WCSU

Neda Ulaby

2016 was the year the Underground Railroad became a focus in popular culture — in Colson Whitehead's National Book Award-winning novel, and a critically acclaimed new television drama about a group of runaways fleeing a Georgia plantation in 1857.

It's a sweltering night in July and Los Angeles' Underground Museum is packed. "It's crowded and hot, but it feels really good," says vistor Jazzi McGilbert. Like much of the crowd, McGilbert is young, creative and African-American. She drove across town to this unassuming, bunkerlike storefront for an event that combines art and activism. The museum is one of her favorite spots in Los Angeles. "I like what it stands for," McGilbert says. "... And the art is incredible."

Lupita Nyong'o lives in a sunny apartment high above the East River in Brooklyn. Black-and-white photos of African wildlife hang on orange accent walls, near a collection of pretty blue pottery. The actress just earned rave reviews for her Broadway debut, in the play Eclipsed. She's also featured in the biggest movie in theaters now, The Jungle Book. It's possible you heard about her last little film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

For many American Jews, Christmas Day means Chinese food and movies. But how do American Muslims spend their time on Christmas?

Jesus is also revered as a prophet in Islam. "Muslims and Christians believe that Jesus is the only messiah," explains Hisham Mahmoud, an Arabic teacher at Harvard University. He points out that Jesus' mother, Mary, is considered by Muslims to be a saint. "In fact, there's an entire chapter in the Quran called 'Mary,' and the story of Jesus' birth is recounted in that chapter," he says.

Six African-American women leap and run across scuffed wooden floors in a drab Broadway dance studio. They're creating complicated patterns, reshaping the air under harsh fluorescent lights. These are the women of Camille A. Brown and Dancers.

Brown, the company's 35-year-old founder, wears bright red athletic shorts and swings Raggedy Ann-colored braids. She spends more than two hours running through the same single minute of the show, over and over, until the dancers nail it.

While driving to his studio in New York's Rockaway Beach neighborhood, artist Christopher Saucedo looks out across Jamaica Bay. He sees a glittering Manhattan and the spire of the new World Trade Center gleaming in a cloudless sky.

"Obviously, where it stands there were once two other very tall towers," the art professor says dryly.

He was called the Sultan of Shock and the Guru of Gore: Wes Craven, who died Sunday, directed dozens of now-classic horror movies, including A Nightmare on Elm Street and all of the Scream films.

Scream, from 1996, is an expert parody of horror movies, filled with inside jokes — like the girl alone in the house who gets a phone call that's coming from closer than she thinks. Writer Kevin Williamson made it funny. Craven made it scary.

Skylar Fein had only lived in New Orleans for a week before Hurricane Katrina nearly tore it apart. He'd moved there to go to medical school, and found himself wandering around a wrecked city. "It's really hard to describe to someone who hadn't seen it what the streets looked like after the storm," he recalls.

Fein is among other New Orleans artists exhibiting work in shows commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2005 storm. One thing he has in common with some of the other artists: They weren't artists before the hurricane hit.

Anniversaries call for exhibitions, and art museums across New Orleans felt compelled to remember Hurricane Katrina as the 10th anniversary of its landfall approaches. But the anniversary shows at some of the city's most high-profile museums seem surprisingly understated, at least to outsiders' eyes. In fact, they barely seem to be about Katrina at all.

It's blazingly hot outside and five summer fellows from the Tulane City Center are standing in a playground at a youth center in New Orleans. The architecture students diplomatically describe the playground's design as "unintentional": There's no grass, trees or even much shade, and it's surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The students, both graduate and undergraduate, are there to make the playground a little nicer.

"Right now, it feels like a prison," says Maggie Hansen, the center's interim director.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Superheroes, by definition, are extraordinary individuals - not exactly the type to blend in with a crowd - but what about Ant-Man?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANT-MAN")

If superheroes are one of the ultimate expressions of individualism, what are we to make of Ant-Man, a Marvel Comics character based on one of the least individual, most collective creatures on the planet?

Ant-Man can shrink to the size of an ant — and, in the movie which opens this weekend, ants are his greatest allies. "The ants are loyal, brave and will be your partners on this job," explains the scientist who invented Ant-Man's supersuit.

It has been called the "Super Bowl of the ocean."

Shark Week is a ratings bonanza for the Discovery Channel with more than 40 million people tuning in last year. Shark Week kicked off this weekend with the most hours of programming ever in its 28-year history But many scientists think the huge audiences — and the hype — have come at the expense of real science.

A generation of shark scientists cut their teeth on Shark Week.

HBO's new comedy The Brink refers to a world on the brink of nuclear warfare — possibly one of the least-funny premises imaginable. But the two brothers who created the show cut their teeth on a particular kind of political scripted satire that had its heyday in the 1960s and '70s. Think Dr. Strangelove, M*A*S*H and Network and other films by Paddy Chayefsky.

Roy Andersson just might be one of the most interesting oddballs in the world of film. His Hollywood fan base includes high-class auteurs like the Wachowski siblings, Darren Aronofsky and Alejandro González Iñárritu — but he's best known in his native Sweden.

Back in 1970, Andersson's first film, A Swedish Love Story, took Europe by storm. He was only 26. "It was a fantastic time for me," he recalls. "However, I was not very happy after that. I was a little depressed. My second movie was a flop in all senses. A very, very big flop."

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