The Classic Nutcracker returns to St. Paul

\The Classic Nutcracker\ returns to St. Paul
Insensitive Nutcracker
Atlanta Ballet Company dancers Ivan Tarakanov and Erica Alvarado as The Nutcrackers Marie and Prince.By Charlie McCullers/courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.If a ballet company has a successful production of “The Nutcracker”—genuflection here—it is not changed lightly. This two-act holiday fable, which forms a December juggernaut along with A Christmas Carol and Handel’s “Messiah,” has kept ballet companies in the pink, and also in the black, for more than half a century. “The Nutcracker” tells a magical story that roots artistic imagination in youthful yearning; it has colorful roles for myriad company debuts; and it puts aspiring ballet students onstage (“That’s my daughter!”). And then there’s Tchaikovsky’s score—intimate, rich, transcendent. So why is the Atlanta Ballet, possessed of a beloved production these past 23 seasons, leaping into the void with a makeover this month?

“The idea behind this ‘Nutcracker,’” says Gennadi Nedvigin, artistic director of the Atlanta Ballet, “is that it’s being done for today’s audience of children, teenagers, and young adults. We’re using a new generation of theater technology. We’re going to make a virtual-reality ‘Nutcracker.’”

Left, The production team installs a lighting boom under the Fox Theatre’s blue sky and stars; Right, choreographer Yuri Possokhov rehearses with Atlanta Ballet dancers for The Nutcracker.

This sort of thing has been happening for decades, of course, what with opera houses and theaters so heavily dependent on the great works of the 18th and 19th centuries. Often its well intended, though some of the people who demand changes to allegedly insensitive works of art seem less interested in preventing unnecessary offense than in appearing virtuous in the eyes of their peers. But we live in an age of hypersensitivity about race and ethnicity, and if audiences are offended or made nervous by choreography and costumes that seem to mock a culture or a race, ballet companies are wise to change them.

New Haven Ballet performs The Nutcracker at Raymour & Flanigan

A former danseur noble with the San Francisco Ballet, Nedvigin took on the Atlanta Ballet top spot over two years ago, and immediately began implementing a progressive vision. He’s grown the company from 28 to 39 dancers, and has created a second company that numbers 18, an expansion that was necessary to support new shows like this one, his first big production for Atlanta Ballet. Nedvigin’s “Nutcracker” dream team includes award-winning and award-nominated designers from theater and opera, as well as dance: Tom Pye (sets), Sandra Woodall (costumes), David Finn (lighting), and Finn Ross (video/projection). Ballet directors around the country have taken note, and are heading to Atlanta for a look.

Even so, one suspects the people who fixate on these things are missing something crucial—not just about the relative importance of innocuous symbols and gestures but about the nature of artistic performance. Sometimes great art requires stereotype. Of course stereotype can be abused—the Frenchman with a beret and a baguette under his arm, the American Indian sitting cross-legged with a feather in his headband and saying how—although even in those cases, its often unclear what the real harm is.

The key to this production is Yuri Possokhov, one of the few classical choreographers to successfully integrate dance and video into a fully dimensional stage environment (as opposed to a series of flat images that land behind the dancers). “Yuri’s 2015 ballet ‘Swimmer,’” says Nedvigin, “where he really dived into experimenting with projection, was a huge success—a piece of art. I trust him to bring this ‘Nutcracker’ together.”

Lest anyone think that a high-tech approach is inappropriate for this classic, be reminded that at its premiere in 1892, Tchaikovsky’s fantasy ballet left Russian critics perplexed. His colleague Mikhail Ivanov, however, saw that with this brilliant score, ballet as a medium had “started out along a completely different path from before.” So “The Nutcracker” itself was progressive. That said, Possokhov is following the traditional American story line as laid out by the Christensen brothers in San Francisco (1944) and George Balanchine in New York (1954), though his iteration will be more mystical, celestial, and spooky. “I will have my own details and twists,” Possokhov explains, and “the sets are active participants in the production.”

The Christmas season has begun, and ballet companies across North America are blessing their towns and cities with performances of The Nutcracker. For The Scrapbook, its the seasons highlight.

Following the first run-through, Nedvigin confides, “I was blown away. It’s not 3-D; it’s going to be like 5-D—almost surreal. Because you won’t be able to tell what is real, what is not, what you can touch, and what you can only see.”

If this flattening-out reinterpretation goes much further, audiences wont remember that these dancers are meant to be Chinese at all. All in the name of diversity.

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If a ballet company has a successful production of “The Nutcracker”—genuflection here—it is not changed lightly. This two-act holiday fable, which forms a December juggernaut along with A Christmas Carol and Handel’s “Messiah,” has kept ballet companies in the pink, and also in the black, for more than half a century. “The Nutcracker” tells a magical story that roots artistic imagination in youthful yearning; it has colorful roles for myriad company debuts; and it puts aspiring ballet students onstage (“That’s my daughter!”). And then there’s Tchaikovsky’s score—intimate, rich, transcendent. So why is the Atlanta Ballet, possessed of a beloved production these past 23 seasons, leaping into the void with a makeover this month?

“The idea behind this ‘Nutcracker,’” says Gennadi Nedvigin, artistic director of the Atlanta Ballet, “is that it’s being done for today’s audience of children, teenagers, and young adults. We’re using a new generation of theater technology. We’re going to make a virtual-reality ‘Nutcracker.’”

Left, The production team installs a lighting boom under the Fox Theatre’s blue sky and stars; Right, choreographer Yuri Possokhov rehearses with Atlanta Ballet dancers for The Nutcracker.

A former danseur noble with the San Francisco Ballet, Nedvigin took on the Atlanta Ballet top spot over two years ago, and immediately began implementing a progressive vision. He’s grown the company from 28 to 39 dancers, and has created a second company that numbers 18, an expansion that was necessary to support new shows like this one, his first big production for Atlanta Ballet. Nedvigin’s “Nutcracker” dream team includes award-winning and award-nominated designers from theater and opera, as well as dance: Tom Pye (sets), Sandra Woodall (costumes), David Finn (lighting), and Finn Ross (video/projection). Ballet directors around the country have taken note, and are heading to Atlanta for a look.

The key to this production is Yuri Possokhov, one of the few classical choreographers to successfully integrate dance and video into a fully dimensional stage environment (as opposed to a series of flat images that land behind the dancers). “Yuri’s 2015 ballet ‘Swimmer,’” says Nedvigin, “where he really dived into experimenting with projection, was a huge success—a piece of art. I trust him to bring this ‘Nutcracker’ together.”

Lest anyone think that a high-tech approach is inappropriate for this classic, be reminded that at its premiere in 1892, Tchaikovsky’s fantasy ballet left Russian critics perplexed. His colleague Mikhail Ivanov, however, saw that with this brilliant score, ballet as a medium had “started out along a completely different path from before.” So “The Nutcracker” itself was progressive. That said, Possokhov is following the traditional American story line as laid out by the Christensen brothers in San Francisco (1944) and George Balanchine in New York (1954), though his iteration will be more mystical, celestial, and spooky. “I will have my own details and twists,” Possokhov explains, and “the sets are active participants in the production.”

Following the first run-through, Nedvigin confides, “I was blown away. It’s not 3-D; it’s going to be like 5-D—almost surreal. Because you won’t be able to tell what is real, what is not, what you can touch, and what you can only see.”

Michelle Obamas new memoir, Becoming, is, as you may have heard, beautiful and extraordinary. Oprah Winfrey thinks so, and Tayari Jones thinks so, and Reese Witherspoon thinks so, and my sister Jo, thinks so, and I think so—to such an enthusiastic degree that during the week I was reading it, I made a list of six people I want to buy copies for. The book is so surprisingly candid, richly emotional, and granularly detailed that it allows readers to feel exactly what Michelle herself felt at various moments in her life. In the section when she and Barack are falling in love, I swooned at their first kiss; when Michelle sits with her father in a hospital room the night he dies, I cried so hard on a plane that, as the beverage cart approached, I had to put the book down and pull myself together, so Id be able to speak to the flight attendant; and when young Malia and Sasha good-naturedly handle the weirdness of campaigning and then life in the White House, while remaining guileless, I felt as proud and protective as if the girls were the kids of my friends.

Becoming also contains the single best description of being a working mother Ive ever read, a snapshot of the year 2004 when Michelle is 40 and an executive director for community affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center and Barack is a state senator spending much of each week in Springfield, Illinois:

On Clybourn Avenue in Chicago, just north of downtown, there was a\nstrange paradise, seemingly built for the working parent, seemingly\nbuilt for me: a standard, supremely American, got-it-all strip mall.\nIt had a BabyGap, a Best Buy, a Gymboree, and a CVS, plus a handful of\nother chains, small and large, meant to take care of any urgent\nconsumer need, be it a toilet plunger, or a ripe avocado, or a\nchild-sized bathing cap. There was also a nearby Container Store and a\nChipotle, which made things even better. This was my place. I could\npark the car, whip through two or three stores as needed, pick up a\nburrito bowl, and be back at my desk inside sixty minutes. I excelled\nat the lunchtime blitz—the replacing of lost socks, the purchasing of\ngifts for whatever five-year-old was having a birthday party on\nSaturday, the stocking and restocking of juice boxes and\nsingle-serving applesauce cups . . . There were times when Id sit in\nthe parked car and eat my fast food alone with the car radio playing,\novercome with relief, impressed with my efficiency. This was life with\nlittle kids. This was what sometimes passed for achievement. I had the\napplesauce. I was eating a meal. Everyone was still alive.\nLook how Im managing, I wanted to say in those moments, to my audience of no one. Does everyone see that Im pulling this off?

Within three years, Michelle would, of course, have a significantly larger audience, but whats striking is how consistently she remains herself, from the time shes a child growing up in a modest rental duplex on Chicagos South Side, where during elementary school she experienced white flight in real time; to her adolescence attending a magnet high school for which she commutes three hours a day, and at which she becomes close friends with Jesse Jacksons daughter Santita; to her years as an undergraduate at Princeton and a law student at Harvard; to her brief tenure at a posh Chicago law firm before she segues into working as an assistant to then-mayor Richard M. Daley, then as executive director of a nonprofit, then in community outreach at the University of Chicago; and finally to the campaign trail, which starts in Iowa and ends in the White House. The personality traits that define Michelle in girlhood—a focused and organized work ethic and ambition blended with warmth and an excellent sense of humor—continue to define her on Pennsylvania Avenue, as does the social issue she cares most about: showing people, especially young people of color from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, that they deserve access to good educations, health, safety, and jobs. Or, in her own words, You belong. You matter. I think highly of you.

As we all are at times, Michelle is magnificently goofy and dorky: I arranged my first real kiss, in fact, over the phone. It was with a boy named Ronnell . . . I dont remember which one of us proposed that we meet outside my house one afternoon to give kissing a try, but there was no nuance to it; no shy euphemisms needed to be applied. We werent going to hang out or take a walk. We were going to make out. And we were both all for it.

She is also, as we all are at times, resentful, particularly during the stretch when Barack leaves the bulk of day-to-day parenting to her, while he runs for a series of elected offices. In fact, she feels burned by his absence both emotionally (Just for once, I wanted him to be content with life as it was. I didnt understand how he could look at Sasha and Malia, now five and eight, with their pigtailed hair and giggly exuberance, and feel any other way) and logistically. (On Thursday nights, when Barack routinely returns late from Springfield, Hed either find me raging or unavailable, having flipped off every light in the house and gone sullenly to sleep.)

And, as we all are, Michelle Obama is confused—frequently, existentially confused. Shes confused about whether she belongs at various elite schools, whether she should stay at her fancy law firm, whether she should date the cute summer associate with the odd name, whether after having kids she should work part-time or full-time or not at all, whether and how much she should support Baracks political campaigns, whether living in the White House will be bad for their daughters. Indeed, her confusion is embedded in the books very title: observing on the first page that asking children what they want to be when they grow up is a useless question, she adds, As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and thats the end.

I suspect that some of Becomings power lies in the ways it employs the techniques of a novel more than those of a typical political memoir—in its honesty about human nature and ambivalence, yes, but also in its colorful and idiosyncratic details (though she and Barack were excited to take mud baths on their Northern California honeymoon, they both found the baths to be unsoothing and kind of icky), in its willingness to let anecdotes speak for themselves rather than pedantically spelling out their lessons. Theres a charming description of the night the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, when Michelle and Malia semi-successfully sneak outside because they want to see the rainbow-lit White House and hear the hum of the public, people whooping and celebrating outside the iron gates. Michelle barely weighs in on same-sex marriage itself, but the specificity of the scene palpably conveys her excitement.

Becoming even resembles a novel in its pacing. The narrative is both brisk and patient, slowing down when its important to give a sense of personalities or experiences or feelings, so that if and when those personalities, experiences, or feelings reappear later in the book, theyre exponentially more powerful. The reason I sobbed at her fathers death is that she had shown who he was starting more than 100 pages before—his fondness for his two-door Buick, nicknamed the Deuce and a Quarter, which he wordlessly took to the body shop to be repaired after the door was scratched while the car was parked in a white neighborhood; his stoicism as he endured the pain of multiple sclerosis; the way he humored his children when they wanted to hold elaborate family fire drills. It is also a pacing decision to introduce people not in the role they ultimately occupy, but as Michelle experiences them at the time—hence a reference to Donald Trump in 2011 as the reality-show host and New York real-estate developer.

A truism among fiction writers is that the end of a short story or novel should feel to the reader surprising yet inevitable, and what was the Obama presidency if not surprising yet inevitable? Because of the intensity and depth of American racism, the election of a black president was surprising. But because of who Barack Obama was and is, his intelligence and charisma and preternatural calmness, it also felt inevitable. And its not just that who Barack Obama was and is feels inextricably linked to Michelle, though she did make him seem like he had great taste in spouses—and therefore good judgment overall. Its that, as laid out in Becoming, Michelles role as First Lady feels oddly yet perfectly like the culmination of all her previous experiences: She was raised in a working-class Midwestern family and was naturally able to connect with many voters; she also was accustomed to rarefied, often majority white settings, accustomed to being observed, accustomed to being alternately underestimated and held up as a role model. She traveled far from her roots and stayed true to herself. Given the essential absurdity, even impossibility, of the position of First Lady—an antiquated, grueling, very high-profile unpaid job, intensified in all ways for her because she was a racial trailblazer—Im not convinced shes ever received credit for how deftly she balanced it. Most people I know, especially women, like or even love Michelle Obama. But, in part because she made being First Lady look easy and fun, I doubt they realize how hard she was working.

For some Americans, she notes of herself and Barack, We ourselves were a provocation. But both of them had long ago decided that the way Barack and I lived our lives would show people the truth about who we really were. This was what they did in the White House. Now—meticulously, movingly, gloriously—this is what Michelle has done in Becoming.

A recurring theme in Becoming, the debut memoir from former First Lady Michelle Obama, is the physicality of her most powerful emotions. On the verge of flying to Europe for a high-school class trip—the first time shed travel across the Atlantic, an opportunity her parents never had—she describes the experience of taking off. And then we were rattling down the runway and beginning to tilt upward as the acceleration seized my chest and pressed me backward into my seat for that strange, in-between half moment that comes before finally you feel lifted. Later, describing early, moonstruck arguments with her future husband, she writes, When something sets me off, the feeling can be intensely physical, a kind of fireball running up my spine and exploding with such force that I sometimes later dont remember what I said in the moment. And after shed taken up residence in the White House, she describes meeting high-school students in England that give her an intense, melancholy déjà vu. Something inside me began to quake. I almost felt myself falling backward into my own past.

In these moving passages, Obama locates the immensity of her emotions within her body—a marked contrast to the controlled, no-nonsense public figure she has been until now. These passages also differ from much of the rest of Becoming, which is told with the style and warmth of a fireside tale. Her story is paced indifferently—theres twice as much text spent on campaigning for the 2008 presidential election as there is on the first six years of Malias life—and regrettably, the prose shifts between bloodless, campaign-trail professionalism and the language of empowerment found on daytime talk shows. What stands out are the moments when she describes how it all felt—from growing up in a cramped South Side apartment in Chicago to standing in front of more than 200,000 people the night that her husband, Barack Obama, was elected the 44th president of the United States.

In those moments, the miracle of Michelle Obama arises. She has a pedigree bristling with accomplishments: a Princeton and Harvard-educated lawyer who leveraged her degrees into a six-figure first job at a corporate law firm, Sidley Austin, before shifting to service-oriented work that emphasized community-building in her hometown. As First Lady, she dedicated herself to ending childhood obesity within in a generation, and in her book lists the many milestones she hit on the way to accomplishing that goal. But her physical being—her famous arms, her fashion, her smile—is also part of that living history. And in Becoming, Obama is so candid about that body—whether that is the in vitro fertilization treatments she underwent to conceive her daughters; the everyday drain of being in a deep minority at Princeton University, where, she writes, the black kids stood out like poppy seeds in a bowl of rice; or, especially, the toppling blast of lust she feels for 28-year-old Barack, the new first-year associate at her firm.

Obamas romance with the charismatic native Hawaiian is one of the joys of Becoming—an opportunity to fall in love with Barack Obama from the perspective of the person who both knows him best and yet seems to be dazzled again by him daily. Michelles story is quite staid until Barack shows up to muck it up; in writing Becoming, Obama glosses over her years at Harvard Law to relate in minute detail the first few days and weeks of her acquaintance with her future husband. Love animates Obamas prose; her parents, her daughters, and her husband each emerge from her book as vibrant, brilliant personalities, embellished with Obamas eye for affectionate detail. That love saturates how she describes her neighborhood, too, beginning with her home on Euclid Avenue in the South Side of Chicago, and radiating outward to include the family and friends that live on the floor beneath her, around the corner, and along the two-minute walk to school.

But despite how close we get to her voice here, its never quite close enough. She lets us into all kinds of memories, including tender recollections, romantic dates, and triumphant moments on the campaign trail. But for all her candidness, there is still a veil of privacy around the inner workings of this reluctant public figure. She draws the reader in, but pauses at arms length. Maybe this is all we can expect, in text, from this woman with so much presence. As she says herself, shes more of a hugger.

The first section of the book, Becoming Me, is the most thoughtful and well-written of its three parts. (Becoming Us is about her marriage; Becoming More focuses on her time as First Lady.) It takes nearly 100 pages before Barack turns up, which leaves ample room for Obamas voice to form. She seems the most assured here, talking about her family life and her pride in her neighborhood, which almost overshadows the deep insecurities that affected her. Her father, Fraser, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his thirties; he supported a family of four on his working-class paycheck from a city water-filtration plant. When she began kindergarten at her local school, it was a diverse student body; by fifth grade, her entire class was nonwhite, as illustrated by class photos included in the center of the book. As she entered seventh grade, an opinion piece in the Chicago Defender labeled her school as a run-down slum governed by a ghetto mentality.

She refrains from being more explicit about the effect this had on her, preferring instead to point to the squandered potential of the other children she grew up with. But in slipped details and collected asides—including some recollections of childhood that she doesnt share until late in the story, when she is already First Lady—Michelle Obama constructs the full shape of the obstacles she was up against, both from external institutions and the learned limitations of her own mind. Becoming skips law school to spend pages on Obamas decision to leave her unfulfilling job at Sidley Austin. Its only then, decades into her life, that Obama begins to question how success has been defined for her, and how her parents sacrifices made her own passion seem irrelevant.

The preface, which sketches out the outlines of the Obama familys new post-White House life, ends with the words, And here I am, in this new place, with a lot I want to say. Its a thrilling way to start Becoming, and Obama indeed has a lot to say. But the book is more a compilation of memories than a memoir with thrust. The plot loops back upon itself and embellishes already trod territory with new, surprising, and valuable information. In a sense, it is an entirely honest methodology—a nonlinear narration of becoming, in which old memories take on new meaning as the self evolves. But, put another way, its just confusing.

Obama spends reams of text describing how devoted she is to her children—and how knowledgeable she is about policy, whether that is public health or childhood education. But she is still strikingly diffident about her accomplishments, describing herself in the epilogue as an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. To be sure, Barack Obama changed the life of the young woman named Michelle Robinson when he walked into her office that summer 10 minutes late. But that woman was already exceptional—in skills, drive, and the rock-solid love she had for her family. If nothing else, it would take an exceptional woman to build a home life around what Barack Obama would toss in her lap.

Toward the end of the book, this seeming doublespeak becomes frustrating, but in a way relatable. Obama is a resistant symbol, having never sought out public life herself, but she was also cannily managing her public appearance years before she became First Lady, in that unconscious, everyday way that minority women are especially called to do. She writes that she spent the first year of her husbands campaign rallying audiences without any media training or speech prep—and despite these handicaps, and what she describes as an aversion to public life, she earned the campaign nickname of the Closer for her continued success.

During Barack Obamas second presidential campaign for president, she describes realizing the capacity of the First Ladys power—a gentle light, flattering the president with my devotion, flattering the nation primarily by not challenging it. But years earlier, she had assessed enough about power to vet her fashion choices thoroughly, describing how her stylist, Meredith Koop, helped her choose outfits in the White House. She protests that she does not know much about fashion, even though, 30 pages earlier, she devotes a thoughtful paragraph to the fantastic Jason Wu number she wore to the 10 inauguration balls in 2008: The dress resurrected the dreaminess of my familys metamorphosis, the promise of this entire experience, transforming me if not into a full-blown ballroom princess, then at least into a woman capable of climbing onto another stage.

Just a couple months later, Obama was on the cover of Vogue for the first of three times. And yet, she grumbles, It seemed that my clothes mattered more to people than anything I had to say. So which is it—the soft power of becoming a living symbol, or the protestations of not knowing much about politics? Sometimes Obama wants to have her South Side groundedness and her G20 poise at the same time, and it doesnt quite work that way. We, the readers, have seen her work her magic; we have assessed her power already, or we would not be reading this book.

But perhaps this is the crux of Michelle Obamas appeal—this pose of normalcy, amidst a life that is not at all normal. Early on, she insisted on a life that looked a certain way, and despite her run-down school and her working-class family, despite her fertility challenges and her confused career goals, she got it: security, family, home. And then, just a few short years later, when her family was elevated to a fabulous, unimaginable height, she focused on that same normalcy—a good education for her daughters, date night with Barack, two dogs to dote on. Barack is the dreamer, the idealist, the leader. Michelle—entranced, overwhelmed, concerned for her familys safety, and finding comfort in a McDonalds burger and a Target run—is more like the rest of us.

— Meet King Kongs newest heroine\n— Inside scoops on the secrets of Hollywood, past and present

Michelle Obamas Becoming book tour has officially kicked off, and like Taylor Swift before her, she is proving to be a mega-star who understands the power of an A-list cameo. On the tour stop in Washington, D.C., on Saturday night, Barack Obama made a surprise appearance onstage with flowers for the former First Lady, and compared his cameo to that of someone he and his wife know well: You know when Jay-Z comes out at the Beyoncé concert? he joked. Like, Crazy in Love?

You dont get this at every show, the erstwhile First Lady quipped, as her husband proceeded to sit on the arm of her chair. Valerie Jarrett, the presidents former senior adviser, moderated the talk and asked the president to weigh in on his side of the love story that his wife describes in her book.

The former president told the crowd to go ahead and have a seat, then recounted his first phone call with the former First Lady, when he was preparing to be a summer associate at the law firm where shed just finished her first year. We get on the phone, and shes very proper, he said. She was very much in her business, lawyer mode. Shes like, Well, were really looking forward to having you here. Im thinking, She seems a little uptight. But when he arrived (late) on his first day of work, he said he noticed one thing about his future wife: She was really tall, and most of it was legs.

Before her husband got too in his own element, she reeled him back in. Alright, children are here, she said, which got the crowd snapped back to attention.

Its likely that the D.C. stop will be the only one featuring a cameo from the former president—this isnt a campaign, after all, and Barack Obama has seemed more than happy to cede the spotlight to his wife— but the 13-location book tour wont lack star power as it moves forward. On Thursday, Tracee Ellis Ross moderated a Becoming stop in Los Angeles, while Oprah kicked things off on Tuesday in Chicago. Next up is a stop in Boston (Elizabeth Warren? Taylor Swift after a quick jaunt from her house in Rhode Island?) and then later Philadelphia, where we fully expect Gritty to take over for the Q&A portion.

— Meet King Kongs newest heroine\n— Inside scoops on the secrets of Hollywood, past and present

Over the past year, theres been no shortage of best-selling big-ticket books tied to the current political moment. From White House tell-alls like Fear and Fire and Fury to dishy memoirs that have run the gamut from James Comey to Omarosa Manigault Newman, these high-profile tomes have been minting money for the publishing industry, lavishing renown on their authors, and dominating entire news cycles in the process. But the blockbuster thats out this week makes all of them look Lilliputian.

Michelle Obamas Becoming lands on shelves Tuesday, following a months-long buildup of buzz and a drip-drip of promotional placements that culminated in the memoirs selection as the newest pick in Oprahs Book Club. A low-seven-figure to multi-million-dollar advance is typically the sign of a top-shelf book. Michelle and Barack Obama, with the help of Washington power agent Bob Barnett, reportedly struck a record-shattering combined $60 million deal for their memoirs, which sold to Penguin Random Houses Crown imprint last year. By Monday afternoon, Becoming was holding steady at No. 1 on the Amazon charts, with advance sales no doubt benefitting from pre-release revelations such as the former First Familys fertility struggles, as well as a Good Morning America clip that divulged a passage in which Obama writes of her experience at Trumps inauguration, I stopped even trying to smile.

As The New York Times reported in September, Becoming is getting a decidedly celebrity-like media rollout thanks to a deal with Hearst that will include an Elle cover and other content spread across various print and digital titles at the magazine publisher. But the truly stunning aspect of the whole thing is the 10-city tour that kicks off in Chicago on Tuesday.

Becoming is going full rock star with a series of Live Nation-produced stadium stops that swings through Brooklyns Barclays Center not once, but twice—first on December 1, and again for a grand finale on December 19 due to high demand. (Good tickets for the December 1 event are in the high-hundreds to thousand-dollar range.) In addition to opening up a new revenue stream, the live-event business basically turns a hardcover book into the equivalent of a tour shirt—a slightly overpriced memento of the occasion. Using a live event to move product, long a staple of the music industry, may help publishers chart a new course for dealing with mega-authors in the future. The thing that seems different about this is the tour, a well-connected publishing-industry source told me. The economics of that and what it does to the book, that part is interesting. Thats definitely uncharted territory.

For former presidents and First Ladies, getting into the literary game is an age-old formula. In the late 1800s, Benjamin Harrison wrote articles for Ladies Home Journal that were later turned into a book. After leaving the White House in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt went on to write dozens of books. Ulysses Grant, dying of cancer, made a huge sum for his memoirs—though the money for Grant remained his Civil War years. In the modern blockbuster-driven media and publishing universe, ex-presidents are an easy sell. George W. Bushs memoir, Decision Points, sold a couple million copies in as many months, surpassing Bill Clintons record with My Life.

The Obamas have blown up the game by an order of magnitude. Whats new and incredibly profitable for the Obamas, another publishing veteran told me, is that theyre using the book as the foundation of their post–White House livelihood and not the whole thing. Theyve taken the best of the old world and melded it with the most interesting parts of the new media landscape. You publish a book, and then you go into the live-events space in a way that I think is unprecedented. Even without the stadium tour—or the deal they signed with Netflix to create original programming for the streaming-entertainment titan—the reported $60 million advance alone is enough to set the Obamas up for a long, long time. In a way, the publishing veteran said, the scope of the deal gave them the security that other former presidents have taken four or five or six years to get to.

$60 million is a whole lot of money for Penguin Random House to make back, but given the massive rollout of Becoming, its hard to imagine the books chances being any better. Plus, this is only part one. The whole thing about it, my first source predicted, is that at some point in the not distant future, her husband is gonna do the same thing, but on an even bigger scale.

On Tuesday, Michelle Obama released her new book, Becoming, and was joined by her brother, Craig Robinson, for a live interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. During the interview, she spoke about how her daughters, Malia and Sasha, endured the eight years of scrutiny while living in the White House—and the support they got from the only women in the world who understood exactly what they were going through.

I will also say that they had support from a lot of the other former First Kids: Jenna and Barbara and Chelsea, Obama said. I love those girls; I will love them forever for what kind of support they provided to my daughters. They always had their backs. Somebody went after them in the press, Jenna would get in there and say something. Chelsea would send a tweet out, and that made a big difference.

With Malia now attending Harvard and Sasha a senior at Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C., their mother says she is proud of the women they have become: Let me just say this out loud in public. I am so proud of those little girls. They have managed this situation with poise and grace and they are normal and kind and smart and friendly and open. Gosh, and it couldve gone so wrong.

Chelsea Clinton was the last child to live in the White House full-time; she was 12 years old when her father was inaugurated and subject to media attacks so intense that the Obamas seemed to do everything in their power to keep Sasha and Malia out of the public eye. Jenna and Barbara Bush were college students when George W. Bush took office, but they saw it as their duty to advise Sasha and Malia as well. When the Obamas left 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in January 2017, Jenna and Barbara Bush wrote them a letter, much like the 2009 letter they sent them when they first moved in to the residence. The 2017 letter read, in part:

Now you are about to join another rarified club, one of former First\nChildren—a position you didnt seek and one with no guidelines, the\nletter reads. But you have so much to look forward to. You will be\nwriting the story of your lives, beyond the shadow of your famous\nparents, yet you will always carry with you the experiences of the\npast eight years.

In her ABC interview with Roberts on Sunday and again Tuesday morning, Obama talked about the issues she had with conceiving her daughters and the fact that she and the former president eventually used I.V.F. to get pregnant. She also touched on why she decided to write about this experience, for the first time, in her book.

Miscarriages are more common than we know, she told Roberts. Infertility is a common problem. But thats the thing, we as women . . . we just dont talk about these issues, so we deal with this stuff in isolation, and that doesnt help. So if folks like me coming out and talking about my experiences helps give some comfort and some courage to others to come out, then Im happy to share my story if it helps.

— Meet King Kongs newest heroine\n— Inside scoops on the secrets of Hollywood, past and present

Michelle Obamas new book, Becoming, is out November 13, but an early review by The Washington Post suggests the long-anticipated memoir contains some of the thoughts that she might have been divulging to her best friends over the past decade—but not to the rest of America. That includes her real thoughts on birtherism, the conspiracy theory Donald Trump perpetuated—and used to build his fame—that claimed Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

The whole [birther] thing was crazy and mean-spirited, of course, its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed, Obama writes, according to the Post. But it was also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks. What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my familys safety at risk. And for this Id never forgive him.

The revelation that she feared for the safety of her children is just one of what appear to be many deeply personal moments in the book. In a Good Morning America teaser for an ABC interview, Obama also opens up about her struggles with getting pregnant and her past miscarriage, which she discusses in the book. I felt like I failed because I didnt know how common miscarriages were, because we dont talk about them, Obama said in the interview which airs Sunday. We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow were broken . . . I realized that as I was 34 and 35. We had to do I.V.F.

She also reportedly discusses marital problems that she and President Obama had when he started getting into politics.

With this new book, for which she is starting a cross-country tour next week, Obama opens up a lot more than she ever did while commanding the East Wing. In their time away from the White House, the Obamas have seemed to let loose at last; the former president went kite-surfing with Richard Branson, and, this past summer, the former First Lady was caught on-camera dancing at a Beyoncé concert in Paris. With Beyoncé-sized crowds likely preparing to come out and be part of her book tour, that might have been good practice.

Of the 2,923 days the Obamas called the White House home, two are\nsuper-glued in my memory. October 3, 2012: President Barack Obama,\nvisibly tired from dodging but rarely swinging back at the worst of\nAmerica, lost his first presidential debate against Mitt Romney. After\nfour years, I still wasnt sure what Obamas presidential victory\nmaterially meant for black Americans, but I knew this particular debate\nwas nothing less than what Maya Angelou called rust on the razor that\nthreatens the throat.

The other day had come four years earlier and foretold the first:\nFebruary 18, 2008. At 3:14 P.M., in Wisconsin, Michelle Obama had said\nto a campaign-trail crowd, And let me tell you something—for the\nfirst time in my adult lifetime, Im really proud of my country. And not\njust because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry\nfor change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that\ndirection and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and\ndisappointment.

There was never much sentimentality in Michelle Obamas conversations\nwith us, but there was so much subtext. All of her performances from\nthat point forward were delivered with mounds of informed sincerity,\nthat rhetorical dynamite that presidential candidates, powerful\nAmericans, and lovers spend decades trying to cultivate, sustain, and\nwield. Id been a black American long enough to know that informed\nsincerity—and public soulfulness—in the mouth and body of a\nhyper-aware black woman from Chicago would be seen as more than a threat\nto the worst of America. And the worst of America would make sure\ntomorrow hurt.

The most dynamic and unfairly maligned person to ever rest their head in\nthe White House was not an American president. It was Michelle Obama.\nThough President Obama rarely fought back with the same force with which\nhe was attacked, he could have. There would have been an even steeper\nprice to pay. But he could have. Gender, race, complexion, politics, and\npower dictated that Michelle Obama could not, though I like to believe\nshe tried, on what Ralph Ellison called those lower frequencies.

Michelle Obama withstood the worst of America while consistently being\nexpected to conjure the best of her self. With every injury, she\nbecame a more valued and entrenched member of my deeply southern family.\nGrandmama got on her knees and prayed every night for Michelle and\nthem the same way she prayed for all of her biological children and\ngrandchildren. Mama, and my aunties Sue and Linda, sent texts when\nMichelle Obama was speaking (the same way they do when Serena Williams\nis on the court). With every sincere and soulful assemblage of words,\nevery knowing smirk, my family believed, Michelle Obama wanted to reckon\nwith what the worst of America was doing to our country, our\ncommunities, and our selves. As large parts of the nation felt\nincreasingly comfortable questioning her husbands citizenship and\nfaith, and equating her with a militant ape, we needed someone in that\nWhite House to pointedly revisit the loneliness, frustration,\ndisappointment, hunger, and pride she talked about in 2008.

Yet, by the time Michelle Obama said, When they go low, we go high,\nduring the summer of the 2016 campaign, like a lot of friends, I had\ngrown tired of both Obamas. Id been to the White House with a group of\nintersectional feminists, arguing against the architects of the\npresidents My Brothers Keeper initiative that we need structural\nremedies to the impediments for all black children in this country. We\nposited that black women and black girls, like black men and black boys,\ncannot wait. Neither Obama, nor anyone in the administration, had\npublicly acknowledged what the nation was doing to its most vulnerable\npeople. And I was weary. So when Michelle Obamas response to American\nterror was When they go low, we go high, I sucked my teeth, shook my\nhead, and hoped in 2016 wed get folks in the White House more willing\nto swing back—to honestly describe the violence rotting the nation\nfrom the inside out.

Of course, we would not get someone in the White House more willing to\nswing back at the most abusive parts of our nation. We would get Donald\nTrump, one of the most uncritically abusive men to walk the earth. I\nbelieve he had help from within and without the country in order to win,\nbut Trumps election said far more about our nation than it said about\nhim.

In subsequent months, I blamed myself for underestimating the relentless\ncreativity of white nationalism. I blamed Hillary Clinton. I blamed\nRussia. I blamed Bernie Sanders. I blamed Barack Obama for sanctioning\nso many deportations, for calling our children thugs, for not telling\nthe whole truth, for ultimately behaving like American presidents were\nsupposed to behave. And a small part of me blamed Michelle Obama for\nencouraging a generation of young black folks to go high when she, like\nus, knew that there was no limit to how low some Americans would go to\nsee us suffer.

Then, this September, the namesake of the journalism school at the\nUniversity of Mississippi, where I am an English professor, published a\nFacebook post with the images of two black female students enjoying\nthemselves on a Saturday night. The young women were dressed the way\ncountless young white women dress after long weeks of studying and\nworking. In text hovering just above the bodies of these two black\nwomen, the donor had written, A 3 percent decline in enrollment is\nnothing compared to what we will see if this continues . . . and real\nestate values will plummet as will tax revenue.

The following Thursday night, I went to a campus forum filled with black\nstudents passionately voicing what they deserved and what they would no\nlonger tolerate. At the end of the forum, through teary eyes and open\nears, the two young women targeted by the donor stood up and thanked\ntheir classmates for their support. One of the young women addressed the\nblack women in the room and encouraged them to accept that they have\nevery right to make their school—their town, their nation—home. The\nyoung woman could have quoted any American president, any southern\nwriter, any Mississippi freedom fighter, in closing. Instead: As a\nwise woman once said, When they go low, we go high, to thunderous\napplause and a standing ovation.

I stood, too, clapping my trembling palms thinking about Michelle\nObamas power, and the threat that it poses to the people who made\nDonald Trump king. I left that building believing that Michelle Obamas\nplan with Becoming, and her well-publicized multi-city, arena-filler\nbook tour, is to wield her particular power in a way that reaps material\nresults for black people. Former Attorney General Eric Holder recently\nremixed Michelles words: When they go low, we kick them. Kicking\nthem might seem like a simpler impulse, but doesnt kick them imply\na collectivity from folks most brutalized by American politics and\npolicy? Fear is not a proper motivator, Michelle answered back.\nHope wins out. Though she might have intended her response to be at\nodds with Holder, Im not sure it has to be. My hope is that it is not.

Now that Michelle Obama is free, I look forward to her going high—and\nkicking back. I want to know what she thinks about income inequality,\nsexual violence, white supremacy, and American exceptionalism in the\nface of an opposition whose appetite for going lower has no bounds. I\nknow we will be there accepting whatever she is offering, because we are\nhungry. We are disappointed. We are frustrated. We no longer crave hope.\nWe crave power. We do not want to be abused. We do not want to abuse.\nFor all kinds of better and some slices of worse, we believe Michelle\nObama will walk with us, honestly describing what she has experienced on\nher journey. We believe Michelle Obama is hungry, too. We believe that\nMichelle Obama knows we are tired of the pain of tomorrow, and have no\ndesire to make America great again for Americans to whom it has always\nbeen violently good. We want to be free. And we want to believe Michelle\nObama wants the same thing.

After the White House Correspondents Association announced it would not welcome a comedian to host its annual gala next year—instead turning the M.C. duties over to renowned biographer Ron Chernow—we knew it was only a matter of time before the president tweeted a response. And on Tuesday night, like clockwork, it happened.

To no ones surprise, the president used the opportunity to mock Michelle Wolf, whose turn as White House Correspondents Dinner host last year quickly ignited controversy. Unfortunately for Donald Trump, Wolf had a blistering comeback that serves as an excellent reminder of why she and her speech succeeded in April.

So-called comedian Michelle Wolf bombed so badly last year at the White House Correspondents Dinner that this year, for the first time in decades, they will have an author instead of a comedian, Trump tweeted. Good first step in comeback of a dying evening and tradition! Maybe I will go?

Wolf could have pointed out how difficult it is to imagine the president sitting through more than 30 seconds of a historical lecture—but instead, she opted for a darker, more serious response. I bet youd be on my side if I had killed a journalist, the comedian tweeted, condemning Trumps loyalty to Saudi Arabia—which stands despite intelligence that its crown prince had a journalist killed. She added the hashtag #BeBest, a sarcastic reference to Melania Trumps anti-bullying campaign.

Wolfs decision to focus on the failings of the Trump administration rather than his personal attack shows why she was the correct choice to host the gala this year—whether the D.C. establishment liked it or not.

The frequently controversial White House Correspondents Dinner became a lightning rod again this spring when conservatives and some Washington media lamented Wolfs scathing set, saying that her jokes went too far. The ire focused particularly on a line about Sarah Huckabee Sanders burning facts and using the ashes to create the perfect smoky eye. Rather than standing by Wolfs set, as many comedians and Wolf herself did, the White House Correspondents Association distanced itself from its chosen host, saying her words were not in the spirit of its mission.

Trump, who did not attend the dinner for the second year in a row when Wolf hosted, did, of course, take the time to tweet about it, writing, Everyone is talking about the fact that the White House Correspondents Dinner was a very big, boring bust…the so-called comedian really bombed. He later added, The White House Correspondents Dinner was a failure last year, but this year was an embarrassment to everyone associated with it. The filthy comedian totally bombed (couldnt even deliver her lines-much like the Seth Meyers weak performance). Put Dinner to rest, or start over!

The White House Correspondents Associations decision to turn hosting duties over to Chernow seems to indicate that the organization would like to avoid any such controversies in the future. But comedians have hosted the gala almost every single year for more than three decades—and the decision to change that formula now, in the face of criticism from the White House, is far from inspiring for an organization that claims to champion the First Amendment. As Wolf put it in her response to the announcement earlier this week, The @whca are cowards. The media is complicit. And I couldnt be prouder.

Since he left office, Barack Obama has been careful not to directly comment on Donald Trump or his administration. With the exception of a fiery speech at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in September, the former president has not named Trump in his critiques of the administration. At the Obama Foundation summit in Chicago on Monday night, Obama went back to his method of taking aim at Trump without ever once uttering his name. But it was a good zinger nonetheless.

While employing the stern we used for toddlers in time-out, Obama said that our countrys problems with agriculture, education, sustainable energy, and more were not hard problems to fix, but: the reason we dont do it is because we are still confused, blind, shrouded with hate, anger, racism, mommy issues, he said, per The Atlantic.

You literally can remake the world right now, because it badly needs remaking, he said in his speech, also referencing the failures of the Trump administration.

While plenty of people have taken aim at Trump with jabs at his small hands, hair, and other easy targets, Obama stayed highbrow with his comments about the Republican candidate in 2016. He simply warned then that Trump was temperamentally unfit for the job. But now its 2018, the midterms are over, Democrats took the House, and Trump is still president. It seems Obama is letting loose a little.

Obama would have been one of many to call out Trumps daddy issue; Fred Trump is said to have dodged millions of dollars in tax payments to funnel money down to his children, and usually gets the credit for being the start of the Trump problem. The mommy issues idea, however, is much rarer, though not unfounded. As Vanity Fairs Marie Brenner reported in 1990, his mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, a Scottish immigrant, once uttered to Ivana Trump, What kind of son have I created?

Michelle Obama visited the Today show on Thursday to announce the launch of the Global Girls Alliance, a new program from the Obama Foundation. After her announcement, Obama, who was wearing that historically significant color of white, stuck around for the rest of the show. She almost made it out of there without getting asked a very familiar question: Are you going to run for office? But she didnt quite make it.

Even Savannah Guthrie knew she was treading familiar territory. Youve been asked 1 billion times, I think a few by me, would you ever run for elected office, but have you ever been asked why not?

Obama, having been asked the question before and after she left the White House, was prepared with her answer: Yes, and Ive said it time and time again. As a woman, you understand where your voice works best, where you want to operate, what space you want to be in. Ive never wanted to be a politician. Its one of those things; nothing has changed in me to make me want to run for elected office. I want to serve, I want to do work, I want to be out there, but there are so many ways to make an impact. Politics is just not my thing; its as simple as that, she said.

Then, in maybe the most polite way of telling everyone to knock it off with this question already, Obama addressed the girls in the audience:

Find your passion. Dont let somebody tell you what they think you should do, they think you should be. Its up to you to determine what your message is and how you want to use your voice.

Obama, who has always been a reluctant participant in politics, never seemed all that likely to follow Hillary Clintons path from First Lady to elected official. And while, in theory, cheering a famous woman in a run for office is the most empowering path imaginable, Obama made it clear in this interview that there are other options—for her and any other women who never, ever want to campaign, but want their voices heard anyway.

Michelle Rodriguezs name instantly conjures the image of a hard-charging brunette, usually dressed in black leather, with a gun strapped somewhere to her body. The star of five Fast and the Furious films doesnt suffer fools—shes sexy, but never in a way that conveys weakness. In the course of her 18-year career, which also includes films like S.W.A.T., Machete, and Avatar, shes cemented her persona as a symbol of a certain kind of female empowerment.

So it was a surprise to Rodriguez—who sees herself pretty much the same way the public does—when Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) came to her with an unlikely role, that of a vulnerable mother of two, who prefers espadrilles over combat boots, and must fend for herself after her husband dies in a robbery gone wrong. As Linda in the heist drama Widows due out November 16, Rodriguez eventually dons black tactical garb, but first she had to demonstrate a black hole of sorrow and longing.

Faced with such an opportunity, Rodriguez actually said no at first. Sure, she was bored with the roles she had been playing. And yes, she was in love with the script from McQueen and Gillian Flynn—which, in her words, examined men and their quest for power, all told via [these very specific] women on a quest for survival. Rodriguez was also depressed after the 2016 presidential election, and was saying no to a bunch of roles people in Hollywood thought would be perfect for her. How could she take on one that left her so unmoored?

It was my ego, basically, Rodriguez said during a recent interview near her home in Venice, California. My idea of strength is a demonstrative exaggeration of male qualities: assertive, independent, always making the right decisions, never letting anybody swindle you. I didnt see the strength in these women. I was like, Why would I want to play a weak bitch? Why would I want to play the reality of poverty in the ghetto? I grew up like that.

Rodriguez was born in Texas to a Dominican mother and Puerto Rican father, but was raised in both of her parents countries of origin before moving to New Jersey as a teenager, where she was immersed in a culture she felt de-valued women—one she vowed to escape. I grew up backwards to most women, Rodriguez said. Pounding my chest, earning my keep, earning my respect. I didnt want to get pregnant before 17, like all my friends. I was avoiding a bullet. Her decision to sign onto Widows, in other words, marked a deep departure for a woman whos spent her entire life channeling her alpha-male side.

In essence, Steve [McQueen] wanted me to go to a scary place, she said. He thought that I could pull this off for him, and I had no idea. Im looking at this woman, and Im seeing my mother. Im seeing all these girls that had kids very young. Im seeing all these women make the wrong decisions. And I feel sorry for them. In my mind, I thought, What could I do by playing this statistic?

Still, Rodriguez agreed to meet with McQueen. He was in Los Angeles. It was the beginning of 2017, and the actress, who was closing in on 40, was becoming more introspective. She was reading a lot, traveling, and trying to find a way out of her career stagnation. Talk about beating a dead horse, she said with a laugh. I can do an action movie with my hands tied behind my back.

Rodriguez was certain there was nothing McQueen could say to her that would convince her to do his movie. Its called Widows, and youre talking about female empowerment? The entire title is about a man, she said. But with Widows, McQueen said, he wanted to put real women on-screen, so he talked to Rodriguez about poverty and what female strength really looks like in neighborhoods where it persists.

I had this big self-reflective moment, Rodriguez said of their conversations. I looked at myself, and I saw this surface layer, papier-mâché creature with no dimension, and I said, I need to do this movie. It will help me see the beauty in my mother, the beauty of all those women that I felt sorry for growing up. Nobody talks about soft power. In these poverty-stricken areas, where this machismo is through the roof, to see the strength in these women, raising these kids by themselves. It always brought me such deep sorrow, which is why I never wanted to go near that.

Rodriguez began working with acting coach Greta Seacat, the first time Rodriguez received acting lessons since her film debut in Karyn Kusamas 2000 Sundance darling, Girlfight. She hadnt been challenged since that first film, Rodriguez said. Seacat worked with the actress on one of her tougher emotional scenes in the film, in which her character has to confront a man who is also mourning the loss of a spouse. In a moment of mutual vulnerability, they kiss.

I can imagine breaking down, crying, Rodriguez says. But to go and make out with a perfect stranger that you dont know, arent attracted to—like, I didnt get it. It was hard, she said.

McQueen never thought Rodriguez needed the coach, but was encouraged by her commitment. What was commendable was she wanted to go there, he told me recently. She did all the heavy lifting.

Widows flipped a switch in Rodriguez, and opened her up. It started with the opportunity to work with Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo, and ended with the idea that she can be more than just a tough girl. It was incredibly uncomfortable, she said. For somebody whos been wearing armor her entire life, its not something that I can easily jump into and start running with. Im gonna have to go slowly.

Rodriguez said she knows she has a reputation for being difficult in Hollywood. She doesnt read well in auditions, she said, and attributes her success to such directors as Kusama, McQueen, James Cameron, and Robert Rodriguez, who all saw something in her.

The only thing thats difficult [about her] is she asks questions, McQueen said. But thats my bread and butter: people asking questions. Thats how we work. Ive never found the most interesting people to be the ones who say yes every five minutes. I like the ones that ask questions.

Rodriguez has always been one to challenge the thinking behind her characters. Back on 2001s The Fast and the Furious, They wanted my character to be with [both] the Paul Walker character and the Vin Diesel character, she said. And I was like, Dude, why are you turning her into a slut? Im not playing a slut in front of millions of people. By the way, thats not the dynamic of the ghetto. You stay with the strongest guy, and you dont get with the Barbie doll-looking dude—because thats temporary, honey. Survival in the streets is different.

On Widows, Rodriguez realized shed never been on a set with that many other women. Her experience traditionally was of the lone girl hanging with a bunch of guys—lots of protein shakes and gas, she said with a laugh. Now she craves a different environment on set, one where women are creating the characters and are in charge.

Im officially bored of mens opinions about women, she said. Talk to me about science, talk to me about physics, talk to me about the economy, but do me a favor and shut the fuck up when it comes to women.

This awakening has prompted her to write more. Rodriguez has been writing stories since she was 15; she just never finished them. And she admits to always re-writing her lines on the Fast and the Furious films. Now, though, shes doing it for real, and just landed her first re-write job on a film project she took on under a pseudonym for fear of exposing herself. If the work is good enough, she will star in it.

Its a big step for Rodriguez, who was so steeped in the tough-girl image of herself she was putting out there, she hadnt let herself be human.

Something more mature, something grown-up, something that has a deeper reason [to exist] than survival, she said. And Im not saying that one takes away from the other, that ones higher than the other. Its just that Im seeking a different type of challenge, creatively—and, really, in every fucking sector of my existence.

It was Saturday night at the Comedy Cellar, and there among nervous dates slurping their mandatory two-drink minimum was Megyn Kelly, onetime Fox News host and more recently defenestrated daytime talk-show host on Today, according to Page Six. It was almost her birthday, and Kelly was either celebrating or punishing herself. Its hard to tell. To be clear, the Comedy Cellar is a New York institution, and many wonderfully hilarious comedians and Louis C.K. move through there on a regular basis. But Megyn Santa is white Kelly? At the Comedy Cellar? For her birthday? The one day a year you get to do what you want to do? Ive reached out to everyone involved to get confirmation, just in case it was some other former Fox News blonde who was there.

Thats not even the wild part. The wild part is that comedian Michelle Wolf performed a set. The former Daily Show correspondent hosted the White House Correspondents Association dinner this past April, when Kelly was still in the daytime scene. Wolf touched on many things in her speech, including but not limited to: politicians like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, personalities like Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity, and #MeToo offenders from Bill OReilly and the greater Fox News network.

Though Kelly was out of the political game, and she, too, has taken swipes at Fox News for its alleged systemic sexual harassment problem in the past, the host told her audience at the time, I hate this event. They had a crass comedian go out there and rip Sarah Huckabee Sanders to shreds, feet away from the woman while she was sitting there, [and] compared her to the woman from The Handmaids Tale, Aunt Lydia. About a year or so before, on The Daily Show, after Kelly interviewed Vladimir Putin, Wolf half-joked that she was slimy and manipulative toward the American public.

Now, the White House Correspondents Association dinner has given up on comedians as hosts, and Kelly is apparently seeking them out. In case you hadnt already heard, the world is all topsy-turvy, cuckoo crazy at the moment.

The two women had a brief moment post-set where they exchanged some words, reportedly. Maybe it was a few sentiments of peace, an exchange that says, Hey, its hard for all of us out here, you know? Or something more like, You suck, and, You also suck. Maybe it was a brief congrats on surviving our current hell-scape! Whos to say!


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