Film Corner: Why I Want Queer Disney Princesses

Every so often someone goes semi-viral with a take that I will try to summarize as: "Disney doesn't care about you. Stop asking them for queer characters and representation. Support indie authors/creators instead."

Look. I'm a queer indie author and creator. I would absolutely love for everyone to support me and read my work. (I think it's really good! But I'm biased!) But I also strongly support asking Disney--I would even go so far as to say I support badgering and bullying Disney--into giving us queer main characters, queer princesses, and real queer representation that isn't just a minor side character being briefly in the vicinity of another character who might share their gender and GASP the "first" gay Disney character since the last "first" one.

Why? Why do I want queer characters included in soulless corporate media that only cares about us if they can get our money?

Well, for one, I do occasionally like to watch a nice flashy animated movie and I would like to see someone like me in those movies someday. We haven't had a queer Disney princess, nor a trans one, nor one that deals with a visible physical disability. (Unless you count Quasimodo as a Disney Princess and I kind of *do*, but his movie unfortunately has some...other issues.) It is possible to BOTH "support indie creators" AND want to see yourself in expensive flashy heavily-marketed soulless corporate media. Consuming the occasional Disney movie doesn't mean that I suddenly don't have time, or won't make the effort, to watch other things.

But secondly, and honestly more importantly to me: I don't ask Disney for queer representation for myself. I do it for all the folks who need queer representation and don't even realize it. I was a queer child who needed to be told that trans people exist, that gay people exist, that queer people exist, and that we're normal and wholesome and just fine as we are. I needed my parents to be shown queer representation in popular mainstream movies, so they could come around to recognizing that "queer" doesn't mean "child predator" or "inveterate sinner" but instead it just means that some people are a little different from them and it's fine.

We know--we have studies to show this--that repeated contact with realistic fictional representation of marginalized identities reduces overall social bigotry against the people being represented. The normal wholesome fictional character replaces the scary bogeyman that people have built up in their minds. You simply cannot continue to insist to yourself and your children that all (for example) queer women are seductive sirens luring good women away from their husbands when a bright cheery Rapunzel is on-screen shyly falling in love with another girl. What's more is that bigots *know* this and it's why they're so insistent that Disney not become inclusive--they want to teach their children to hate queer people and they know that will be impossible if someone popular like Elsa is queer. Kids can't hate Elsa.

In short: support indie creators, yes, please. But please can we stop the rhetoric that only a brainwashed fool would want representation from evil soulless corporate media? We are allowed to consume junk food alongside our organic artisanal fare, and we're allowed to want representation for all the baby queers out there who still don't even have a word for what they are.

Review: Honey, I Joined a Cult (Steam)

Honey, I Joined A Cult is an adorable game that I don't quite know whether or not to recommend. The in-game artwork and sprites are very cute, and the writing is funny and gets a reliable smile from me every time. The premise of the game is that you are a charlatan cult leader with an aesthetic straight out of the 1970s. Your goal is to cultivate a core group of cult "members" (i.e., free laborers) and "followers" (visitors who are milked for money by paying to use fraudulent "therapy" rooms) while you can live out the easy life as a fake spiritual leader. If you happen to establish World Peace or summon a Great Old One in the process of all this, well, whoop-si-doodle.

The dark humor and cartoony graphics combine well if you're into that sort of thing (and I am). But the game suffers from a common problem that plagues many sims: once you have a good routine down, you're just grinding resources until you earn enough to cash in for an ending. My last game clocked a total of 14 hours, but I had most of the "therapy rooms" built at around 5 hours, and the remaining 9 hours was just letting the game run on autopilot in the background until I racked up enough resources to win the game. There are options to grind for upgrades to the therapy rooms, but they aren't very excited and just boil down to either "more decorations" or "more earned money" for each room. So a large portion of the game felt a bit of a slog, and I'm not seized with a desire to replay another cult flavor (the current options are Peace & Love, Aliens, and Darkness) because I can tell not much will be different in terms of core gameplay.

I will say, the game author(s) seem very much aware of this problem, but I don't really like the solutions they're trying out to combat the issue. For example, every so often protesters will show up to picket your cult and you have to figure out which cultists are best to send out to talk them down. The problem is, the entire premise of the game is that you (the cult leader) see all your followers as interchangeable dupes, so it's a bit off-message to suddenly have to pour over which one appeals best to Logic and which one values Emotion in order to vibe best with the picketers. Another attempt to jazz up the game can be seen with random events that happen during missions; the problem with these is that I hate doing missions and the funny random events didn't really make them feel any less of a hated obligation.

If I could make a wishlist for the game, I think it would be:

- Give me a bigger compound to build in. Some of my members want private bedrooms, but there's no room for anything but big barracks-style housing and a huge privacy-free bathroom where everyone does their business out in the open. Maybe we could upgrade to a bigger compound over time, as that would give me something to do with this pile of money that I sleep on every night.

- The "decor" category is huge and unwieldy to scroll through. It needs sub-categories for things like statues, tables, novelties, etc. They also start to feel pointless when all they do is increase the "status" of a room. Can you implement some kind of stat-boost for specific items in specific rooms: "important documents" speed up research, while the "teapot" speeds up cooking in the kitchen? Etc. Speaking of, give me fewer things that take up precious floor space and more things that I can hang on walls, please!

- I cannot give a 5-star sermon to save my life. Adjust the requirements for this to be less unforgiving, please? Speaking of unreasonable standards: 100,000 Influence points for a Steam Achievement is insane. Did you mean 10,000? Because I spent 14 hours on my last play-through and got 26,000 Influence by the end. I didn't want to sink another 42 hours into that save file just to snag the achievement, you know?

- The therapy rooms are interesting, but I want more of them! It feels very limiting that we only end up with half a dozen types of rooms. I wanted more rooms and (possibly) to have to choose which sorts of rooms my cult would specialize in. Picking my cult flavor only gave me one new room (the Maypole Dance room, which was admittedly VERY COOL, nice Wicker Man!) whereas I wanted so much more. There's so many flavors of 1970s chicanery to choose from--magnets, spoon bending, psychic card decks, blurry photographs, faith healing, and so forth--and it just feels very disappointing to be limited to maggot baths and yoga mats.

- The writing in the random events is extremely strong and I enjoy them very much. I would perhaps expand that concept to occur outside the missions as well. Police could show up to tour the compound and the player's answers could affect whether your political Heat goes up or down. Family members could visit the cult members and that could affect Influence or Public Relations.

- Speaking of public relations, I want to be able to throw events at the compound, even if it's just a text box on the Mission screen. I kept expecting the PR missions to evolve from more than just radio appearances. Admittedly I didn't do very many of those because they kept increasing my Heat for no good reason and Heat is hard enough to manage as is. I would balance that a little better; going on a radio show or throwing a charity event or hosting a gerbil-adoption day shouldn't increase political heat like that!

- [Trigger Warning: Sexual Coercion] I was not planning to use the "Free Love" room at all and was a little annoyed to find that it was mandatory in order to receive the Peace & Love finale. It might seem silly that I'm cool with playing a game about exploiting free labor from victims of religious abuse, yet I draw the line at sexual coercion but I do. The room is a cool game mechanic (letting cult members share positive traits and stats after "learning" from each bed) but I would *strongly* recommend implementing a statistical possibility wherein the chosen pair refuse to use the room because they're Just Not That Into Each Other; this would make me feel like they have a *choice* in the matter and are actively consenting when they do use the room. I have similar feelings about the incense room, for that matter.

Anyway, I have rambled enough and this is getting long. I enjoyed the game a lot, but I enjoy the IDEA of the game more than the implementation right now, if that makes sense. I hope that future implementations feature a little more variety and a little less slog.

Review: Oxygen Not Included (Steam)

This is the best game I've ever hated. This adorable and highly addictive game is for people who feel that nuclear physics aren't challenging enough. Even on easy/casual mode (and thank god there's an easy mode), this is the most challenging resource management game I've ever played--and not for the wrong reasons, as is so often the case with these sorts of games. The artificial intelligence for your sims is surprisingly well-implemented, the ability to prioritize tasking on the fly is flawless, and you don't have to micromanage your sims just to get them to eat and sleep as needed. The "every three days" respawn point that awards you a new person or "care package" of needed stuff is highly addictive and pings my ADHD brain juuuust right.

That said, holy cow this game is HARD. You need oxygen? You'll install an algae terranium to turn carbon dioxide (which your sims keep selfishly exhaling) into oxygen. But they produce polluted water, which means you need to invent electric wiring, manual hamster-wheel generators, and a water sieve to turn that polluted water back into clean drinkable water. Which you need because your crops (and algae) keep drinking all your water. But those generators are heating the colony air over time (so much running, so much exercise!) which raises the ambient temperature in your gardens, which means your plants won't grow. Time to either starve to death or invent a complex system of hydrogen-based cooling and air ducts to cool the place down. Whoops, you're out of clean water because your crops were thirsty while you were inventing all that!

Seriously, this is the most realistic space-building sim I've ever played. It's adorable and addictive and I am *very bad* at it. I hate it so much, lol, but I highly recommend it for people who are, well, smarter than I am. I'm going back to lurk in the dark ages with my medieval sims who never ask me to invent anything higher than the Iron Age.

Review: Unpacking (Steam)

I reaaaally wanted to like this game. Unpacking stuff in a low-stress environment is exactly the kind of thing my brain likes to do to relax, so this seemed like the perfect game to unwind. Also, I'd heard that the game had a nice story to follow as well, so that sounded like a lovely cup of tea. But. This game is so stressful, and I don't even know where to start unpacking (ha) my problems with it.

One: the rooms you're unpacking stuff into *aren't empty*. You have to try to jam the heroine's stuff in around other people's things. So it's not a beautiful clean slate that you paint with belongings, but more like a messy jumble of someone else's things that you have to work around and hope they don't mind. Some items are even locked in place and can't be moved! I was actually surprised by how much stress this triggered, and I wanted to call a house meeting to discuss the toilet paper situation.

Two: many of the items are tiny, blurred, or otherwise unclear what they are or where they go. I would have preferred the interface have a label and location for what something is when you pick it up. Turns out the game has Strong Opinions on where you can store certain things. Can I put the tiny guitar in my bedroom under the bed? NO. It must go in the living room. Often it's hard to tell where something goes because you can't tell what it is. I had to google how to get past the first level because a cute little purple notebook was actually a *diary* and I had to put that in a secret drawer rather than on the shelf with the other notebooks. I'd foolishly gone and filled the drawer with erasers and rulers and scissors, but those are supposed to go on TOP of the desk, which is how I know that the devs don't have cats.

I quit when I moved back into my childhood room and I was supposed to know that one of the photos wasn't supposed to go on the corkboard with all the other photos but was instead supposed to go in a cabinet where the heroine won't see it (unless she...opens the cabinet??). I was supposed to realize that the tiny photo was of a romantic ex because there was a tiny thumbtack through his tiny face, and I was supposed to guess that instead of "throwing it in the trash" or "storing it in a file folder" that the right answer was to lay it face-up on a cabinet shelf where it will be seen every time the she opens the cabinet. Intuitive!

Three: The story. There isn't one, not really. We're supposed to construct a story ourselves based on wild assumptions regarding the things our heroine owns--it's like walking into a stranger's house and trying to construct a Sherlockian narrative over why they own what they do and then calling that a "story".

Whilst consulting google to figure out what to do with the previously-mentioned photo, I was startled to realize that I was supposed to assume that our room occupant is a world traveler because she collects tiny Eiffel Tower and Leaning Tower of Pisa figurines. WHAT?? I had just assumed that she liked those places! Maybe she collects the figurines because she *can't* afford to travel (if you can't see the real thing, you can at least see the replica) or maybe her dad travels for work and brings back souvenirs for her. I used to have an impressive collection of shot glasses from around the world for that very reason; it doesn't mean I've ever left the country!

We're apparently supposed to chart the "changed interests" of the main character based on which belongings she keeps and which she trims out of her life over time, but having just lost a lot of personal items of my own to a basement flood, I am too aware of how many factors other than "loss of interest" can cause a beloved stuffie or photo to leave one's life. It's strange and frustrating to feel like I'm supposed to access the story through a series of unintuitive logic leaps. Maybe the heroine kept the pink pig stuffie and trimmed the other animals because she loved that one best, or maybe the others were destroyed in a flood, or the thumbtack ex threw out her things, or maybe one of her roommates accidentally stole the stuffies during a move out when they packed them by mistake. Sherlockian analysis is a myth, as Sir Terry Pratchett demonstrated far better than I ever could:

"Samuel Vimes dreamed about Clues. He had a jaundiced view of Clues. He instinctively distrusted them. They got in the way. And he distrusted the kind of person who'd take one look at another man and say in a lordly voice to his companion, "Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fallen on hard times," and then unroll a lot of supercilious commentary about calluses and stance and the state of a man's boots, when exactly the same comments could apply to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he'd been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement. What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience!" --Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay

Review: Unavowed (Steam)

I often find it easier to write negative reviews than praise-y ones, I think because a negative review is something I can make into a list to clinically go through point-by-point whereas my praise skills are, uh, less polished and frequently just amount to me pointing at something good and going "omg omg you need to experience this omg it's so good". But today I want to tell you about Unavowed by Wadjet Eye Games on Steam which I found by watching my favorite YouTube streamer (SuperGreatFriend).

Unavowed is what every modern adventure game should be from here on out, just in terms of game mechanics. (My opinion, of course! Ymmv!) You don't have to cycle through cursor options like Look/Talk/Walk/Handle; you point at something and the cursor changes automatically based on how you would normally interact with the item. It's so easy and convenient and I love it. Pick-up items are few and far between (and almost always stand out well from the environment) and they disappear from your inventory between chapters, so you don't have to do the adventure game dance of rubbing the screwdriver from Chapter 1 on every item in Chapter 9 hoping that the plot will unlock. In fact, most of the puzzles are solved by talking to people with new information you've uncovered since the last time you talked to them. I love it.

Story-wise, the game is very dark. A year ago, your character was possessed by a demon and went on a very disturbing killing spree... as well as doing a few other horrible things that don't quite make sense but which caused harm to innocents in the city. A group of community-minded magical creatures who call themselves the Unavowed have tracked you down, exorcised the evil spirit, and now you've joined them as they try to undo all the harm your demon did. You're able to help them with your wits and your fleeting memories (or really more like unwanted visions) of what the demon did whilst in your body.

If you don't mind the dark themes (and I watch CSI and Law & Order for fun, so I mean) then there's a really deep and emotional game under the hood about identity and redemption and morality and choices. Each chapter culminates in a complicated moral decision about a magical creature run amok in New York, and your companions are thoughtful and gentle in their advice to you. For example: A muse has lost her supernatural powers and absolutely does *not* want them back, but your demon imbued those powers into a guy who seems genuinely nice and likable BUT he's using his new muse powers recklessly and getting people killed. Do you (a) insist that the original muse take her powers back, even though it will make her miserable, (b) extend trust to the old man that he'll try to do better going forward, or (c) make it so that *nobody* holds the power of the muse, which could have rippling repercussions on artists in the future? Each situation is thoughtfully engineered so that there's no obvious "right" answer, and your companions wrestle with the ethics of the situation without "blaming" you if you choose differently--everyone recognizes that this stuff is complicated!

Representation-wise, too, I really love this game. One of the characters is a Brown woman of color whose magic comes from her Jinn father (and her fighting prowess was taught from her pirate mother). The white man in your group is a long-lived mage who misses his family who for their own protection thinks he is dead; he's the definition of Team Dad and I love him. Your ghost-whisperer is a beautiful Black man paired with a ten-year-old spirit guide named KayKay who is a DELIGHT; he wrestles with problems with addiction that is exacerbated by the strain of having to help people through their death trauma day after painful day. A cop joins your group and, yeah, she sees the cops in a positive light after being raised in a "cop family", but the game itself has a LOT of critical things to say about the police and their tactics. There's a lot of beautiful diversity here and I love it so much. You find yourself talking to the characters because you *want* to know them better.

All in all, I am just very thrilled with this gentle and loving game which takes the darkest parts of the crime genre and asks, sincerely and without judgment, how to make the world a better place.

Review: Project Hospital (Steam)

I really wanted to play this game! But the in-game windows showing patient and doctor data can't be resized and are too big to fit on my 15" laptop screen. If I adjust the game aspect ratio so that the whole window can fit on the screen, the text is too small to read and the buttons are too tiny to click. I will note that they mention this on the store page: "Recommended display: 24“ with 1920 x 1080 resolution" and I just didn't see. So it was my fault for buying and trying this on a 15" laptop. I was really looking forward to this game, so I hope that in the future they include the ability to resize text and buttons.

Review: Planetbase (Steam)

I have sunk so many hours into this game and I want to like it so much, but it is so frustrating. The first 20 minutes of each colony are far too fragile and it just...doesn't make sense!? You didn't bring any extra oxygen with you, so if your colonists can't build an oxygen maker (and power- and water-extractors to run it) then they will immediately die in a day. You brought no water with you either, so you'd better also prioritize a cafeteria with water fountains. And you didn't bring nearly enough metal with you, so you'd better build a mine asap. Once all that is up and running, your 1-2 workers will run around in a panic while your medics and engineers stand around and sniff their own farts. They won't help, you see, because they only do specialized jobs that you don't have buildings for yet. ARGH. Why can't I bring more workers or more resources to start? Yes, it's a challenge but it feels totally artificial for a game that doesn't have some kind of disaster backstory (am I fleeing from Darth Vader? who knows!) so it just feels like beating my head against a wall.

If you can get past the first 20 minutes, then it's basically autopilot from there. You can build almost all of the buildings available in the first hour of play and after that you're just keeping an eye on things while they zip along at 4x speed. There's no way to upgrade buildings or build vertically; you just have to sprawl outward. There's almost no luxuries for your little people, so you don't really come to care about them. It feels like this needs more content, somehow? Luxury lodgings and vertical buildings, maybe. Something to make your colony seem successful. As it is, the only difference between a starting colony of 10 and a city of 300 is how much space you're taking up: everyone still sleeps in bunk bed dorms located a single hallway away from their day job location.

Review: Yes Your Grace (Steam)

This is a fun inventory balancing game; it reminds me of the old Castles II game I used to play as a kid, and scratches the kingdom management itch that the Reigns card games just weren't quite scratching for me. The pixel art is charming and lovely, and the game is difficult without being impossible, so you feel a real sense of achievement when you manage to win.

That said, it should be noted that there's an overarching plot that you have very limited control over. Several times your options as King are basically "Yes/Yes, but". Especially early on, you are crowbared into several decisions that I simply would not have made, and it was particularly frustrating when the plot came back around to chide me for those "choices" that I didn't want to make in the first place. And in the last third of the game you're basically locked into whether you want to be nice to the invaders or nasty to them; the game even *says* at several points that you need to be 100% Nice or 100% Nasty in order to get help from 1 of the 2 available nobles you're courting for help. Not a lot of wiggle room for role-playing.

[Spoiler Note / Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence] To elaborate on how little guidance you have on the plot: Early on, you have no choice but to marry your 13 year old daughter off to a young prince who will then go on to beat her and ultimately burn her at the stake as a witch. You have zero option to help or save her; you can't even *try*. This is the story the devs wanted to tell and I respect that, but as a survivor of domestic violence it was really brutal to witness *bruises* on my daughter and have literally zero option as the king to do anything about it. I would REALLY like a DLC option (for which I would pay!) that gives you the chance to launch a rescue mission with one or more of your agents. It just feels railroad-y that this terrible tragedy must happen so we can all be sad over it. Sigh.

Those issues aside, I enjoyed this game. But I don't think it has any replayability value whatsoever after you've made it to the ending in one piece. You're basically on a single plot-rail the entire time, so the only "choices" you really get to make is how to manage your gold and food supplies. While that affects whether the plot goes well or not, it doesn't really unlock new content, if that makes sense.

Review: Kingdom Two Crows (Steam)

I feel like I'm missing something amidst these glowing reviews. Here was my experience with the game: there's no tutorial, no text, no interaction with anyone at all. Fine, I can dig a silent kingdom management game. Characters cut down trees and harvest grains, but you have no investment in their progress because the ONLY resource you have to manage is gold. You pick up gold. You walk around. You find a spot that the gods have preordained to be a house or a mill or a tower or whatever (you don't get to decide!) and you chuck gold at it so your peasants will build it. The building generates gold and you pick it up and carry it around chucking it at new things to build.

How much gold do you have at any given time? You don't know; there's just a picture of an empty/full purse to give you a vague idea of your resources. If you get too much gold, it spills over into the water and is lost, so spend spend spend! No point in saving up for an expensive resource! At night, little purple ninjas try to steal your crown which will "kill" you but there doesn't really seem to be any penalty for that. Your silent workers keep on plugging, gold keeps pouring in, and your fingers get sore pressing the side-scroll button and wishing your horse wasn't a purebred snail.

Several people mentioned they play this game as a brainless timekiller in class? That's the only way I can see getting any enjoyment out of this game.

Review: Project Zomboid (Steam)

I thought this would be a fun zombie-survival-meets-the-SIMS game where you break into houses and loot them for canned corn and expired water bottles. The minute I left the starting house I was swarmed by an entire football stadium of zombies. Go back into the house to recollect my wits and they instantly break the door down because apparently my contractor used balsa wood for our front door. My only weapon is a toilet plunger. This suburban neighborhood was apparently inhabited at a ratio of 50 people per house. not fun. Add to all this that it took several google searches and an hour of tinkering with the settings just to get the resolution to a decent size where we could read the menu options. Very "early access" at this time. But if all this sounds fun to you, then go nuts and enjoy!

Film Corner: The Invitation (2022)

I've always found it harder to review movies I liked than ones I don't like; somehow it's easier for me to lay out nitpicks in an orderly manner than it is to explain in essay form what worked in something that left me Kermit-flailing with joy. I've been ruminating on how to tell you all about movies I've liked lately when I suddenly remembered the wonderful old "Movie Yelling With X and Y" and realized that was precisely the format I've been needing, and immediately roped Kissmate into a Discord where we could yell happily at each other. I'm very happy with the result and I hope you are too!

The Invitation (2022)

Songbird: (singsong) Soooo, now we've seen The Invitation (2022). I sort of knew what to expect because I'd seen the trailer way back in the day (it was quite a hit on Twitter when the trailer was released, if I recall correctly!) and was expecting suspense and probably some sort of vampires. Whereas you went into the movie completely unaware of what it would be about. What did you think?

Kissmate: You told me there was a girl who goes to meet up with new family and vampires are involved. That was all I knew going in. Once we started and all the subtle Dracula hints began, and maids started dropping like flies, I was still a bit surprised by the ending. Not surprised that the handsome asshole was Dracula, just surprised by what he wanted her for.

Songbird: Oh my gosh, the Dracula hints! This was such a fun ride for people who love that book (me!), especially coming down off of the "Dracula Daily" tumblr fun. The house is called "New Carfax" (Carfax Abbey is the estate purchased by Dracula in the book, the sale of which Jonathan Harker facilitates and which is why he later knows where to find the count), one of the brides is named "Lucy" (Lucy Westenra being one of Dracula's most memorable victims), and the Butler is named "Mr. Field" in the movie and credited as "Renfield" in the script/credits (Renfield being Dracula's devoted servant even whilst imprisoned in the asylum run by one of Lucy's suitors). And I'm pretty sure there's a couple named Jonathan and Mina Harker! Just so many delightful Easter Eggs if you're a fan, but you don't have to know the book to enjoy the film.

But, yes!! How applicable is this film to all of us? You're lonely, you're looking for a little human connection, you take one of those Ancestry DNA tests, you find a long-lost cousin, he invites you to Britain to meet the rest of the family (who are all super sweet and super psyched to meet you!), and then it turns out they are planning to marry you off to an ancient vampire (implied to be *the* Dracula) as part of an ancestral tri-bride blood pact codified centuries ago because it turns out that (a) your family is that particular vampire's lawyers, and (b) they don't have a lot of marriageable women at the moment and you showed up in just the nick of time as far as they're concerned. Whomst among us hasn't had that happen?

Kissmate: Oh god, the Alexander Family. You have Oliver, the long-lost cousin, being such a delightful little manipulator. Anyone who knows the red flags are seeing them pop up all over the place from his first scene (he's overly generous to get her to England alone, mentioning the family scandal being something the family is Totally Happy about now, keeps bringing up the hot rich Dracula figure as such a nice guy to know, etc).

And then when she walks into the room to meet her whole Alexander side of the family, the camera is careful to show that only 3 other women are in that room full of men, and they are clearly either serving maids or older women who married into the family (rather than blood relations and eligible debutantes). The elder patriarch even says something about how the Alexanders keep having boys like that's a bad thing. How Evie, a biracial Black woman, didn't fucking run out of the room right then and there is amazing. Like, *I'm* a white man and that room was way too white man for comfort.

I do have, like, ONE nitpick I have about the whole thing, but provided that the bad guys are totally desperate, it might not be fair.

Songbird: Yes! Oliver's manipulation, really the manipulation being practiced by the *whole family*, is just so delightful because it walks that perfect delicate line between "is this overly intimate to the point of being creepy" or "are they just really sweet people who aren't very good at boundaries". I love the conversations between protagonist Evie and her friend Grace because they really tease out those concerns in a realistic way!

Evie and Grace are both Black and they have reasonable concerns about this lily-white British family and whether it's normal for them to be so accepting and overjoyed at finding a Black offshoot of the family. An offshoot created when a ancestral lady of the family had a secret out-of-wedlock biracial baby with a Black footman, no less! They have big meaningful conversations about British colonialism and racism (and I'm convinced that's why some reviewers got pissy about the movie, but that's another thing) and whether Evie should be suspicious of all this positive attention and love-bombing being heaped onto her.

What's your nitpick? I'd love to hear it.

Kissmate: Well, the vampire Alexander Bride died rather than kill and eat the help. And there's no more Alexander women to replace her with. They're fucked, but wait what's this, another Alexander woman found through the magic of the internet and DNA matching! Awesome! But there's a Problem: She's a waitress, and has been for a long time. She's seen helping the serving maids from minute one of her arrival. She even says to them, "if we don't help each other out, who will?" WE. As in she sees herself as one of the hired help. So doesn't that mean THE CYCLE WILL FUCKING CONTINUE? and Evie will starve herself the way the previous Alexander Bride did? Anyone who spends five minutes with Evie can tell she'd rather starve than eat a servant. Did no-one think to consider that?

Songbird: I don't think they *can* consider it, to be honest. Dracula, the brides, and the Alexander family all seem so genuinely puzzled that Evie isn't ecstatic, delighted, *grateful* to be plucked out of artistic obscurity and financial hardship to be given this amazing "gift" of ultra-wealth and eternal life and youth. Down to the very end, I think every single one of these rich people just cannot understand that there are people out there who wouldn't trade a stranger's life for wealth and comfort. Even Lucy, the most sympathetic of them all, says that the previous Alexander Bride (Evie's ancestress Emmaline) was "sick" and "confused". Lucy seems to think that Emmaline got some kind of vampire dementia rather than simply unable to remain a monster-married-to-another-monster any longer than she already had.

I did think it was interesting that Lucy brought up that "women had fewer choices in my time" and Dracula sneers that "modern women" are so ungrateful. There's a lot in the movie about class and gender and social/family pressures. Evie is being pressured by her family to marry Dracula for the good of the Alexander clan, but the pressure doesn't really have any weight behind it (emotionally and psychologically, I mean) because *she doesn't know these people and doesn't care about them*. Like, I can well imagine it may have been hard for Emmaline Alexander to refuse when Dracula came a' courting back in the day because she wouldn't have wanted him to slaughter her people. But Evie? These assholes are strangers to her! So when she gets a chance to run, of course she does! I love that.

Kissmate: You bring up Lucy, and I want to continue that. She's only 100 years old. Women had- Wait. American women had the right to vote by the 1920s era. British women had to wait a couple more decades, right? Don't remember when, but that would explain Lucy's more sheltered views. Was Lucy British? Viktoria was Bangladesh, Emmaline was British. What was Lucy?

Songbird: I think they're all British, regardless of where they call home. Wait. Hang on, what was the list? "At the dinner table, Walter welcomes the three great families: the Billingtons from Whiteby, the Klopstocks from Budapest, and the Alexanders of London." (LINK) ...Oh my god, it's another Dracula reference. London, Budapest, and Whitby are all locations that are meaningful to Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel.

But yes, Lucy is British by birth. As for British vs American suffrage, they were basically around the same time. 1918 for British women and 1920 for American women. (Mind you, this was still just for *white* women. Which Lucy is. But Evie is not.) Though it is interesting that when we talk about, say, women's right to work (for example) we're often talking about *white* women's right to work and ignoring the fact that women of color were already working because they were slaves or servants to the upper classes. So Lucy probably was raised with the expectation that she would marry and her husband would take care of her in exchange for her perfect obedience.

So even if Evie had been raised contemporary to Lucy, they would have been raised with different expectations: as a Black woman in 1920s England, Evie would've had to get work. If she married well then good for her, but she wouldn't have been raised with a "good marriage" in mind as an end goal for her. She would've been taught from day one to work hard and take care of herself. I just think that's interesting, when we're talking about the contrast between "modern women" and women from Lucy's era: it matters very much what social class we're talking about!

Kissmate: That is very true, and Lucy does seem like she was meant for good breeding with nobles, not so much the physical need of busy body and hands. Poor girl.

Complete tangent here, but hear me out: the entire bit with "thorned bars to keep the shrikes out" always had me baffled. Because it wouldn't keep shrikes out! It would do the opposite! Shrikes love to pick up grasshoppers and lizards and impale them on nearby thorn bushes, or metal spikes, and pick off the food from the kabob. So it's a nice little nod to Vlad "Dracula" Tepis the Impaler, but those bars would just attract them, not keep them away.

Also, and I could be wrong, but I swear the bird that flies into the window looks more like a swift than a shrike. Which is the bird her servant is probably named after (Mrs. Swift). So you're being warned about impalement, but then it's a songbird that flies into the window. So many metaphors to put there.

Songbird: The bars on the window are strange. The movie makes a thing of them that never seems to go anywhere. I wasn't sure if it were another Easter Egg (there's no bars on the windows of Dracula's castle in the book, as far as I can recall, but it may be a visual element from one of the many movie adaptations?) or if it had something to do with Emmaline's captivity (do we ever see if the other rooms have bars on their windows) or something else entirely. So the bars were strange to me. If the bird hitting the window is foreshadowing for poor Mrs. Swift then it's one I admit I missed!

Can we talk about how charismatic Walt is, to the point where you're rooting for him and Evie to get together even though you suspect it's not a good idea? Can we talk about Bride Viktoria and how I usually hate womanly "cat fights" in movies, but really she's just embracing being a gaslighting chaos demon as a way to pass the centuries? Delightful.

Kissmate: Regarding the bars, my money is on the captive-keeping option. And yes, we can! That man was 100% Bad Mistake Material. Like, fuck is that actor so pretty! And his smile! Gah, he can turn anyone male-sexual into a mess. It's no wonder he stole Evie's heart. I'm wondering how he keeps Viktoria around, unless he likes her chaotic messes. I can see him getting bored and then she just *does something*, and like that, the evening/eternity is entertaining again.

Songbird: Yeah, I definitely got the impression that Viktoria was the Chaos Bride where he enjoys her tendency to let lose and break things (that he can either join in or have the pleasure of cleaning up), that Lucy was the Gentle Bride where she soothes and pets him when he wants an emotional support teddy bear, and I think he was hoping Evie was going to be the creative, artsy, intellectually-stimulating bride that challenges him and keeps him mentally sharp and active.

Really, I was deeply impressed with the romance! You know, because *vampires*, that Harry-Hook-Playing-Vlad-Tepes is bad news (just like you know that Cousin Oliver probably isn't as friendly as he seems) but they're all very good at emotional manipulation! I love that because I really do expect someone who is hundreds of years old and who relies on lies and manipulation in order to survive to be GOOD at it, and he is!

He's gentle, he's teasing, he's loving, and yet there's those tiny little flashes underneath that I can see as an older, more jaded lover but which I totally would have smoothed over in my younger years like Evie does--like when he says he's not a good guy, just an asshole trying to impress her, and she insists that he's a sweetie and that the tough guy thing is just an act. Sometimes it *is* and act but sometimes it *isn't* and as you get older (and have your heart broken a few times) I think you learn to listen to those little jangling warning bells and remember that sometimes people do tell you exactly who they are.

Kissmate: The three Brides being his Ego, Superego, and Id sound fucking perfect, as well as emotional manipulation being honed after eons of practice. This movie had so much love and thought put into it! Like... art and insight blended very well into a blood wine smoothie.

Songbird: Beautiful. And such a satisfying ending, too, like genuinely really empowering. I loved every minute of it. ❤

February Newsletter (2023)

Good evening, friends! I am conscious and sitting upright now for the first time since Monday, so that's exciting. I've had some kind of stomach flu? It's not covid, we did the brain-swab, but there's a few inches of snow outside so I'll be damned if we're going to try to go to a doctor to figure out exactly what this is. We're true Texas children and we do not drive in snow, ha.

We've been adapting well to Chicago in that regard, actually! It's 4 degrees outside--which is not nearly enough degrees!--but the house is insulated so much better than our Texas house was, so as long as you stay inside you don't even notice the weather. This was always our strategy for navigating the scary Chicago winters that everyone warned us about--to Stay Inside until spring, like the wise groundhogs do--so that's been going well. I do miss the sunshine, but it turns out that Seasonal Affective Disorder doesn't have a lot of mood to work with when you're knocked out from the Martian Death Flu so they're sort of canceling each other out right now.

In cat news, the cats are well and have divided up the house so they can keep an eye on us while we rest up from the flu. Chip and Crisp stay on the bed with us at all times. Coconut and Chedder stay under the bed and listen to our ow my tummy ow my head why do my teeth hurt noises. Cherry and Cookie sleep in the floor baskets by the heating vents and watch us from there. Cheddar has begun sniffing my fingers very cautiously when I extend my hand to him. A big win there!

In house news, this house is definitely haunted by some kind of vengeful maintenance ghost. Between the basement flood, the new sewage pump that requires a big new hole outside on the front yard, the shower that needed to be torn up to install rebar in the floor so we wouldn't crash through to the basement, the garage door that needed replacing, the cement outside that has literally risen with the ice because a critter dug a void under the cement and now we can't open the outside door until the ice melts and the cement settles back down... it's been a lot. We're mostly dealing with it by going into debt and trying not to dwell on our feelings. But let me tell you that we are very grateful for your patreon support because, uh, we've had some financially scary weeks since we moved up here. I worry that I made a mistake by moving us up here, but then remember that Texas is/was trying to make actual lists of trans adults in the state and... yeah. We made the right decision to Get Out, I think.

Anyway! How is everyone doing? I'm pleased that so many of you have joined the Discord, because it means I can keep up with ya'll and still feel connected to people even though we're perma-quarantined these days. ♥