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Queenie's second life on screen gives her more room to grow

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Queenie's second life on screen gives her more room to grow

In the episode “From Virgin to Vixen,” Queenie is in peak fun mode, until her demons begin to catch up with her.

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The new Hulu series Queenie explores the quarter-life growing pains of lonely South Londoner Queenie Jenkins.

The first of her British Jamaican family to go to university, Queenie is a struggling writer awkwardly straddling multiple worlds. An unwanted breakup with her white, longtime live-in boyfriend Tom sends her painfully reeling — spiraling into, and then climbing out of, destructive behaviors and onto a journey of growth and self-acceptance.

The show, which premiered Friday, is based on a 2019 book by Candice Carty-Williams. And with Carty-Williams at the creative helm, the novel’s strengths are immediately visible on screen: the sharp social observation, the rawness of the voice, and the specificity and conundrums of aspirational, young Black British life in the millennium.

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As showrunner, Carty-Williams effectively translates and expands her vision, addressing the pain points that both riveted and rankled the book’s readers and ensuring that the creative aspects of production also make an impression. Through sight, sound and performance, Queenie creates an empathetic and irresistible portrait of a young woman’s life in multicultural-yet-divided London.

The performances bring the novel to life

As great as the production sounds and looks, it’s the performances that make Queenie’s journey really accessible on screen. The material is challenging and multi-tonal but not a performance hits a wrong note. British actor Dionne Brown embodies Queenie Jenkins inside and out in a breakout role that is a world away from her restrained supporting performance as a police detective in the Apple TV+ crime drama Criminal Record. Brown told NPR she felt drawn to the role because of how strongly she related to the novel: “my most visceral and initial reaction was just, I didn’t know that other women felt like this. I didn’t know other Black women felt like this.” So throughout taping she used the book “like a Bible.”

And though it’s her first screen acting role, hip-hop artist Bellah is bubbly and fierce as Queenie’s bestie Kyazike. As her loving and protective Jamaican grandparents, Joseph Marcell (butler Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) and actress and comedian Llewella Gideon steal every scene they’re in. Pivotally, BAFTA-nominated actor Samuel Adewunmi, so powerful in the crime drama You Don’t Know Me, radiates charisma and kindness as Kyazike’s cousin Frank.

The format allows the audience to go deep

The eight-episode series format allows viewers to go deep into Queenie’s world, getting to know friends and family and helping us understand how love surrounds Queenie without her really feeling it. Where the novel can seem a bit bleak in spite of the humor, episodic TV gives Carty-Williams more room to experiment with different moods and tones. A few days before the premiere, Carty-Williams told NPR that she knew “we would need a lot more light on the screen” in the TV adaptation.

Candice Carty-Williams' Queenie stars Dionne Brown, right, as Queenie, and Bellah as Kyazike.

Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie stars Dionne Brown and Bellah.

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Carty-Williams also said she felt fiercely protective bringing her first published novel to the screen. Basing Queenie’s story on her own experience coupled with second hand-horror stories from friends, “I had all those feelings and I didn’t want them to be stripped away, or watered down. The politics were important to me, the characters are important to me.” Queenie is a young woman’s story, but it’s also the manifestation of the adage that the personal is political. Queenie’s experiences lay bare the contours and consequences of England’s casual racism in every dimension of daily life. That includes, “the ways that [Queenie] was treated by people. This is at work, this is in relationships, this is in her relationship with Tom.” Carty-Williams said she was “willing to fight” to ensure that Queenie’s mental and emotional journey of finding herself in this world she saw as unfair made it to the screen intact.

Despite the production’s extensive management structure (Lions Gate, Disney’s Onyx Collective, and British Channel 4 were involved and over a dozen executives), it’s clear she succeeded. The show teems with the sometimes-painful, subtly-political observational humor and confessional motif that made the book stand out – and all the elements work well together.

Some important changes from novel to screen

Still, though faithful to the novel’s quarter-life crisis story, with the book’s most memorable thoughts and lines of dialogue making the leap almost verbatim from page to screen, the script bears some important changes. For one, Queenie’s circle includes a romantic addition – best friend Kiyazike’s cousin Frank, a friend and new love interest who appeared once briefly in the novel. Frank’s addition improves the series by addressing one of the biggest issues dogging the novel’s more ambivalent readers: Queenie’s fear and avoidance of Black men in favor of often painful encounters with white and brown men.

Queenie’s original release reflected both the pervasiveness and abuse of “rom-com” and “chick-lit” as book industry terms of art, and the delicate tightrope that Black writers walk telling stories about love, sex and race.

When Queenie debuted it appeared on best seller lists in multiple countries. Queenie won both Best Debut and Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. Carty-Williams was the first Black woman author to win the latter award.

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In Britain, where Carty-Williams grew up, Queenie quickly found a fiercely loyal following — a largely female audience that loved its voice and perspective. Many of those readers were women of color, Black British women who identified fiercely with the young woman struggling to claim love, career, self worth and mental health.

But the book’s popular and critical reception was somewhat mixed in the U.S., where the author was an unknown quantity. At minimum, some audiences were discomfited by Queenie’s emotional scarring and trauma around race when they believed they were promised something lighter – the heft and trauma of the book billed as a Black Bridget Jones Diary seemed to betray its framing. While Bridget Jones’ deepest insecurities stemmed from 10 extra pounds, granny panties and two very different suitors, Queenie grapples with racism, a miscarriage and sexual trauma. And some vocal African American readers were unhappy with its handling of these heavier themes. At worst, some storylines were seen as painfully self-hating or even the product of internalized anti-Black racism.

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Falling into ever more painful situations, Queenie has sex with men who talk about and treat her in demeaning, if not downright racist ways — the men she meets in apps and in the neighborhood reference her race, color, and the contours of her body as though she is a sex toy. They don’t see or aren’t that interested in her intelligence and her pain.

Queenie

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Carty-William’s unflinching portrayal of Queenie’s situation is one of the novel’s most challenging aspects. Though Queenie notices and complains about the degrading approaches, she dates a series of these men and continues to long for the return of a boyfriend who seems to treat her with little regard. She seems to internalize racism and brush off the disrespect, taking it in stride as long as the men dishing it out are not Black. Even for a literary novel (which despite the comedic tone, Queenie really is) that would be hard to take in (Luster comes to mind). But that’s not how the book was positioned. Though Carty-Williams used the “Black Bridget Jones” marketing pitch to broaden the readership, she’s also said of Queenie: “She’s not Bridget Jones. She could never be.” As a result of the label, though, and the gorgeous, brightly-colored cover drawing of a Black woman with braids and hoop earrings, Black women were primed to see themselves at the center of romance-infused comedy. That’s not what they got.

Instead, the novel Queenie offers a sometimes harrowing multidimensional portrait of the dynamics of love, work and identity, mental health, and the Black immigrant experience. The love and acceptance Queenie eventually finds is hard won, and it lies not in a romantic relationship but within herself and her community. That’s a healthy choice. But every genre makes a promise, and a bait and switch in terms of reader expectations can feel like erasure.

Exploring critically important topics in the book and on screen

That said, as Carty-Williams emphasizes, discomfiting or not, Queenie’s experience is worth delving into. If it’s hard to reconcile Queenie’s sharp insight and her self-destructive actions, it’s also true that Queenie navigates a world that routinely doesn’t see, or fetishizes and even villainizes, her. Exploding the stereotype of a “strong Black woman,” with intense vulnerability, parts are hard to watch, but through her experimentation and misadventures, both the novel and the series explore essential topics: the racial and gender dynamics and politics of consent and desirability, and the rippling effects of domestic partner abuse. It is hard to watch her covet white attention and approval even when it hurts her, but it’s something that many Black women have been through.

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Dionne Brown as Queenie in a scene with her best friend Kyazike, played by Bellah.

Dionne Brown as Queenie in a scene with her best friend Kyazike, played by Bellah.

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A big challenge for the screen adaptation is that despite therapy, Queenie’s deeply rooted fear of Black men doesn’t have a resolution, or much deeper exploration in the original text. In a novel about self reflection, self-acceptance and growth, this is hard to reconcile. The series does better. The racial dimensions of Queenie’s pain and fears were at the center of some online discourse in 2019 and, in the leadup to the premiere, some with knowledge of the story raised similar questions on social media in reaction to the Queenie trailer.

When talking with NPR for this piece, Carty-Williams pointed out that when readers have been in conversation about her debut, they tend to ask how Queenie did what she did. She pushes back wondering why the onus is on the woman rather than asking why men behave how they do toward Queenie. She also disclosed that the series allowed her to better resolve Queenie’s difficulties with men in her community partly, but not exclusively, through her relationship with her best friend’s cousin Frank. Carty-Williams said that this exploration was inspired both by conversations with readers and by her own maturation. Now in her 30s, she says she better understands attachment disorder, and how fears and triggers manifest, than when she started writing the novel at 26. In this way, the story of the making of Queenie-the-series has a happier ending — giving Queenie more room to grow.

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Get high (legally) at the massive new weed oasis inside the California State Fair

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Get high (legally) at the massive new weed oasis inside the California State Fair

For the first time in the 170-year history of the California State Fair, which is scheduled to open July 12 in Sacramento, visitors will be able to do something they haven’t been able to do there before — legally anyway. They will be able to purchase and consume cannabis on-site.

The plans, announced Tuesday by Embarc, the fair’s partner on the project, include having a dispensary and 30,000-square-foot outdoor consumption lounge space at Cal Expo that will allow fair-goers who are 21 and older (and in possession of a valid government-issued photo ID) to buy and try award-winning cannabis.

“When people come to the state fair, they can try the best wine, cheese and craft-brewed beer. That’s already in place,” California State Fair Chief Executive Tom Martinez told The Times. “This was just the natural next step that the legislature and our board of directors is taking.”

The first step came in 2022 when a cannabis exhibit and awards program were added to the fair lineup. It was a chance to showcase the once-demonized plant alongside the rest of the state’s agricultural bounty. “Over the last two years, we’ve had 160,000 people come through that educational exhibit,” Martinez said.

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This time around, visitors to the exhibit hall filled with cannabis educational and farm displays will be able to scan QR codes next to displays of this year’s California State Fair Cannabis Award winners and add the goods to an online shopping cart. Then items can be purchased at the checkout at a dispensary just outside. Those who wish to partake can then navigate a few hundred feet farther away and get their smoke on.

Both the dispensary and consumption lounge will be run by Embarc, a Northern California company that’s carved out a niche in the cannabis event space. (The company has organized weed-themed events and spaces for the California Roots Festival and Outside Lands Music Festival, among others).

“‘Designated smoking area’ is the required terminology,” said Embarc’s Chief Executive and co-founder Lauren Carpenter. “But that makes it sound like people standing around outside of a building smoking. This is intended to be experiential and fully built out and produced with a stage where we will have a ceremony for our [cannabis] award winners. [And] right now, our theme is ‘oasis’ — because, in case you missed it, it’s really hot in Sacramento — and our intention is to make this a respite.”

How many visitors to the fair might avail themselves of the 500-person-capacity smoking lounge? “I’m prepared for anything,” Carpenter said. “But based on my back-of-the-napkin math and data from other events we’ve been involved with, we anticipate thousands and thousands of shoppers a day.”

Those thousands and thousands of potential shoppers will be able to shop some 300 different THC-containing products, including many of the 98 freshly crowned winners of 2024 California State Cannabis Awards.

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Set to be announced June 26, the 49 silver and 49 gold medals will be awarded in three flower categories (sun-grown, mixed-light and indoor) and 16 product categories (new this year, they include things such as edibles, pre-rolls and concentrates).

In addition, nine “Best of California” Golden Bear awards will be announced at an Oscar-style ceremony scheduled to take place at the fair on July 27.

Know before you go

This year’s California State Fair runs from July 12 to 28. Daily hours for the dispensary and lounge, award winners and additional information will be posted to the 2024 California State Cannabis Awards website at castatefaircannabisawards.com as available.

If you’re planning to get fried in the land of deep-fried everything, there are a few things you’ll need to know: First, you’ll only be able to consume cannabis products purchased on-site. Second, the lounge will provide rolling papers and expects to have an assortment of other smoking paraphernalia to use, so leave your favorite smoking gear at home. And last, while the dispensary and lounge will be open for most of the fair’s run, there are three dates to be aware of: July 12 and 13 (no inhalable consumption will be allowed on those days) and July 19 when the dispensary will be closed.

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Judy Garland’s hometown hopes a good witch will help purchase Dorothy’s ruby slippers

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Judy Garland’s hometown hopes a good witch will help purchase Dorothy’s ruby slippers

One pair of Dorthy’s slippers, worn by Judy Garland in 1939, are displayed at a viewing at the Plaza Athenee on December 5, 2011 in New York City.

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GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. – This weekend, Grand Rapids, Minnesota will honor its best-known former resident – Judy Garland.

And at its annual Judy Garland Festival, the city will fundraise to bring back a prized prop that the actress made famous. But, it won’t be an easy stroll down the Yellow Brick Road.

Minnesota lawmakers set aside $100,000 this year to help the Judy Garland Museum purchase the coveted ruby slippers of “The Wizard of Oz” fame. Experts expect the shoes could sell for a much higher price.

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“They could sell for $1 million, they could sell for $10 million. They’re priceless,” Joe Maddalena, Heritage Auctions executive vice president, says. “Once they’re gone, all the money in the world can’t buy them back.”

The ruby slippers are one of four sets remaining.

This pair’s unique story

The shoes were on display at Garland’s namesake museum in Grand Rapids in the summer of 2005 when a burglar struck. John Kelsch, the museum director at the time, says a man broke in through the back door and snatched the slippers.

All that was left behind was a single sparkling red sequin.

“It was devastating,” Kelsch says. “Unfortunately, local people thought that the museum benefited somehow from it, that we got the insurance money, which was not the case at all.”

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The Judy Garland Museum now features an exhibit detailing the story of the theft of the ruby slippers and the investigation to find them.

The Judy Garland Museum now features an exhibit detailing the story of the theft of the ruby slippers and the investigation to find them.

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Investigators spent years searching for the missing slippers before they recovered them during a sting operation in Minneapolis in 2018.

Curators at the Smithsonian Museum then compared the shoes to another pair on display in Washington D.C. to ensure they were authentic.

Earlier this year, the slippers were returned to their owner Michael Shaw, who had loaned them to the Grand Rapids museum, during a private ceremony.

Now, the slippers will go on a world tour with stops in Beverly Hills, New York, London and Tokyo before coming up for auction at the end of the year.

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Maddalena, with Heritage Auctions, has sold two other pairs of ruby slippers. He convinced actor Leonardo DiCaprio and a group of the actor’s friends to help purchase one for the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.

This time, he says the advance notice could help venues like the Judy Garland Museum have a stronger shot.

“We wanted to enable places that might not normally be able to raise the funds so quickly to have plenty of time to think about it,” Maddalena says. “That’d be an amazing story. I mean, if they ended up back there, that’d be a fantastic story.”

The museum, lawmakers and the governor come together

Judy Garland Museum officials, state legislators and Minnesota’s governor say they’re hopeful that a benevolent figure will wave their magic wand to help.

“Our goal is to get the word out to the world that we need them. They belong here,” Kelsch says. “Somebody out there is going to help us. I just know it.”

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In a social media post, Gov. Tim Walz noted the state’s effort to buy “the damn slippers to make sure they remain safe at home in Grand Rapids – on display for all to enjoy – under 24/7, ‘Ocean’s 11’-proof security.”

Judy Garland Museum Director Janie Heitz says Garland had fond memories of her hometown. And it would make sense for the Grand Rapids community to have them on display.

Two people sitting with photo: John Kelsch, left, and Janie Heitz, right, holding a framed photo of a young Judy Garland. They are the former and current directors of the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. They posed for a photo in the actress’ childhood home on May 30.

Two people sitting with photo: John Kelsch, left, and Janie Heitz, right, holding a framed photo of a young Judy Garland. They are the former and current directors of the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. They posed for a photo in the actress’ childhood home on May 30.

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“Yes, we’re the place where they were stolen, and yes, we’ll have to get better security. But you know, Judy Garland is the one that made them famous,” Heitz says.

“We just think it would be a really full circle story on the importance of home and that’s exactly what ‘The Wizard of Oz’ represents,” Heitz says. “She was always trying to get home. And so maybe that’s where the slippers should go, is in Judy’s hometown, where her childhood home is.”

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In the movie, the ruby slippers and a wish got Dorothy back to Kansas.

Heitz is clicking her heels and hoping that her wish – to bring the slippers back to Grand Rapids – comes true, too.

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Freaky orb with mouth caught on video over lake, resembles Pac-Man

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Freaky orb with mouth caught on video over lake, resembles Pac-Man
A resident of San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina spotted a bizarre white orb moving across Nahuel Huapi Lake. Video below. “It is not a boat, nor a sailboat,” the person who captured the footage told El Seis TV (translated here). “It’s something strange that we can’t figure out. — Read the rest The post Freaky orb with mouth caught on video over lake, resembles Pac-Man appeared first on Boing Boing.
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