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Parasite, Hades, and surviving a pandemic

Devindra Hardawar (The /Filmcast)

As the co-host of two popular podcasts — the movie discussion show the /Filmcast and the tech-focused Engadget Podcast — Devindra Hardawar has his finger on the pulse of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. But to understand those rapidly changing industries, he follows critics and academics who have smart, original takes on what's next.

On today's episode of Follow Friday, Devindra talks with Eric Johnson about the state of representation in Hollywood, the impact of Parasite's Best Picture win last year, why so many people are obsessed with the mythology-based video game Hades, and the person on Twitter who has helped him stay sane throughout the pandemic.

Follow us:
- Devindra is @Devindra on Twitter
- This show is @followfridaypod on Twitter and Instagram
- Eric is @heyheyesj on Twitter

Who Devindra follows:
- Valerie Complex
- Karen Han
- Myles McNutt
- Zeynep Tufekci

Rate Follow Friday: LoveThePodcast.com/FollowFriday

Theme song written by Eric Johnson, and performed by Yona Marie. Show art by Dodi Hermawan. Additional music by Katherine Chang and Purple Planet Music.
Full transcript of this episode
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ERIC JOHNSON: I'm Eric Johnson. Welcome to Follow Friday, a show about the best people on the internet and why you should follow them. If you're new to the show, welcome! Every week, I talk to the internet creators I admire most about who they follow online. These include podcasters, writers, comedians, musicians, and more. They have amazing taste and will guide us to the people they find fascinating, who we should be following, too.

Today on the show is Devindra Hardawar, a senior editor at Engadget and the cohost of the /Filmcast, which is the movie reviews and discussion podcast from Slashfilm.com. This show is very special to me. It's the first podcast I ever listened to that wasn't originally a radio show.

So, I asked Devindra for one of his favorite moments from the /Filmcast. He said his review of X-Men: Apocalypse from 2016, which he correctly pointed out ... is bad. This clip is going to spoil something that happens pretty early on in the movie. So skip ahead if you don't want to hear that, but honestly, you should just skip the movie. Here's the clip.

DEVINDRA HARDAWAR: "Not only does that whole Magneto storyline feel like something from Zoolander, right? Like, him getting like a dirty, dirty job, a dirty, normal, down to earth job. He wants to be with normal people. But in that scene, it's weird how casually the movie just kills his family, as if they only existed to be killed. That is the crux of the movie guys! That's how you're pulling Magneto back into this. And if what you're doing is a parody of this entire genre, then your movie is a joke!"

ERIC: You can find him on Twitter at @Devindra. And you can follow along with us today. Every person Devindra recommends will be linked in the show notes and in the transcript at FollowFridayPodcast.com. Devindra, welcome to follow Friday!

DEVINDRA: Hey, thanks for having me.

ERIC: So, as I mentioned, I've been listening to the /Filmcast for a long time, I think around 12 years.

DEVINDRA: Wow.

ERIC
: And I do need to ask you about movies before we get into your follows.

DEVINDRA
: Sure.

ERIC
: We are about a month out from the Oscars. If you had to decide right now, what movie should win Best Picture, and why?

DEVINDRA: Uh, probably Sound of Metal. That movie completely floored me. It floored all of us on the show. It was my number two pick for best movie of last year. Number one was Bacurau, which is not going to be a Best Picture nominee or anything. So I think, yeah, tremendous film, Sound of Metal has an amazing performance by Riz Ahmed. Just genuinely great filmmaking, too.

It is such an interesting story about somebody who is losing the thing that they rely on most in life and how they're coming to terms with a new way of being, a new way of being without hearing, even though they want to be a musician. So yeah, I love that film really hit me deeply and I hope it wins a lot of awards.

ERIC: Yeah. I haven't seen that one yet, but this is the one ... Riz Ahmed plays, I think, a drummer in a metal band who loses his hearing and has to ... ?

DEVINDRA: Exactly. It is powerful. It's a genuinely like moving film and Riz Ahmed, I hope he gets tons of awards for this role, too. Like, it's fantastic.

ERIC: All right. Well, we'll see what happens there. Let's find out who Devindra Hardawar follows. Devindra, before the show, I gave you a list of categories and I asked you to tell me for people you follow who fit in those categories.

Your first pick is in the category "someone who makes you think," and you said film critic Valerie Complex. Who's on Twitter at @ValerieComplex. So tell us about Valerie and why she makes you think.

DEVINDRA: Oh yeah, I've been reading Valerie's work forever, and I've tried to get her onto the /Filmcast several times. I just think her perspective in terms of how she deconstructs movies is fantastic and rare. So we talked about Portrait of a Lady on Fire on the /Filmcast. She joined us for that, and that was such a great conversation that kind of ended up being about Greek mythology and deeper themes, and what the movie means to her, too.

She is LGBTQ and she wants to support films that have very different perspectives. And that was a perfect one for that. So, I love her work. I want to see her writing everywhere and, you know, wish her only the best.

ERIC: So you, until recently, lived in New York, right? You were also in the New York film critics circle along with Valerie?

DEVINDRA: Not in the circle, like ... there is an actual Film Critics Circle, which is an organization, I believe.

ERIC: I see.

DEVINDRA: So I was in, I was among the crew. I knew people, I'd met Valerie several times. We hung out a bit and I really miss the fact that yeah, I can't actually see all my friends in New York anymore. It's tremendously sad. 'Cause I moved to the Atlanta area in the middle of last year to escape the pandemic, basically.

ERIC: Right. But is there anything from when you've interacted, back in the before times when you were both in New York ... I mean, is there anything from any interviews she did, panels you saw her on, anything that jumps out in your mind that really impressed you?

DEVINDRA: I'd have to look up specific reviews, but whenever Valerie produces something, I rush out to read it and I think she typically has a good perspective of it, but yeah, check out her review of Portrait of a Lady on Fire with us. And she also joined us for Judas and the Black Messiah. And that was a fantastic conversation, too, because I think that movie is incredible and she has a lot of good perspective in terms of what that means for her. I wish everybody would see this movie, but also, I want everybody to hear her take on all these films.

ERIC: Yeah. So as you mentioned, she is a Black queer woman and on her website, she says that she wants to "change the landscape of film" because people from marginalized communities are constantly being shut out of the culture, the "mainstream" cultural conversation. So, how hopeful are you feeling right now that representation is improving in Hollywood? I mean, we certainly have a lot of ... it seems like among the Best Picture nominees, at least, maybe a hopeful sign in terms of the films that are nominated? But how are you feeling?

DEVINDRA: I mean, it's getting better. The fact that Parasite won last year, that genuinely shocked me. I remember, I was laying on the ground, just resting my back during the Oscars last year, and they announced Parasite and I just shot back up because that's an immediate announcement that changed everything. But at the same time, we know there's a ton of work that's left to do, in terms of representation and everything. Just the way Minari was treated at the Golden Globes as not being a domestic film or an American film.

ERIC: It was in the Best Foreign Language category, even though it's a film set in Arkansas about an American family.

DEVINDRA: Yeah. About immigrants coming to America. Even though they speak another language, it is still a very American story. So I think there's stuff we have to work through. I also think the Golden Globes are run by a sham organization. So that's a whole 'nother discussion. And the Oscars ... most of the voters are older folks who ... You read those anonymous interviews and chats with them. It's just like, people who are clueless in Hollywood, people like Jeff Wells and folks like that, who is a notorious long time New York film critic/commentator?

ERIC: Question mark question mark.

DEVINDRA: Question mark. He's just in the ecosystem. So there's a lot of stuff we have to eject from Hollywood. But I do think it's getting better. You know, it's great seeing creators like Jordan Peele just being out there, doing their thing. I love the fact that even somebody like Jordan Peele can follow up a genuine success like Get Out with a baffling thriller like Us. Like, I loved Us because it's so weird and it is not trying to be a mainstream movie at all. And, you know, I want everybody would take those chances.

ERIC: I will say, it was really fun being in the theater for Us, opening weekend. I was at Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco, completely packed house, no one really knew exactly what to expect.

DEVINDRA: [laughs]

ERIC
: The reactions to that ... I think people who were expecting some of the more tame or sociopolitical horror of Get Out and just being completely scared out of their minds by us. That that was quite an experience.

DEVINDRA
: By the sheer weirdness and just like ... Oh man, it goes so deep.

ERIC
: Anyway, that was Valerie Complex, who's on Twitter @ValerieComplex. Let's move on to your next follow. I asked you for someone you're jealous of. You said Karen Han, who's on Twitter @karenyhan. She writes about film, TV, and culture for Slate. And she's the co-host of the podcast Let's Make a Music, of which I am an avowed fan.

DEVINDRA
: [laughs]

ERIC: So what does Karen do that makes you jealous?

DEVINDRA: Uh, everything, everything. Karen is a powerhouse. Like, I mean, anybody who's read her stuff knows this, but also, you know, I remember being in New York and just, you know, working with everybody else in the film critic ... in the film circle. I'm not really a film critic, at times. You know, I'm more of a tech guy who does this film podcast, I'm lucky enough to be within that circle a little bit.

But I remember when Karen first started showing up and started doing things and she would just work her butt off and she worked so hard to get to where she is and yeah. Everything she does is gold. I love all of her writing. You know, she is ultra productive and I hope she finds some time to relax and slow down.

But yeah, also her talent, like she is just... She can just pump out great takes, great reviews, really interesting content all the time. And I'm at a point where I'm starting to get a little tired. I have a two-year-old, I can't do the stuff I used to do before, but it's great to watch the younger generation like Karen, and like a lot of folks, you know, who are producing such great stuff and finding success right now.

ERIC: It's interesting. I follow Karen on Twitter, of course, and if there's two things I associate her with it's Bong Joon-Ho and Paddington 2.

DEVINDRA: Exactly.

ERIC: She is a serious critic, but she's also a very entertaining fan of certain things and is very enthusiastic about know why these things are so good and really convincing you that no, these are masterpieces that people are making. There's a video that she went viral for at the Oscars last year ... it was her reaction to Parasite winning best picture. And I saw that you tweeted at her at the time, "So happy for you." Do you remember this video?

DEVINDRA: [laughs] I do remember that video. We were all up late following all this and she was probably one of the first people I turned to see like, how's Karen reacting to all this? And it's a genuine meltdown. I loved it.

ERIC: It was like the one good thing that happened in 2020.

JANE FONDA: "And the Oscar goes to ... Parasite."

KAREN HAN: [screams] "Holy s**t! Oh my God! Holy s**t!"

ERIC: So, is there anything from what she's written about, what she's talked about, anything that she has reviewed that has really convinced you to check it out? Like something that she's been a fan of that that has changed your cultural habits?

DEVINDRA: I don't know about changing it, but certainly adding more insight to things. Like, yeah, her Bong Joon-Ho obsession, I am right there with her, you know? It's really funny to be following that guy before he was kind of a known quantity in America. Like I even remember, before The Host, I would have to import a lot of his older movies, things were just so much harder to get.

But then The Host hit, and people started really paying attention to the way he works within genre and stuff. And then it just kind of escalated from there. And Snowpiercer, I think, was a great introduction of him and his weirdness, into the English-language world. I just really enjoy seeing somebody who loves him as much as me. It's really that. And also Karen has a love for a lot of boys. She, she has her Karen Boys collection. So I love that too. It's hilarious seeing who she gawks over.

ERIC: [laughs] The Karen Boys collection!

DEVINDRA: Exactly.

ERIC: Anyway, that was Karen Han, who's on Twitter @karenyhan. We're going to take a quick break now, but we'll be back in a minute with Devindra Hardawar.

[ads]

ERIC: Welcome back to Follow Friday. Devindra Hardawar, I asked you to tell me someone you've followed forever. You said Myles McNutt, who's on Twitter at @memles. He's an assistant professor at Old Dominion University, a TV critic at the AV Club, and the author of Game of Thrones: A Guide to Westeros and Beyond. So talk about how you started following Myles and what his work means to you.

DEVINDRA: Oh, man. I love Myles and his work. I think as we were starting the /Filmcast, we discovered him and his blog Cultural Learnings, and he is just a very smart, obsessive TV viewer. You know, we've had him on early on in the podcast to chat about things and we would have some of the best conversations I can recall about TV shows.

And he is just a genuinely insightful and smart guy, but also you gotta have a certain amount of obsessiveness to really delve into the intricacies of episode by episode reviews and things like that. And I think he is just fantastic at that stuff. I've been following him since he was just a little blog and now he is in academia, he's an assistant professor. He's been writing at the AV Club and elsewhere too, I believe. It is just fascinating to see his rise, too ... I almost feel like, hey, we helped find this guy, and I love seeing him like find his success and keep growing.

ERIC: That's so cool! I think on an early episode of the /Filmcast, you had him on to talk about Battlestar Galactica, does that sound right?

DEVINDRA: Exactly. Like we did... Oh God. That was so long ago. But we did the Battlestar Galactica finale, I did with him and a bunch of other folks. That was a ... I don't even want to go back to listen to that because I don't even know what that sounds like right now, but it was a big time because that was a huge series. I was in love with that show. And even though it kind of wavered towards the end, and the finale was all over the place, it hit me on an emotional level and I think, overall, we were pretty positive on it. Probably now it's easy to be more critical of like where that show goes, but we had a really good conversation. Yeah, it was fantastic.

ERIC: Yeah. And speaking of shows that wavered toward the end, Myles wrote the "experts" reviews on the AV Club for Game of Thrones. "Experts" meaning the reviews aimed at people who had already read the books before watching the show. Were you one of the experts following along with his reviews, or ...?

DEVINDRA: I was never an expert and honestly, when I watch TV shows, I don't really get too deep into the mythology like a lot of folks, which I think has become the way of watching so many mystery TV shows these days. It's like, I love diving into it and reading little bits of it, but I just like seed myself with every little bit and every revelation. But I love seeing people get wrapped up in a mythology like that, and yeah, Myles is among the best. Other folks like Joanna Robinson, like everybody, you know, it has become such a thing on the internet.

And it reminds me of watching the niche sci-fi stuff I used to do in the 90s when there was no like real online community, and geekdom and pop culture wasn't at the level as it is now, I used to visit Ain't It Cool News all the time to figure out what the cool movies were ...

ERIC: Oh wow, I forgot about Ain't It Cool News.

DEVINDRA: Ain't It Cool! And it's still a thing. Drew McWeeny from Ain't It Cool is still out there writing, and he was actually one of the people I was considering among my list, too. But yeah, things were so different in the 90s, and even in the 2000s, when we recorded that Battlestar Galactica thing. Now it's like, it's mainstream. This is not just the nerds watching Battlestar Galactica. Right? It's everybody watching Game of Thrones, everybody watching Walking Dead. Doesn't matter if the show is good or not, you have a mainstream audience into these things. So, it is also fascinating to me, to just see how far we've come.

ERIC: I think the most recent example of this is with WandaVision, where all these people who never would have deigned to touch a comic book previously are going down the rabbit hole of fan theories about who is this character? Who is that character? It was quite a quite a cultural phenomenon.

DEVINDRA: Exactly.

ERIC: Another phenomenon that you and Myles have tweeted about a bunch is the video game Hades, which I have not played yet. So I am ignorant here. Explain this game and why people are obsessed with it. Clearly, I think you two are, right?

DEVINDRA: Oh, yeah, I'm pretty obsessed with it. It's a roguelike, which means it's a game where the whole purpose is that you die a lot, right? The game creates these loops that you have to go through and you fight to a certain point and you die, or you "beat the game," and just go back around and do it again.

Hades is a game by the folks at Supergiant. I've loved all their stuff: Bastion, Transistor, even Pyre. Pyre's probably my least favorite of theirs, but they make these like really rich, intricate game universes. And Hades is one about the son of Hades trying to escape hell and visit his mother on Earth.

And it is a combination of so many things I love, like great art style. Their art is very bold and anime-influenced. And I just really love it compared to a lot of Western games. It has tremendous music and this game just feels good. We talk about gameplay when I review games, and just the feeling of moving around and swinging your sword or whatever weapon you're doing and stacking together all sorts of power ups, it feels really good.

It never feels boring, even though you're kind of running through the same maps over and over again. And there is a ... unlike most roguelikes, there's actually a good story in there too, so I can totally see like why Myles has gotten in there, 'cause there's a lot of mythology to really dig into.

ERIC: That was Myles McNutt, who's on Twitter at @memles. We have time for one more follow today. Devindra, I asked you for someone who inspires you, and you said Zeynep Tufekci, who's on Twitter @Zeynep. So, explain what Zeynep does and why she inspires you.

DEVINDRA: Zeynep is a sociologist and she kind of works at the intersection of society and technology. I've been reading her work for years, like almost 10 years now, I think, or as long as she's been publishing online. Her book Twitter and Tear Gas is a really good exploration of how Twitter influenced societal revolutions all over the world.

But also! Over the last year, she's been kind of a guiding force in terms of pandemic and coronavirus knowledge and information. I don't know what was going on with the CDC and our government, but before the CDC would acknowledge, "Hey, masks could be useful," she was out there saying, "We know masks are useful! Please, for the love of God, wear a mask! And she, and a lot of folks at the Atlantic — I think the Atlantic has done great coverage all around over the last year — but she just cut a knife through the BS of misinformation and lies that we were living through.

And she is working off of research from what she's seen and covered in other societies. And also, she pushed us to really consider aerosol infections as a major thing, which also took the CDC a very long time, but I love her work in general, because she's always very thoughtful and, sort of like me, she is thinking deeply about the intersection of how society works with technology, and how technology is influencing us and changing us.

It's not just like, "Hey, you have a shiny new phone." It's more like, "What does that phone mean? What does it mean when we all have these supercomputers in our pockets that can broadcast video and photos instantly?" She is somebody who's constantly exploring that angle and that realm.

I find that endlessly insightful because ... it may just be me, I studied philosophy in college, too. So I spend a lot of time just thinking deeply about what things mean, even to the point of like, maybe it's just too much. But also, I've found when it comes to reviewing technology and writing about these tech companies, and certainly as they've become so powerful over the last decade, it has been very useful to take a step back and think about what these things really mean.

I can't tell you the amount of times I've talked with folks at Facebook where I just kind of push back a little in terms of what they're doing. Like, I was talking to them about their video conferencing cameras, and I was really saying like, "You guys think this is a good idea right now? Like really like a camera and everybody's home from you guys?" And I was like, "it's almost like these things get designed in a bubble" and they started like coming at me. They responded to me like, "Oh, a bubble, you say?" Like, they've heard it a ton of times before. Yeah, yeah. "Yes. Actually, a bubble. Like, actually it's not a great idea for what you're doing here."

And actually, that product ended up not being so bad, but I do think they need to think harder about what they're doing and, you know, as a company, I am firmly in the belief that Facebook needs to get broken up. It is way too big, too powerful and is not beholden to anybody.

ERIC: Hear, hear.

DEVINDRA: It's more powerful than most countries. It's things like that. And Zeynep has also been on the forefront of talking about Facebook's impact on the world too.

ERIC: And misinformation and privacy and all that sort of stuff.

DEVINDRA: Yeah, exactly. So if this stuff is interesting to you, I would say read her work at the Atlantic. She has a newsletter, I believe too. It's called Insight, worth subscribing to. And yeah, read her books. I think I like reading people and following people who feel like they're making me smarter just by being in their proximity. So yeah, being near her stuff makes me feel good and always teaches me something new about the world.

ERIC: That's exactly what I wrote down about her, which is that I've been following her — similar to you — started following her for her writing and her speaking about tech. But then in the past year, following her and seeing what she was saying about COVID made me feel smarter. It made me feel calmer. I mean, that is such a hugely valuable thing to have, especially on Twitter, which makes you angry and stupid all the time.

DEVINDRA: Yeah. Information helps with anxiety. I'm a pretty anxious person, so I deal with that by getting prepared, trying to figure out what's up. Actually, before all the lockdowns started, I was fully prepared in New York. I had food backed up. Like, we were buying food weeks in advance once we saw what was happening in China. So, preparation is really the only way to deal with the insanity of the world and listening to smart people like Zeynep I think really helps.

ERIC: Yeah. One of her TED Talks is called "We're building a dystopia just to make people click on ads." This is certainly aimed at Facebook and Google and other tech giants like that. So let me go back to where I started when we were talking about Valerie and the future. As a tech journalist yourself, how are you feeling about the future? Are you hopeful about this stuff?

DEVINDRA: Uh, I mean, it depends on what stuff, you know, I do feel like ... The tech companies, we are seeing more things that make me hopeful, especially like seeing what's happening on the FTC right now. Like, Biden, we know he's playing to dominate Lina Khan, who is a longtime tech critic and a critic of the way ... re-viewing how we consider monopolies in the world.

Thinking of a company like Amazon under the strict definition of monopoly as it's been for the past hundreds of years, doesn't fit. But if you think about in the way it wields power and controls influence online, it is certainly a monopoly in certain respects. Between people like her and Tim Wu, that the administration is bringing on, I do think we are fashioning a stronger response to the tech world.

The problem is, I've been covering tech for so long. Like, I grew up loving gadgets and technology. It's a thing I just wanted to do. I grew up watching Tech TV and all those folks and Leo Laporte and everybody. It is wild to me that I get to occasionally be on TWiT and chat with Leo Laporte. Like, that's pretty cool.

But I've definitely ... after college, after high school, I'm more than just a fan. I'm somebody who's trying to like actually report on these companies and how they're impacting the world. My first job out of college — after IT, actually, I worked IT for several years — but my first tech journalism job, full-time, was at VentureBeat, and that was a startup covering startups.

And they're still around and there's some great folks working there, but living in the startup world and covering startups starting in 2010 is when things really got kind of wild. Like, that was actually the perfect time to be doing that because it was as Facebook was growing, it was as smartphones were infiltrating the world, it was before we had all these billion-dollar acquisitions and now tech basically rules the world.

Whereas, I think in 2010 and in the 2000s, people were still recovering from the 1990s, like the tech crash. And so many things fell apart. There was a new resurgence with mobile tech, with the iPhone and everything and with the proliferation of broadband. So yeah, I saw this stuff bubbling up and it felt scary at the time. I felt like the logical outcome for a lot of this, especially Facebook and its chasing of attention and always wanting to keep you engaged and things like that, like I felt like that was not great.

And that was the ideal that so many other companies aspire to. And now you look at where we are and it's like, it had a fundamentally negative impact on our democracy and civil society and things like that. And Facebook was a big reason why the 2016 election was being meddled with and they didn't do anything about it. They knew their platform was powering certain interference and they did nothing.

ERIC: They actively denied that they had any impact. I think the quote from Mark Zuckerberg was it's "crazy" to think that this had any effect.

DEVINDRA: Yeah, it just makes me so angry. Like these companies with incredible amounts of power, just ... maybe it's because I'm coming from like a liberal arts background, too. I'm not a technology guy. I'm not a programmer. I'm not a technically minded person. I'm not an engineer. But I do want to think about how we use our technology. I do think we've lacked that for so long, because the tech world just prioritized engineers and people who thought like programmers, and they'd never thought too hard about the ultimate impact of their tools and what it meant for everybody.

So, yeah, that's another reason I follow Zeynep. I think she's been doing that lens, and that exploration better than anybody else over the last decade.

ERIC: Yeah. She's really connecting the dots in a way that's really important and valuable. That was Zeynep Tufekci, who's on Twitter @Zeynep.

Devindra, thank you so much for sharing your follows with us. Before we go. I want to make sure the listeners know how to find you online. Where do you want them to follow you?

DEVINDRA: Sure. You can find me online on Twitter @Devindra. I podcast about movies and TV at the /Filmcast at Slashfilm.com. I write about tech at Engadget.com and also check me out on the Engadget Podcast because I co-host that with my colleague Cherlynn Low. It's a fun show, it's worth listening to, so check it out.

ERIC: Great! You can find me on Twitter at @HeyHeyESJ, and this show on Twitter or Instagram at @FollowFridayPod. The most important thing you can do to support Follow Friday is to tell a friend about it. So take a minute now, think of one person you know who would like this episode, and send it to them. Thank you.

Follow Friday's theme music was written by me and performed by Yona Marie. Our show art was illustrated by Dodi Hermawan. Additional music by Katherine Chang and Purple Planet Music.

That's all for this week. This is Eric Johnson, reminding you to talk about people behind their backs. And when you do, say something nice. See you next Friday!

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