbell (Helen Hunt). They have two children, Klaus and Hilda. While Klaus is away fighting for his country, his parents deal with an internal battle at home. Hilda is living with a medical condition, that if known to the authorities, would put her life in danger. They decide to hide their daughter’s illness and ignore what they are hearing about children being killed for having physical and mental special needs.

Uwe is a business owner who is under constant pressure to fall in line with the regime. Acting against his own conscious and the need to protect his daughter, he reluctantly joins the Nazi party. Then life forces Uwe and Claudia to deal with a fork in the road. Somehow, it gets out that their daughter is sick. Claudia makes the devastation decision to kill herself and Hilda, leaving a heartbroken husband behind. When Uwe kills one of his employees who is an avid supporter of the government, he turns to Nancy to hide the body.

To sum it up: Change only comes when we feel uncomfortable. Comfort creates complacency, for better or for worse. Uwe and Claudia are initially comfortable, safe in the knowledge that as heterosexual Christians, they will be left to live in peace. It is only when they are uncomfortable that they make certain decisions that will forever change the course of their lives.

Which is why they are memorable characters.

This will be my last Character review post for World on Fire. The next group of characters I will be writing about are…come back next week and find out.

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Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath Book Review

The plot line of a biography is as follows: the person was born on x date, accomplished a, b, and c, and died on y date. From there, it is up to the writer(s) to add the details and color to the story they are telling.

Heather Clark’s biography of Sylvia Plath, entitled Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, was published last October. Delving into Plath’s life and work (including The Bell Jar, one of my personal favorites), Clark takes the reader on a journey from Plath’s early years in New England in the 1930’s to her death in 1962 from lingering mental health issues. Using information that was previously unknown, Clark pulls information from interviews, unpublished works, and other documents to create a complete image of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

If there was ever a blue print on how to write a compelling biography, this is it. When I finished reading this book, I felt like I knew her. Not just as a poet and a writer, but as a human being. As a reader, it is one thing to connect to your favorite writer based on their work. But when you get to know them as an ordinary person, that is where magic happens.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History, Mental Health, Writing

Those Who Don’t Learn From History are Doomed to Repeat it: You Know Who Acquitted Again

In 1923, a future German Dictator who shall remain nameless led a failed coup that history would recall as the Beer Hall Putsch. Ten years later, his second attempt at joining the government was successful. The rest, as we all know, is history.

Yesterday, you know was was again acquitted of all charges relating to the riot on January 6th. Though 57 members of the senate checked off the guilty box (including several Republicans), 67 were needed for an official verdict.

Though some have argued that having 57 votes by itself is a victory, I don’t see it that way. By formalizing that he was guilty of lighting the fire that ignited the events of that day, the message would have been clear. But because he was declared innocent, the message is scarily opaque.

The fact is that everyone who was in the building that day was in danger. It didn’t matter if they voted red, blue, purple, or another color. Did they not hear the chant “Hang Mike Pence“? Did they not see the news that pipe bombs were placed at both Republican and Democrat headquarters that morning?

I thank those who voted that you know who was guilty, especially if they lean politically right. They had the courage to do what was the right thing, knowing full well the backlash they may receive. Those who didn’t are nothing but cowards.

Several members of the Republican party were seen doing anything but paying attention. Some actively chose to not attend the hearings at all. What gets my goat is that though Mitch McConnell voted not guilty, he still made a statement afterwards that you know who was responsible for the riot.

Others have said that history will be the ultimate judge. In a sense, it is comforting. I understand what they are saying, but I am more concerned about today than tomorrow. Most, if not all of us are taught when we are young, that there are consequences relating to our actions. This message is obviously lost on you know who and his traitorous supporters.

If there is a glimmer of hope, it is that come the next midterm elections, the voters get rid of these hypocritical turncoats. Until then, we must remain vigilant to ensure that this never happens again.

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Filed under History, National News, Politics

The Bonfire of Destiny Review

Fire is an immortal element of nature. As much as we think we have control over it, the truth is that we will never have the upper hand.

The Bonfire of Destiny is a French television series. Originally airing in 2019, it is currently on Netflix. It is based on the true story of the Bazar de la Charité. In 1897 in Paris, a fire broke out during an annual charity event. 126 victims, mostly aristocratic women and their maids, died in the blaze. The series follows three women as they deal with the aftermath of the day’s events. Adrienne de Lenverpré (Audrey Fleurot) is anxious to leave her failing marriage. Rose Rivière (Julie De Bona) is almost ready to tell her mistress that she and her husband will be leaving for America. Alice de Jeansin (Camille Lou) is a young woman on the verge of marrying her sweetheart.

So far, I am three episodes in and enjoying it. I was immediately sucked in by the story and the choices that these characters have made so far. It is not easy to survive this kind of event and not come out with scars, both emotional and physical that will be with you during the rest of your life.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Bonfire of Destiny is available for streaming on Netflix.

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