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Hozier Brings “Unreal Earth” to Huntington Bank Pavilion

By Entertainment, Featured

Hozier performing in Chicago. Photo by Ruthless Imagery.

With nothing but love in my mind, I can declare with confidence that the milling throng of young folks all clad in vintagey earth tones and patched-up corduroy certainly looked like the sort who would enjoy Hozier’s unique brand of groovy, forest-dwelling folk-rock music. It was just barely 6 p.m. on Tuesday, September 12th that I found myself among these eager people, inching along in line at Huntington Bank Pavilion. With just a little more than an hour before the second date of Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth tour was slated to begin, the air was abuzz with tangibly mounting excitement.

As a writer and illustrator with a vested interest in the more sensitive side of supernatural narratives, the warm-heartedly eerie poetry of his lyrics has called to me for years now — but I confess my interest was mostly in passing; just a handful of songs in frequent rotation among my most-replayed musical muses. However, with a good friend’s patronage — if you’re reading this, thank you! — I had the privilege of this being the first real live music concert I’ve ever attended, and I jumped at the chance to learn more about this much-beloved artist. I had no expectations, “Unreal Unearth” set a higher bar than I could ever have hoped for.

It takes special care and passion to deliver the kinetically emotive energy that Hozier’s bluesy folk-rock brings to its studio recordings. That said, agood live show takes all the best parts of a great artist’s work, writes them large, and then shares them in a way far more intimate than any recorded session could ever hope to achieve.

The sold-out crowd of strangers felt like a gathering of long-lost friends because not a second of this concert went without a permeating sense of warmth and grandeur. To my delight, Hozier addressed us all with corresponding warmth, eager to offer up his creative muses; and I was lucky enough to be able to take down much of what he had to say.

Hozier was opened by fellow singer-songwriter, Madison Cunningham, about whom he had this to say: “I think Madison represents some of the most talented — one of the greatest creative minds of my generation. And I’m so proud.”

I can’t help but agree; if you like Hozier’s work, I reckon you’ll enjoy Cunningham just as well. Like him, her studio recordings scarcely compare to the raw character of her live performance, but both of her albums are rife with sharp-tongued personality and pensive candor.

Carrying herself with inconspicuous competence, Cunningham played a selection mostly from her 2022 album, “Revealer,” which she wrote and recorded across the various stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.  “I’ve never played in front of this many people in my life,” Cunningham confessed after her fourth song, the mournfully introspective “Death by Suspicion.” But, she went on to say, “I still feel like I’m in someone’s living room somewhere, and I think that speaks to who you all are.”

Of the seven songs performed, each was technically dense with deft guitar and rolling tom-heavy drums. Cunningham herself demonstrated great range, too, with the higher-energy songs carried by emotive, belting vocals, and the slower turning wistfully fragile and soft.

Regarding the man himself, I think I’ve refrained from the main event for quite long enough. After ten years and three full albums, Hozier has become a household name. This is hugely attributed to his debut single “Take Me To Churchwhich celebrated its tenth anniversary the day after this very concert.
In the same tradition of “Take Me to Church”, “Unreal Unearth is a deeply sensitive album, exploring love and religion across blurred lines of personal testimony and classical literature alike. From quavering dirges to energetic R&B anthems, the album carries with it a greater range and overall bigger sound than anything Hozier has yet released..

“De Selby (Part 1),” Hozier’s first song of the night, an easy favorite of mine, is characterized by delicate guitar and wistful vocals which were both overwhelmingly empowered by the scale and volume of the concert performance. It’s difficult to overstate the affective power of each sighing chord as it rumbled up through my feet, creating a monumental feeling. Even during the less energetic songs, that energy lingered as rapt and caring audience attention..

Hozier’s conversational asides and explanations buoyed up the atmosphere.  The upbeat love song “Francesca,” the third song of the night, was uniquely prefaced by Hozier’s context about its relationship with “The Divine Comedy:” “It kind of directly references these two characters in Dante’s Inferno,” he explained, “Who were real Italian historical figures from Florence who fell in love, and had an affair, and were murdered for that as a result. […] There’s no punishment in spending eternity arm in arm with the person that you would have died for. That’s Francesca.” With this context, the performance was irretrievably built around that defiant kindness that so characterizes the “Unreal Unearth” album and concert at large.

“Have I mentioned how much I love Chicago? I haven’t, and every time I come here I just love being in this city.” Hozier said following the eighth song, “Dinner & Diatribes.” He continued saying, ”as a child, a huge amount of my musical influences were all comin’ out of Chicago, you know? And also, every time I’m here, if I ever have a day off, I just love walking your beautiful city..”

The live debut of “To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe),” which was prefaced by a fascinating and personal aside on Hozier’s relationship with the Irish language. Despite having studied the Irish language throughout his childhood, Hozier expressed wonder at his discovery of the word “uiscefhuaraithe,” which he defined as, “the very specific sensation that you feel, let’s say, when you pick a rock from a river and you know that that rock is cold. Your body tells you that rock is cold, but your body tells you also that it has been made cold by water. And that can be described as uiscefhuaraithe.” This exploration is new to “Unreal Unearth,” but seems to have been given great thought. “De Selby (Part 1)” includes lyrics in Gaeilge, and the slow extinction of indigenous languages is bitterly recalled in “Butchered Tongue.” The mournful tone rose to cheer again with “Like Real People Do,” a throwback from Hozier’s self-titled 2014 album. There was much cheering, singing along, and gooey couples swaying together through the isles with genuinely delightful sweetness.

After a selection of songs from the newest record, the audience was invited to sing along to “Would That I” and “Almost (Sweet Music), a pair of songs from the 2019 album, “Wasteland Baby!” And last, but certainly not least, the main set was closed out with a truly rousing performance of “Take Me To Church,” which was met with shrieking cheers and fan enthusiasm so hearty that, more than once, Hozier simply shut his mouth and raised his arms to invite us all to sing. That final song closed out with one absolute hell of a drum solo, and the singers left the stage.

After much continued shouting and cheering, the band returned for their encore, which included the 2018 track “Nina Cried Power.”

“This next song,” Hozier began over the beat of the opening drums, “I want to dedicate this to Mavis Staples who is who’s a huge hero of mine, and it is one of the biggest honors of my life that I got to know Mavis Staples a little bit more over the years. And, I was writing this song about the importance of the legacy of direct action and protest. […] As the Irish revolutionary James Connolly once said: ‘No revolution exists without its poetical expression,’ and Mavis Staples embodies the poetical expression of a revolution of love, of joy, of inclusion, and of a vision of a better kind of world. It was such an honor recording this song here in Chicago with [her].”

Hozier and company finished the night with one final song from the “Hozier” album, “Work Song. The audience sang contentedly along to the end and cheered tremendously through the band’s group hug and final bows — and I, for my part, went home aglow with that same fulfilling exhaustion as after hours spent with friends. Emotionally intense but welcoming, effortlessly charming, and promising continued greatness for (hopefully) another decade to come, I can imagine nothing better than this to be the first live music I’ve ever been privileged to experience.

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Finding Space for Black Memory

By Arts & Culture, SAIC

Black Domestic Installation View. Photo by Nitya Mehrotra.

Those entering “The Black Domestic” exhibition are immediately immersed in the sense of home. As a Black artist, a sense of belonging is imbued in the space and the memories feel alive. 

The show, which focuses on themes of “family, memory, and home” and is curated by Jordan Barrant and Saida Blair (MA in Visual & Critical Studies, 2024), will be open from Aug. 30 to Sept. 29 in the SITE Sharp Gallery. 

Visitors are invited into conversation and community within the context of works of art created by a variety of artists associated with the graduate student group Coalition of Black Restorative Artists. COBRA is a resource for Black graduate students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The gallery space welcomes viewers in with the striking visual of a lone green plush couch asking you to sit — or not — in the space. The shelf draws you in with a Bible and photos of personal significance in old frames. This center space is meant to simulate a living room and encourage a communal gathering. Everything is of a different time but harmonious. 

There is a natural extension of the floor space that is used. Chris D. Reeder’s (MA in VCS, 2023) “rest and reflection expand the revolution (series)” (2022) is realized through comfort and curiosity. Jacquard-woven pillows lure viewers in.

Under the imagined “sounds of Brooklyn,” this work explicitly calls for interaction — with books meant to be gently picked up and flipped through. Readers are intrigued by titles like “Black Futures” by Kimberly Drew and “Barracoon” by Zora Neale Hurston. Reeder’s work is multifaceted and multisensory, inviting a conversation to occur within the space and with the media.

Through photography, Christopher K. Lee’s (MFA in Photography, 2024) project “Armed Doesn’t Mean Dangerous” (2023) offers another lens into the meaning of the Black domestic. He takes viewers into the world and homes of Black gun owners in Texas. This work seeks to reflect his experience with guns in his community and home, and it is a literal reframing of preconceptions viewers may hold about gun owners. The framing and lighting feature the subject and, while the gun is not hidden, often even held by the subject, it is not in light — not the main focus of the photo.

Brianna Perry’s (MFA in Fibers and Painting, 2024) works “Ross Kids,” “Ruled by Mercury or Tammie and Deborah,” “Mississippi House,” and “Cubie and Jessie” (2023) encompass the viewer in rawly formed canvases stretched upon a birchlike surface — hazy images emerge from surfaces like water, using the fluidity of this medium to envelop the clouded nature of memories. Working with fibers, her work calls attention to “imperfection and mistake,” as she recalls stories of Blackness contextualized in Mississippi and Chicago. Her work situates itself like family photos, placed in voids of off-white color. Her domestic scenes call the viewer into a recollection of the past, beckoning for those who have undertaken their own migrations to connect in the flow of the surface of her work.

In “The Black Domestic,” viewers are engaged with a variety of retellings of home and community in Blackness. From assemblage to fiber to photography, the exhibition orients itself across a spread of mediums. In the words of the curators, we “wouldn’t define ‘The Black Domestic’ individually but treat it as a gesture towards shared experiences and collective imagination that takes shape in Black memory and life.” 

This space provides a place for archival practices to initiate with art and create meaningful discussions. The experience causes one to linger and engage fully — sit in it. Read the literature. This is a living space that can challenge, educate, and inspire.

Black Domestic Installation View. Photo by Nitya Mehrotra.


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The Gray Space of Experimental Art Venues

By Arts & Culture, News


Walking down N. Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park can make anyone feel like the most trendy person in Chicago. The colorful storefronts display vintage wear, high-end sneakers, $9 ice cream cones, and Doc Martens. This neighborhood is a popular area for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago students and artists at large, as it’s where TriTriangle and {\}() {\}∆‡!(){\} (NoNation — Art Gallery and Tangential Unspace Lab), two pillars of the Chicago experimental sound and performance scenes are located.

I discovered NoNation at the tail end of my first year at SAIC in 2022, at a time when I couldn’t seem to find where artists actually go in Chicago, besides to school. I was instantly enchanted when I visited NoNation. The hastily painted red wooden floors and ceiling, the rumble of the Blue Line train behind the building, and the domestic touches all create a wondrous space as both a venue and a residence. There was a large couch that invited you to sit next to a stranger. And I loved that there were remnants of many other artists who had passed through and lived in the space. The best part was the great performances I saw that evening and continue to see at NoNation. I am always surprised, captivated, and challenged by my experience there. I am not the only SAIC student who deeply values NoNation and TriTriangle as venues for experimental performances.

NoNation and TriTriangle have been operating in the Lubinski building for over 10 years. Both are frequented by SAIC students and alums who are eager to showcase their works. They have unique programming supported by artist communities who cherish them.

Melon Sprout (BFA 2022) is an SAIC alum and a sound/noise/performance artist. They formed the group love, an open-ended performance collective, which performed at TriTriangle in January 2023. Commenting on the supportive environment of TriTriangle, they said, “I don’t think I’d be in Chicago enjoying it if it wasn’t for NoNation and TriTriangle being pillars of performance magnitude. Just the wealth and diversity of performances they put on there… and it’s not just the performances. It’s a culture of, ‘You got something to share? Then let’s show it.’”

This culture of artistic receptiveness is vital in attracting all kinds of artists to perform and gather there.

Jackie Swanson (BFA 2024), a SAIC student in the sound and performance department, shared a similar feeling.

“NoNation and TriTriangle was my first introduction to a performance space outside of SAIC. They consistently create a beautiful and freeing atmosphere inside each of their spaces. I’m always able to view and create fun, engaging, and difficult art to interact and live in,” Swanson said.

The Lubinski building was put up for sale in 2019, which put the two major experimental arts scenes of Chicago in danger of possible shut-down. Their inclusions in the future remain unknown. Threatened by the loss of this historic arts building to real estate developers and retail gentrification, Alma Weiser (the director of Heaven Gallery) and Vincent Uribe (the director of LVL3) planned to buy the building and turn it into a community art space and marketplace. From the start of this potential purchase, the other residences felt left out.

In early February 2023, Amaya Torres (the co-founder of NoNation) and Ryan Dunn (the founder of TriTriangle) shared their histories and relation with the spaces. Also discussed was the dialogue between them and Equity Arts, how they strive to keep their spaces going under the threat of moving out, and what the future brings.

People have been in this building doing the things we are doing for upwards of 40 years,” said Dunn, an SAIC sound alum. Dunn spoke of Erin Leonardson, who is on SAIC’s Sound faculty. Painter David Moose also lived in the space. Leonardson moved in 1999, and Moose, who lived in space the longest, according to Dunn, moved in 1984.

Torres, an SAIC alum in Film, Video, New Media, and Animation, described their history with the building too. They had friends from SAIC living in the building in 2009 who were putting up a gallery called Happy Dog Gallery at the time and invited Torres in.

 “Once everyone graduated and moved… I inherited the place from them,” Torres said. 

Torres and Dunn have been able to continue living and hosting events in the building through communal living, residencies, and passion. Torres describes it as a juggling of many different things.”

Dunn, who lives at TriTriangle with his wife and child, supports his space by renting out a spare room and taking a small amount of performance donations.

We take a very minimal amount of the door proceeds and otherwise we have no funding. We volunteer our time and we volunteer our space,” Dunn said.

Sustainability in these DIY performance and communal spaces is hard to imagine, as hosts face the lack of commercial revenue. NoNation offers admission and will only accept a poem or a buttprint to enter. Both spaces do not refuse an audience member because of a lack of funds. Incidentally, this lack of commercial viability is what allows them to host experimental shows.

“As far as sustainability, I think it’s a labor of love and I don’t think it’s possible to run this kind of space and maintain independence and expect it to be sustainable. Sustainability means indebting yourself to a larger culture that may or may not have a completely different agenda to what you want to do with your space… It exists while it can and the moment you start trying to tie yourself to larger power structures that allow you to be sustainable is when you lose your ability to fight back,” Dunn said.” We both exist on the margins. We exist as long as we can manage to do it. Our sustainability model rests on people with passion.”

Equity Arts seeks to buy the Lubinski building and transform it into a long standing art center. On their website, they describe their intention to create a “Perpetual Purpose Trust” that would lead to community ownership of the building and protection from future sales. Equity Arts also intends to be a “retail incubator” to continue funding the space, similar to the Heaven Gallery’s model as both a gallery and vintage store. Furthermore, Equity Arts puts an emphasis on creating a restorative space for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) artists and organizers through an equity policy ensuring the board, tenants, staff, and artists in the building will be of 60 percent BIPOC majority.

Despite their claims, the main community backlash Equity Arts has received is their exclusion of NoNation and TriTriangle in the future. Aza Greenlee, the other director of NoNation, said at the town hall that they felt Equity Arts was essentially saying to BIPOC artists already living and working in the building, “We’re going to protect people like you, except for you. We are going to look out for people like you, except for you.”

Since 2018, Equity Arts initiated the plan under the name Community Arts Wicker Park (CAWP), there has been tension between the administrators of Equity Arts and the leaders and inhabitants of NoNation and TriTriangle. Torres recalled an early meeting with possible investors for CAWP at Heaven gallery in 2018.

“There was a long table and we sat down and started talking with the people who were there. Some lawyers, investors, real estate developers and then one artist and one person from a radio thing. We started introducing ourselves and talking with them. They had no idea that we lived here,” Torres said.

Dunn interjected by saying those present at the meeting did know they lived in the building, but had thought they were involved with the project to buy the building. Either way, after this meeting Alma Weiser invited NoNation to join in on the project. 

Torres said that the NoNation leaders went to some meetings, but they felt discouraged by the focus of the meetings.

“It was more about, let’s reach out to the businesses that are around. People can have their own model of working with a gallery but that’s not what we want to do. We are focused on the art experimentation. We are not focused on linking them up with a company to get some of that money. In one of the meetings I told them I didn’t want to be a part of this anymore,” Torres said.

Since 2018, Equity Arts has continued to raise money to buy the building, while continually neglecting to include NoNation and TriTriangle in the history of the building.

On Nov. 8, 2022, NoNation posted a public statement on Equity Arts to their Instagram page regarding the dispute and their grievances against the project, specifically after a report by the Chicago Reader on Equity Arts from mid-October 2022. The outpour of responses and anger resulted in the town hall, which meant to address the concerns the community had with Equity Arts over, such as the invisibilization of NoNation and TriTriangle’s work in the building and loss of housing for current residents.

Although Weiser has said in the past that the project would not include housing for artists, at the beginning of the town hall she said that now Equity Arts would include artist housing in their programming.

Since the town hall, there have been no updates on the future inclusion of NoNation and TriTriangle. I have been unable to get a comment from Equity Arts as of March 2023, and Torres and Dunn have not received any further explanation.

 This uncertainty leaves the fate of NoNation, and TriTriangle in a limbo and their future indeterminate. To see the Lubinski building dissolve into the trendy landscape of Wicker Park would be a blow for all artists in Chicago, but the loss of NoNation and TriTriangle would be as well.

Equity Arts’ proposal for keeping this historic landmark as an arts space is hopeful, but calls upon us to interrogate what sustainability means and who it is for. Are DIY spaces meant to be sustainable, or can they only exist for as long as the passion of those leading them outweighs the outside world’s drive for profitable art? As artists, how can we keep spaces of radical experimentation open when facing the continual pressure to legitimize ourselves through institutional support.

For now, as Dunn said, “We’re living in a gray space, it exists by the grace of chance.”



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To be Pakistani, a woman, or an artist?

By Arts & Culture, Featured, Photo Essay, SAIC

Photo by Nitya Mehrotra

Deeply conscious about the generational effects of the 1947 India-Pakistan partition, Sayera Anwar — a second-year graduate student in the Photography department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago — expresses a utopian desire to dissolve borders through film, photography, and painting.

The partition has sparked forced migrations, including that of her grandparents. She finds herself frequently visiting the India-Pakistan border and dreaming of a parallel reality in this zone of contention, which reeks of the vicious cycles of retaliation, fear, and nationalism that exist among the two nations. She embraces the indifference of natural to political borders as a philosophy of existing and co-existing.

In the past three years, Anwar has been nominated and selected for artist residencies like the prestigious “Dūje Pāse toñ’’ (From the Other Side), commissioned by the South Asian Canadian Histories Association, and, in 2021, Vasl’s annual artist residency — Taaza Tareen 13 in Karachi, Pakistan. Her work has been shown at the Full Circle Gallery in Karachi (2021), The Reach Gallery, Abin botsford, Canada (2021), and the SITE Gallery, in Chicago (2023).

F Newsmagazine talked to Anwar about how her work is politically charged and a reflection of the environment she grew up in.

Khytul Qazi: Can you tell us about yourself and the kind of work you do? 

Sayera Anwar: I work with fabric, sculpture painting, photography, and video art, and my work is often socially engaged. People around me become a part of my work, not only as an aesthetic prop, but also as the driving force of its content.

KQ: What led you to making socially engaged works?

SA: Growing up, I was always looking for “home.” My grandparents migrated from India to what is now Pakistan. As a young girl, I witnessed intercity migration, too, from a small town to the capital city, Islamabad. When I got into art in my early twenties, I discovered ways to explore those parts of my identity and culture. With it being about a family and a small community, it was in its essence, always socially engaged.

KQ: Was there a pivotal moment that inspired your commitment to artmaking?

SA: I would say it was not one moment, but several moments. Making work that I am able to recognize and register at an emotional level makes me feel heard. It gives me a power that I think was lacking before. 

KQ: Moving from Pakistan to Chicago for college, how has this change in culture and environment affected your artistic or material choices?

SA: I find myself walking a lot here, and that’s how I develop most of my ideas. Back home it was difficult to exist in public spaces as a woman. So even when I did walk there, it would become an act of rebellion more than anything else. Here in the U.S., walking is purely a part of my artistic inquiry. What I see in my surroundings almost always determines what appears in my photographs and videos. 

Sayera Anwar (pictured above and below) during one of her performances, titled, “Skin” (2019). Photo courtesy: Tayyaba Anwar

KQ: Can you talk more about how the environment shapes your work?

SA: Since coming to the U.S., I have tried to keep an open heart and mind. When I get into a process, I go with the idea and not the visualization of a product. Sometimes it’s anxiety-inducing, but I think, at the end, it’s about building a path towards one’s artistic freedom. 

KQ: How has your work shown at SAIC been received? Has that affected your practice in any way?

SA: With the diversity of thought at SAIC, I have realized that there are so many ways people are going to be looking at my work. Moreover, people always have individual perspectives. Instead of worrying about how people look at my work, I have started paying attention to how I understand my own work. The more perspectives I gather, the more I learn. I am also trying to give all my attention to the work and what it offers, and not how it is being received.

KQ: Are there any specific projects you’ve done that make you feel close to your country or community?

SA: I think every project I do helps me feel closer to home, as that’s what I’m seeking. 

KQ: Since your work has the political inclination, how do you find a balance between the artist and the ideologies you have? Or between the artistic expression and the political message? 

SA: Even when I’ve tried to have a pure artistic expression, the world doesn’t let me forget that I’m a Pakistani woman. Now is a balance even possible for people like me? I have one year left until my degree and the anxiety that comes with the uncertainty about my position in this country overpowers all anxieties that come with my artistic inquiry. There is no balance. It’s a constant juggling, a back and forth. 

KQ: When people hear the word “Pakistan” next to your work, what do you expect/hope for them to know? 

SA: Whenever I look at my work and get appreciated, I’m always thinking of all the talented Pakistani people who do not have the opportunity to show their work, about how they have so much to say but do not get heard. I have this bottle that a local artist made for me. He was the person who painted the truck for Kate Middleton and Prince William’s visit to Pakistan. There are so many artists like him around me who are never seen. And Pakistan is filled with them.

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The Glittering Trojan Gift Horse of “Barbie”

By Entertainment

Film still from “Barbie” (2023) featuring Ryan Gosling as Ken and Margot Robbie as Barbie.

And if all of that is true for a doll — just — representing women, then — I just don’t know.
— America Ferrera

I bet you’ve seen or know someone who has seen the Barbie movie by now. Perhaps more than once. Perhaps they went in a group, dressed up in costume. Maybe it was one of those brunch movie parties that created a grand spectacle and felt special while you munched on French toast and drank orange juice at 9:30 a.m. Before the tears started welling up.

Which they likely did.

I went to the Barbie movie just to have a good time. I had assumed that maybe it would be a tongue-in-cheek exploration of the many animated Barbie movies from the early and mid-2000s, but live-action and set in modern times. I thought perhaps it might remind me of the documentary recapping the history of Mattel introducing Barbies with different body types. Or maybe it would be like that episode from the Netflix “Toys That Made Us” series.

I thought a lot of things, and “Barbie” was all of them and none of them at the same time. The trailers weren’t much help in decoding what was to come either. “Barbie” would either be a fantastical pink distraction in line with the Architectural Digest-style Dream House tour videos that had been put out or it would be a weird fever dream ode to Stanley Kubrick films. All I really knew was that the movie would playfully show people as dolls on perfect beaches and in weird, perfect houses with minimal walls and slides going into pools of fake plastic water. They never have stairs because Barbies don’t need stairs.

It was incredibly effective and genius marketing that should be studied for years to come. Or maybe we were all just looking for something to see and celebrate. Something that looked a little silly and a little frilly and just fun. Something camp that was visually appealing without being a violent sonata about war. It was a glittering Trojan gift horse and I’m glad we let it in the gates of our city.

I had no idea as I sat in the movie theater in my mesh shirt (I was dressed up as Earring Magic Ken, underground gay icon), that I’d be tearing up in the third act of a movie about desire, exploration, and the structure of society itself. True, I should’ve expected it given the career trajectories of Margot Robbie, America Ferrara, and director Greta Gerwig. But I’m more Stereotypical Barbie than Weird Barbie most days, so I didn’t pay attention as deeply as I could’ve.

Margot Robbie, of course, has redefined DC’s Harley Quinn in film, bringing her in line with the spirit of the ferociously independent cartoon Harley Quinn they’ve been showing on TV. One who doesn’t need a Joker to define either her inner power or villainry and who is pretty gay. Greta Gerwig is an iconic female voice known for her films like “Lady Bird” that take real life and make it something worth watching (or maybe that’s just the Laurie Metcalf fan in me). And America Ferrera has been standing up for herself and for the underrepresented women of color in films like her since “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”

At base, “Barbie’s” story doesn’t necessarily look new. Female travel epics have been around since before “The Wizard of Oz.” At a bare minimum, it’s “Small Soldiers on a grander scale. But this is also where Greta Gerwig starts to beckon you to experience something along with the undeniable, deliciously unsubtle visual impact — where that glittery pink package with a Dua Lipa dance score is transformed into a movie about how we resonate with ourselves and with each other. About uncovering hidden dimensions and how we strive to be human. About who is allowed to be brave and silly and unexpected. And what is authentic to the experience that we always imprint on our dolls. From the nod to Mount Rushmore featuring iconic Barbie designs like Christy to giant fake sticker inserts in the fridge, “Barbie” is a well-thought-out masterwork on how to tell a story with both dialogue and design.

The introduction of Rhea Perlman as Ruth Handler (the creator of the original Barbie) changes the tone of the movie but in the best way. There is still a party. There is still a world that takes advantage of Barbie’s legacy of wonder and slight flatness, and you still have to bike through an extremely fictitious Holland tulip field to get to Barbieland – but at the introduction of Ruth, “Barbie” turns into a call for any Barbie seeking to escape her box.

It’s here where we start to see America Ferrera as Gloria begins to take risks, find joy, and reconnect with her daughter Sasha, who begins her own new journey from a jaded teenager to a complicated young woman who can be fun and be a badass teen. It’s a stripping away of the perfect veneer of the “woman” at many different ages. And it’s pretty appropriate that these worries and fears; this joy and utter tiredness leads to a perfect monologue about what it means to truly and exhaustingly be a woman. What character could’ve spoken it so authentically more than the one who accidentally ended up creating Impending Thoughts of Death Barbie out of longing?

What surprised me most of all, and the reason I’ve seen “Barbie” twice now in theaters, was Barbie’s heartbeat as much as Barbie was surprised too —- taking her first real breath in. How she actively ends up accepting the duality offered by Gloria’s monologue in all of its pain and hypocrisy. And yet juxtaposed behind that on screen is a celebration of women being alive. Women who were part of the crew and their families as well, adding a further authentic stamp onto who is portrayed in “Barbie.” Much like in the brief scene with the old woman on the bench. Both within patriarchy and without. And what an intensely beautiful thing to witness.

Especially in a movie that’s not afraid to be serious as well as funny. Who amongst us expected a joking proclamation of what fascism is? After all, Barbie is right. She doesn’t “control the railways or the flow of commerce!” However with a billion dollars in the bank and growing, maybe we should rethink that. Or at least get Mattel to release a Weird House for those of us who thought it was way cooler than the Dream House.

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What does it Mean to be South Asian?

By Featured, SAIC

One of the noteworthy paradigm shifts in recent times is the emergence of and significant impact South Asian communities are having on reshaping American culture, and society. Whether it’s Mindy Kaling revolutionizing entertainment, DJ Rekha making the nation dance on Bhangra, or Prem Pariyar’s social change endeavor in the Bay Area, South Asians are making their presence felt.

Which begs the questions: Does a South Asian identity really exist? Do people from the sub—continent (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, and Maldives) have more commonness than differences? Is this perceived identity a political creation? 

At the first picnic of Namaste SAIC, the school’s South Asian student group, we asked these questions to a bunch of South Asian students, and here’s what they had to say:

Photo by Nitya Mehrotra

“To be South Asian is to be loud and proud. We are family-oriented, no matter how far we are from our homeland. We love to visit them. We love celebrating our festivals. But I still think we can do more to embrace our culture.”

— Ravinshu Sagar (MDDO, 2025)


Photo by Nitya Mehrotra

“To be South Asian is to constantly learn. There’s so much diversity within our communities. So we are always learning about and from each other. One of the things that makes us different from other cultures is also our family dynamics. From my experience, families mostly stick together. Families are always there, for better or worse. They always show up.

— Tanya Ramakrishnan, (BFA, 2026)


Photo by Nitya Mehrotra

“It’s like being from a region that is super colorful and vibrant. It’s a place full of culture. It’s a region that has so much history to it. However, I don’t think there’s a collective South Asian identity. As a community, we are very segregated. But I understand why people associate themselves with this identity. When you are living in a place that doesn’t have enough people of the same culture, you kind of look for people who are somehow similar. And since there’s a lot of commonness with the groups from South Asia, it reminds people of their home. And perhaps that’s why everywhere we go, we look out for South Asians.”

— Shriangi Gupta (BFA, 2026)


Photo by Nitya Mehrotra


“Every South Asian culture is different. Even in the same country, you will find people practicing different cultures. But collectively, our cultural upbringing and lifestyle are so different from Western societies. For us, respecting each other is very important. There will never be a day when we disrespect elders. 

— Vidhi Doshi (BFA, 2026)


Photo by Nitya Mehrotra

“For me being South Asian is to be respectful towards everyone, whether they are younger or older than me. I think it also has to do with our ideas of morality. Most of us are very giving. We look out for each other. I think we love being in groups; we are very communal. And that’s why the first thing most of us do, is to look for other South Asians because there are a lot of language similarities, cultural similarities, and just this usual understanding that we all are going through this assimilation phase. Our struggles are similar as we all are marginalized in most of the spaces here.

— Muskaan Dhingra (BFA, 2024)

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It’s Inside You!

By Comics, Featured Comics


Theo is taking a shower. The drain buzzes, fffffff, ffffffsh. While showering, Theo looks up and notices something that could be black mold on the ceiling. Theo washes his hair and tries to ignore the mold. He looks up at it once more before turning the water off.

A feeling overcomes Theo. The outside image darkens, and guts and insides are suddenly mold and grime. The spot of mold on the ceiling is highlighted in bright red. The image drips, heavy, heavy.

The moment passes. Theo sighs.

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Starr Ramone #13

By Comics, Featured, Featured Comics


Panel 1. Bebe stands in between Dave and Karl, a hand on each of the brothers’ shoulders. She says, “Hey, I heard your parents are getting a…”

Panel 2. Zoom on the trio. Dave and Karl are mortified as Bebe shouts “DIVORCE!”

Panel 3. At a table in the foreground, Starr sits with her arms crossed. Her bandmates stand huddled in the background with band equipment strewn about. Starr says, “My parents got divorced once.”

Panel 4. Close up of Starr as a single tear runs down her face.

Panel 5. As her bandmates are in sad contemplation, Bebe cheers, saying “Well, congrats fellas, you’re real punks now!” A caption box reads, “Is anything scarier than a divorce?”

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Tomorrow X Together Make History at Lollapalooza 2023

By Entertainment

Kang Taehyun performing at Lollapalooza 2023. Photo by Ashley Osborn.

History makers, Tomorrow X Together (TXT) became the first K-pop group to headline the music festival, Lollapalooza in Chicago. Last year, the five-member group was the first Korean group to perform at the festival. Now, in 2023, Amidst their ACT: Sweet Mirage tour schedule, the group returned to the Lollapalooza stage this time as headliners making history for the second year in a row. In recent years, the popularity of K-pop has surged in America.

Despite it being a rainy day in typical Chicago fashion, once TXT stepped onstage a bright rainbow illuminated the cloudy but still rainy skies. Thanks to this, many of their fans (who are  known as Moments of Alwaysness or MOA) have affectionately dubbed the group “weather fairies.” Even though the ground was muddy, the Grant Park festival goers still had a great Saturday, enthusiastically enjoying the range of music TXT performed.

Formed in 2019, Tomorrow x Together is not your typical K-pop group. The group is composed of five members: Choi Soobin, Choi Yeonjun, Choi Beomgyu, Kang Taehyun, and Huening Kai. Their entire discography features a wide variety of different genres and sounds.

This year at Lollapalooza, they performed songs like “Farewell, Neverland,” a pop rock song about growth, “Cat & Dog,” a playful-sounding song from their debut album about wanting to romantically be with someone 24/7, and “0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You)” a captivating emo-rock song about the struggles of love.

From vibrantly colored sets including fireworks and Beomgyu’s signature move of lighting a rose on fire — the crowd was left in awe. Most of their set was upbeat, filled with energetic dances and outfit changes. They also included slower songs like “Anti-Romantic,” a sad romantic song that went viral and trended on TikTok in 2021.

Constantly thinking of MOA, TXT showed their appreciation by performing an unreleased and fan-favorite song, “Blue Spring”. Though “Blue Spring” was a gift for their fans, TXT still kept the crowd engaged by urging everyone to sing along. Many people in the audience happily raised their flashlights and lightsticks.

The group surprised the audience with a special guest, American rapper and singer, Coi Leray. For their most recent album “The Name Chapter: Temptation” they collaborated with Leray on the song “Happy Fools” an upbeat song about living in the moment.

Most of their music can be attributed to youth, the struggles of growing up, and all that entails from wanting to run away, to friendship, to problems in love like ghosting.

Did you miss out on their epic and historical performance? Have no fear. At the end of their 90-minute set, Taehyun asked the audience to “follow us for the rest of our world tour, our new album, and more amazing stuff.” While we wait, check out some of their older songs like “New Rules,” “Crown,” “Eternally,” and “Fairy of Shampoo.”

It’s so exciting to have new music coming soon, but in the meantime to reminisce on such a special day, here’s the lineup in case you missed it.

Tomorrow x Together Lollapalooza Lineup

  • “0x1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You)”
  • “Dear Sputnik”
  • “Devil By The Window” (rock version)
  • “Tinnitus”
  • “Can’t You See Me” (rock version)
  • “Good Boy Gone Bad” (dance break version)
  • “Lonely Boy”
  • “Thursday’s Child Has Far To Go
  • “Anti-Romantic”
  • “Farewell, Neverland”
  • “Blue Spring”
  • “No Rules”
  • “Cat & Dog”
  • “Happy Fools (feat. Coi Leray) “
  • “Blue Hour” (dance break version)
  • “Wishlist”
  • “Magic” (dance break version)
  • “Do It Like That”
  • “Sugar Rush Ride”

Congratulations to Tomorrow x Together for making history and bringing their unwavering enthusiasm to Lollapalooza. Until the next time they come to Chicago, stream their new single “Do It Like That” featuring the Jonas Brothers, and look forward to their comeback on October 13, 2023!

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Every Wes Anderson Film Ranked in the Style of Wes Anderson

By Entertainment, Featured

Illustration by Bei Lin.

Step into the eccentric world of Wes Anderson. The eclectic writer/director known for his unique color palette and aesthetic stylization, is about to release a series of short films based on Rahl Dahl’s stories. These shorts premiere on Netflix beginning on Sept. 27 with, “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” and ending on Sept. 30 with “Poison.”

In honor of these new short films, I am giving every one of his feature films a (nonsense) award in the style of the awards given out in Anderson’s most recent feature “Asteroid City” (2023). Ranking the films would be easier but that wouldn’t be in the spirit of Wes Anderson’s work.

Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, and Robert Musgrave in “Bottle Rocket” (1996).

Starting with his debut, Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket” (1996) wins the Participant Badge.

The film is fine. It’s a participant. Unlike his other films, “Bottle Rocket” is strangely normal, with a very basic plot that doesn’t feel like a part of the same universe as his other films. The film follows Anthony (Luke Wilson) who is freshly released from a mental hospital and commits a poorly planned crime spree with his strange friend Dignan (Owen Wilson). It’s better than most debut directorial films, but overall just a little basic. It does, however, still have an overtone of sadness that appears to be a feature of every Anderson film.

Jason Schwartzman in “Rushmore” (1998).

Up next is “Rushmore” (1998) winning the Sleeper-Hit of the Century Sash.

Yes, the awards are all alliterative.

This film feels like a love letter to coming of age, and it’s absolutely phenomenal. “Rushmore” marks the beginning of the Wes Anderson montage, a staple in his films, that consists of characters centered in the frame holding still as if to replicate a photo. This film is surprisingly one of the best Anderson films and continues to be one of my favorites after having watched and rewatched every single film. It follows a high schooler named Max (Jason Schwartzman) who gets thrown out of his beloved private school after several shenanigans, but not before falling in love with a teacher (Olivia Williams) and befriending a fellow student’s father (Bill Murray). “Rushmore” really plays into the joy of being an odd kid. This film feels like a love letter to coming of age, and it’s absolutely phenomenal.

Luke Wilson and Anjelica Huston in “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001).

Anderson’s third film “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) wins the Diamond of Dysfunctional Families.

This is a hard award to win given the vast number of dysfunctional families in his body of work. The film is the first to establish the large cast of recognizable actors that can be found in any proceeding Anderson film. “The Royal Tenenbaums” follows Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) as he tries to make amends with his family after spending years horribly mistreating them. In this film, the Tenenbaums are so dysfunctional that they manage to feel unlike a family at all, and more like a group of people living together by chance. This dysfunction causes an overwhelming numbness as if the film itself is depressed and unable to comprehend what’s happened to itself.

Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004).

“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004), our fourth film, wins the Brass Bell of Bad Decisions

Boat people love bells.

This film is the first to really establish Anderson’s use of vivid signature colors. The film follows Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) an oceanographer and documentarian who seeks vengeance on a shark that killed one of his crew mates. Being his worst-rated film, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is poorly received by Anderson’s fans, and not without reason. This film has some of the worst pacing of any of Anderson’s films, as well as a lack of depth in each of its characters. “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” doesn’t manage to get past surface level in terms of a deeper meaning. But, the film still has a lot to offer, continuing the trends of darker themes, poor family relationships, beautiful cinematography, and an added dose of very poor decision-making.

Adrien Brody in “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007).

The goth feature film, “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007), wins the coveted Plaque of Pain.

This film is one devastation after another, with every moment of rest followed by a worse pain around the corner. The Darjeeling Limited” sees brothers Francis (Owen Wilson), Jack (Jason Schwartzman), and Peter (Adrian Brody) who embark on a journey of self-discovery across India.  The film is hard to watch, as it predates the later established bittersweet feeling in Anderson’s later work. This film is the mecca of Anderson’s sadness and feels like a perfect embodiment of the pain of Anderson’s early films.

Jason Schwartzman and Eric Chase Anderson in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009).

For his sixth film, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009), I award the Medal of Merriment.

My commitment to alliteration for the awards was a mistake.

This film has always felt like the most fun out of all of Wes Anderson’s catalog. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” follows Mr. Fox (George Clooney) as he plans a series of heists in order to live a “better” life. While there is still an underlying sadness, the film is one of the most entertaining and is by far one of the best to start with. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a joyride, with each turn slamming hard into the gas. Even with the typical family dysfunction, and self-loathing monologues, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”  manages to be nothing but fun.

Edward Norton and Chandler Frantz in “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012).

The seventh film, “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012), wins the Crown of Coming-of-Age.

While both “Rushmore” and “Moonrise Kingdom” heavily feature coming-of-age as a central theme, “Rushmore” is far more individualized, whereas “Moonrise Kingdom” has a broader appeal. “Moonrise Kingdom” features Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) as they plot to run away together after feeling outcast by their respective communities. “Moonrise Kingdom” is a complete heartache and holds a bittersweet nostalgia for being a child with an unrealistic perspective of the world. Moonrise Kingdom is sweet and fun while still feeling completely worth the heavier emotional beats.

Film still from “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014).

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) wins the Star of Sentimentality.

This film is a complete emotional whiplash with a constant ache behind each comedic beat. The film follows Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) a concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel and his battle to inherit an expensive painting. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is one of the most visually gorgeous films in Anderson’s catalog. It feels the most like an actual retelling of a personal story, and that’s what makes it work.

Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton, and Koyu Rankin in “Isle of Dogs” (2018).

“Isle of Dogs” (2018), our ninth film, wins the Certificate of Confusion.

“Isle of Dogs” is an extremely confusing, and at times very upsetting film. The film sees the dogs of Megasaki City being banished to a trash island due to two canine illnesses, and a young boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) on his journey to rescue his dog. Isle of Dogs is an extremely confusing, and at times very upsetting film. While still somewhat fun, the film is overall very miserable and maintains a very slow pace. The film is still good but by no means one of my favorites.

A drawn depiction of Bill Murray in “The French Dispatch” (2021).

Our tenth film, “The French Dispatch” (2021), wins the Memento of Multitude.

The French Dispatch” follows a number of different stories as covered in the final issue of a small French newspaper. “The French Dispatch” is a love letter to the declining form of print media, and the multitudes of stories that occur within print media. This film is possibly the least connected in terms of plot, with little to no connection between each story, but it still has an overarching love for writing that makes it feel extremely thoughtful.

Scarlett Johansson in “Asteroid City” (2023).

Our final film, “Asteroid City,” wins the Decoration of Dread.

“Asteroid City” follows a group of different pre-teens and their families, as they win scientific awards, and eventually become trapped in Asteroid City. The film has a very odd pacing and a very confusing plot. There are two main components to “Asteroid City.” The first component is the main plot of the film. The other part of the film consists of a playwright writing “Asteroid City” which is the events of the first component, this then turns into the staging and backstage of the play. The film then switches back and forth between these two narratives whenever the themes align with one another, this mimics the confused and very hazily defined relationship between the creator and creation. It feels like an existential crisis where you watch every part of your life replay in front of you, with each feeling of deja vu colliding with a previous memory. “Asteroid City” is a story of growing up with your art and reflecting on what it means to be a creator. Though it may be confusing, “Asteroid City” is beautiful and well worth the watch.

Through his body of work, Wes Anderson has explored the same bittersweet nostalgia through one lens or another, while simultaneously creating gorgeous cinematography that has culminated to instantly recognizable style. Pushing through the sadness and the pain, there’s still always a hint of whimsy and a kind thought of the writer. Anderson romanticizes the depressed and touts them as the good of his created worlds, which makes each one of his films a battle of emotions. Through it all, each film has its own personality, and each film is completely worth the agony.

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Chuffed for CUFF

By Arts & Culture, Entertainment, Featured

The longest underground film festival in the world is turning its projectors back on! If you’re looking for new, odd, or experimental films, this is the Chicagoland festival to check out.

The 30th Annual Chicago Underground Film Festival will run this week from Wednesday, Sept. 13 to Sunday, Sept. 17. The festival will feature screenings, karaoke, and experimental art shows. Opening night is at SAIC’s very own Gene Siskel Film Center, and the following days’ screenings will be at the Harper Theater. Tickets for an individual film are $12 a pop, or you can go all in on an all-access pass for $150.

A mixture of short films and features will be screened. Here are some of the ones we’re most excited for:

Film still from “Hello Dankness” (2022).

“Hello Dankness”
The Gene Siskel Film Center, Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

Ever had a deep desire to watch a political stoner musical? Well, you’re in luck. “Hello Dankness” (2022), which will kick off the festival Wednesday night at the Siskel, is just that! This film runs 70 minutes long and is a jigsaw puzzle of hundreds of film samples, the final product being the brainchild of Australian creative team Soda Jerk. The Guardian comments that Soda Jerk filmmakers, “treat other movies as public property in a collage film pondering the end of reality.” “Hello Dankness” is a collage of pop culture and political media, mashed together to create reimaginings of musicals such as “Cats” and “Les Miserable.” What art student won’t be fascinated by the conceit of this film?

Film still from “What You Could Not Yet Visualise” (2022).

Harper Theater, Thursday, Sept. 14 at 9:00 p.m. or Saturday, Sept. 16 at 5:00 p.m.

Have you ever heard of the band Rema Rema? Likely not, but director Marco Porsia wants to change that. Rema Ream is the post-punk band that got left behind in the 80s, with no live footage of them to be found. Though short-lived, they were impactful. In 94 minutes, Porsia’s film, “What you Could Not Visualise” (2023) seeks to uncover the history, mythology, and sound of Rema Rema, with the end goal of putting, “REMA-REMA back in their rightful place in the history of post-punk music.”

Geared magic lantern slide used in “Relic: tA Phantasmagoria (2020/2023).” Image courtesy of

“Relict: A Phantasmagoria (2020/2023)”
Harper Theater, Friday, Sept. 15 at 5:00 p.m. shown along with “[Six Years]” (2023). 

“Relict”  is a film for animation nerds and cryptozoologist enthusiasts alike. With a 40-minute-long runtime, “Relict” uses antique magic lantern slides and hand-drawn animation to create a unique documentary on the lore and skepticism of cryptids. Melissa Ferrari’s gorgeous but delicate handmade art is a reason alone to add this film to your “must-watch” list.

Film still from “Sweetheart Deal” (2022).

“Sweetheart Deal”
Harper Theater, Friday, Sept. 15 at 9:00 p.m. or Sunday, Sept. 16 at 3:00 p.m.

If you’re looking for a film with more teeth, “Sweetheart Deal” (2022) might be for you. Directed by Elisa Levine and the late Gabriel Miller, “Sweetheart Deal” follows the real lives of four Seattle sex workers over several years. The 99-minute run time covers their struggles with addiction, sex, and the concept of “salvation.”

Film still from “Chokehole: DragWrestlers do Deutschland” (2023).

“Chokehole: DragWrestlers do Deutschland”
Harper Theater, Thursday, Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m. or Saturday, Sept. 16 at 9:00 p.m. as part of the “Shorts 3: Hyperbolic Dreams” screenings. 

What’s better than a drag show? A drag wrestling night! “Chokehole: Drag Wrestlers do Deutschland” (2023) is a documentary that follows a New Orleanian drag wrestling collective on their journey taking their show to Germany. With only a 23-minute long run time, these girls and the director Yony Leyser manage to pack a lot of punches in tackling issues of gender conformity, racism, their own queer identities, and, of course, tackling each other.

Film still from “The Lucky” (2023).

“The Lucky”
Harper Theater, Sunday, Sept. 17 at 8:00 p.m. as part of the “Shorts 7:Insightful Misreadings” screening. 

The Lucky” (2023) is a short film featured in CUFF’s 7th batch of short films — the “Insight Meanderings” selection. The short film’s script was written not by a human writer, but by OpenAI’s GPT 3 text generator. Directed by Gregg Perkins and shot by 11 camera operators each taking their own approach to a single scene, “The Lucky” is an 8-minute story about two characters debating to return to a party they may never have been at in the first place.

Between shorts and features, there are over a hundred different films to see this year at CUFF. Climb on down into the underground. There’s something for everyone.

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How Striking! ‘It’s Time to Take a Stand for Video Game Performers’

By Entertainment, Featured, News, Series

A green Hollywood star of fame and pink VR headset, computer mouse, and gaming controllers overlaid over yellow text that reads "Video Game Actors." Beside this illustration is an illustration of a film reel and a clapper that reads, "Take No. 2"

Illustration by Bei Lin.

As an artist, what is fair compensation for your work? When do you get compensated? Do you wonder if the contracts you sign will, in the future, protect or restrict you as an artist? And what happens when new technologies complicate your career or livelihood?

For students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and other art-based universities across the United States, these questions come up constantly in classrooms and among peers — and they’re also being debated across the entertainment industry with new unionization efforts and subsequent strikes. “How Striking” is a column that seeks to explore these questions and inform the SAIC community on the labor and employment side of the entertainment industry.

You’re trying to survive a zombie apocalypse with a rag-tag group of people who found each other in the midst of chaos. You and your group find an empty grocery store to squat in for the night. But an alarm goes off, and the noise attracts a hoard of undead. In a split-second, two of the people about whom you’ve come to care deeply are being attacked. You hear their panicked cries, their pleading for help. You see their worried, terrified faces. You have to make a decision; you have to do something! But you can’t save them both.

And just like that, a video game has made you feel like the lives of two people you care about are in your hands. This is the power of a good actor in a video game, and it can make or break the gaming experience.

The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists also know the power of acting in video games. But in order for an actor to give their best performance, they must be able to work in reasonable and fair labor conditions.

This is why actors who are members of SAG-AFTRA could potentially go on strike again in the video game industry this September. This would be a concurrent strike separate from their strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers which has been ongoing since July.

Level 1 – The Strike Authorization Vote
On September 1, SAG-AFTRA’s National Board unanimously agreed to send out a strike authorization vote to the members of the guild. This does not necessarily mean there will be a strike against the video game industry, but it opens the door to that possibility.

Like a crafting recipe in a video game (think, needing the right materials to build a pickaxe in “Minecraft”), there is a certain set of requirements that need to be met for SAG-AFTRA to strike. So let’s break it down in order to better understand what exactly is going on.

SAG-AFTRA’s contract that covers video games, their Interactive Media Agreement, will expire on September 26, 2023. This agreement had already been extended a year past its original expiration date in 2022, and it covers the work actors do with video games companies and divisions including Activision, Disney, Epic Games, WB Games, and Electronic Arts, to name a few. SAG-AFTRA has been attempting to bargain with the signatory gaming companies for this entire year, but they have not reached a deal.

If SAG-AFTRA and the video game companies can’t reach an agreement by September 26, there is an opportunity for a strike to occur. This means SAG-AFTRA wants to be prepared by sending out the strike authorization vote. If the guild members vote yes, SAG-AFTRA can be prepared to go on strike against the gaming industry at midnight, September 26.

This is similar to what occurred this summer with SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP when screen actors and studios could not reach a new agreement before their previous deal ran out, and SAG-AFTRA officially went on strike against the AMPTP on July 14.

“The overlap of these two SAG-AFTRA contracts, is no coincidence, but rather a predictable issue impacting our industry as well as others all over the world,” said SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher in a statement. “The disease of greed is spreading like wildfire ready to burn workers out of their livelihoods and humans out of their usefulness. We at SAG-AFTRA say ‘No. Not on our watch.’”

Level 2 – The Issues at Stake
From traditional voice actors to full-on performance capture projects that digitally replicate actors’ likenesses, the video game industry has become an increasingly relevant and expanding area in which actors work. The video game industry is worth over $200 billion as of 2022, and a big chunk of this industry requires actors, voice talent, and stunt performers.

SAG-AFTRA has only ever gone on strike against the video game industry once before,  in 2016. At that time, the gaming industry was not paying actors residuals the same way that film and television productions are required to. That strike lasted nearly a year, becoming the longest strike in the union’s history. Though ultimately, the actors did not get residuals, they did achieve a sliding scale of bonus wages.

Today, SAG-AFTRA’s demands are primarily centered around increasing wages, protections regarding the usage of AI, and a safer working environment. Many of their demands overlap with what they are demanding from the AMPTP for screen actors.  Some demands, like the requirement of a medic on set for stunt performances, are industry standards for film and television, but not for video game productions.

Audrey Cooling, a spokesperson for the gaming companies, said in a statement that the gaming companies are negotiating in good faith and hope to reach a mutually beneficial deal.

AI, is by far, one of the biggest talking points in this negotiation. The gaming industry, more so than the film and television industry, had already implemented AI into their productions. Performance capture is a process all about collecting actors’ expressions and movements and applying them to characters in the games to make them feel more human.

“Voice and performance capture AI are already among the most advanced uses of AI: the threat is here and it is real. Without contractual protections, the employers are asking performers to unknowingly participate in the extinction of their artistry and livelihoods,” said SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director and chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.

Level 4 – What Happens Next?

Like a cliffhanger at the end of a video game, we wait for the next installment of this story. The strike vote will close on September 25 as the Interactive Media Agreement runs out on September 26. By the end of this month, there should be news as to whether SAG-AFTRA has reached a deal with the gaming companies, or if SAG-AFTRA’s ‘Summer of Strikes’ will become a double feature this fall.

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