How the ’13th’ Amendment of United States perpetuated modern-day slavery

The 13th Amendment of the United States constitution was taught as a law of liberation: the one that freed slaves from servitude; however, Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated Netflix-original documentary, “13th,” reminds us that the blade that protects us can also maim us.

Yes, the 13th Amendment proclaimed that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States,” but the amendment also provided an exception — a clause that calls slavery by another name and makes it perfectly legal.

Inserted within the fine print of the 13th Amendment is the clause that explains how African Americans are still persecuted today. Convicted criminals don’t received the protection of the 13th Amendment. And so the 13th Amendment became a economic and political weapon that ensnared blacks through mass incarcerations.

DuVernay enlists the help of activists, historians and politicians to explain more than 150 years of American history. Interviews with figures like Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Jelani Cobb, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Angela Davis, James Kilgore, Newt Gingrich, Charles Rangel, Van Jones and Cory Booker explain how blacks continue to be criminalized.

“13th” is a disturbing and sometimes overwhelming portrait of how people of color have been wronged, but more frightening still, is how people of color continued to face persecution through legislation and the media. Stereotypes perpetuated in D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” have been mirrored in modern political ads and news segments. However, like how a blade can simultaneously maim and protect, DuVernay also offers a weapon for the Eric Garners, Philando Castilles, Sandra Blands, Trayvon Martins, Oscar Grants and Emmett Tills. 

Only media and technology can change the narrative.

“13th” was written by Spencer Averick and Ava DuVernay. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary. DuVernay’s film “Selma” was nominated for Best Picture in the 87th Academy Awards.  

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‘The Lobster’: a bizarre satire of loneliness

Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” is a piece of performance art exploring the meaning of love.

Written by Greek writers Efthymis Filippou and Lanthimos and nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay, “The Lobster” is about a series of bizarre rituals in a dystopian society where uncoupled humans are harvested for blood and body parts and then transformed to spend the rest of their lives as an animal of their choice.

Couples get to live in the city and grow old together, but when a couple divorces or when a mate dies, their partners are checked into a painful purgatory of sorts.

That’s where this painstakingly long two-hour film begins: with David (Colin Farrell), a man recently separated from his wife of nearly 12 years.

Without time to grieve, David’s immediately checked into the hotel — where hospitality staff strip him of his clothing and monitor his moves.

Singles and couples are segregated here with couples on tennis courts and yachts while singles are quarantined to other single-designated areas. The catch: singles must find a partner with a similar physical feature within 45 days or else they will be forced to spend the rest of their lives as an animal.

Even if that isn’t enough pressure to find a suitable mate, singles are forced to watch propaganda on why coupledom is better. A wife can rescue a man from choking to death while a husband can protect a women from being raped.

Lanthimos film is a disconcerting journey because for much of the film, you feel lost — wandering a world without knowing its rules. The voice of your all-knowing narrator (Rachel Weisz) seems more focussed on bizarre details like the color of David’s shoes than helping you understand. Just when you begin to get your bearings though, you hear three unnerving cords that make your whole body tense.

“The Lobster” is a frustrating experience — as if you were a puppet guided by a cruel and whimsical god. This one, Lanthimos, sends your ship to whirlpools and sharp rocks. You survive and persevere, somehow, but even if loneliness isn’t torturous enough, perhaps love is just as absurd.

“The Lobster” was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Efthymis Filippou and Lanthimos. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay.    

Watch: The two best songs of ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ season two

Bo Burnham was right.

Like he sang in his song “Sad,” “Laughter, it’s the key to everything. It’s the way to solving all the sadness in the world.”

Which is why “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is the perfect pick-me-up to a bad day.

Created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is at its best when its hope riding a wave of desperation.

Here’s two breakout performances from season two:

Even with bowel jokes, these songs are incredibly sad. Somehow, we manage to laugh anyway.

The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna. The show’s first and second seasons are available on Netflix. 

‘Girls’: the voice of a generation

In the first episode of Lena Dunham’s HBO series “Girls,” Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath, defines herself as “the voice of my generation” — the me-centric millennials still bankrolled by their parents, the anxious 20-somethings with crippling low self-esteem and the lost souls who dare to dream without knowing that they’d eventually settle before figuring out what they want.

As if to prove her point, Horvath backpedals a bit, clarifying her goal to be “a voice of a generation,” hoping to articulate what it’s like to be an age when the only thing you’re absolutely sure of is how unsure you are.

Written and directed by Dunham, “Girls” shows you what’s behind the Valencia-filtered Instagram photos: the minutes you’re questioning your entire existence and Googling “stuff that gets up on the side of condoms” in the middle of the night.

Dunham’s voice is full of disappointment that even though “Girls” is branded as a comedy, the show comes across as a series of awkward, emotional and sad events. While Horvath dreams of becoming a bohemian writer living in New York City, the reality is that she’s hardly living. She has no steady job and she can’t afford rent. To top it off, her ex-boyfriend (Andrew Rannells) tells her that he’s gay and that he gave her an S.T.D., her old boss (Richard Masur) gropes her at work and her undefined intimate partner (Adam Driver) treats her like her “heart is monkey meat.”

Her roommates Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) are equally lost in their own ways. Marnie has a boyfriend from college (Christopher Abbott) that she’s been dating forever but doesn’t love. Jessa’s never worked before being hired as a baby sitter. And Shoshanna’s a 22-year-old college student who’s biggest baggage is still being a virgin.

Unhappiness unites them as they desperately seek love and adventures through a series of study abroad experiences, unpaid internships and casual sex with men who don’t text back.

If “Girls” is “a voice of a generation,” it’s an uncomfortable one — like a modern day “Sex in the City” with Esther Greenwood from Sylvia Plath’s “Bell Jar” as its narrator. It’s not very glamorous and Mr. Big hasn’t figured out how to adult either. But in 29-minute episodes, “Girls” captures the anxieties of being 24.

If we were to believe Dunham’s portrayal though, being 24 is one fear that you’d want to miss out on.

“Girls” was created by Lena Dunham. 

Dreaming of ‘Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart’

Told like one of Georges Méliès’ féeries stories, “Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart” is a balancing act — a Jenga tower that could have easily toppled over.

On one hand, you see the romantic and tragic tale of “Romeo & Juliet.” On top of that, you see the quixotic influences of Miguel de Cervantes, the surrealist paintings of Salvador Dali and the gothic characters often found in Tim Burton films.

The fragile balance is even more precarious when beautiful, almost life-like animation is interspersed with musical numbers in a steampunk world.

And then suddenly, Georges Méliès (Jean Rochefort, Stephane Cornicard) appears in an animated film he might have written, directed or invented once upon a time.

Written and directed by French author Mathias Malzieu based on his book and album, “La Mécanique du Cœur” (which translates to “Mechanics of the Heart”), “Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart” is a surrealist and dreamlike fairytale about another boy named Jack (Mathias Malzieu). This one didn’t nip at your nose, climb beanstalks or rip throats from prostitutes in London. This Jack was born in Edinburgh on a night so cold that his heart became encased in a block of ice.

Luckily, the witch doctor Madeleine (Marie Vincent, Emily Loizeau) was able to repair Jack’s frozen heart, replacing it with bits of gears and magic. Instead of a beating and bloody heart, Jack was given a cuckoo-clock, which chimed when it was startled and smoked when he felt any passion.

To protect his mechanical heart, Jack was given three rules to live by: 1. Never touch the hands of the clock; 2. Control his temper; and 3. Never fall in love. Naturally, he breaks the rules and becomes infatuated with a girl named Miss. Acacia (Olivia Ruiz, Samantha Barks).

Like Salvador Dali paintings, the film stretches time and probability. In one moment, you’re longboarding through desserts; in another, you’re climbing the sky — flying and falling through scenes filled with pop-up houses, bouquets of glasses, cats with elongated necks and smoke made out of paper.

Malzieu and his co-director Stéphane Berla present us a magic show walking the tightropes of a surrealist dream.

It isn’t a smooth walk. It floats and falls. Pushes and pulls. Flickers and stops in seemingly random bursts.

It’s a film full of contradictions filled with things that shouldn’t exist. A man with a spine of a xylophone. Humans with elephant ears. And a boy with the cuckoo-clock heart.

Yet somehow, all these pieces fit together like misfit toys — both ugly and beautiful, forgotten and loved.

“Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart” was directed by Stéphane Berla and Mathias Malzieu based on Malzieu’s book and screenplay. The film contains original music from Malzieu’s band Dionysos.  

Listening to ‘The Name of the Wind’

The best way I can describe how it felt like when I read “The Name of the Wind,” the first book in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle series, is that scene in William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride” — the one where the sick boy urges his grandfather to keep on reading.

It’s been a while since I’ve found an adventure quite like this — a page turner so engrossing that it consumes me entirely.

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“The Name of the Wind”
By Patrick Rothfuss
661 pp. DAW. $17.85
2007.

It’s broken heart is Kvothe, an unassuming barkeeper with vivid red hair and ever-changing greenish-colored eyes.

Kvothe’s story is illustrated in two parts: the past and the present — nestled inside each other like Penrose steps.

In the present, Kvothe is a haunted man, quietly trading stories to a traveling writer while hiding from the inevitable hellhounds.

But even as Kvothe tries to escape his past, it sweeps him up and defines him.

In the past, Kvothe was a myth more than a man — a thief who survived the cruelest of conditions, escaping caves of cyclopes beneath the bellies of sheep. Kvothe was a candle burning from both ends — a child prodigy who’s lived lifetimes within days.

Now within days, Kvothe narrates the stories of his lifetime: The stories he’s heard, stored and made.

“The Name of the Wind” is a minstrel’s song like Homer’s “Iliad or “Odyssey” — a clever and epic tale promising magic, fighting, torture, poison, true love, revenge, joy, sorrow, songs, heroes, villains, bullies, monsters, women, bandits, knights, patrons, kings, singers, tinkers, princesses, mercenaries, demons, fairies, pain, poetry, poverty, shipwreck, debt, lies, truths, passions, and miracles.

This story more delivers on its promises.