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Nazi comedy “Jojo Rabbit” serves savage satire with a tender heart

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Roman Griffin Davis and Taika Waititi in “Jojo Rabbit” (Image courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures).

Not that long ago, stories about the Second World War were a staple in literature, movies, and television.

This is hardly surprising; it was a monumental event in world history, so of course it was going to take a long time to process. Narratives about it, both fictional and true, saturated the popular culture for decades.

Since the century turned, the global upheavals of a new millennium have inevitably overshadowed those of the generation that came before, and narratives about the war have become fewer and further between.

That doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared; something about that particular conflict continues to call out to us from the past, and Taika Waititi’s latest effort, “Jojo Rabbit” – a black comedy hitting theaters on October 18 – just might get to the heart of not only why we still feel the need to cast our gaze back upon it, but of why, more than 70 years later, it’s still important for us to do so.

In its advertising, his film has taken pains to ensure that audiences know going in they will be seeing an “anti-hate satire.” It’s a savvy decision, given current sensitivity around the subject matter, but the description doesn’t quite live up to the sophisticated comedic exercise the New Zealand filmmaker delivers.

Set in a German town near the end of WWII, it focuses on 10-year-old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a lonely misfit of a little boy who zealously embraces the Nazi ideal; his father is away at the front, and his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is frequently absent, leaving him to spend most of his time in the sole company of his imaginary friend – none other than an idealized version of his idol, Hitler himself (Waititi). His youthful contentment is shaken one day when he goes upstairs to investigate a noise in his empty house and discovers that his beloved mother is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie). Confronted with this revelation, he is forced to reexamine his beliefs even as the lie of Hitler’s Germany begins to crumble in the world outside.

Based on the book “Caging Skies,” by Christine Leunens, Waititi’s screenplay for “Jojo Rabbit” charges forward with his now-familiar irreverent humor and gives us no time to be shocked that he’s giving us a comedy about Nazi Germany. It’s likely to be a little distasteful for some audiences, but it’s not exactly a first; many filmmakers have made fun of Hitler, from Charlie Chaplin to Mel Brooks. Waititi, though, goes into riskier territory, mining for laughs within the atrocities of daily life under a mad, authoritarian regime. Few filmmakers have dared such an effort – for instance, Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful,” which polarized critics in 1997 with its heart-tugging, tragicomic vision of existence in a concentration camp, and to which “Jojo Rabbit” has already been compared – and it has rarely gone well.

Waititi, though, seems little concerned with perceived taboos about what constitutes fair game for humor. He’s playing the iconoclast here just as boldly as when he successfully transformed Marvel’s “Thor” franchise from pompous pseudo-myth to raucous buddy comedy in 2017’s “Ragnorok,” and he aims to win you over through sheer audacity. He willfully pushes the tone of his movie into the realm of the absurd, even the surreal – at times, it almost feels like a Terry Gilliam film – because he knows it is there where humor and horror meet. Nothing drives home the inherent absurdity of the most appalling human endeavors like finding yourself laughing in its face. There’s a kind of epiphany that can take place in that moment, a perspective from which one recognizes the deeply truthful human element in the mix; Waititi is gambling that he can take you to that threshhold, and – for the most part – he succeeds.

Part of the reason has to do with his talent; his disarming quirkiness and inventive visual storytelling, coupled with top-notch performances from a cast that seems fully committed to his vision, goes a long way toward making it work.

What elevates his film to the level of true cinema, though, is that he shows us this absurdity through the eyes of a child who accepts without question the racism and rhetoric of a demagogue. His understanding of what it all means – underscored by the buffoonish, childlike vision of Hitler he imagines – is unsophisticated and uneducated, because he’s only a boy, after all, but when we see it reflected in the adult characters around him, blindly following orders and clinging to the illusions in which they have so deeply invested themselves, it’s more difficult to reconcile the obvious gap between their humanity and their choices. What manner of mental hoops must these adults have had to jump through in order to maintain their childish trust in authority, and what encounters with other ways of thinking have they had to dismiss, devalue or ignore?

It’s because of this contrast that “Jojo Rabbit” can present us with characters that would be villains in almost any other film – people like Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), a career soldier relegated to babysitting the local Hitler Youth Camp, or Fräulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson), a dim-witted cog in the wheels of Nazi bureaucracy, or even Captain Deertz (Stephen Merchant), a Gestapo thug tasked with searching out Jews that have still eluded capture – and ask us not only to laugh but to feel a degree of empathy for them, too.

It’s easy enough to judge them, but Waititi isn’t interested in passing judgments; instead, he wants us to read between the lines, to see the complexities of which his young protagonist is blissfully ignorant, and to understand how normal people can become part of a horrible machine. It’s in the character of Klenzendorf – whose sense of bemused irony, not to mention the liberal sprinkling of implied queerness in his relationship with his second-in-command, Finkel (“Game of Thrones” actor Alfie Allen), hints at a tragically deep level of self-awareness – that we are allowed to get the clearest glimpse of the suppressed humanity required to enable such a system.

Of course, once Jojo finds himself making personal connections to someone on the other side of the ideological divide, he begins to question the assumptions that have made him a true believer. We must assume, likewise, that some or all of the adults around him have been confronted at some point by the disconnect between what they have been instructed to believe and what their personal lives have shown them. For them, whatever doubts may have sprung from their experiences, it is too late for change; Jojo might still be able to walk away, changed by a lesson that has cost him everything he once held dear, but they are caught in the juggernaut they have helped to create through their unthinking obedience, and they are left scrambling to preserve whatever sense of dignity and meaning they can as they wait for their inevitable fate.

Considering that his film comes into a world enmeshed, once more, in a Nationalist fervor that feels uncomfortably similar to the one in the Nazi Germany he portrays, it’s impossible not to recognize the message – and the warning – this deceptively jocular filmmaker is trying to deliver.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sports

Tom Brady’s new out gay teammate: Carl Nassib returns to Tampa

Carl Nassib returns to Florida as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reportedly sign the NFL free agent to a one-year deal

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Carl Nassib speaks publicly for first time since coming out as gay in August 2021 (Screenshot/YouTube KUVV Fox 5 Las Vegas)

TAMPA – Carl Nassib, who made headlines in June 2021 when he became the NFL’s first out gay active player, reportedly has signed a one-year contract with his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

The 29-year-old defensive end was released by the Las Vegas Raiders in March, and became a free agent. NFL sources said that was due to his contracted salary amount—$7.75 million—and not any reflection on his sexual orientation.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news with a tweet

When Nassib came out last summer, he announced he was donating $100K to The Trevor Project, and for Pride Month this year he made a new pledge to help LGBTQ youth. He promised to match donations to The Trevor Project, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

Will Bucs quarterback Tom Brady welcome Nassib? As Outsports reported, he’s never made any comments about playing with someone gay. Brady’s former Patriots teammate Ryan O’Callaghan recalled that before he came out in 2017, following his retirement, there was one time that he missed the team bus and Brady gave him a ride in his car to that day’s practice.

O’Callaghan told Outsports he believes Brady would have “absolutely” accepted him if he had come out at that time.

“Being married to a super model I’m sure he’s met a few gay people in his life,” said O’Callaghan. Brady wed Brazilian fashion model Gisele Bündchen in 2009.

Legendary Boston sports columnist Steve Buckley of The Athletic came out as gay in 2011 while at the Boston Herald. He told Outsports Brady has always been friendly and cooperative, even after Buckley came out.

This is the second time around at Raymond James Stadium for Nassib. He played for the Bucs for two seasons prior to joining the Raiders in 2020. His NFL career began in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns. 

As Jason Owens reported for Yahoo! Sports, Nassib was far more productive in Tampa as a part-time starter, recording 6.5 sacks in 2018 and six sacks in 2019. The NFL’s website shows he played just 242 defensive snaps and earned 1.5 sacks last season. 

In 86 games including 37 starts, Nassib’s recorded 22 career sacks, 164 tackles, 53 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.

In addition to Brady, Nassib’s new teammates are Akiem Hicks and William Gholston at defensive end and outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Given that the Bucs finished seventh in the NFL in sacks last season with 47, Nassib will be expected to improve Tampa Bay’s chances when their season begins Sept. 11 in Dallas.

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Notables

LGBTQ journalist Chuck Colbert died: reported on Catholic sexual abuse

“Chuck was extraordinarily principled and helpful, especially when addressing issues related to the LGBTQ community and the Catholic Church”

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National LGBTQ Task Force Communications Director Cathy Renna (L) with journalist Chuck Colbert (Photo courtesy of Cathy Renna)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYOOD – Chuck Colbert had a touch of old Cary Grant in him — dashing and debonair in his tuxedo at swank LGBTQ events. But he was also deeply humble and bursting with joy from his lifelong devotion to the core beliefs of the Catholic Church.

His journalistic discipline controlling his personal anguish over the proclamations about homosexuality enabled him as an out gay man to report professionally on the sex abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in the early 2000s.

As a regular freelance contributor to the National Catholic Reporter and other media outlets, Chuck debunked tirades against gays and often underscored how girls and young women had been raped and abused by priests and church officials, too. 

I thought about this a lot when I heard that Chuck had died on June 30. He was 67. 

I was shocked by his sudden passing and how long it took to find out he had died. I met him decades ago through the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association. Why did it take a month and a half for news of his passing to spread? 

Chuck’s friend Karen Allshouse posted news on his Facebook page:  “I’ve learned that while visiting in Johnstown [Pennsylvania] he developed a serious medical issue (involving his esophagus reportedly) and he needed to be transferred to a higher level of medical care and was transferred to a Pittsburgh hospital. Respiratory complications developed and he died. For those who are concerned about his mom – a former high school teacher of his (English) accompanied his mom to the cemetery for the committal service.”

I considered Chuck a loving friend and a journalistic colleague but I realized I actually knew little about him. Our friendship ranged from email exchanges to quick chats at events to deep conversations about religion, including the influence of Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ.

If anyone sought to imitate Christ, it was Chuck Colbert. He was kind without thinking about it. He walked the walk and scolded those who didn’t but claimed to have created the path. 

On March 17, 2002, two months after the Boston Globe exposed the sexual child abuse by priests rotting the foundation of the Boston archdiocese (depicted in the movie “Spotlight”), Chuck wrote an op-ed in the Boston Herald entitled Leaders of Catholic Church Must Listen to All the Faithful.”  

“Clearly, the Catholic Church in Boston is in crisis. Some blame ‘militant homosexuals’ among the clergy, branding them ‘a true plague on the priesthood.’ Is the crisis, in fact, rooted there?Let me offer another perspective—one based on more than 25 years of faith life as a convert. First, I have failed, somehow, to encounter any Catholic church culture characterized by ‘priestly homosexuals run amok with no fear of condemnation.’ The reality is significantly more boring,” Chuck wrote. 

He went on to describe his scholarly and theological journey from the University of Notre Dame to Georgetown University, Harvard University and Weston Jesuit School of Theology, receiving degrees at each stop. 

“Still, it was not until I arrived in Cambridge 15 years ago that my spiritual desolation over the conflict between my sexual identity and my religious conviction found its positive counterpart: consolation,” Chuck wrote in the Boston Herald. “The catalyst for that life-saving, personal transformation began when a bright and theologically astute Jesuit priest became my spiritual director.

“He listened,” Chuck continued. “Over time, I broke the silence of my anguished pilgrim journey and its struggle with homosexuality. He understood that I carried with me the heavy baggage of church teaching, those deeply wounding, soul-shaming words from the Catechism, ‘objective disorder’ and ‘intrinsic evil,’ that pathologize (and objectify) same-gender love and its sexual expression. Through the respectful, nonjudgmental listening and guidance of spiritual direction and through richer encounters of God’s grace in the sacraments, therapy, and prayer, I came to experience God’s unconditional love. I now feel, to the core of my being, that God loves me (I suspect you) along with all my quirky postmodern, American, but very human, strengths and vulnerabilities.”

Chuck became an expert reporter covering the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. During a May 7, 2002 appearance on CNN, Chuck responded to a question about the culpability of Cardinal Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston. 

“I think the question raises a very interesting question, or point,” Chuck said. “And it is not just the personality of the cardinal. Other bishops who were auxiliary bishops at the time [of  Fr. John Geoghan’s arrest for child molestation and release] and are now bishops in other places, as the [Father Paul] Shanley documents have been revealed, these show higher levels of involvement of knowledge. And so it is systemic — but it is also the leadership, the broad leadership that Cardinal Law mustered to either handle or mishandle this scandal, and I think that we will see more of that come out in court.”

Chuck’s expertise was invaluable to the LGBTQ community, as National LGBTQ Task Force Communications Director Cathy Renna told the Windy City Times.

“Chuck was a friend and colleague—one who was extraordinarily principled and helpful, especially when addressing issues related to the LGBTQ community and the Catholic Church. He was instrumental in helping us frame and address the abuse scandal when church leaders scapegoated gay priests, as a person of faith and an intellectual,” Renna said. “[W]orking with him was a vital part of my work taking on the Catholic Church hierarchy while at GLAAD, along with other queer and allied groups. But he was also a pleasure to be friends with, who found joy in life and our community, and was one of the people I most looked forward to seeing at the NLGJA convention and other events. He will be greatly missed.”

Chuck caused some ripples in my life after an interview we did for the online LGBTQ press trade newsletter Press Pass Q in 2016 about my being laid off as news editor by my longtime publisher Frontiers Newsmagazine.

Chuck had interviewed Bobby Blair, chief executive officer of Multimedia Platforms Worldwide, and the new publisher of Frontiers. “Unfortunately, Karen fell where we realized we were moving toward a digital and Millennial audience, and we wanted to give the generation of Millennials a real shot at creating our content,” Blair told Chuck. “Did you get that on tape?” I asked him. 

Chuck Colbert summed up his philosophy via a quote from Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace:

“Life is everything. Life is God. Everything shifts and moves, and this movement is God. And while there is life, there is delight in the self-awareness of the divinity. To love life is to love God. The hardest and most blissful thing is to love this life in one’s suffering, in the guiltlessness of suffering.”  

********************

Karen Ocamb an award winning veteran journalist and the former editor of the Los Angeles Blade, has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

She is currently the Director of Media Relations for Public Justice.

She lives in West Hollywood with her two beloved furry ‘kids’ and writes occasional commentary on issues of concern for the greater LGBTQ+ community.

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Online Culture

Twitter adds monkeypox info panel on searches

GLAAD has reached out to Meta, TikTok, and YouTube to add similar information and resources to searches related to monkeypox

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Courtesy of Twitter

SAN FRANCISCO – GLAAD announced in a media statement Monday that the social media platform Twitter added a “Know the Facts” HHS info panel for searches on monkeypox. The panel appears when users search on Monkeypox or MPV and links to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) information about monkeypox (MPV).

“Twitter’s action will not only help stem the tide of MPV misinformation, but is also a clear example of leadership underscoring that institutions across all of civil society can play roles towards addressing this public health emergency,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Though anyone can contract MPV, it is disproportionately impacting the LGBTQ community, especially men who have sex with men, and it is urgent and critical to get the facts around vaccines, treatment, and prevention widely and equitably distributed.”

Screenshot/Twitter

According to GLAAD, it had reached out in publicly shared calls for Meta, TikTok, and YouTube to add similar information and resources to searches related to monkeypox.

“Social media platforms have an opportunity to step up now and be part of the solution, instead of allowing misinformation about MPV and stigmatizing posts about LGBTQ people to run rampant. The window is closing for Meta, TikTok, and YouTube to make good on their commitments to protect LGBTQ users, and everyone, by implementing tools they have used to help curb other public health emergencies,”  Ellis added.

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