The world of Hollywood already seemed distant before there were armored trucks rolling down Hollywood Boulevard. But of course, the nationwide protests over police brutality have only made our pop culture fascinations seem increasingly frivolous—even sort of irrelevant. You can gauge this by the fact that this week’s showbiz news cycle was about celebrities who were focused on empathizing and educating rather than entertaining. Music companies fell silent, comedians turned serious, and actors got uncomfortably real in order to bring attention to a movement that’s about us no longer escaping reality but facing it. The show, for now, must not go on.
Plenty of Texas stars were in that mix, of course. Beyoncé used her considerable platform to speak out about George Floyd, who died at the hands of Minneapolis police, posting an emotional video in which she vowed, “We all witnessed his murder in broad daylight. We’re broken and we’re disgusted. We cannot normalize this behavior.” To that end, the landing page of her website has been changed to a stark photo of Floyd, alongside links to several petitions demanding justice.
Beyoncé’s fellow Houston star Lizzo has also posted several videos of support, directing fans to bail funds for protesters and pledging to help rebuild the damaged businesses along Minneapolis’s Lake Street. She was more pointed in a later address: “White people, this is your daily reminder that if you stay silent, you are part of the problem,” Lizzo said. “I know you’re not racist, but you have to be more than that. You have to be anti-racist.” She then used her most powerful medium to spread that message, personally serenading Joe Biden with a brief tune about “The Black Vote” (“You gonna have to do more than just get it / You gonna have to go out and earn it”), before busting out the drum machine to sing a catchy tune driving primary voters to the polls.
On Saturday, as protests continued to spread across the country, The Good Place star William Jackson Harper posted a Twitter thread filled with palpable exhaustion and anger at the history of “oppression, injustice, and genocide” that belies “the cute, tidy idea of American exceptionalism” that’s often bandied about at times like this. Harper also shared a personal story from his childhood in Dallas, about witnessing an armed security guard threatening his dad at his own community gym.
This white guy looked like he wanted to shoot my dad over a game of pick up basketball. Or, at the very least, try to humiliate my dad in front of me. This is one of my earliest childhood memories. So I understand the rage. The frustration. I feel it. I carry it with me everyday.
— William Jackson Harper (@dubjackharper) May 30, 2020
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On a similar note, Jamie Foxx appeared outside of San Francisco City Hall, speaking—and briefly singing—at a “kneel-in” in which he alluded to the racism he’d faced growing up in Terrell. Foxx also implored his other “Hollywood friends” to join him in the streets. “You gotta get out here,” Foxx said. “You can’t sit back. You can’t tweet. You can’t text. You got to get out here. When you’re here, and you see how people are hurting, you can understand what it is as opposed to being in your bedroom or your living room and saying, ‘Hey, I don’t like this.’”
Cinemark Doesn’t Expect “Normal” Movie Theaters Until at Least 2022
In the meantime, it’s not like Foxx’s “Hollywood friends” really have anywhere to go. Film and TV production remains in lockdown over that other American crisis, and this week’s 22-page industry-wide report outlining strict new recommendations for working during the pandemic paints a decidedly pessimistic picture. That long road to recovery has plenty of collateral damage as well—chief among them movie theaters. The world’s largest movie theater chain, AMC Theatres, expressed “substantial doubt” this week that it will survive the shutdown. Here in Texas, the Plano-based Cinemark is only slightly more optimistic. In a call with analysts this week, Cinemark CEO Mark Zoradi said he believes the theater business won’t even come close to something resembling normalcy until at least 2022, in large because of predictions that they likely won’t have any new movies to show.
For now, the chain—which has already lost $59.6 million this quarter—plans to start reopening all its theaters in phases, at limited seating capacity, beginning June 19. It will screen older “library” titles at the drastically reduced ticket price of $5 per adult and $3 per child. Zoradi added that showtimes will be staggered to reduce crowding, “seat buffering” will be implemented to allow for proper social distancing, and that, while concessions will be sold, there will be a much smaller selection, with employees serving from behind plexiglass shields. At the same time, while those employees will be required to wear masks, customers will only be “encouraged” to do so. The chain also won’t be performing temperature checks at the entrance. In short, you’ll ultimately have to decide for yourself whether it’s worth the risk just to have a slightly nightmarish distortion of the moviegoing experience watching a film you can probably stream safely, for free, at home.
Ethan Hawke Leads ATX Festival’s First-Ever Virtual Marquee Screening
In fact, there’s increasingly little that hasn’t moved online already. The ATX Television Festival, which runs this weekend from June 5 to June 7, has even announced its first-ever virtual marquee premiere for Saturday night, with Austin’s own Ethan Hawke joining his fellow cast members for a sneak peek at the new Showtime limited series The Good Lord Bird. Based on James McBride’s 2013 historical novel, the show follows a young enslaved boy (Joshua Caleb Johnson) who joins up with Hawke’s abolitionist John Brown in his armed insurrection against American slavery. It’s a story that, while it certainly never lost its relevance, feels especially charged at the current moment, and the panel conversation with Hawke and McBride is bound to be an intense one. The Good Lord Bird joins a preview of the Showtime docuseries Outcry, which covers the trial—and eventual exoneration—of former Leander High School football player Greg Kelley over charges of sexual abuse. You can watch these and all other ATX events for free this weekend through the festival’s website.
Selena Becomes the Subject of a New College Course
There’s been some debate over whether universities can recover from the pandemic, as well. And while most observers, even in their most dire predictions, think colleges will eventually reopen, the prevailing belief is that they’ll be drastically changed, with more students attending virtually. As the New York Times’s Frank Bruni recently observed, there’s also likely to be a shift away from the already-underfunded humanities and liberal arts toward business and STEM, as students increasingly demand a more immediate payoff from their education. For now, at least, we can take some small comfort that the humanities still exist for professors like Sonya Alemán, who this fall will introduce a class on Tejano legend Selena Quintanilla to the University of Texas at San Antonio. Alemán’s course is the second Selena class we’ve heard of—there’s already one at San Diego State University. The UTSA class, “Selena: A Mexican American Identity and Experience,” uses the late singer as a way of exploring how “sociohistorical, economic, and political factors converge to shape a Mexican-American group identity in Texas, the Southwest and the United States.” It’s the first college course devoted to her—and hopefully it won’t also be the last.
THIS WEEK IN MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY
Adding to the overall desolation of this week, we spent it almost completely bereft of Matthew McConaughey, who opted to spend this tumultuous time in near-total radio silence. McConaughey did appear on CBS Sunday Morning to talk pandemic messaging, reiterating that wearing a mask shouldn’t be a political statement and suggesting once again that he could be the guy to bridge that divide. “If I could be another voice to put that out, and somebody else could go, ‘Oh, I didn’t listen to so-and-so, but I like that McConaughey told me,’ that’s a win!” he said. Still, while the actor did send another 25,000 masks to the University Medical Center of El Paso, he did it quietly, with the voice that’s been such a reassuring presence now unnervingly absent, from social media and beyond. Not that you needed another reminder that—for now, at least—things are most decidedly not all right.