As you might have guessed, Hollywood—both Texas and California—remains on hold. Although Los Angeles County health officials declared this week that film and TV production could resume as soon as Friday, June 12, the reality is that most studios are still weeks, if not months, away from actually getting back to work. There are strict new COVID-related regulations to implement, labor unions to appease, lingering fears to overcome. Until then, it promises to remain an eerily quiet summer for entertainment—ironically, at a time when we could use entertainment the most.
Yet even when nothing else is certain, the music goes on. Maybe not in actual, physical venues; the future of those is looking pretty grim as well. But musicians are still out there, doing their best to sustain us via livestreams—like this week’s “A Night for Austin,” which found Willie Nelson, Paul Simon and Edie Brickell, Bonnie Raitt, Norah Jones, Lyle Lovett, Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Black Pumas, and dozens more joining Texan stars Ethan Hawke, Renée Zellweger, Woody Harrelson, and Owen Wilson for a virtual festival that raised nearly $600,000 for various musicians’ causes in the capital city. Thursday also saw Texas’s own Kacey Musgraves taking part in a livestreamed tribute concert to her idol and occasional duet partner, the late John Prine, who died in April of complications related to the coronavirus. And on Monday, June 15, the Kennedy Center will play host to a virtual Texas Folklife concert, featuring three of the state’s most accomplished accordionists playing conjunto, polka, and zydeco for a couch-bound afternoon audience.
But if the last thing you want to do is sit in front of another video stream, there’s plenty of old-fashioned recorded sound coming your way, too. The Dixie Chicks recently announced a new July 17 release date for their eighth album, Gaslighter, after postponing it at the last minute amid those early stages of the pandemic. Unfortunately, it arrives just in time for a new crisis: in the wake of country group Lady Antebellum changing its name to Lady A—thus removing the implicit connections to the era of slavery, it said in a statement—calls have been growing for the Dixie Chicks to consider dissociating itself from the Confederacy as well. The band has yet to comment officially—although it’s worth noting that, so far, this issue has mostly been raised online as a bad-faith defense against “woke liberals” from the same conservatives who blacklisted the Chicks over George W. Bush. Suddenly, the title Gaslighter has taken on an all-new resonance.
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This week also saw the release of two new songs from other Texas artists speaking to that other disease that’s still gripping America. Arlington-born country singer Mickey Guyton debuted her new single “Black Like Me,” a first-person ballad about racial discrimination that she followed up with a compelling Rolling Stone interview about the difficulties of being black, particularly at this moment, in an industry that remains predominately white.
And Fort Worth’s Leon Bridges premiered “Sweeter,” his collaboration with L.A. hip-hop and jazz artist Terrace Martin. It’s a haunting rumination on life under systemic oppression that, likewise, couldn’t feel more timely. Both songs are welcome soundtracks to the scenes of this especially cruel summer (especially as we’re not likely to get anything new to look at for a while).
Fangoria, Birth Movies Death Abandon Dallas’s Cinestate Over Sexual Assault Scandal
While Texas was technically cleared for film and TV production on June 3, Dallas-based studio Cinestate is now facing another serious hurdle before resuming business as usual. Last weekend, the Daily Beast published an exposé of Cinestate-affiliated producer Adam Donaghey, who was arrested on April 27 over allegations that he sexually assaulted a sixteen-year-old. The scandal, which began during the production of David Lowery’s 2017 film A Ghost Story, has led the Dallas film community to turn on Cinestate. The studio’s principals, Dallas Sonnier and Amanda Presmyk, have been accused of repeatedly ignoring reports of dangerous working conditions on Donaghey’s sets, as well as multiple incidents of sexual harassment that Donaghey perpetrated while working with local productions. The Daily Beast article even includes an audio recording of Donaghey behaving aggressively toward one of those female crew members. While Sonnier and Presmyk say they never heard that recording, multiple other sources within the Dallas film scene told the Daily Beast that the pair turned “a blind eye” to the many allegations against Donaghey, allowing them to be “completely swept under the rug.”
The fallout has been swift over Cinestate’s deep ties to the man some have dubbed “the Harvey Weinstein of Dallas,” and potentially devastating for its local film empire. This week already saw the collapse of Cinestate’s fledgling publishing arm, which includes the formerly Alamo Drafthouse–owned website Birth.Movies.Death and the relaunched horror magazine Fangoria. The publications issued a joint statement saying they have ceased operations and are actively seeking new owners.
— Birth.Movies.Death. (@bmoviesd) June 10, 2020
Meanwhile, Cinestate’s original “outlaw cinema” site, Rebeller, has also quietly shuttered, according to former editor-in-chief Sonny Bunch. For now, at least, Sonnier remains sanguine about Cinestate’s continued operation in film production, telling the Dallas Observer—in a story that reveals yet more safety violation allegations—that “we are committed to doing the hard work to make our sets the absolute safest in the business, and we are excited to announce several measures in the coming weeks on those fronts.” But whether anyone else would be “excited” to work with the company again definitely remains to be seen.
Wes Anderson’s Latest Is Selected for Cannes (Which Isn’t Happening)
It was rather bittersweet news for Houston native Wes Anderson this week, who saw his latest film, The French Dispatch, selected as part of the Cannes Film Festival—which, like so many other events, has been canceled over COVID-19 concerns. Anderson’s celebrity-cameo-stuffed dramedy was one of just a handful of American movies to make the cut this year, and it can still lay claim to one of those prestigious “Official Selection” labels for its trailers and posters. Still, the film won’t actually screen for the critics and other tastemakers there, robbing it of the momentum that an early Cannes buzz can so often provide. Even worse, Anderson won’t be able to walk the French Riviera in whatever foppishly rumpled vintage suit he’d picked out this time. It might have been cream-colored, or a lovely mauve! We’ll never know!
Friday Night Lights Cast on What They’d Be Doing In Quarantine
Friday Night Lights cast members Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins), Adrianne Palicki (Tyra Collette), Derek Phillips (Billy Riggins), and Stacey Oristano (Mindy Riggins) reunited as part of last weekend’s virtual ATX Television Festival, weighing in on where they think their characters would be today—as in today today, quarantined under those wide Texas skies. “Obviously Tyra and Tim are married with five children, probably divorced like twice,” Palicki said, with Kitsch chiming in that their bizarre, quasi-incestuous Riggins-Collette clan would likely all be living together on Tim’s ranch. “Maybe give Billy the sh*tty guest house with no electric or AC, or bathroom—a lot of pickup trucks out there,” Kitsch said. Phillips added that ne’er-do-well Billy is “probably still doing illegal stuff,” like “running an underground poker game during COVID.” All told, it was an amusing glimpse into the future-present of the most reliably dysfunctional members of the Friday Night Lights family. (And here’s your reminder that, after the story’s over, you’re free to imagine anything you want for fictional characters, and you don’t always have to listen to their creators.)
Austin Police Department, This is Nathan For You
Essentially the Riggins family of civil servants, the Austin Police Department has become something of a local pariah amid these ongoing national protests, with the fatal shooting of Mike Ramos by a police officer in April; the often-traumatic use of excessive force against demonstrators; and calls for its leadership to resign and the department to be defunded. To combat this growing public image crisis, the Austin PD came up with a rebranding strategy: show everyone the many thank-you cards from all the people they haven’t threatened, seriously injured, or killed. Of course, this would require actually having those cards in the first place, a problem the department appeared to have solved by just filling out a few (notably postage-free) envelopes themselves.
It’s the kind of brilliantly awful marketing solution you might have seen on the late, lamented Comedy Central show Nathan for You, so it makes perfect sense that it eventually caught the attention of that show’s host and creator, comic Nathan Fielder. This week, Fielder replied to the Austin PD on Twitter with his own staged photo shoot, showing off with the many thank-you cards he’s received from fans who, coincidentally, also have very similar handwriting. It’s a prank that, in its roundabout way, elicited the only sincere thanks that the Austin PD is likely to hear for a while.
I know how it feels! I can’t express how grateful I am to serve my fans. I’m overwhelmed by how many people took the time to make my day a little brighter. https://t.co/rFMkVlt4ae pic.twitter.com/KjIw2xa7zl
— nathan fielder (@nathanfielder) June 10, 2020
THIS WEEK IN MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY
Nathan Fielder trolling APD aside, it’s been pretty difficult to find many bright spots in these exceptionally dark days. Even Matthew McConaughey—whose indomitable spirit helped to turn our quarantine lockdown into something approaching a house party—seems to have been cowed by the erupting civil unrest that’s happening on top of everything else. But after uncharacteristically lying low last week, the actor finally broke his silence to appear on Texan NFL star Emmanuel Acho’s web series, Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man. Although, as McConaughey said, he was primarily there to “learn and listen.”
After some opening remarks he read from note cards in his lap—a symbolic divergence from his usual, shoot-from-the-hip style—McConaughey started their dialogue by asking bluntly, “How can I do better as a white man?”
“You have to acknowledge that there is a problem so that you can take more ownership for the problem,” Ancho replied. “ Individually, you have to acknowledge implicit bias. You have to acknowledge that you’ll see a black man and, for whatever reason, you will view them more of a threat than you will a white man. Probably because society told you to.”
Agreeing that he still had much to learn about himself, McConaughey also asked about the phrase “white allergies,” referring to any ingrained racism still floating in his system that he may not even be aware of. As McConaughey said, he attended a high school whose population was more than 50 percent black; he was the first white guy to work at Austin blues bar Catfish Station; and he’s being married to a “nonwhite immigrant.” Yet, with Ancho’s prodding, McConaughey said he was now striving to “see things from the black side more, so I can get a four-dimensional view here because, inherently, maybe, to some extent, I‘ve been living in a way where I didn’t see all sides as clearly as I could have.”
McConaughey ended their talk with a prepared reading from Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again,” quoting the line, “Let America be America again / The land that never has been yet.” It was, as promised, an uncomfortable thing to watch, yet oddly inspiring—like everything else that’s been going on.