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originality is dead. long live Disney. 💋

kat kourbeti
kat kourbeti
welcome back to honest to blog (working title), a newsletter with thoughts about writing, movies, music, science fiction and fantasy, and general creative process blah.

i have thoughts about that Cruella trailer; plus new podcast episodes, live shows on Stereo, and a free convention for emerging SFF creatives
but we already have 2 cruella movies
happy new year everyone! i tried to start this newsletter about 30 times since january, but the “new year, new lockdown” narrative exhausted me even more than the actual lockdown has (i’m so very tired of this schtick, but so is everyone else, ya know) - so i sat on it for so long, we’re halfway through february now. close to this newsletter’s first anniversary (the 22nd). oops!
i’ve been keeping very busy while on perma-furlough from my theatre day job; more on that later, with tasty tasty links to content and conventions and all that good stuff.
right now, i want to talk about the highly-anticipated (by whom? idk tbh) trailer for cruella, the latest in live-action prequels we didn’t need from Disney:
Disney's Cruella | Official Trailer
Disney's Cruella | Official Trailer
good lord this looks like a boring movie.
technically it’s spectacular; look at that production design! the costumes!! 80s—but really looking like the 60s—london! the story of a misunderstood villainess who doesn’t deserve the hatred she’s been getting for almost 30 years, because she’s just a girl boss with mental health issues!
we’ve been making movies about cool, pSyChOtiC villains since the late 90s. this stuff peaked in the mid-00s, along with emo fringes and my chemical romance, and i’m not gonna lie to ya: teen me would have been all. over. it. i can see teenage me rocking black-and-white granny blazers and red lipstick unironically, and maybe that would’ve been a better look than the half-assed butch/punk hybrid i had going on back then, but i digress. it’s 2021, and seeing this trailer made me groan in [exhausted], [bored] and [disinterested], which is about the polar opposite of what a trailer’s supposed to do for a film.
that’s because cruella looks like birds of prey, or joker, but sanitised for a Disney audience. (i don’t expect her to shoot anyone on live tv, at the very least.) the reason it’s boring is we’ve literally just seen this movie, and we didn’t need that one either.
i’ve been thinking a lot about Disney’s nostalgia train recently. andrew liptak shared the following video about Disney Princess costumes from gavia baker-whitelaw, and she puts it in words beautifully: everything about Disney that we now consider ‘iconic’ has been about monetising nostalgia and conservative beauty standards, and their more recent attempts to diversify their cast of characters and portfolio of stories directly clashes with everything they’ve built since the 1930s:
The Disney Princess Dress Code, Explained | Behind the Seams
The Disney Princess Dress Code, Explained | Behind the Seams
inspired by the above video, i was discussing the issue with my partner last week and they said something even more succinct: Disney films outside the Mickey-verse have always been about nostalgia. fairy tales from centuries ago, retold and repackaged, suffused with the agenda of conservative beauty and family values, and marketed to children.
fuckin’ yikes, basically, but i’ll confess i too am a sucker for a cute princess dress. blame that on the 90s renaissance and that sweet sweet yellow belle gown.
anyway. i know it’s incredibly reductive of me to say “originality is dead”, but that’s clickbait for ya. of course it’s dead, it’s been buried for decades, and that’s absolutely fine and not directly disney’s fault. there’s a difference though, between common story arcs, character archetypes, and tropes (as in, no matter what story you want to tell, chances are the surface elements have been done before), and just straight up remaking the same 10 things over, and over, and over again. it’s why Disney’s last announcement of a bajillion Marvel and Star Wars things, on top of their pre-planned live-action remakes of their animated classics, had me rolling my eyes into the back of my skull. i’m just…… tired of this samey stuff. i see and read all the incredible, and original, new science-fiction and fantasy coming out every year and i know, for a fact, there are so many cool stories being told, that would look amazing on the big screen (or the little one, for however long we need, because plague.)
to tell the truth, i’m extra bitter in the wake of Disney firing everyone at the Fox-owned Blue Sky studio, and by consequence axing the upcoming nimona, based on noelle stevenson’s long-running webcomic (yes, noelle stevenson of she-ra fame). i’ve been reading nimona on and off since 2012, when stevenson went viral with their thor tumblr comics. based on stevenson’s own tweets, it was shaping up to be incredible. and now we’ll never get to see it—but don’t worry! they’re making a new cruella movie! even though we already have two of them!! and glenn close was pretty darn good!!
i don’t have a closing paragraph except a tired sigh. disney’s gonna disney, as they have for decades, and now that they own such a big piece of the entertainment pie, everything under their umbrella will be subsumed by the nostalgia monster. everything is the past. the future is dead. the present, even more so. i hate it, but that’s the way it is. i don’t expect they’ll change that tune any time soon.
the only way out is to write and make new stuff (the indie way, by the looks of things), and try not to be too cynical as the wheel of disney keeps on turning, paving through the media landscape—while not paying its authors—and making every story we’ve ever loved into a big flat nothing.
there, that’s a good closing paragraph. better get back to writing, eh?
how i’ve spent lockdown #3
basically, i’ve picked up what normal people would call ‘an absolute truckload of projects’, but that’s my (undiagnosed) ADHD brain—i can’t not fidget and skitter from one thing to another, everything is shiny and cool and i want to do it!! so here’s what i’ve been doing, in bullet form:
  • i attended capricon, which is a science fiction convention normally hosted in chicago every year, but this year was of course virtual. it was a fun weekend full of interesting panels and chats on discord, and i got to have kaffeeklatches (round-table discussions) with some awesome people, like friend of the newsletter brandon o’brien, vida cruz and ada palmer, which was an absolute highlight.
  • speaking of conventions, i’m helping to organise one! i’m on the concom (that’s short for ‘convention committee’) for flights of foundry, a free (!!!) virtual convention aimed at emerging creatives in the speculative arts. that’s everyone from writers, editors, and visual artists, to podcasters, reviewers/critics, and games designers—everything that could be or is science fiction, fantasy, and everything inbetween. (the parent organisation, dream foundry, does this all-year-round, but this is their special event.) i’m marketing chair so this is absolutely a plug, but did i mention it’s free??! with an optional donation?? if you are in the speculative arts in any capacity, please check it out—and if you’re interested in workshops and kaffeeklatches, hurry up and register before 1st march!! we expect lots of interest so we’re running a lottery for those items that are limited capacity; more info on the website.
  • since new year’s, i’ve also made a few new podcast episodes for strange horizons. in reverse chronological order, we have a sleep-paralysis-inspired story about a bad date (cw: cockroaches for teeth—yes it’s gross but the story is GREAT and i had a lot of fun with it so give it a chance pls), which is on the longer side, and two shorter pieces about working out grief through magical realism. i’m very happy with how these turned out, and they’re all lovely stories! spotify embeds to follow, but you can also find them on my author page here, or on our podbean page.
  • i’ve joined a new novel workshop cohort through my writers group (which i am now organiser of!), Spectrum. i’m getting back in the fiction saddle, folks! shelving the long-suffering paradise lost quadrilogy because it starts off with four characters in a lockdown and i’m, uhh, not about it right now, so i’m working on my secret society of swedish superheroes book, which features a draco malfoy-esque lesbian antihero in search of identity and redemption. i love that story a lot, so i’m really excited to finally put those words on the page (most likely on my new freewrite traveler.)
some audio stuff coming up:
  • a live show on the Stereo app (which is like a live podcasting situation with voice messages from listeners) coming up TODAY, thursday 18th, at 7pm GMT. i’ll be chatting to friend and queer media critic/agony aunt rowan ellis about lgbt movies, and attempt to answer the question, “what is the best gay movie of all time?” (spoiler: it’s not carol, we both hate it.) you can leave us your Hot Takes as voice messages during the show to spark conversation and influence the outcome. come hang out, it’ll be fun—hopefully i’ll do more of these in the future too, so give me a follow on there, @darthjuno.
  • a podcast episode with my buddies at kneel before pod on the fifth season of the expanse. it’s pretty spoiler heavy, but it’s all good stuff, guaranteed to keep you company with some pretty juicy opinions about space things. it’s my favourite show right now so i had a LOT of feelings about it. you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
that’s it from me this week. as always, feel free to share your responses to anything above by twitteremail, or dalmatian puppy messenger. you can also forward this email to a friend, if you think they’ll like what’s in it.
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above all, stay safe, wherever you are!
speak soon,
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kat kourbeti
kat kourbeti @darthjuno

writing, media and arts commentary from a queer g(r)eek writer of science fiction and fantasy works.

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