Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Narwan Aimen

She Who Tells a Story – A Stunning Collection at the National Museum of Women in the Arts


With a surge in horrific terrorist acts to blame for the increasingly xenophobic atmosphere across the world, the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ latest exhibition, She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World, could not have come at a better time.  Opening on April 8th, the exhibition aims to challenge common misconceptions and stereotypes held about Middle Eastern women.  Above all, however, the primary intent of She Who Tells a Story is not to dispel notions about religious extremism, but simply to open up the Western perspective on cultures in the East.

Composed of over 80 works from 12 artists, She Who Tells a Story is thoughtfully arranged into two categories: Deconstructing Orientalism and Constructing Identities, and New Documentary.  In the first category, the artists challenge Orientalism—or the way in which Westerners scrutinize and depict Eastern cultures, which often perpetuate hurtful stereotypes—while also attempting to convey more telling impressions of their true identities.

ListenUpon entering the gallery space, visitors are greeted with portraits from Newsha Tavakolian’s moving series, “Listen.” With these portraits, Tavakolian speaks volumes about Iran’s censorship policies that prohibit female vocalists from performing in front of the opposite gender. Here, she has captured six demurely-clothed Iranian singers against a disparate backdrop of glitzy sequins. Though they are expressively caught mid-song, all six of them have their eyes closed. The companion video, Listen, hangs directly across from the photographs and again shows the affecting women singing, yet the video is utterly silent. As living representations of muted voices, Tavakolian’s vocalists are exceptionally moving and an excellent start to the exhibition.

Moroccan photographer Lalla Essaydi’s Bullet Revisited #3 also stands out in Deconstructing Orientalism.  Made up of three prints, Bullet Revisited shows a sprawling woman—a reference to the odalisque, or Turkish concubine—surrounded by elaborately beaded fabrics and a gleaming backdrop.  From a distance, the work fits right into a fashion editorial, but on closer inspection, viewers realize the dazzling background is comprised of polished bullet-casings.  As the subject herself is hennaed in calligraphy—a male-dominated art, this piece is not just a thought-provoking statement on the norms of beauty, but on gender roles as well.

Another profound series comes from Yemeni artist Boushra Almutawakel’s “Mother, Daughter, Doll,” in which the photographer illustrates the pervasive shift in religious extremism through the progression of veils worn by the subjects. Initially, the trio—doll, included—are clothed modestly but brightly. Yet, each subsequent work of the nine-piece series shows them increasingly covered in restrictive black veils and fading into the black background. By the final piece of the alarming series, the three are no longer visible.

Today's LifeIn New Documentary, the narrative form again helps construct new perceptions of females in the East. In her carefully staged series, “Today’s Life and War,” Iranian photographer Gohar Dashti portrays how military presence has seeped into commonplace aspects of life. In Untitled #4, a couple are casually breakfasting while a war tank looms directly behind them. Untitled #7 shows the same couple picnicking for Nowrooz, or Persian New Year, surrounded by a slew of discarded soldiers’ helmets. Juxtaposing routine, everyday acts with stark reminders of war allows Ghadirian to show that violence is normalized in many parts of the East. Still, these muted images are all infused with pops of color, signifying the strength and sense of hope that resounds in these war-ravaged areas.

WarAlso in New Documentary is Israeli photographer Rula Halawani’s “Negative Incursions,” which further reflects the disorder of living in a tumultuous and often bloody setting. The prints in this disorienting series are blown-up, oversized negatives with blurred details and anonymous faces. In Untitled VI, Halawani draws viewers straight to the action by capturing soldiers recoiling on the ground as a military tank hovers threateningly, while in Untitled I, the tank dominates over the viewer. With her prints, Halawani succeeds in channeling the fear and turmoil of her own experiences while living in troubled East Jerusalem into haunting images that are sure to strike a chord even outside of the Middle East.

GazaOn view until July 31, 2016, She Who Tells a Story is resplendent with moving images that help reconstruct the perceived identities of women in the East.  For a further enriched experience, visitors can attend one of the many events hosted at the museum until July, like Artists in Conversation, featuring Rania Matar on June 10th, and Boushra Almutawakel and Tanya Habjouqa on July 27th.  Short lunchtime talks with museum staff will also take place on specific Wednesdays throughout the exhibition’s duration.  For more details on these events and more, visit the museum’s calendar.

She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World
The National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Avenue NW
Through July 31, 2016

Lalla Essaydi
Bullets Revisited #3
Date: 2012
Medium: Triptych, chromogenic prints on aluminum
Dimensions: 150 x 66 in.
Credit: Courtesy of the artist, Miller Yezerski Gallery, Boston, and Edwynn Houk Gallery, NYC

Newsha Tavakolian
Maral Afsharian, from the series “Listen”
Date: 2010
Medium: Pigment print
Dimensions: 23 5/8 x 31 1/2 in.
Credit: Courtesy of the artist and East Wing Contemporary Gallery

Zohar Dashti
Untitled #1, from the series “Today’s Life and War”
Date: 2008
Medium: Chromogenic print
Dimensions: 27 5/8 x 41 3/8 in.
Credit: Courtesy of the artist, Azita Bina, and Robert Klein Gallery, Boston; © Zohar Dashti

Rula Halawani
Untitled VI, from the series “Negative Incursions”
Date: 2002
Medium: Chromogenic print
Dimensions:  35 1/2 x 48 7/8 in.
Credit:  © Courtesy of the artist and the Ayyam Gallery

Tanya Habjouqa
Untitled, from the series “Women of Gaza”
Date: 2009
Medium: Pigment print
Dimensions: 20 x 30 in.
Credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum purchase with general funds and the Horace W. Goldsmith Fund for Photography, 2013.565; Photo © 2015 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Is an Epic Let-Down


The latest powerhouse in comic-book adaptations, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, promises an explosive showdown between two of the biggest superheroes on the planet.  Picking up where Man of Steel left off—with the city of Metropolis in tatters following Superman’s battle with Zod—Batman v. Superman opens in an uncertain era with many questioning Superman’s intentions and power.  With Batman on a mission to stop Superman before he causes further harm, the two superheroes soon find themselves battling not just each other, but Lex Luthor’s evil creation, Doomsday, as well.  Starring Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, the movie is chock full of explosions, and action, but does it live up to the hype?

It’s safe to say that the one saving grace of Batman v. Superman is its epic action. Featuring a wealth of impressive CGI over the course of two and a half hours, the film is bolstered largely by its highly-choreographed action sequences and explosions. These scenes are aplenty, and keep the film from collapsing into insipid tedium. On the other hand, the non-action scenes of the movie are surprisingly dull. Many of the performances only add to the muted, listless tone of the film. The acting is not bad, just dreary.

BATMAN V SUPERMANWhile there are some standout performances—most notably, Gal Gadot’s impressive Wonder Woman—Ben Affleck’s Caped Crusader is disappointingly one-dimensional. Though Affleck succeeds at being stoic and steely, he lacks the charm of previous Bruce Waynes and leaves viewers yearning for Christian Bale or Michael Keaton incarnations. As evil Lex Luthor, Jesse Eisenberg falls flat in his over-the-top attempt to recall a giggling villain on the brink of insanity, à la Heath Ledger’s flawless Joker character in the Christopher Nolan series.  There are plenty of other famous faces in the movie—including Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Holly Hunter as Senator Finch, and Diane Lane as Superman’s mom—but the real treat of the supporting cast is Jeremy Irons. Though he is in the movie far too briefly, Irons adds some much needed lightness and humor to the film as Alfred, Batman’s long-suffering butler.

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of JusticeIf you’re a fan of the original D.C. comics that inspired the movie, or of big-budget superhero movies in general, then Batman v. Superman will surely knock your socks off. If, however, you don’t have a Batman costume hanging in your closet, aren’t already clued in on storyline, or even know who Lex Luthor is, you might be bored. Those viewers unfamiliar with the storyline will feel stranded by the scarce and flimsy explanations of critical plot points. Unlike other films that offer mass appeal to a large range of viewers, like the recent Deadpool or even 2015’s Antman, Batman v. Superman feels like it is specifically tailored for comic-loving audiences.

Ultimately, the movie offers an interesting concept but feels like it’s drowning in its own seriousness. Taking a cue from other superhero blockbusters and injecting some warmth and humor to the film, as well as adopting a more linear plotline, would have benefitted Batman v. Superman greatly. If you’re not a teenage boy, or a die-hard comic fan, skip this film and re-watch Deadpool instead.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice opens nationwide on Friday, March 25.

Star-Studded Hail, Caesar! Dazzles 


Responsible for such modern classics as Fargo and The Big Lebowski, Joel and Ethan Coen need little introduction. With a handful of Oscars and over a dozen highly-praised works behind them, the Coen brothers are well-versed in crafting thoughtful, multi-layered entertainment. Sure to please Coen fans and film buffs alike is their latest endeavor, Hail, Caesar!, which premieres this weekend.

Opening in a confessional booth, Hail, Caesar! follows movie studio fixer, Eddie Mannix, over the course of a day as he navigates through problems on-set and off.  On this specific day, Mannix finds himself preoccupied with tracking down film star Baird Whitlock, who has been kidnapped by a group called The Future. Mannix must round up the $100,000 ransom demanded from Whitlock’s kidnappers, all the while keeping tabloid journalists at bay, appeasing irksome actors and directors, and struggling to hide his smoking habit from his wife.

JoshMannix is played by the versatile Josh Brolin, who shines here as the well-intentioned studio exec with too much on his plate. Most of the film is dominated by Brolin, who pulls off his character with aplomb.  Playing the rather daft Baird Whitlock is George Clooney, who spends much of the movie in wide-eyed bewilderment.  Despite Clooney’s decent acting chops, it’s grating to see so much screen time devoted to one of Hollywood’s most overexposed actors.

ScarlettIt would have been far more gratifying to see more of the sweetly charming Hobie Doyle, played by Beautiful Creatures actor Alden Ehrenreich, or the hilarious director Laurence Laurentz, played by the affable Ralph Fiennes. Channing Tatum—who can’t seem to abandon his dancing roots, even here—is perfect as Burt Gurney, as is Tilda Swinton, who plays twin columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker. Other notable, but brief, appearances include Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, and Jonah Hill.

In addition to an excellent cast, Hail, Caesar! features stellar cinematography. With much humor and flair, Hail, Caesar! pays homage to Hollywood’s golden era, relying on the movie-within-a-movie format to recall the glitz and glamour of yesteryear. Indeed, the movie touches on film noir, and has many tightly choreographed, colorful scenes that are reminiscent of classic musicals. Though the movie-within-a-movie adds a lot of visual impact and interest, it does feel like the overall plotline gets a bit muddled as a result, which isn’t helped by the multiple storylines happening throughout the film.

ChanningAn amalgamation of quirk and slapstick, Hail, Caesar! also feels like esoteric comedy at times. There are plenty of laughs to be had, yet some audiences might find themselves alienated from the humor. Though the Coen brothers manage to pull it off, some of the plotlines are also admittedly absurd.  Though ambitious, the movie veers away from the mainstream perhaps too much to be embraced by broader audiences. Ultimately, however, Hail, Caesar! offers mild, light-hearted entertainment that is a refreshing reprieve from the perfunctory noise and excess offered by standard big-budget pictures currently in cinemas.

Hail, Caesar! opens nationwide on Friday, February 5, 2016.