Asawin Suebsaeng

Asawin Suebsaeng

Reporter

Asawin Suebsaeng is a reporter at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. He has also written for The American Prospect, the Bangkok Post, and Shoecomics.com.

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A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Penn., Asawin came back to DC with hopes of putting his flimsy Creative Writing major, student newspaper tenure, and interest in human rights and political chicanery to some use. He started cutting his teeth at F&M's student-run weekly, The College Reporter, serving as editor in chief. He has interned at The American Prospect, been a reporter for the Bangkok Post, and scribbled for ShoeComics.com. His favorite movie is either Apocalypse Now or Pirahna 3D, depending on the day or mood.

Are the Director and Star of "Obvious Child" Concerned About Anti-Abortion Backlash?

| Thu Jun. 12, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Obvious Child is being widely described as an "abortion comedy"—a catchy, if inadequate, designation. The movie (directed and co-written by Gillian Robespierre, and starring Saturday Night Live alum Jenny Slate) does involve abortion and funny jokes, many of which are about abortion and farting, among other topics. But Obvious Child is much more than the "abortion comedy" designation might lead you to believe.

"We were confident that our take on this story was thoughtful, and heartfelt, and that the comedy was funny and not for shock value," Slate tells Mother Jones.

The film follows New York-based comedian Donna Stern (played by Slate) who, after losing both her day job and her unfaithful boyfriend, engages in what she thinks is just a one-night stand—which leads to an unwanted pregnancy. She decides to have an abortion at Planned Parenthood, and she schedules it for Valentine's Day. The result is a witty, honest, and affecting romantic comedy that addresses a charged issue with unexpected clarity. The Huffington Post called it, "the year's most revolutionary film."

Obvious Child does not push a political agenda, but there is little chance of that stopping anyone who is paid to be upset by this sort of thing from, well, being upset by it. "Has Hollywood hit a new low?" the Daily Caller asked. "Here's a new oxymoron, even for the liberal media: abortion comedy," NewsBusters decried. "Apparently nothing sounds funnier than an unplanned one-night stand and a courageous destruction of God's most beautiful and most innocent creation," Brent Bozell wrote at Townhall.com.

"[Conservatives bashing Obvious Child] haven't seen the movie; they're basing it on articles and trailers."

The film premiered in New York last week, and is getting a slow theatrical roll-out elsewhere starting this Friday. As it garners more attention, it'll likely piss off more people. Fortunately, this doesn't seem to be much of a concern for Robespierre or Slate. "Whatever other conversation occurs, we're really excited," Robespierre says. "[Conservatives bashing Obvious Child] haven't seen the movie; they're basing it on articles and trailers."

"You know, we just set out to make this story. We weren't thinking about anything but making this story," Slate says. When I asked them if they were looking forward to the moment when Rush Limbaugh gets ahold of the movie, Slate replied, "We're looking forward to people seeing our movie, and enjoying it."

On the other side of the reproductive-rights debate, people are certainly enjoying, and endorsing, the film. "Honest portrayals about abortion in film and television are extremely rare, and that's part of a much bigger lack of honest depictions of women's lives, health, and sexuality," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. "This film is a major breakthrough—not just because it shows a woman deciding to have an abortion but because it shows her as a full and complete person making the serious decision to end a pregnancy and still having a full and fun life."

Planned Parenthood also consulted on the development and production of Obvious Child, vetting the script and allowing them to shoot in a clinic in New Rochelle, New York. "They were so supportive, a real friend of the film," Robespierre says. "They read a draft of the script, they loved it, and they were so enthusiastic that we were making a movie that sort of takes away the stigma of the choice. The character is not hard on herself, and she's not ashamed, and not judgmental. And it's a positive, safe procedure." Planned Parenthood then offered a few notes on the screenplay (what a nurse at one of their clinics would say to a patient, for instance). A few Planned Parenthood employees can be seen in the film as extras. "They were big fans of Jenny," Robespierre recalls.

"We don't describe our film as an 'abortion comedy'; I don't think that's a thing, you know?"

Robespierre became a big fan of Jenny after she saw her perform stand-up in Brooklyn in 2009, at a bar behind a record store. "We finished the script but hadn't cast the role of Donna yet, and there she was, blowing us away with this confessional style of comedy," Robespierre says. "She was talking about when she was a little girl she would hump furniture in her house." The pair then made a 2009 short film, also called Obvious Child, which then became the feature they're promoting today.

"We don't describe our film as an 'abortion comedy'; I don't think that's a thing, you know?" Slate says. "I understand that it's something that might draw readers. But for us, it's the funny, and heartwarming, and new story of one woman at this time in her life."

"Yeah, we don't like boring shit," Slate continues, summing things up.

"Yeah, fuck that!" Robespierre says.

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Right Said Fred Discuss Their Anti-Assad Version of "I'm Too Sexy"

| Tue Jun. 10, 2014 1:05 PM EDT

On Sunday, HBO's Last Week Tonight With John Oliver invited English dance-pop group Right Said Fred onto the set to perform a special, anti-mass-murder version of their 1991 hit song "I'm Too Sexy."

Host John Oliver ended his latest episode with a segment on the brutality of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime. Oliver also pointed out that the the dictator's iTunes downloads includes pop music by artists such as LMFAO and Right Said Fred. "So we're dealing with someone with the political instincts of a young Joseph Stalin, and the music tastes of a 14-year-old girl from Orange County named Tiffany," Oliver said.

In the interest of finding something Assad enjoys and turning it against him—as something of a protest song—Oliver brought out Right Said Fred (formed by brothers Fred and Richard Fairbrass) to play an anti-Assad cover of their hit track. Instead of the lyric, "I'm too sexy for my shirt," Assad gets, "You're too awful for this Earth," and lyrics asking him to "stop downloading our tracks." Richard, the lead vocalist, is also critical of Assad's appearance, and sings that he should be tried as a war criminal.

"We loved [this] idea," guitarist Fred Fairbrass tells Mother Jones. "They approached us about two weeks ago. It's actually very old-school to take a popular song and re-write the lyrics for a current subject matter. Blues artists and folk artists used to do that a lot. I think the result was very effective and a lot of fun."

Last Week Tonight's team of writers penned the new lyrics, which they then sent to the Brothers Fairbrass for approval. Here's the clip from Sunday's show:

As for Fred and Richard Fairbrass' interest in the humanitarian crisis, civil war, and mass slaughter in Syria, the brothers don't consider themselves experts on the topic, but have been following the news for the past three years. "The Assad regime is inhumane and tyrannical—the problem of course is the opposition don't seem much better," Fred says.

I asked Fred to further elaborate on Right Said Fred's politics. Here's his response:

We marched in London against the Iraq War. Last week we were in Copenhagen and joined the anti-Bilderberg protesters. We tend to get most of our news info from the alternative media like James Corbett, Media Monarchy, Democracy Now!, etc. etc. We are pro-privacy and pro-minimal state intervention.

Furthermore, Right Said Fred showed up at a gay rights march in Moscow in 2007 (where Richard was physically assaulted by an anti-gay counter-protester), and their official Twitter account recently issued a brief critique of President Obama and the Bowe Bergdahl deal.

And now, here's the original "I'm Too Sexy":

The CIA Finally Joins Twitter, After Years of Mining it for Intel

| Fri Jun. 6, 2014 5:49 PM EDT

The Central Intelligence Agency—which only recently kicked its nasty habit of torturing detainees for little or no actionable intelligence and overthrowing democratically elected foreign governments—is now officially on Twitter. The agency's account is verified. On Friday, @CIA sent its first tweet, which reads as follows (warningdorky spy humor ahead):

"Just remember: This is a messaging arm of a spy agency, not a silly channel for CIA Internet jokes," PolicyMic's Jared Keller wrote on Friday.

The CIA finally joined the Twitterverse after years of mining it for intel. Analysts at the agency's Open Source Center (who other agents jokingly refer to as "vengeful librarians") sift through millions of tweets, Facebook posts, and other public data to get a sense of the collective attitudes of groups and regions overseas. The "librarians" track up to five million tweets a day. "Yes, they saw the uprising in Egypt coming; they just didn't know exactly when revolution might hit, said the center's director, Doug Naquin," according to an Associated Press exclusive report in November 2011.

Nowadays, the State Department is actively trolling terrorists on Twitter. Let's see if the CIA can top that.

UPDATE, July 7, 2014, 5:14 p.m. ET:

smdh.

There's a Shailene Woodley Holocaust Make-Out Session in "The Fault in Our Stars"

| Fri Jun. 6, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
The scene set in the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

The post contains some spoilers.

The Fault in Our Stars is a smartly crafted, touching film about teenage love and teenage cancer. The movie has been widely described as this year's ultimate tearjerker: "Total emotional carnage—like having your head chopped off by a sword made of tears," GQ staff writer Zach Baron said. "The Fault in Our Stars is an industrial-strength teen romance that will make you question everything you think you know about life, appreciate everything you have but didn't appreciate before, and, unless you have no soul, cry like nobody's watching," ABC News' David Blaustein declared. "The film sets out to make you weep—not just sniffle or choke up a little, but sob until your nose runs and your face turns blotchy," the New York Times' A. O. Scott wrote. "It succeeds."

So, yeah, there appears to be a consensus that the film will make you cry while you're seated in a movie theater, surrounded by fellow sniffling patrons. Along with its various assaults on the tear ducts, The Fault in Our Stars also contains a bafflingly awkward (and arguably inappropriate) scene in which the two main characters make out in the same attic where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis.

Let's back up for a minute. The film, based on John Green's young-adult bestseller, tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters (played by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, both excellent), two lovebirds who found each other at a Jesus-heavy cancer support group. After their relationship starts to get serious, they travel to Amsterdam to meet Hazel's favorite author. The trip includes a visit to the Anne Frank House, the world-famous museum that preserves the building where Anne Frank, the young Jewish wartime diarist, hid with her family during the Holocaust. Shortly after Hazel and Augustus reach the House's attic (which features photos of the Jewish family members murdered by Nazi occupiers), they share their first kiss. A crowd of smiling tourists emphatically applaud the brief make-out session. Happy-sounding music plays.

Again, this scene is set in the attic where the Frank family would often go to get fresh air while trying to not get mass-murdered by Hitler.

Here's Shailene Woodley describing the kiss to the Daily Beast (emphasis mine):

Anne's story and Hazel's story are so synchronistic, in a way—the theme of how you don't have to live a long life to have a powerful and meaningful one—and Anne Frank had her first kiss in that house, and Hazel did, too. And then having the ability to film there and the history of what those walls held was powerful in those scenes. Hazel's thinking, "This might be the last time in my life I'm here, and if I have to die going up these stairs, I'll die going up these stairs." She's also thinking, "If Anne Frank did it, I can do it."

Fair enough. Maybe. But they're still making out in the Anne Frank House, which is at least a couple notches more problematic than making out during a screening of Schindler's List. The scene has already weirded-out some in the press. "The Anne Frank House? Are you kidding me?" GQ associate editor Mark Byrne said. LA Weekly's Stephanie Zacharek called the kiss, "highly dubious."

At the very least, it doesn't seem as though the folks at the real-life Anne Frank House are offended by this. In the special-thanks section of the film's end credits, the Anne Frank House gets the first shout-out for their cooperation. And though the cast and crew were on-location in the summer of 2013 for shots of the museum's exterior and entrance, a spokeswoman for the Anne Frank House told me that the parts of the sequence set inside the building were filmed at a replica elsewhere. "We have not seen the film, so we cannot express any opinion on it," Annemarie Bekker, at the House's communications department, said. "In the book [the kiss in the attic] is a moving and sensitively handled scene." Bekker also said that the Anne Frank House was not involved in the production, but that they did give the cast and writer a guided tour, and allowed them to film outside.

Anyway, it's not like the kiss tanks the rest of the movie. The Fault in Our Stars is a well-acted, genuinely moving experience that also happens to include a strange moment of Holocaust-associated lip-locking.

Now here's the trailer:

This post has been updated.

Fri Aug. 23, 2013 4:48 PM EDT
Fri Aug. 9, 2013 6:18 PM EDT
Wed Aug. 7, 2013 4:02 PM EDT
Fri Jul. 26, 2013 6:05 AM EDT
Sat Jul. 13, 2013 8:44 PM EDT
Thu Jul. 11, 2013 3:53 PM EDT
Wed Jun. 26, 2013 6:00 AM EDT