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What boycotting JK Rowling means on the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that you believe in equal rights and you support the trans community in spirit. That you call yourself an LGBTQIA+ ally and wear rainbows in June and march at Pride with your queer friends. If you support J.K. Rowling instead of boycotting her, all of that is performative. Because it’s easy to advocate for human rights in the face of overt injustice, against people who want to openly deny people rights. But when it’s time to really take a stand, to renounce something you like because it’s problematic, will you do it? Will you stand with your queer friends then?

J.K. Rowling has said a lot of things that were transphobic. There is no way around it at this point. The author has reiterated her points time and time again with conviction. And a few other things that made me lose faith in her long before that. Now, people coming to her defense will say she is entitled to her own personal opinion. That she is not hurting anyone with her thoughts. That she changed her perspective recently and spun her argument around women’s safety rather than trans rights. But the issue is much more complex than that. Her thoughts, per se, aren’t hurting anyone. But her words? J.K. Rowling has a terrifyingly immense fanbase. Her words are endangering trans lives.

When she tweets about her own prejudice against trans individuals, she is preaching to an echo chamber of millions of people who listen to her as if the world hangs from her keyboard. People who feel validated in their own ignorance and hatred. People who go out there and spread that message and turn it into discriminatory and violent acts.

This needs to be established. Words have consequences. Celebrities especially, who hold so much mediatic power, need to be held accountable for their actions.

I am sick of hearing people my age, people who should know better, that they have stopped supporting J.K. Rowling when they still buy her new books and go see her new movies. That is the definition of supporting an author. Unfollowing on social media is not enough to boycott somebody.

The reason why Rowling is so rich isn’t that she sold billions of books – although that certainly contributed. It’s that she gets royalties. As of 2020, her biggest source of income are the Wizarding World theme parks. She also gets a cut from every time television airs a film based on her books. A cut from every cinema or theatre ticket sold (don’t go see Cursed Child, it’ll be an actual waste of your savings). A cut from every item of Harry Potter merchandising you buy your friends for Christmas. If you truly want to show you don’t support her, then stop supporting her.

I know, I know Harry Potter was your childhood. It was my childhood too. And my teenage years. I named my dog after a Harry Potter character. I still have posters up in my childhood bedroom. Like many in my generation, I am the person I am thanks to Harry Potter. I still love the characters. I still stay up at night reading and writing fanfiction inspired by the world of Harry Potter. But I go out of my way to make sure nothing I do supports a person with transphobic views. I go out of my way to make sure more and more people know what supporting her means for certain people.

Not everyone wants to be an activist, and that’s fair. What I find truly unacceptable is people claiming ignorance. “I’m a feminist and I don’t agree with what she said about trans people, but let me enjoy Potter in peace.” It doesn’t work like that. If you’re an ally as you claim to be, you shouldn’t enjoy Harry Potter in peace. You should fight against the powerful person telling millions of people that we aren’t all equal, a powerful person claiming that some people deserve fewer rights than others. Isn’t that what Hermione and Harry would do? Isn’t that what they did do?

I’m not saying we need to collectively disown and renounce Harry Potter, throw away our memorabilia and burn the books. I’m not saying we should pretend to hate it or that we never loved it in the first place. I’m saying we should take what it taught us and use it to make the world a kinder place. And yes, paradoxical as it sounds, that includes boycotting its creator.

It’s not a moral dilemma. We can enjoy a story and disagree with the author’s political views 20+ years after she wrote the books, it’s as straightforward as that. Philosopher Roland Barthes, a pillar in literary theory, comes to our aid in this: he coined a concept called la morte de l’auteur, quite literally “the death of the author.” Barthes encourages readers to split an author from their works and to view them as two separate entities. The author has full agency over the work, but relinquishes their authority over it the moment a work of art becomes public; it stops belonging to the author and it becomes property of its users, who are free to do with it what they will. This theory is also the most strenuous defender of fanfiction and fanart in the eternal debate around transformative works. Like John Green once exemplified and paraphrased, “books belong to their readers.”

J.K. Rowling owns the rights to Harry Potter (as she should, given she’s written it), but she doesn’t own our relationship to it. And we don’t owe her anything in return. There was no blood oath sealed when we first purchased The Philosopher Stone in the 90s or 00s binding us to the book’s author. We did not vow our unquestioned allegiance. Perhaps some of us did when we were younger, overcome with romanticism. Today, we cannot forsake our critical sense in the name of that loyalty.

Keep heart, Potterheads. Harry and his friends and their adventures belong to us. We get to still love them. I do. I have supported J.K. Rowling for over a decade of my life before she started spewing nonsense, but I don’t owe her my integrity now. I don’t owe her anything else but the truth. And the truth is I am, in part, what she made me: a woman who won’t stand for injustice and will speak out against it. It’s almost ironic that it was her own characters that taught me to fight back against her.

Many people are convinced, in theory, by this argument. But in practice, they don’t see what they can contribute. J.K. Rowling is too popular to ever truly boycott, and that may be true. But we should all do our part. If views drop, if ticket sales and book sales drop, eventually, in the long run, the industry will notice. If official merchandise isn’t being sold at the same rate it used to be, there will be a decrease in production. So take those steps. Unfollow her on social media, report her problematic statements. Buy second-hand books, DVDs, merchandise. You will also do some good to the environment and maybe to someone in need. You can also consider supporting small entrepreneurs and fan creators and buying non-official merch. Better to support them than a billionaire and a huge conglomerate like Warner Bros, who certainly doesn’t need your money.

It’s a miracle Warner Bros was able to bring back the entire core cast for the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter film. Many of the actors have chosen to distance themselves and even condemned J.K. Rowling for her TERF-sounding statements. In fact, it’s safe to assume many only agreed to come back for the reunion at all because the author would be absent. This choice may look like a damnatio memoriae, like WB itself decided to exclude her from the show, but it’s actually a premeditated marketing move. By excluding her from all promotion of the reunion, they are ensuring the masses are not reminded of Rowling’s recent statements, and that they will purchase an HBO Max subscription and tune in happily with no sour feelings.

On her end, Rowling is also able to, if she chooses, play the victim, the part of the female creator who was excluded from a celebration of her own work of art. Ostracized and written out of the narrative she herself has created. Please do not be fooled by this pity-inducing move. J.K. Rowling is still very much earning royalties from the reunion. She may not be present in person, but she’s still making money out of it. Our nostalgia is once upon played upon and manipulated to enrich her.

Watching Return To Hogwarts on HBO Max still equals supporting J.K. Rowling. Watching the new Fantastic Beasts film does too. It means handing even more power to a person who spoke against trans rights.

Do you want to be on the right side of history?

TV Shows Pop Culture

‘Shadow and Bone’ is Netflix’s best fantasy show to date

Like any well-written fantasy, Shadow and Bone operates on an allegory for the real world. Underneath the phenomenal directing, the stunning sets, and the magical special effects, it is a story about prejudice and otherness, about faith, zeal, and overreaching. 

The series is an adaptation from the novels by author Leigh Bardugo known as the Grishaverse and a crossover of sorts between the eponymous Shadow and Bone trilogy, about Alina Starkov, an orphan and soldier in the First Army who goes on a classic hero’s journey, and the Six of Crows duology which is about a band of – for lack of a better term – criminals who make heists an art form.

The show did a spectacular job staying true to the nature of the source material while becoming more conscious, more dynamic, and full of surprises for book fans. There aren’t many significant differences in plot, apart from those that stem from the Six of Crows characters being inoculated in the main storyline in a very welcome mix. The Crows add a completely different dimension to the show, contributing to what can effectively only be described as a heist storyline. This creates a highly heterogenous ensemble cast where everyone is driven by a different motive and goal, and the viewers have fun uncovering all those layers to most characters, while some may remain a mystery reserved for future seasons. 

“What is infinite? The universe and the greed of men.” The iconic saying that the entire series revolves on doesn’t make it into the show in words, but it still hovers over the story constantly. All the characters are hungry, some even greedy, for something. More power, more money, more love, more acceptance, more freedom, more ambition, more time. 


Alina Starkov’s (Jessie Mei Li) storyline perfectly follows that of any chosen one: ordinary girl – what’s more ordinary than a soldier in a land that’s based on Tsarist Russia? – becomes extraordinary in the span of a moment, finding out she’s always possessed a unique power that could save her country. She’s the Sun Summoner, one of the most powerful Grisha who’s ever lived. Alina initially rejects her new status as it takes her away from the only home she’s ever known, her best friend Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux). Through time and with a little encouragement from new acquaintances, Alina gradually comes to accept and embrace her nature. 

The show follows a circular structure. Alina starts off as a nobody, a little girl everyone picks on, who strives to be ordinary so as not to draw unwanted attention; she ends the season disguised once more as a nobody, trying to escape her Saint’s notoriety. She doesn’t take her gift lightly and she isn’t leaving her country behind for good. The promise of her return feels as tangible and as sure as the Crows’ next heist. 

As a fan of the books, I believe the show really enhanced the story. The new medium allows us to not be limited to the first-person point of view, one that’s tied to the main character’s biased narration with only Alina’s thoughts and feelings to establish the world and the relationships. In fact, the true key is seeing all characters and how they act when they aren’t around Alina. That makes all the difference when it comes to her two love interests (which I know you are all here to read about): halfway through the season, Alina is mad at Mal because she thinks he’s deliberately ignoring her, and the show lets us see Mal is actually on a dangerous quest that will take him to her, while Alina’s many letters to Mal are being intercepted by General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), who sees Alina’s need to be wanted and loved, and uses it to his advantage to manipulate her. 



In the book, we are stuck in Alina’s head along with her frustration with Mal and her budding attraction to the Darkling, never seeing what they are really up to. The show uncovers their motives for us. General Kirigan is not romanticized through Alina’s eyes. Ben Barnes did a spectacular job diving into his layers, humanizing him while playing a twisted character. There is no doubt he is a megalomaniac, thirsty for blood and power, who doesn’t care about others as long as he wins. What makes the story so intriguing, though, is that a part of him genuinely craves Alina’s approval and love, mirroring that side of her. 

That’s what is so tragic and refreshing about this series: just because opposites attract, doesn’t mean they’re right for each other. Sometimes, one’s opposite is beyond saving and redemption, because the choices they make should be more important than the qualities they’re born with. As Alina points out in the last episode, she and Kirigan could have saved and ruled Ravka together as equals, but he overreached and put a collar around her neck to control her power like a puppet. What people find romantic about this, I will never know. 



Through everything, Mal and Alina always strive towards each other, towards home. In the same way that Alina causes the death of her companions when she burns the maps so she can go through the Fold with Mal, Mal’s friends die on the mission to find the Stag so he can go see Alina. How Alina can only let herself be seduced by the Darkling’s charm after she’s apparently moved on from Mal (and how even before she kisses Kirigan, she looks at the scar on her palm) isn’t lost on the audience, either. In the meantime, while they are unable to communicate, we are the repository of the words Alina and Mal want to exchange. Poetically, they both write to each other about true North, a trope that I can never get enough of. 

At the end of the day, it matters little that Mal and Alina’s undeniable love wasn’t labeled. There was no need to charge the last few episodes emotionally even more by having them share a hurried kiss in the wilderness. It would’ve stopped the action, slowed the pace down, and for what? They’re each other’s home and true North and have been all their lives, which is worth a lot more than a kiss or two. In any other story, the protagonist might’ve at least tried to push the best friend away, saying the mission was too dangerous, to save their life, but Alina doesn’t, and it’s not out of selfishness. It’s because, for both Mal and Alina, there simply isn’t a scenario in which they’re not together and things can go well. 



Alina and Mal have always been outsiders and they are subject to the outward racism that we still have in our world. We see another kind of prejudice in the show too, the loathing of the Other. Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman) and Nina Zenik (Danielle Calligan), a Fjerdan Druskelle and a Ravkan Heartrender, provide us that exposure: the real reason why Ravka is at war with all neighboring countries is that they are scared of their Second Army of Grisha. Fjerda in particular believes Grisha to be abominations, inhuman creatures who go against nature and Djel, witches who should be burned at the stake. That is what drives Kirigan – an urge to make the Grisha safe (and to rule the world, of course) because he remembers a time when they were hunted even within Ravka’s borders. Through Nina and Matthias, we see that this prejudice is born of ignorance, not of inherent evil. 

When Nina and Matthias prioritize survival and put aside their differences, their personal beliefs and vendetta, they become better for it. They come to realize that what they both fear and hate is the unknown, because up until that point, they believed the lies they had been fed to perpetuate the war between their countries, a conflict that Fjerda excuses to effectively plan the genocide of all Grisha. When Nina and Matthias, twin souls, soldiers destined to fight for different sides, finally make their own choices, they are finding not only each other, but themselves. 


Greed is a lever

The missing piece of the puzzle are the criminals who call themselves the Crows: Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), a rising star of the underworld of Ketterdam, Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), his most trusted spy, and Jesper Fahey (Kit Young), his sharpshooter. They see an opportunity to strike a life-changing deal and they take it. What drives them? Greed, on a superficial level, but so much more. Vengeance, freedom, faith, debt. We mostly hear about Inej’s backstory, but it doesn’t mean the stories of the other Dregs have been erased: Easter eggs are scattered across the episodes. It’s only fair that we come to uncover Kaz’s secrets with time instead of all at once, but just hearing the way he utters Pekka’s name is enough to tell us there is more. I am sure his and Jesper’s backstories will be shown in due time next season. 

These events are set before Six of Crows, so it’s wonderful to see the dynamics between the trio gradually shift until they become what they are at the beginning of the books. Kaz and Inej melt hearts with their intensity. Their relationship was one of the things I was worried about in the adaptation because slow-burn doesn’t even cover it, and that’s exactly how it should be; the show captured it flawlessly, without the characters having to explain themselves. Jesper, too, was simply perfect and he stole hearts especially in the scenes with Milo the goat, the true MVP. 

The Crows’ plot is all original to the show, so it’s where the showrunner could express his true potential as a creator and storyteller, and I daresay he passed with flying colors. Kaz’s plans are true brain-teasers, but not enough that they’re impossible to follow; the dialogue is witty. It’s clear from the casting of the show that the writers’ room cared deeply about diversity and representation. By adding Poppy, they wrote in the first-ever trans woman of color in a fantasy show, and with Jesper, they added a bisexual and biracial sex scene that somehow didn’t come off as tokenism.


When the future of the world feels like it hangs on Alina’s shoulders, it’s nice to have the Crows balance the stakes. It was entertaining to witness Jesper’s jokes, Inej’s faith, Kaz’s scheming and how the three intersect to create the perfect trio. Even the directorial choices when it came to their story were refreshing. They mixed up the pacing and provided a constant change of scenery, allowing us to see more of the world—and how word of the Sun Summoner is spreading throughout Ravka. 

No matter how confident he is, Kaz completes a 180-degree turn by the end. Though a firm non-believer, he recognizes that Alina must go free, and he puts aside his pride when he lets her go and renounces the promise of one million kruge. Perhaps kidnapping a Saint was crossing a line even for Dirtyhands. 

That restraint goes to reinforce the overarching message of the show, setting the good guys apart from the villains: overreaching is never good. Excess of greed, of ambition, of power, can only lead to true corruption. Even in a world of magic, there must be a limit to what humans—and Grisha—can do without upsetting the order of things. Alina understands that when she refuses to kill the Stag to take his power for herself. 

In the finale, everything comes full circle for our cast, with a delicious role reversal: Mal and Alina are on the skiff again, one hovering over the other on the brink of death; Nina and Matthias are again on a ship where one of them is a prisoner; the Crows looking for a Heartrender for the next con.

It was lovely to see the characters come together at the end and how they quickly forged alliances. Honorable mention to Inej and Zoya Nazyalensky (Sujaya Dasgupta), the duo I didn’t know I needed. The entire cast portrayed their characters spectacularly, and I wish I had words to describe how much I loved Genya Safin (Daisy Head), David Kostyk (Luke Pasqualino), and Fedyor Kaminski (Julian Kostov), as well as the scene-stealing Baghra (Zoe Wanamaker). In addition to the brilliant writing, a note must be reserved for the details of the spectacular sets and the intricate costumes as well as the score and special effects. 

Shadow and Bone is a transformative experience for audience and characters alike. In the span of the 8 episodes all characters, perhaps with the exception of the long-lived General Kirigan, have come a long way, and we cannot wait what there’s in store for them

We can only hope that Netflix announces a season 2 (and 3, while we’re at it) soon so that showrunner Eric Heisserer and his brilliant team can continue adapting this masterpiece. There are a couple of new characters we are dying to see. After all, what is infinite? The universe and the greed of fans.

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TV Shows Pop Culture

Prepare to be bewitched by Diana and Matthew in “A Discovery of Witches” season 2

The first season of A Discovery of Witches has a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.1 on IMDB. I’m leading with this to convince each and every one of you who might have passed on this gem if you thought it was “just another show about witches and vampires.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but let me tell you that this story is a true masterpiece and deserves to be watched even by the most convinced fantasy skeptics.

Based on the best-selling All Souls novels by Dr Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches is a tale about supernatural creatures that live among us, but also a tale of community, belonging, history, legacy, and evolution. It is also, undeniably, a love story; perhaps the best I’ve discovered in 2020. 

If you haven’t watched season 1 or read the books, go do that now and then come back to this review, because it will be quite spoilery for season/book 1. If, on the other hand, you are awaiting details about the upcoming season 2, buckle up. 

Something that positively struck me about the adaptation of book 2, Shadow of Night (my favorite!), is how marvelously it portrayed that, as Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont timewalk to 1590 to find the lost Book of Life, their quest inexplicably turns inwards, towards themselves and each other, as they simultaneously face harsh and hostile surroundings. The balance between their world-changing quest and their internal one hits the perfect spot between introspection and action. Which is incredible, considering how much plot there is to establish and unpack, and how many faces to introduce. 

As a historian, Diana hasn’t had a lot of success in meeting her heroes: they all turned out to be different than expected.

The first new character we meet is English playwright Christopher Marlowe, played spectacularly by Tom Hughes, who brilliantly captured Kit’s duplicitous nature and daemonic essence. Kit is Matthew’s best friend, and he is also the first to openly doubt and reject Diana, setting a hard-to-break pattern of hostility that she will face in 1590.

Diana is little more than a refugee in this time and place, with no possessions or connections save for Matthew. It’s clear from the first that her success depends on her partner and on her ability to quickly adapt to and accept societal standards. It certainly isn’t easy for a proud outspoken 21st-century feminist to be thrust in that world, and the outward sexism wearies Diana faster than you can say France. 

“Women own nothing… save what lies between their ears.”

I was infinitely glad that the slights and limitations that a foreign woman such as Diana would suffer in 1590 were, for the most part, established implicitly, rather than with pitiful speeches on misogyny, because how could Diana, a professor of history, expect anything different from the 16th century? What’s better, we are reminded that Diana actually has it easier than most, as a beautiful woman married to a rich, influential, and fearsome man. 

She is warned time and time again that Matthew wouldn’t be the same once in a different context. He does regress to his 16th-century self in front of Diana’s eyes and together with her we discover more of his (seemingly endless) secrets and an even darker side of him. Soon enough, he starts displaying more territorial and vampire-animalistic behavior that Diana doesn’t tolerate for one second, giving the audience no chance to misinterpret possessiveness for romanticism. No, she meets him headfirst beat for beat until he relents. 

“Diana’s getting to know him again in this era,” says Teresa Palmer.

The two share a lot of incredibly sweet and tender moments too, but the season isn’t without their fights, which I appreciated in equal measure. Despite what 1590 might want of her, Diana will never be a passive housewife. She confronts and provokes Matthew when necessary and she always does what she needs to get her way. 

The undeniable chemistry between Teresa Palmer and Matthew Goode – together with the spectacular writing – is the reason why the show works so well, easily translating into the best on-screen supernatural couple I’ve ever seen. Their scenes feel even more spontaneous and genuine than in their freshman season. 

Palmer has clearly grown in her role in tandem with Diana herself. The only funny note I have is that as an Australian actress playing an American pretending to be English, Teresa’s Aussie accent came through a couple of times, but it only served to make me smile, like in the instance where somebody asks her where she hails from and she hesitantly replies “Cambridge, my lord… well, perhaps somewhere to the west of Cambridge.” However, she delivers every demanding scene spectacularly. 

“Perhaps somewhere to the west of Cambridge…”

Matthew Goode’s already flawless performance is required to step into divine levels as his character gains even more layers, and Goode will shock you with mind-blowing results. I do not say this lightly, but he will be robbed of an Emmy if he doesn’t win one. 

Diana Bishop might have a hard time adjusting to being Mistress Roydon, but the 16th century presents Matthew de Clermont with a more daunting challenge: to face and battle with his past, his old self and the decisions he has taken, with his conscience much heavier. He is nearly eaten by remorse because he cannot stop or undo everything wrong that happened the first time around. The stakes are much higher now, and his actions have more dangerous repercussions both on the past that now surrounds him, and on the future. 

Old wounds reopen in Matthew, almost to the point of choking him. He’s caught between loyalties (to his father, to his master, to his God) but he never lets that interfere with his love for Diana. No, because every moment of every day he chooses her against the conflicting interests of his past and present self. 

 “He shifts into this darker version,” says Palmer. 

It was marvelous to witness a more vulnerable side of Matthew, with Diana being his guiding light, his anchor, his strength, in a poetic role reversal from last season. The heartbreaking scene where we see him unravel might be my favorite of the series. 

But Matthew isn’t reduced to a broken man. We see different sides of him, in contrast to his stoic presence of season 1. In 1590, Matthew can be playful with his friends, tender with his lover, aloof with his family, assertive and persuasive with great potentates, caring with children… after all that, it’s uncanny but hilarious to see him be chastised by his father like a schoolboy.

On this note, if Diana underwent a sort of generational conflict in season 1, coming to terms with her late parents and their questionable secrets, now we witness multiple characters struggle with accepting their fathers’ legacies and stepping out of their shadows. Matthew and Baldwin have to come to terms, in different ways, with the future/past loss of their larger-than-life father Philippe de Clermont; similarly, Matthew’s revolutionary son Marcus is forced to grapple with the responsibilities brought about by his new role as Grand Master of the Knights of Lazarus that he gained in his father’s absence, and what that means for him and for the world. 

As Diana and Matthew prepare for a journey within their journey that sets in motion unexpected events in the future, chaos and uncertainty ensue in present-day Venice, Oxford, and Sept-Tours. While a good 75% of the action is focused on the main couple, we do check in on the other characters, even if not as much as fans might hope (missing my fave Miriam!). Matthew and Diana’s storyline is so full of complications, with unexpected obstacles at every turn, that it needs to take center stage; the events in the present are allowed to move at a much slower rate. 

The source material to cover is massive and mostly told from Diana’s point of view, except for a couple of sporadic chapters to keep us updated on the present. In the show, we simply have to follow more characters. I know more casual watchers will lament the convoluted storyline that might be perceived as compressed, but as a fan of the book, I guarantee the producers did nearly everything in their power to save time without making too important changes. Almost no character in the huge cast is erased (just the one, sigh) but they cleverly altered the timeline and inverted the order of certain events to condense. The only way they could’ve adapted Shadow of Night better is if they’d been granted a longer season. 

Before we conclude, a word on certain characters I have not yet mentioned. Gallowglass is everything I wanted him to be. Painfully loyal to Matthew and quickly fond of Diana, he brings in a comedic and vibrant energy from the first moment the camera sets on him. Steven Cree portrayed him perfectly, just as every book fan might hope. 

Matthew’s mother Ysabeau never fails to deliver elegant sass mixed with intensity. She had me in tears in episode 6. Newcomer Phoebe Taylor might shock some, but I was enraptured by her character and Adelle Leonce’s performance. 

Having seen the first 7 episodes of season 2, I can certainly say the show succeeded in capturing the essence of Shadow of Night. The writing has only become more powerful, the world-building and atmosphere always inviting me to get lost in ADOW’s world. Books fans will enjoy many Easter eggs — pay especially close attention to the murder cases and other crimes happening in modern-day Oxford and the early mentions of blood rage. 

Every single detail in the show is perfect and full of meaning. The crew who worked on the sets and costume departments deserves multiple awards for recreating Elizabethan London buildings and costumes from scratch, a feat that sounds easier than it is. Just an example of the exquisite cinematography: I couldn’t help but notice that as the School of Night is talking about the changes in Matthew, a golden “MUTATIO” is engraved on the wall behind Kit. It’s a minuscule detail, but isn’t there where the devil lies?

Behind the familiar feuds between witches, vampires and daemons, this story truly strives to find the answer to one proto-Hamletic question, “why are we here?”, investigating humanity even within the supernatural.

A Discovery of Witches is the best fantasy show on air. Season 2 will leave you on the edge of your seats and begging for more when it premieres on January 8. Find out where you can watch it based on your location here!

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Editor's Picks TV Shows Pop Culture

‘House of the Dragon’ is off to a rocky start: a daring cast, supported by misused words

The much-awaited Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon finally has a cast most of us had not really anticipated for. On December 12, the show’s official social media account on Twitter broke the news: the cast will be led by Emma D’Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen, Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower, joining the previously announced as Paddy Considine as King Viserys I Targaryen.

After HBO made the official announcement, the internet showed no chill as fans started being anxious about the cast that seems severely mismatched, the excessive misuse of terms like ‘mad’, and the overall misunderstanding of the plot as depicted in the book Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin.

Most fans hoped House of the Dragon would revolve around the Targaryens who came to Dragonstone roughly 300 years before the events of GoT, showing Visenya, Aegon, and Rhaenys’s Conquest and then moving forward in time from there. However, HBO decided to focus on a period in Targaryen history called the Dance of Dragons, a couple of years of bloody civil war and the events that led to it.

Let’s take a look at the characters and what about their casting has fans so riled up, shall we?

Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen is King Viserys I Targaryen’s first child and chosen heir. She is, of course, a dragonrider. Anyone who has read Fire and Blood will tell you that Rhaenyra requires an actor with a solid persona and screen presence that gives the viewers the same cinematic experience that they might have felt while reading the book. Emma D’Arcy, though a great actor, does not seem a promising choice. For some reason, I cannot seem to picture the Truth Seekers star fighting it off with younger half-brother Aegon II over the Iron Throne. I hope they prove me wrong. 

Not to forget that Rhaenyra – there isn’t and shouldn’t be a way around it – is a plump lady, and Emma isn’t. In the book, Rhaenyra gains weight as a result of her many pregnancies, which fans love her all the more for. Something that is not fine is this not being reflected through the casting choice. However, there is also the possibility that Emma will only play young Rhaenyra and will be replaced by an older actress as the season progresses. It doesn’t make too much sense because D’Arcy is already an adult, but the casting was indeed for a ‘Young Rhaenyra.’ This is how the fandom imagined Rhaenyra and Daemon:


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Matt Smith, who has been winning hearts through his character in The Crown recently, seems like a misfit for the role of Prince Daemon Targaryen. He is King Viserys I’s younger brother, therefore Rhaenyra’s uncle as well as her loving second husband. Daemon is Rhaenyra’s biggest strength and supporter in the quest for the Iron Throne. He can be best described as a peerless and most skilled warrior of his time. Now, with that kind of description, it would have been a treat for fans to watch Travis Fimmel, the Vikings actor play the role, rather than the lanky Matt Smith. 


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It is pretty evident that the fans were expecting a powerhouse of a cast by how they have reacted to the reveal. The disagreement of Smith not being the right choice for the role of Daemon unfortunately led to many people body-shaming him and going as far as flat out saying he doesn’t deserve the role for his “ugly” look. While I also don’t believe he is the best choice for Daemon, it’s because of his physical build, rather than facial features. No one could deny Smith’s acting skills or dedication to past roles.

Some talented fans are looking at the bright side and trying to make it make sense with their art:

The casting of Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower and not ‘Queen Alicent’ lends even more evidence to the theory that the show will indeed begin when Alicent and Rhaenyra are young, 20-10 years before the actual Dance of Dragons.

The dangerously misused word

One word that has been constantly employed to describe the Targaryens is “mad”. HBO even referenced it in the official press release when describing Daemon by using the popular “the gods toss the coin” phrase. Normally, as a result, every major publication has now headlined articles describing Daemon as a “mad Targaryen”, which sent book fans on edge. Daemon is far from being mad. Yet this adjective is being carelessly thrown around like it’s no biggie, when its repercussions are extremely major.

Now, let us dissect the word and explore what it actually means according to the Mariam Webster dictionary: when used as an adjective “mad” means “mentally ill; insane”. It shouldn’t be misused, or it will lose its real significance.

While the show revolves around the surely controversial topic of incest, it is important to remind HBO to be mindful of using words such as ‘mad’, and unnecessarily associating it with so many characters. Abusing these words garners unwanted attention that can have repercussions in the real world. The point really is that these characters are NOT mad and yet they’re constantly being labeled as such. That is the thing about pop culture. Just because season 8 of Game of Thrones made Daenerys go mad and burn King’s Landing – which was completely out of character by the way – does not mean the next series in line, House of the Dragon in this regard, should have to portray every Targaryen as mad. Not when they weren’t in the source material. No, not at all.


Despite all its faults, GoT still has huge a fan base that is eagerly looking forward to House of Dragon. The prequel begins production in 2021 is expected to go on air in 2022 as per HBO’s programming chief, Casey Bloys. We only hope and pray that the show lives up to the standard and the fears we have regarding the characters not being portrayed how they should be or the storyline being out of place are only fears that do not turn into our worst nightmare on screen.

In the meantime, you can read Fire and Bloodthe book by George R.R. Martin on the history of the Targaryen reign in Westeros. That, I promise, will not disappoint.

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TV Shows Pop Culture

Maybe Netflix’s “The Politician” was trying to warn the United States all along

If you’ve never watched an episode of Ryan Murphy’s The Politician on Netflix, the easiest description I can give you to prepare you is that it’s about a bunch of rich Slytherin kids trying to out-Slytherin each other.

The acclaimed Netflix show centers around Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), the eponymous politician, with each season focusing on a political race he runs: the first for school body president, the second for State Senator, and the third for Vice President of the United States. The series is an easy to spot satire of American politics, making light mocking of how campaigning and voting really works (this one is still a sore topic), painting an equally vilifying image of politicians for the lies they spin as demeaning of voters for how easily swayed they are.

I have to admit, when I started the show I was a bit confused. I was already enamored with most characters after a nanosecond, but I couldn’t understand why there was so much talk of high school. And then I realized Murphy wanted us to believe that the actors – most of them in their late 20s and early 30s – are playing juniors and seniors in high school. It really does not help that they are dressed like 40-year-olds and keep talking like them, but, fine, I told myself. I’ll suspend my disbelief when it comes to age. 

[Image description: still from The Politician - Jams, Alice and MacAfee sitting in the library] Via Netflix
[Image description: Still from The Politician – Jams, Alice and MacAfee sitting in the library] Via Netflix

The 8 episodes of the first season are very different from one another tonally. If the first batch can be reduced to a popularity contest, the middle of the series becomes a melting pot of psychopaths, sociopaths, and would-be murderers who all attempt to take the life of poor Payton (who is just trying to get into Harvard, after all).

The overt allegory of the current political climate is only the foundation of the show, not a suggestion for where our in-story loyalties should lie. We are still supposed to root for the guy whose only aspiration is to win because he’s made it his life mission. We’re still supposed to root for him after seeing all the machinations and lies that he and his team have put into place during the campaign. Payton and his rivals – all rich, white, conventionally attractive people – attempt to get closer to the mass of voters by choosing running mates from the limited pool of diverse and oppressed students in their fancy Santa Barbara school, as if that could somehow diminish the candidates’ privilege: an outspoken Black gender-non conforming feminist, a differently-abled dude, and a cancer patient who is actually a victim of Munchausen by proxy.

(I was hoping Infinity would turn sociopath and murder her Nana herself but I guess the violence circle had to stop somewhere.)

These teenagers are shown to be united by a vague sense of wolf-like pack loyalty, but it’s not quite explained how they got there: I cannot understand how after all the backstabbing, betrayals, and actual assassination attempts, they still manage to call each other friends. James was in love and sleeping with Alice and then it went away in an instant. Payton continuously mistreated McAfee and James and they still acted like his servants. Skye literally tried to murder Payton by feeding him rat poison… Why did these people believe in Payton so much, even those who claimed to hate him, to the extent where, three years after not seeing each other, they’re willing to hop on a flight and drop their lives to convince him to run for state senate?

Paradoxically, as the stakes get higher in season 2, we witness fewer homicide attempts as the team’s tactics become more refined, resorting instead to threats, negotiation, and blackmailing. The show always does a supreme job with its rationalization of immorality.

The second season undid some things that I didn’t like about the first’s ending. One, that Astrid would suddenly join a crusade for Payton’s run when she and him never had love for one another, and two, that Payton was going to use Dede’s throuple against her in the race.

[Image description: still from The Politician - Dede cuddling with her husband and lover] Via Netflix
[Image description: Still from The Politician – Dede cuddling with her husband and lover] Via Netflix

I have a big problem with the show suggesting that being in a loving, consensual polyamorous relationship is the worst thing a senator could do. I understand Payton’s team wasn’t being judgmental of the act itself but rather was willing to exploit the scandal it would create in the public opinion, but I thought it was gross coming from a bunch of teenagers who have cheated on each other multiple times, only to then also enter a polyamorous relationship themselves. Anyhow, I was glad to see they found a nice way to spin it in the end. Kudos for the way they handled the generational conflict as well as the necessary environmentalist influx.

The other unforgettable protagonist whose subplot stands on its own is Georgina Hobart (Gwyneth Paltrow). The amount of chaotic energy she has is off the charts but is highly entertaining (I am contractually bound to say nice things about her because of the anti-Game of Thrones season 8 references in 2×01). Georgina dotes on Payton more than she does her biological sons — two scheming snakes — and has much more in common with him than meets the eye, not just their ambitious political aspirations. She and Payton share a sense of emotional detachment that I found heart-wrenching, a devoid of feeling where their hearts should be, which is beautifully represented in the show’s intro — whoever is responsible for it is a genius and should be paid more. 

I don’t think The Politician necessarily set out to be an eye-opening show shedding light on the state of American politics for all viewers — if that were the actual aim, it’s way too on the nose of Murphy — but I hope it does for some people who need it (especially because it came out before a significant election).

If we untangle the mess of the characters’ lives and their impossible scenarios, the final moral would probably be that politics isn’t dark or light: these politicians are humans, and yes, they scheme and lie and cheat and ridicule, but so do their friends and all their voters; they just have more ambition. The unpacked message could translate into: be savvy, beware of politicians, don’t expect them to be better. The hyperbolic and simply chaotic caliber of every episode ensures that we don’t take the story too seriously, have a few laughs, and retain the message.

[Image description: Still from The Politician - Georgina Hobart speaking at an electoral debate] via Netflix
[Image description: Still from The Politician – Georgina Hobart speaking at an electoral debate] via Netflix

Bonus thoughts: Ben Platt should sing in every episode. Also, I cried every time River appeared to offer Payton comfort or advice. Every. single. time.

Unfortunately, not much is yet known about season 3, but we are very much looking forward to finding out what the world will look like after Georgina Hobart became the President of the United States. 

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TV Shows Up and Coming Pop Culture

Netflix’s “Emily In Paris” is the new rom-com you will hate to love

This may be blasphemous to some people, but Emily in Paris is so much better than Sex and the City.

I only compare because they were both created, written, and executive produced by Darren Star. While I have to admit I was never a fan of his 90s or early 2000s shows, the new Netflix rom-com starring Lily Collins was like a balm for my travel-starved soul.

In the era of quarantine and COVID-19, everyone will be grateful to live vicariously through Emily Cooper as she gets the opportunity of a lifetime, lands her dream job and moves to Paris in the span of a week.

The first few episodes of the show brilliantly capture the dichotomy between the French and the Americans. Emily, who is living every white American girl’s dream of moving to Europe and accidentally becoming an Instagram influencer, experiences quite the culture shock from the moment she steps on French soil. Of course, she demands to see the chef when she claims the meat of her first meal in Paris isn’t well cooked.

She’s entitled in the way that Americans abroad can be: not maliciously, but simply not comprehending that the American way is not the only–or always the right–way, and that the world doesn’t revolve around the USA or spin on their axis. The French, proud as they are, miss no opportunity to remind her of this.

The most obvious example of Emily’s naïve, internalized American superiority complex is that she does not worry about walking in a French office not knowing a single word of French beyond oui and bonjour, but expecting everyone to speak perfect English in their own country. With her positive, can-do attitude, she thinks she can learn French by taking a course, underestimating the complexity of the language, something that her new colleagues immediately disdain her for.

The climax of this American absurdity is reached when Emily tries to convince the Louvre to put a bed in the same room as the Monna Lisa in a marketing installation she’s working on, and she actually believes they will let her, because, after all, “Beyoncè did it.

Emily’s error is in repeatedly trying to make Paris (and her workplace) American. The city and French culture are intriguing and inviting, but a mystery that she can’t make sense of, so she tries to make it fit into the patterns she knows and loves.

After many instances of the French’s close-mindedness getting in the way of Emily truly enjoying her new life, we witness one of the finest dialogues in the series when one of Emily’s colleagues invites her to abandon her perspective and look at things through different lenses. He then brilliantly summarizes the American/French lifestyle paradox: “You live to work, we work to live,” and illustrates the ambivalence and cultural clash of (French) arrogance versus (American) ignorance.

[Image description: still from "Emily In Paris" - a brunette girl, Emily, and a blond girl, Camille, stand close and laugh at a joke Emily has made.] Via Netflix
[Image description: A brunette girl, Emily, and a blond girl, Camille, stand close and laugh at a joke Emily has made.] Via Netflix
The show maintains a good pace throughout the 10 episodes, balancing new characters and mini storylines and plot twists in a way that doesn’t feel like a sitcom at all. Emily quickly becomes friends with Mindy (played by the gorgeous Tony-winning Ashley Park who gifts us with a couple of singing moments in the show), a sassy Chinese girl who’s in Paris to escape her rich heiress and failed teen idol life (loved the episode where her crazy rich Asian friends come to visit!) and then with bubbly, extrovert Camille, also a rich heiress, whose family owns a chateau and produce champagne.

Everything is perfect in the friend department, except one of her new pals is dating the young man Emily kissed passionately the other night. This spirals down in a lot of tension, sexual and otherwise, between the three characters which had me begging for polyamory, as Emily is torn between being a good friend and giving in to her budding feelings.

[Image description: still from "Emily In Paris" - two women, a brunette wearing yellow (Lily Collins) and a black-haired one with her arms crossed wearing pink (Ashley Park) sit on a bench together, grinning at each other] Via Netflix
[Image description: Two brunettes, Emily (Lily Collins) wearing yellow, and Mindy (Ashley Park) wearing pink, sit on a bench together, grinning at each other] Via Netflix
However, what rom-com would this be if Emily didn’t have multiple love interests? Her options in terms of beaus range from the up-and-coming chef who lives in her building, to a pretentious Semiotics professor, to a guy she meets at a party, to her friend’s perfect brother, to a libertine millionaire who may also have an affair with her boss, to another client whose deal is a make-it-or-break-it for her… practically every man in France seems to want to flirt with her, even the realtor who only hands her her apartment’s keys. Basically, the only men in the show who don’t show an interest of sexual nature in Emily are the gay colleague and the sex addict colleague who act as the comic relief of the show.

We follow Emily along as she grows more confident navigating Paris and her job, as she discovers how ludicrous some French things are… like the way the noun for ‘vagina’ is masculine and nobody thinks twice about it. Or how people in marketing don’t know the difference between ‘sexy’ and ‘sexist’.


Despite the occasional raised eyebrows, Emily finds balance and her life is almost perfect. Paris is out of a dream where everyone’s English is flawless, all distances are walkable, and crime doesn’t exist. Mindy makes one comment about the metro being dirty, but Emily’s glamorous life doesn’t require her to take public transportation. Plus, the legendary costume designer behind The Devil Wears Prada Patricia Field is the genius behind the show’s clothes, so Emily’s outfit game is perennially on point. Her job is finally going well and her Instagram is growing her a faithful audience and some influencer marketing offers.

[Image description: Emily, wearing a green coat and a hat, stands in line ahead of other girls who are all dressed fashionably and holding their phones] Via Netflix
[Image description: Emily, wearing a green coat and a hat, stands in line ahead of other young people who are all dressed fashionably and holding their phones, waiting to speak to a man in a suit holding a guest list and a gift bag] Via Netflix
However, it’s clear the showrunner doesn’t know how social media works: sorry to burst your bubble, Darren, but you don’t really start with 48 followers and get 20k in a week for moving to Paris and occasionally posting snaps of your life in the city with weird hashtags.

There is no overarching social commentary to the show, and for once I am glad of it. The tone of the story is so light that it may start floating, and it’s exactly what you need if you’re living a stressful, anxiety-inducing life every minute of every day.

The show tries to say something about toxic office environments, but it falls short – it’s clear to everyone that Emily’s boss Sylvie is purposely acting like a bitch and dislikes Emily for simply not being French. But even this is glossed over as no one stands up to her and Emily herself tolerates the bullying and keeps trying to win her over with smiles and positivity.

[Image description: still from "Emily in Paris" - Emily and Luke sit next to each other in a pitch meeting that doesn't look fun.] Via Netflix
[Image description: a woman wearing a floral dress, Emily, and a man wearing a colorful jumper and a black suit, Lucas, sit next to each other in a pitch meeting that doesn’t look fun.] Via Netflix
Emily is smart, likable, cutting-edge, great at networking, and has creative ideas, but we shouldn’t disregard that her luck keeps coming because every man she wants to do business with is intrigued by her as this funny, exotic creature. She has talent, but would she be this successful if she wasn’t a conventionally beautiful (I mean it, she’s perfect) petite white woman with Lily Collins’s face and Patricia Field’s style?


The show offers a modern-day fairytale where the protagonist is not some long-lost mighty hero reluctantly going on her journey. She’s an everygirl. She could be me, or you. At the end of the day, she dreams of happiness and success, plans it out carefully and then undoes it with a single decision. Her love life is a mess. But every situation she finds herself in magically unravels.

Emily in Paris is an endearing little show about the (mis)adventures of a young woman who works in media, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should we.

[Image description: Emily approaches her new office's front desk where Lucas is on the phone.] Via Netflix
[Image description: Emily approaches her new office’s front desk where Lucas is on the phone.] Via Netflix
All ten episodes of the show come out on Netflix on October 2… and we better get a second season because the first ends in a cliffhanger!

Editor's Picks TV Shows Pop Culture

Move over King Arthur, Excalibur has chosen a queen in Netflix’s “Cursed”

CONTENT WARNING: BIG SPOILERS for all 10 episodes of Cursed. Seriously, I’ll discuss uncovered secrets and characters who die in the finale. Bookmark this page now and come back once you’ve watched the show if you want to avoid spoilers.

If you are familiar with any version of the Arthurian legend, you will recognize Nimue as the name of the tragic Lady of the Lake, a godly-like character that the myth always uses as a deus ex machina rather than an actual woman. Nimue finally finds her voice in Netflix’s new original series Cursed, produced by the graphic novel creators Thomas Wheeler and Frank Miller, which premiered on July 17, 2020.

Before I proceed to point out some things I didn’t like about the show, let me tell you that, for the most part, it is an enjoyable watch and I do recommend it if you like the genre. Check it out at!

The 10-episode show is not yet another origin story for King Arthur or his legendary knights, but rather an alternative retelling of the story in a universe that’s simultaneously far more grounded in and more removed from reality. Our cursed protagonist, Nimue (Katherine Langford) is one of the few remaining Fey, a species more ancient than humankind, and also more peaceful, closer to nature and magic. The Fey are mercilessly being hunted and exterminated by the Red Paladins in England, a group of Catholic extremists who are backed up by the pope in Rome.

Nimue is everything I would have hated in a fictional character as a teenager. Her personality traits include being reckless, stubborn and hot-headed, the triad for every YA protagonist. What’s more, she is either a passive agent who lets things happen around her or acts too rashly, without thinking (which, I should point out, is something we allow many male heroes and call bravery). She doesn’t know how to control her powers, but she gladly embraces the dark persona painted by her enemies along with her nickname, “the Wolf-Blood Witch”. Although, for someone who claims to love nature and derives her power from it, Nimue certainly has no qualms hurting animals, which I didn’t love.

Like Frodo with his Ring, Nimue gradually becomes obsessed by the Sword until it festers her personality and clouds her judgment, making her wary of even her friends. I understand her paranoia was a plot necessity, but I did not enjoy seeing her as a woman desperately clinging to her object of power and her throne.

The other main characters I think will fare better with the general audience. In this version of the story, Arthur (Devon Terrell) and Morgana (Shalom Brune-Franklin) are not of noble birth. He is just a young mercenary on a desperate quest to win back his honor, she his sister who he gave away to a convent so he wouldn’t have to provide for her when they became orphans as children because of their father’s debts. Many fans of BBC’s Merlin will be pleased to find out Morgana is a lesbian in Cursed, and also Nimue’s most trusted friend and advisor.

[Image description: Arthur and Nimue stand in a forest. She is holding the Sword of Power] Via Netflix
[Image description: Arthur and Nimue stand in a forest. She is holding the Sword of Power] Via Netflix

This Arthur is far from the legendary once and future king: he lies, he steals, he pretends to be a bard. He has a selfish moral code he abides by… you would imagine everything changed when he meets cute and falls in love with Nimue on the spot, but no. He has to steal her sword for his own gain (and lose it) before he becomes a better (selfless) man.

The Green Knight Gawain might seem shady at first, but he is the only traditional hero of the story. There is an (unnecessary) instance of a love triangle between him, Arthur and Nimue to create tension, but it is thankfully very short-lived. The stoic, silent Weeping Monk played by Daniel Sharman is the wild card that you know from the beginning has a secret and will be the ultimate twist – and he is perhaps the most tragic character of all (also, the reveal of his true name at the end? Why?).

Uther Pendragon is but a simpering spoiled brat, inept at ruling and always crying behind his mother’s skirts. Merlin, played by an amazing Gustaf Skarsgard, doesn’t have the aspect of a young boy or of an ancient sorcerer like in most adaptations. Instead, he looks like a man who’s clearly undergoing a mid-life crisis: he’s a sad drunk who’s lost his magic. He gets a bit of a redemption when he finds out that Nimue is his natural daughter (something that was very clear to me from the get-go) and he starts caring about something other than self-pity. Like Prometheus, he steals fire and angers a king who will inevitably punish him for his actions.

The confirmation that Merlin is Nimue’s father to me felt like Nimue’s power was being stripped away. Her incredible magic is not truly hers, the Sword of Power did not really choose her – her mother handed it to her and asked her, as her dying wish, to bring it to Merlin. All the things that should single Nimue out do not belong to her as a person, they just flow through her veins because of Merlin’s blood.

[Image description: Nimue and Merlin face each other] Via Netflix
[Image description: Nimue and Merlin face each other] Via Netflix

On the other hand, it was refreshing to see Morgana as a brave, self-righteous person and not be consumed by desire of power, even if for a brief moment I thought that was the route the show was going to take (and I thought, again?). Nimue’s childhood friend Pym is a fun character and comic relief whom I adored, but she adds next to nothing to the plot of the show.

Nimue proclaiming herself Queen of all Fey with an improvised speech was a bit cheesy and on the nose. While it is empowering to see a young woman become a symbol of the resistance and turn into a beacon of hope and courage for a rebellion against a flawed rule (Katniss, is that you???) and religious extremism, all the feminist hype around this show feels a bit like pandering. Nimue’s Joan of Arc symbolism eventually comes full circle when she inevitably falls in the end.

Doom is at every corner in Cursed, and all love stories are sweet and tragic. As I cheered for them watching, I knew they could never be. The show seems to suggest the world is too harsh for successful romances… I can’t think of one couple that made it through.

If you squint hard enough, you can glimpse an environmentalist metaphor in the show, which I appreciated, along with other, clearer references to crucial contemporary issues like racial hate, religious zealotry, genocides, refugee rights and more. Fantasy always has a way of translating real-world systemic injustice.

[Image description: The Weeping Monk from Cursed - actor Daniel Sharman wearing a hood and eyes weeping dark tears] Via Netflix
[Image description: The Weeping Monk from Cursed – actor Daniel Sharman wearing a hood and eyes weeping dark tears] Via Netflix

The show’s mistake is in taking itself too seriously as an epic: it tries to handle too many plotlines, something Game of Thrones managed successfully for seven seasons, but here the arc is a bit too dense and moves too quickly only for things to be turned over again after a couple of scenes. Cursed tries to be epic but fails with 21st-century speech and too modern concepts.

It’s poetic – but also underwhelming – that Iris, a zealot catholic girl, but really an absolute agent of chaos, is the one who succeeds in killing Nimue with two decently-placed arrows, after the protagonist survived capture by multiple armies who swore to put her to the torch time and time again.

The ending isn’t too satisfactory because, in the showrunner’s desire to keep this exclusively Nimue’s story, it leaves too many questions unanswered. We hardly see what happens after she collapses into the waterfall (and inevitably becomes the Lady of the Lake we know from myth). Where do Merlin and Morgana go? Do they destroy the sword? What happens between the mortal kings? Do Arthur and the Fey make it to the new land all right? What about the Red Spear?

Nimue is gone, the Lady of the Lake will take her place. Can Cursed have a season 2 so that our curiosity of the other characters’ fates is sated? Nimue can even guest star. Please, Netflix?

Despite some superficial flaws, Cursed is a show that will have you on the edge of your seat and would work even if it wasn’t available for binge-watching. I 10/10 recommend.

Career Life

This is the worst thing about losing a job you love because of COVID-19

Losing my job wasn’t part of my plan for 2020. But, yesterday, I got a call from my boss. She tried to tell me, in tears, that my contract wasn’t being renewed because of COVID-19.

The worst thing about losing a job that you love isn’t the loss itself. So many people have been fired from their jobs during the COVID crisis – no matter how unjustly, how good they were at what they did – that I was already half-expecting to lose mine. But you want to know what I hate the most, right now?

Everyone around me telling me things like “don’t be sad, this will bring about great things!”

We have this saying in Italian – and I swear I’ve heard it at least twenty times since yesterday – that I would translate quite literally into ‘a door closes, a gate opens.’ It’s basically the standard phrase you say to someone who just lost their job, closed an important chapter in their lives, or missed a big opportunity.

So many people have absent-mindedly told me that today. I get that they are trying to cheer me up, but I should be allowed to just… grieve in peace for a day. My real friends know that. They’re the ones who were on the phone with me for hours as I tried to hold it together and then ended up weeping on my kitchen floor. The ones who would’ve run here to hold me in their arms for hours if not for these damned social distancing measures brought about by Coronavirus.

“You’re brilliant, you’ll find another job in no time!” Oh, really? The situation in our country is so dire that a place where I’ve been for 5 years literally couldn’t afford to pay me. The news talks about how our economy may never recover from this. And you think a better place is going to hire me in two days? I get that you’re trying to help, but it’s not working.

Right now, I don’t want to hear about how I can “do better than this.” I don’t care if the people who love me thought this wasn’t the best place for me. I don’t care if they perceived I was being treated unfairly and worked too much and got too little in return. I don’t care if it would stress me out to the point that my physical (and mental, of course) health was being affected.

I loved my job. I loved my colleagues, I loved the people I interacted with every day. And – not to be overly dramatic – I know that I will miss it for the rest of my life.

The worst thing is that they downplay what this experience meant for me. Because my company and job were something foreign to them, something they simply don’t understand, they deliberately ignore that this was serious. They knew that I gave it my heart and soul, and they didn’t like that. I feel like they were just praying and hoping I would lose the job, simply because it’s not what they wanted for me. Not what they expected me to do.

“You were made for greater things.” How do you define great? And by what parameter my position apparently wasn’t good enough for them? Shouldn’t I choose what great is for me? All they did the entire time I worked there was how much better I could do. How much more I could earn and how much more respect and recognition I would get elsewhere.

I started this full-time job exactly 8 days after graduating from college. My supervisor saw my potential and decided to invest in me. I started out as an assistant – not an intern – and less than a year later I was promoted to coordinator. In one year, I became my starting position’s supervisor. I had people who reported to me and immense responsibilities. The people above me didn’t just do that randomly. They saw how much I was worth and they made decisions based on my value.

I became a real professional, respected by my peers and superiors in my company, and still, my family couldn’t see that. To this day, they still don’t understand what it is that I did every day. Some of them never bothered to ask. They just knew that I was at work for too many hours of the day and worked overtime every week and wasn’t getting paid enough. They didn’t care that the job fulfilled me and that it made me a real functioning adult.

They just saw how tired I was, and how my health wasn’t improving – not that I ever complained – but they disregarded how happy I was, no matter how many times expressed it. I was content. I told them a million times that I wanted to continue down this path, and all I got in response was this haunting litany: “you can do better than that.”

Losing my job broke my heart. I knew it could happen with COVID and, of course, it sent me down a spiraling vortex of anxiety: what will I do now? How can I find another job in this crisis? Should I apply for state aid, since I’m unemployed?

I am fortunate enough to have a roof over my head, savings, and parents who will always support me economically no matter what. That is a privilege I do not take for granted. But I just wish they gave me compassion. I don’t want to hear about how I was meant to do greater things. I don’t want to hear about all the companies I should apply for and how much they would pay me right now.

For one day, one day only, I want to be left alone and allowed to grieve. Mourn what I lost. The everyday routine, my colleagues whom I love dearly and consider some of my closest friends. I spent five years of my life at this institution. It’s only fair to request one day to cry.

Editor's Picks Books Pop Culture

The Tempest’s Reading Challenge is back and here’s everything you need to know

There is nothing more refreshing than opening a new book and going on a journey with the characters. Or picking up an old book, like visiting an old friend that you haven’t seen in a while. This is especially true today as we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic. So what’s better than a reading challenge to make this seemingly never-ending quarantine more pleasant?

What’s better than a reading challenge?

In 2019, we launched our first-ever global Reading Challenge. You, our dear readers, picked the books that we proposed to our audience of millions. This year we are pleased to announce we are repeating last year’s experience after your enthusiastic participation. What better time than now to relaunch this fun initiative?

How this reading challenge works:

You nominate the books and tell your friends and families to do the same.

We will publish the final list of books and then we’ll start reading together. You do not have to read all the books on the list. And you may read other books that didn’t make the list. While you do, you get to talk about the books with everyone at The Tempest and our audience.

Without further ado, here is the form for you to submit the book nominations.

We at The Tempest are constantly striving to provide better representation for underrepresented groups, and that is reflected even in this project. And there are some new categories, to spice things up a bit! Remember, you don’t necessarily have to nominate one (or more!) book for each category, you can skip if you do not have any recommendations.

This year’s categories are:

  • A book on disability or written by a person with disabilities
  • A book written by a woman of color
  • A book with an LGBTQIA+ main character
  • An ‘own voices’ book
  • A book based on true events
  • A self-help book
  • A book on careers
  • A book from a new author
(Pssst… head on over to our Instagram for a cute printable to keep track of your reading challenge.)

The last category, in particular, we added because we want to help new authors promote their debut books. Thousands of book tours and launch events have been canceled due to the pandemic, so we are going to give them the push they deserve. If you know of any rising authors who could use the promotion, refer them to us, we’re here to help!

All the more reasons to join…

In other words, our Reading Challenge this year is going to be bigger and better. We will host virtual events and live Q&A sessions with authors and bloggers to, giving you the opportunity to interact with your favorite authors.

As last year, we encourage you to share on social media what you are reading using the hashtag #TheTempestReadingChallenge and to invite your friends to participate.

Show us what you’re reading and what you’re feeling. Send us your favorite quotes, share pictures of the books and videos of you talking about them, and you’ll be reposted on our official social media channels.

And join our Goodreads group if you want to participate in deep discussions about the novels. You are welcome to send us pitches of your book reviews if you want to be published on The Tempest website. Email me at with “READING CHALLENGE BOOK REVIEW” in the subject.

Let’s go on an adventure. Stories will keep us together (and sane!) even if we are apart.

You have until April 30 to nominate books.

Pop Culture

Best of The Tempest 2019: 13 of our favorite Pop Culture stories

Here we go again. The end of a year which also happens to be the end of a decade. It’s now time to weigh everything in and evaluate what kind of year it was. 2018 was a ‘meh’ year for Pop Culture, where so many good things happened that they almost, almost outweighed the bad.

2019 has also been a whirlwind of pressing pop culture moments. From end-of-an-era milestones like Avengers: Endgame, the final season of Game of Thrones, and The Rise of Skywalker, to an egg dominating Instagram and the notorious Fyre Festival. These are but shallow offerings in comparison to the nuances layered beneath. 

At The Tempest, our commitment to pop culture has always been to explore deeper, personal issues. 

What’s the impact pop culture is having? How are things changing? What are we doing to hold those with influence accountable?

The roundup ahead is simply 13 pieces we’ve published this year that we believe are dedicated to the tenets we’ve built our vertical on. As you revisit (or visit for the first time!) these pieces, we ask you to move into 2020 with us with a more critical eye but also optimism; hope that with our words we’re changing things for the better.

1. False Gods and the religious evolution of Taylor Swift by Chloe Hadavas

False Gods and the religious evolution of Taylor Swift

We are all, in large part, looking for the divine.

It’s been a great year for Taylor. Her album Lover smashed records and she was named Billboard’s Artist of the Decade. Where does faith fit in all of this? Does she even believe in (any) God? The answer might just shock you.

2. “Supergirl” Melissa Benoist makes a valiant admission to being a survivor of domestic abuse by Mishal Nawaz

“Supergirl” Melissa Benoist makes a valiant admission to being a survivor of domestic abuse

Let this moral from a real-life superhero not go to waste.

We were all shocked by the news that Supergirl herself, Melissa Benoist, had been a victim of domestic abuse for years. Our hearts broke at her honest confession. The author of this piece explores how this revelation made her feel in relation to her own past experiences.

3. Let’s not pretend that Chuck Bass was some sort of Prince Charming by Maheen Humayun

Let’s not pretend that Chuck Bass was some sort of Prince Charming

Love should never justify treating women as objects.

Gossip Girl premiered in 2007 and for six years it pressed its misogynistic views of romance and chivalry onto a wide cast of impressionable viewers. The author dove back in over a decade later and highlighted just how toxic (and highly romanticized) one of the show’s main characters was. 

4. How Toni Morrison brought life into a generation of Black writers by Yannise Jean

How Toni Morrison brought life into a generation of Black writers

There’s no writer I know that does not fear Morrison.

August saw the passing of one the world’s most prominent writers, Toni Morrison. Her work was best known for exploring black identity in America. Jean, a black author herself in America, pens a beautiful piece about Morrison’s impact on her writing, the tools she’s now equipped with, and the importance of not bending to the pressures of writing for a community outside your own.

5. Ariana Grande’s excessive use of fake tan is ‘blackfishing,’ and that’s a real problem by Sara Hussain

Ariana Grande’s excessive use of fake tan is ‘blackfishing,’ and that’s a real problem

Celebrities like her profit off of black culture.

We love Ari, her voice, and her music. But we also need to call her out on her behavior when she’s being problematic. The author of this piece unpacks the pop star’s image and coded behavior through the difficult concept of blackfishing – when a white person deliberately employs a darker skin tone and AAVE to appear black.

6. How Amazon Prime’s Made in Heaven is redefining the portrayal of morally ambivalent women by Mishma Nixon

How Amazon Prime’s “Made in Heaven” is redefining the portrayal of morally ambivalent women

Tara is the kind of female character that is never written into stories.

Nixon writes about one of her favorite shows, the sadly underrated Made In Heaven on Amazon Prime. What may look like a story behind a typical Indian wedding, conceals so much more. Its protagonists are real gems, refreshingly gray people that stem so far away from the stereotypical good and bad characters. The show is definitely worth a watch.

7. BTS are (finally) subverting their own old sexism with their new concept by Saira Mahmood

BTS are (finally) subverting their own old sexism with their new concept

We’ve grown up, we’re sorry, we know better now.

Everyone can make mistakes, even the wildly popular boyband BTS. Not everyone always makes amends, but luckily, they did. Author Mahmood proudly delves into a deep analysis of their new, woke ways through more recent iconography and lyrics.

8. Disney’s Aladdin is bragging about “representation,” but we’re still stuck in the desert by Lara Azar

Disney’s Aladdin is bragging about “representation,” but we’re still stuck in the desert

What do we do for positive representation?

This piece aims to analyze where we actually are on MENA representation in Hollywood with empirical data. No sugarcoating it. We’re still “stuck in the desert” because it’s rare to see someone with MENA origins playing a character that’s not either involved in a terrorist attempt or in an ancient, magical story.

9. Ramy Youssef on what it’s like disrupting Hollywood’s typical Muslim narrative – and on what keeps him going by Aysha Qamar

Youssef isn’t your typical actor.

Our staff writer Aysha Qamar had the opportunity to interview the one-and-only Ramy Youssef. They talked about his new show Ramy, what he thinks of current Muslim representation in media, and much much more in this honest interview.

10. How my brain tumor affected my career as a thriller writer by A.F. Brady

How my brain tumor affected my career as a thriller writer

I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news.

Few of us come face-to-face with our mortality at a young age. Even fewer of us, perhaps, find the strength to continue afterwards. Brady, who is a published writer of several books, recounts her decade-long journey of post-diagnosis, reflecting upon the aftermath and the journey it pushed her on since. 

11. Seeing yourself as a songbird: how Tuca & Bertie on Netflix gave women a mirror by Zoe Marquedant

Seeing yourself as a songbird: how “Tuca & Bertie” on Netflix gave women a mirror

In an animated world, is anything inanimate?

The question that this article sets to answer is, how can a cartoon be more realistic than your regular sitcom? Somehow, finds our author, it is. Tuca and Bertie might be two cartoonized birds, but they’re realer women than the protagonists of Sex and the City or Friends are. Watch this show for an oddly realistic portrayal of millennial women.

12. Here’s why I have major issues with women’s body hair in Hollywood by Alice Draper

Here’s why I have major issues with women’s body hair in Hollywood

Is television finally starting to embrace female body hair?

Women’s bodies are constantly under the microscope, with every emotional and physical attribute put on display to be judged. And when it comes to body hair, this author highlights mass media’s one-dimensional portrayal of it and her struggle between embracing her own body hair and embracing the long-ingrained appeal of hairless bodies that we’ve been fed our whole lives.

13. We have to stop making straight celebrities our gay icons by Federica Bocco

We have to stop making straight celebrities our gay icons

I would like for a gay icon to actually… you know, be gay.

Last but certainly not least, Pop Culture editor Federica Bocco highlights how adorning Pride events with a majority of straight artists is a blatant misstep in the presence of the vast number of LGBTQ+ talent in the world. And as we head in 2020, it’s about time that the fight for representation no longer remains a fight, but a victory. 

And there you have it, our top 13 pieces for 2019. Hit us up on our Instagram with your thoughts and tell us what you’d love to see next year. See you in 2020!

Gender Music Pop Culture

Riot Grrrl is the reason we have feminism today

If you think the Spice Girls invented “girl power,” you definitely have never heard of Riot Grrrl. And if you consider yourself a feminist, you need to know their story.

Riot Grrrl is a movement that originated around the punk and alternative rock subculture in the early ‘90s in North America and spread to over twenty countries. Some scholars claim that third-wave feminism actually developed thanks to Riot Grrrl.

The women who evolved in this subculture were angry and frustrated. They wanted to be included, better represented, and more connected to one another. Riot Grrrl really needs no introduction but their manifesto, published in 1991:

“we girls want to create mediums that speak to US. We are tired of boy band after boy band, boy zine after boy zine, boy punk after boy punk after boy… Because we need to talk to each other. Communication and inclusion are key. We will never know if we don’t break the code of silence… Because in every form of media we see ourselves slapped, decapitated, laughed at, objectified, raped, trivialized, pushed, ignored, stereotyped, kicked, scorned, molested, silenced, invalidated, knifed, shot, choked and killed. Because a safe space needs to be created for girls where we can open our eyes and reach out to each other without being threatened by this sexist society and our day to day bullshit.”

Who were they? Who’s behind the Riot Grrrl movement?

The RG subculture arose out of the punk movement.

They were mostly college-based young women who strongly disagreed with the misogynistic and violent undertones that punk was taking, so they created their own movement to voice their ideas and advocate their rights. Sick and tired of being defined in relation to men, they wanted the recognition that was owed to them.

The symbols of Riot Grrrl were commodified and turned into mass-produced objects.

It is with this desire for a social, cultural, and political revolution that Riot Grrrl articulated their subculture. Their means of expression was music, as well as do-it-yourself zines, the rightful heirs of the feminist tradition of self-publication, the only way for their ideas to safely circulate in the male-dominated space of press without any fear of censorship.

From old pamphlets, they learned about feminism, and through zines, they perpetuated their resistance. There, they could openly discuss topics that were considered taboos by the dominant culture, such as sexuality, abuse, drugs, abortion, body image and more.

Riot Grrrl zine
[Image description: A black and white Riot Grrrl zine from the 90s with “Support Vaginal Pride” written in capital letters]

“We wanna make it easier for girls to see/hear each other’s work,” they continue in the manifesto, seeking a chance at visibility and recognition. “We must take over the means of production in order to create our own meanings,” and “create an alternative to the bullshit christian capitalist way” and (louder, for those in the back) “we hate capitalism,” because it has done nothing but commodify and objectify them since they can remember.

They empower one another, “encourage and be encouraged in the face of all our insecurities,” and aim at “making an impact that DISRUPTS the status quo … create non hierarchical ways of being.” They predict “the coming angry grrrl rock revolution … that can and will change the world for real.”

Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it? So why is it that the movement dissolved?

Riot Grrrl was invoking a revolution through their own peaceful means. They were uniting women across the globe under the cry of sisterhood and gender equality. But the dominant ideology fears what is divergent, and always tries to control and annihilate it through a process of recuperation.

As with most alternative subculture, Riot Grrrl too was subverted and co-opted: mainstream culture appropriated and incorporated the less revolutionary aspects of the subculture, keeping the style but disregarding key ideals. The symbols of Riot Grrrl were commodified and turned into mass-produced objects.

History – the media – decided to silence the movement so that they could continue perpetrating their patriarchal norms, which Riot Grrrl was fighting so hard against.

The dominant ideology countered the Riot Grrrl revolution with the creation of media texts – films, tv shows, comics, music – that kept the bleak, meaningless slogan of “girl power” that only sought to empower women in words, but didn’t actually denounce the systemic oppression that was in place. Hence you have the family-friendly and socially acceptable “feminist” phenomenon of the Spice Girls, Sex & The City, and Bridget Jones.

So, what’s going on with the Riot Grrrl erasure?

I myself only found out about the Riot Grrrl movement in a Media textbook in my senior year of college and was appalled to never have heard of them before, and I was not new to Media and Gender Studies. I was surprised they’re not more talked about. They’re not an obscure group from a time gone by, their revolution happened 25 years ago and the pioneers of this movement that paved the way for modern feminism are still alive and kicking. (Bikini Kill, the most famous Riot Grrrl band, even just reunited in 2019!)

So why isn’t Riot Grrrl as popular nowadays as it should be? History – the media – decided to silence the movement so that they could continue perpetrating their patriarchal norms, which Riot Grrrl was fighting so hard against.

Some scholars claim that third-wave feminism actually developed thanks to Riot Grrrl.

Like all forms of cultural resistance, the women in Riot Grrrl wanted to create a free space for their voices to be heard. But no matter how universal the hegemony might be, there will always be counter-hegemonic groups and movements making “noise” cracking the harmonious sound of ideology for a little while before the dominant culture intervenes to erase them.

It is our job to pass on their ideas and make sure they continue on.

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