In the seventh episode of Lovecraft Country, a Black woman, surrounded by a sea of glowing equations, scribbles frantically as she works out the fix for a machine that will soon warp her across dimensions of space and time. Viewers watch as Hippolyta, a housewife played by Aunjanue Ellis, names herself a discoverer of new worlds—embracing an identity not usually afforded to Black Americans in sci-fi (and one that is more historically associated with white colonizers). It’s a potent example of the show’s biggest selling point: the transcendence of tropes that all too often plague Black characters in cinema.
Produced by showrunner Misha Green, Lovecraft Country is a dark fantasy series that premiered on HBO in August of last year. It’s based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name, a book that reimagines the otherworldly horror of known racist H. P. Lovecraft through the eyes of Black folk in the Jim Crow ’50s. Jonathan Majors plays Atticus “Tic” Freeman, a Korean war vet who has returned home to search for his missing father, Montrose (the late Michael K. Williams), with help from love interest Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett). The trio is soon sucked into a tale driven by monsters, racialized horror, and the inherited magic that is Tic’s unexpected birthright.
In July, HBO announced abruptly—to the disillusionment of fans—that the series would not be returning for a second season. Not two weeks later, the Television Academy nominated Lovecraft Country for a whopping 18 Emmy Awards, news that made HBO’s decision look even more ill-advised. Outraged viewers took to social media to express their discontent. “Lovecraft Country got 18 Emmy nominations and HBO canceled it,” one Twitter user wrote. “Shit don’t make no sense.”
But maybe it does. Lovecraft Country made its point. It empowered a cast of Black heroes to take on the forces of magic, racism, and privilege wielded by evil white folks. Rather than the imminent death of Black characters we have come to expect at some point in horror flicks, it instead disposed of its white characters with Quentin Tarantino levels of pulp gore. And Lovecraft Country did it all with a stellar cast, beautiful cinematography, top-notch visual effects, and a genre-bending soundtrack spanning everything from Nina Simone to Cardi B. Perhaps it doesn’t need a Season 2; considering how much it fell apart at the end of its first run, a second might only besmirch its good name.
A gripping story has its twists and turns, but those winding roads have to be coherent enough to follow. Lovecraft Country is jam-packed with an abundance of storylines, many of which are haphazardly planted and never satisfyingly fleshed out because there’s just no room for actual depth. It made a mission of squeezing in every Black historical event and cultural reference that it could into its convoluted plot: the Tulsa race massacre, Chicago’s Trumbull Park riots, the lynching of Emmett Till, the existence of sundown towns, and the publishing of the Negro Motorist Green Book, to name a few. Sometimes it worked; other times it felt contrived. Always, it felt like too much.
This could just be an artifact of the source material—the book was, after all, an anthology of intertwined short stories. But it was as if the writers of Lovecraft Country couldn’t decide if the show should be serial or episodic, so it ended up being a weird mix of both. Or perhaps it’s a case of too many cooks in the kitchen: The plot starts to get unnecessarily thick around episode four, when Misha Green is no longer the sole name listed on the story credits. By the time we reach Hippolyta’s montage of exploration in episode seven—as stunning as it was to witness—the plot has really gone off the rails. It feels murky and disjointed; the pieces don’t come together until a repeat watchthrough, when viewers already have an idea of what’s to come.
“I don’t know how you square all of that analysis, and all of the pro-competitive justifications Apple has for its closed ecosystem, with the judge then saying, ‘But I’m going to force Apple to permit competitors to put up signpost in Apple’s ecosystem,’” says Paul Swanson, an antitrust attorney in Denver. “I don’t see how those two things go together.”
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney might agree. In a pugnacious tweet Friday, Sweeney said, “Today’s ruling isn’t a win for developers or for consumers. Epic is fighting for fair competition among in-app payment methods and app stores for a billion consumers.” The Verge reports that Epic plans to appeal the verdict. (Epic Games did not respond to a request for comment.) Fortnite won’t be back on iOS until “Epic can offer in-app payment in fair competition with Apple in-app payment, passing along the savings to consumers,” Sweeney tweeted.
Games industry and antitrust experts say the ruling is impactful, but not surprising. “It was very much an uphill battle for Epic to win the case,” says Florian Ederer, associate professor of economics at the Yale School of Management. At the same time, he says, the ruling was foreshadowed by growing international scrutiny over Apple’s anti-steering provisions. In August, South Korean regulators approved a bill forcing Apple and Google, a defendant in another Epic-led case, to allow payment systems other than their own. Days later, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission closed its investigation into Apple’s App Store, determining that Apple must let so-called reader apps—which include the likes of Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Kindle—encourage users to sign up, and potentially make payments, through those companies’ own websites. Rogers’ ruling could have a much bigger financial impact, however, because, as her opinion notes, the vast majority of App Store payments come from gaming apps.
Within 90 days, App Store developers will be able to circumvent the 30 percent commission by adding in-app buttons or links to their own websites with their own payment systems. “Developers aren’t going to get all of that—they’re not going to entirely circumvent that 30 percent,” says Ederer. “But that’s a big win for developers.” He theorizes that any more cash surplus could act as a developer incentive to help ship more products or maintain them for longer, even if some users choose to take the easy route and go through Apple’s in-app payment system.
More payment systems can bring confusion, the stated enemy of Apple’s streamline-obsessed enterprise. “In the long term, with the absence of a vertically integrated platform, you’re going to have lots of different payment providers trying to get your business,” says Joost van Dreunen, a New York University Stern School of Business lecturer and author of One Up, a book on the global games business. “They’re all going to be fighting on the margin. There will be a growing number of transactors and payment processors trying to get a piece.” That may confuse users accustomed to “click and go” or “swipe here, done” systems. And with new payment processing systems, users may feel there is less transparency and trust in an already opaque, complicated digital market.
While Epic Games won a major on-the-ground battle, Apple may have won its moral one: Apple can claim users are not trapped in its iOS ecosystem so much as inhabiting it. “Today the Court has affirmed what we’ve known all along: the App Store is not in violation of antitrust law,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement. “Apple faces rigorous competition in every segment in which we do business, and we believe customers and developers choose us because our products and services are the best in the world.”
The ruling is another crack in Apple’s walled garden. “It’s starting to show some wear and tear,” van Dreunen says. “It’s not the pristine, impervious organization it thought it would be.” And if today’s ruling is indeed appealed, its fight isn’t over yet.
Last summer, when clinics began to tentatively reopen, dermatologist Shadi Kourosh noticed a worrying trend—a spike in appointment requests for appearance-related issues. “It seemed that, at a time like that, other matters would be top of mind, but a lot of people were really concerned with feeling that they looked much worse than usual,” she says.
Kourosh, who is an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, soon discovered that others in her field and related ones such as plastic surgery had noticed a similar phenomenon. And when she and her colleagues asked patients what was driving their decision to seek treatment, a lot of them cited videoconferencing. The pandemic had catapulted them into a world of Zoom calls and Teams meetings, and staring at their own face on a screen all day every day was wreaking havoc with their self-image.
In the age of Zoom, people became inordinately preoccupied with sagging skin around their neck and jowls; with the size and shape of their nose; with the pallor of their skin. They wanted cosmetic interventions, ranging from Botox and fillers to facelifts and nose jobs. Kourosh and colleagues surveyed doctors and surgeons, examining the question of whether videoconferencing during the pandemic was a potential contributor to body dysmorphic disorder. They called it “Zoom dysmorphia.”
Now, with the rise in vaccinations seemingly pushing the pandemic into retreat, new research from Kourosh’s group at Harvard has revealed that Zoom dysmorphia isn’t going away. A survey of more than 7,000 people suggests the mental scars of the coronavirus will stay with us for some time.
Even before Covid, plastic surgeons and dermatologists were seeing a rise in patients coming to them with demands that were “unrealistic and unnatural,” Kourosh says. The term “Snapchat dysmorphia” was coined in 2015 to describe the growing numbers of people who wanted to look like they’d been put through a face-altering filter in real life, all big eyes and sparkling skin.
Before that, a patient might turn up at a plastic surgeon’s office with photos of a celebrity they wanted to look like clipped from a magazine. Even before the rise of social media, psychologists found that people who stared at themselves in a mirror became more self-conscious.
But Zoom dysmorphia is different. Unlike with Snapchat, where people are aware that they’re viewing themselves through a filter, video conferencing distorts our appearance in ways we might not even realize, as Kourosh and her coauthors identified in their original paper.
Front-facing cameras distort your image like a “funhouse mirror,” she says—they make noses look bigger and eyes look smaller. This effect is exacerbated by proximity to the lens, which is generally nearer to you than a person would ever stand in a real-life conversation. Looking down at a smartphone or laptop camera is the least flattering angle—as anyone from the MySpace generation will tell you, the best camera position is from above, hence the ubiquity of the selfie stick.
We’re also used to seeing our own reflection when our faces are relaxed—the concentrated frown (or bored expression) you wear in a Zoom meeting jars with the image of yourself you’re used to seeing in the mirror. “Changes in self-perception and anxiety as a result of constant video-conferencing may lead to unnecessary cosmetic procedures, especially in young adults who have had increased exposure to online platforms including videoconferencing, social media, and filters throughout the pandemic,” write Kourosh, Channi Silence, and other colleagues.
The term “Zoom dysmorphia” was picked up by international media, and Kourosh was inundated with emails from friends and strangers who it resonated with. In the new follow up study due to be published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, the research group found that 71 percent of the 7,000 people surveyed were anxious or stressed about returning to in-person activities, and that nearly 64 percent had sought mental health support.
That didn’t last long. Less than a week after OnlyFans announced plans to ban porn from its platform due to pressure from its banking partners, the subscription site announced Wednesday that decision may have been premature. Instead of eliminating sexually explicit content on the site, the company said in a tweet, it had “secured [the] assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community,” and “suspended” its policy change, which was slated to go into effect on October 1.
The proposed changes would have been catastrophic for sex workers, who comprise the majority of the creators on the platform, and although the reversal is something of a relief, the about-face left some worried about their long-term futures on the site. “Workers still lost subscribers in this confusion,” says artist and adult content creator Trapcry. “I think they changed their minds, not for the sake of sex workers, but because they realized the backlash would hurt their pockets more in the long run.”
Money has been at the heart of many of OnlyFans’ maneuvers of late. When it announced the porn ban last week, the company said the move was meant to appease its banking partners, which include the Bank of New York Mellon and JPMorgan Chase, and in a follow-up interview with the Financial Times, founder Tim Stokey said Chase was “particularly aggressive in closing accounts of sex workers or … any business that supports sex workers.”
Seemingly, that’s now changed. In a statement emailed to WIRED Wednesday, the company said the ban on explicit content is “no longer required due to banking partners’ assurances that OnlyFans can support all genres of creators.”
Still, many creators who scrambled to find alternatives in the wake of last week’s announcement do not see this turnaround as a victory. “If this is a win, it’s a temporary one,” says Anshuman Iddamsetty, a nonbinary creator who uploads content dedicated to fat pleasure under the psuedonym Boarlord. “I’ve never seen a platform reverse course like this ever. The language they chose in their announcement worries me. ‘Suspend’ doesn’t instill confidence. And they refused to mention sex workers or erotic laborers by name—they went back to the careful doublespeak of ‘creator’ and ‘all genres.’ We’re long past the point of dancing around the stakes. The porn ban could return October 2nd.”
What remains is an uncertain future for both creators and OnlyFans, which has plans to go public later this year. The site has more than 130 million users and 2 million creators, but hostility toward the porn industry has swelled recently, as adult subscription sites have gained popularity. Detractors believe sites such as OnlyFans, in part, are to blame for the rise in child porn.
“We need to talk about how our banking system has quietly crowned themselves the new morality police,” Iddamsetty says, citing payment processors such as Mastercard and Visa, which are being pressured by conservative groups Exodus Cry and National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) to sever ties with platforms that cater to explicit sexual expression.
A ruthless criminal operative is poisoned and has less than 24 hours to exact revenge on her killers in Kate, a new action thriller from Netflix starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who played Huntress in Birds of Prey.
The streaming service seems to be casting about for a female version of the hugely successful John Wick franchise, but it’s harder to pull off than it looks. First, there was 2020’s The Old Guard, in which Charlize Theron leads an immortal group of mercenaries on a mission of revenge. Theron was terrific, but the film itself was uneven. Just last month, Netflix served up the disappointing Gunpowder Milkshake, which had a stellar cast and all the right elements, including some impressive fight choreography. But as with The Old Guard, nothing really jelled, and as much as I love Karen Gillan, she seemed ill-suited to the role. Gunpowder Milkshake ended up feeling flat, predictable, and like an exercise in style over substance.
The basic premise of Kate is a familiar one; it’s essentially a twist on the classic 1950 film noir D.O.A., in which a man—a seemingly ordinary accountant and notary public—walks into a police station and says he has been poisoned, with only a few days left to live and discover who murdered him. (Due to someone not renewing the copyright on time, the film is in the public domain.) It has inspired three direct remakes: 1969’s Color Me Dead, 1988’s D.O.A. (starring Dennis Quaid), and the 2017 film Dead on Arrival. And the film has influenced countless more, such as the 2006 film Crank, in which Jason Statham plays a British assassin who has to keep his adrenaline levels spiking to counteract being given a deadly poison.
Kate seems like a combination of D.O.A., Crank, and Gunpowder Milkshake. Per the official premise: “Meticulous and preternaturally skilled, Kate is the perfect specimen of a finely tuned assassin at the height of her game. But when she uncharacteristically blows an assignment targeting a member of the yakuza in Tokyo, she quickly discovers she’s been poisoned, a brutally slow execution that gives her less than 24 hours to exact revenge on her killers. As her body swiftly deteriorates, Kate forms an unlikely bond with the teenage daughter of one of her past victims.”
I don’t know why filmmakers seem to think female assassins have to bond with young girls to show their softer emotional side, but so be it. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan received an Oscar nomination for his visual effects for 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman and made his directorial debut in 2016 with The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Based on this trailer, he has put that background to excellent use in Kate. We’ll have to see if Nicolas-Troyan can take this well-worn formula and make it his own, despite a frankly boring title.
The Huntress was my favorite character in Birds of Prey, largely due to Winstead’s deadpan delivery, which draws out both the character’s single-minded resolve and her extreme social awkwardness. Case in point: After taking out several bad guys with her trademark efficiency and athleticism, she turns around to see her compatriots staring at her in awe. “What?” she says, completely unaware of what a badass she is. If Winstead gets the chance to showcase that mix of skills again in Kate, she could easily establish her place alongside Charlize Theron as a credible action star.