The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: Chloe Zhao and the Triumph of Goodness

Chloe Zhao is everything I want to be—and not just because she’s a fanfic writer who’s become an Oscar winner.

She’s unapologetically herself. Her words, her work, and her style speak to a woman who knows who she is and shows that to the world without hesitation.

And who is she?

She’s a believer.

When she accepted her much-deserved Oscar for Best Director for Nomadland on Sunday night (making her only the second woman and first woman of color to earn this award—please let this pave the way for more female filmmakers!), she stood on that stage and gave us a glimpse into her soul. And in her vulnerability—her beautiful sharing of her truth—she gave voice to the very point of view that earned her this award, the thing that made Nomadland so unique in the sea of sadness that makes up most of the typical awards-season contenders.

Chloe Zhao believes in people.

She believes in the truth of the words she’s carried with her since she was a little girl memorizing poems with her father: “People at birth are inherently good.”

There’s something revolutionary about hearing those words in an Oscars acceptance speech, especially for Best Director. In so many cases, Oscar-winning movies are dark and depressing, focused on the worst in humanity and the awful things we can do to one another. And while the world needs those stories—we need to confront our darkness and we need the catharsis that comes with that kind of painful storytelling—the world needs the other kinds of stories too. The ones about healing rather than hurting. The ones that are warm and gentle instead of cold and brutal. The ones about light instead of darkness.

Sometimes we still want to believe there’s goodness left in humanity.

Sometimes we still need to believe that.

(And it’s often because we still need to believe there’s goodness left in ourselves.)

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Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2021 Oscars

Oscars

Source: MentalFloss.com

It’s been a weird year for movies. We had to watch them on couches or in bed instead of in the transportive silence of a movie theater. The screens we saw them on were smaller, the popcorn we ate with them didn’t taste quite the same, and we often watched and processed them alone instead of being surrounded by cheering, gasping, and crying fans and talking about them with friends as we made our way through a darkened parking lot, forever changed by what we experienced inside that movie theater.

It’s been a weird year—but that doesn’t mean it was a lost one.

It was different—but different doesn’t always have to be bad.

Even though I missed movie theaters more than most places during the last year, I still got to watch a lot of great movies. I still managed to watch all of this year’s Best Picture contenders, and I’m still excited for tonight’s Oscars ceremony.

The date may be different. The experience might not be the same. But the joy’s still there.

Today is still a day to celebrate movies. And movies still gave me a whole lot to celebrate in a long, hard, lonely year.

As I went through my Oscar ballot (with plenty of help from the wonderful folks at Collider FYC), I was struck by just how much movies—and a lot of these movies in particular—helped me work through the emotions that came along with this year. Whether it was the way Promising Young Woman helped me process my anger, the way Nomadland gave me language to talk about grief, the way Judas and the Black Messiah gave me the space to cry about injustice, the way Minari gave me a moment of peace and beauty while still acknowledging that life is hard, or the way Sound of Metal made me feel okay about grieving experiences and parts of myself, so many of these movies spoke to the common human experience of grief and how we work through it. And that was exactly what I needed to see this year—stories of heartbreak but also, in so many of these movies, stories of hope, of lights at the ends of long tunnels that we sometimes have to light ourselves.

So even though I picked my favorites below, I want this post to serve as a celebration of all the movies that made us feel exactly what we needed to feel in a year when we all needed catharsis perhaps more than ever.

Today is a good day. And no matter who wins any of these awards, tonight is going to be a good night.

It’s been a weird year—for movies and for everything else.

But there’s still joy to be found. There are still things to celebrate.

And today, I’m choosing joy.

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My Pick: Nomadland
My Thoughts: Some years, the Best Picture race is tight up until the very end. This is not one of those years. With critics’ groups wins, film festival accolades, and plenty of other precursors all lined up, it seems Nomadland is a pretty sure thing to take home the biggest award of the night. And I can’t think of a more deserving frontrunner. This film is beautiful—what could have been a gritty look at a difficult lifestyle is instead a tribute to the beauty of the open road and the possibility and freedom it symbolizes. But it’s also a tribute to the power of community. From the outside, this looks like a film about one woman, but it’s actually about the fact that this one woman is part of a family she has found and made for herself—and how no one could survive a nomadic life without the support, love, and care their community provides for them. It’s a film about contrasts—the splendor of America’s landscape versus the brutality of America’s economic system; the darkness of grief versus the soft light of hope; isolation versus community; families you’re born into versus families you choose. And the way this movie weaves seamlessly between all those contrasts with empathy and a uniquely gentle touch made it unlike anything else I watched this year—in the best possible way.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: A Good Man Takes the Shield on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

(Before we begin I want to direct you to a Twitter thread with a great list of pieces about this show and this episode written by Black writers. As a white woman, I don’t feel qualified to dig into this episode from the point of view of someone with Sam Wilson’s specific experiences, so I hope you check out their thoughtful and personal pieces that say things better than I ever could.)

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“You must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are: not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”

Captain America’s shield stands for a lot of things, and not all of them are good. In “Truth,” we see the characters of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, especially Sam Wilson, grapple with the challenging legacy of that shield and all it symbolizes—the courage and the heroism but also the pain and racism.

It’s hard to feel patriotic toward a country that’s abused, vilified, and worked hard to erase you from the pages of history for centuries.

It’s from that honest, conflicted, and nuanced place that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier really finds its footing as the character-driven story I always hoped it would be.

This is a story of two men from two different worlds—two different eras, two different personality types, two different relationships with the one friend they shared, and two different experiences of America. And when the action slowed down long enough to focus on these two men and how they deal with those differences not in a snarky way but in a sincere one, it gave the show something I’ve felt has been missing.

Heart.

Spurred on by his eye-opening conversation with Isaiah Bradley, Sam explains to Bucky that the legacy of Captain America’s shield is complicated. And he’s right. It’s a legacy of service and heroism—but it’s also a legacy of secrets and racism. And for the first time, Bucky doesn’t push back. Instead, he admits that his privilege—and Steve’s privilege—blinded them to what it would mean to a Black man to be given a symbol of a nation steeped in systemic racism, a nation that often struggles to see the basic humanity in the face of Black man, much less the potential to be a superhero.

Bucky’s sincere apology is accompanied by an important gesture—the offering of the shield again. And Sam accepts both Bucky’s words and the shield, but it’s still not wrapped up in a nice little bow. It’s still not a perfect moment.

There’s still a lot of pain etched into that shield.

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Right in the Feels: “Magic Shop” by BTS

Sometimes a song is more than a song.

Sometimes a song reminds you of who you are and what you can be. Sometimes a song holds your hand and gently brings you out of the darkness and into the light. Sometimes a song gives you the words you’ve been searching your whole life to find to help you make sense of all the things you want and need and hope for.

Sometimes a song saves you.

Sometimes a song helps you save yourself.

I spent a really long part of this last year hating myself.

I didn’t want to admit it then, but I was depressed—in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever really experienced before. I had days when I just laid in bed and thought the absolute worst, meanest things about myself; days when I looked in the mirror and couldn’t find one good thing about the person looking back; days when I would cry for hours and then frantically push the heels of my hands against my eyes until they hurt when I heard the door click and knew someone was coming home and would see me because I didn’t want them to see how bad it was.

It was bad. I felt bad. And I felt so guilty for feeling so bad. Because I had my job, my health, a healthy family that I got to see every day. Compared to so many, I was so lucky.

And that just made me hate myself even more.

I focused a lot of that self-loathing on two things: my extroverted personality and my writing. Those were two things that I used to cherish—they were two things that I’d always believed made me special. But depression takes your view of yourself and distorts it like a funhouse mirror. It takes the stuff that makes you special and convinces you that it actually just makes you weird and hard to love. It makes you focus on the things people said 10 years ago about you being “exhausting” to be around or that gift you gave when someone was sad being “too much” or your writing having “no real point.” It brings out the worst in you—in my case, that’s my perfectionism, my belief that if people don’t say I’m the best at something, then I shouldn’t be doing it at all. Because what’s the point?

To the very few people I shared my struggles with, I described it as feeling like the good things about me had atrophied during the pandemic. I felt so guilty for feeling so bad that once the dark days of winter settled in, I’d stopped feeling much of anything. And for someone whose entire personality is based on feeling things deeply and strongly, that was the worst part of it all.

I was afraid I was never going to be really happy again. That I was never going to be me again.

Then, I saw a Korean boy band perform on the Grammys.

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You Got Me, I Got You: Nine Years of NGN

Today, Nerdy Girl Notes turns nine years old.

Nine years. Almost a decade.

So much has changed in those nine years—the kind of writing I do here, the number of posts I write, and the version of me who’s writing those posts.

But today, I’m not really thinking about what’s changed.

I’m thinking about what hasn’t.

And that’s you—my friends, my fellow fangirls (and fanboys), my NGN Family.

No matter how long I go between posts, no matter what crazy new obsession I try to drag all of you into, no matter how much I overshare, you’re still here.

And this year, more than any other, that knowledge saved me.

I have made no secret of the fact that this year has been one of the hardest—if not the hardest—years of my life. And for a long part of it, I actively stayed away from NGN, despite the extra time I had and the fandoms I could have written about. I stayed away because I was afraid that I would come back to this place and it wouldn’t feel the same. I was afraid that this would become just another online space where I was screaming into the void. I was afraid that this little corner of the internet that had been my most fulfilling source of connection for so many years wouldn’t be that anymore at a time when I needed connection more than I’d ever needed it before.

I was so afraid.

But then I did something that’s really hard for me to do when I’m scared—I stopped running away. I wrote one thing and then another (and another…). I opened my eyes after keeping them shut for so long because I was afraid that I’d see that even this—my safe space for the last nine years—had changed in a year that felt like it had changed everything else.

But when I opened my eyes, there you were.

And I knew—even though things still felt bad and I was still scared and every post was an exercise in trusting that I wasn’t going to chase all of you away with my vulnerability and obvious clinginess—I knew things were going to be OK.

Because I have you.

Because I came home.

Home means different things to different people, but to me, home has always meant safety.

That’s what NGN has become for me over the last nine years. It’s the place where I feel safe enough to be myself, to share hard things, and to trust that I’m not alone in whatever I’m feeling.

And that’s what I hope it is for you too.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: One Last Moment of Beauty on Superstore

“You know, most jobs suck 99 percent of the time, so you really … You really gotta enjoy those moments that don’t. Those bits of fun you have during downtime. Or an interesting conversation with a coworker. Or something happens that you can laugh about later. Or you do something that you’re actually proud of. If you’re lucky, maybe you even get to be friends with a coworker or two along the way. Not sure what else you could want at a job…”

Series finales are tricky things to get right, but for me as a viewer, the most important thing is always that the show honors the journey it’s been on—not just with its characters but also with its fans. The relationship between TV fans and the minds behind the shows they flock to is always a tenuous one, but a series finale represents one last chance to leave a fanbase feeling satisfied, respected, and like their emotional investment was all worth it in the end.

Some TV shows (looking at you, Game of Thrones) run away from that idea in the end—choosing shock and subverted expectations instead of satisfying storytelling. And I’ll admit it—maybe I’m still dealing with a bit of fangirl PTSD from that finale because I was nervous going into the Superstore series finale on Thursday night. I hadn’t loved this last season like I’d hoped I would. I didn’t think they handled America Ferrera’s exit in a satisfying way. And I was afraid that this finale would be similarly ambiguous or bittersweet rather than the kind of warm, hopeful happiness I need in my series finales right now.

I have never been happier to be wrong.

Every bit of that last hour was a love letter to these characters, their relationships with each other, and the fans who’ve loved spending time at Cloud 9 over the years. It was one last chance to watch Sandra be a badass, to see Glenn take care of Mateo (and make me cry in the process), to have Jonah voice the frustrations of so many Americans working at jobs like the ones these characters have, to have Dina make me laugh (her “because I’m a racist” line had me in tears from laughing so hard), and to have Jonah and Amy find their way back to each other with humor, heart, and some help from The Americans.

And in the end, this finale also provided one last chance for us all to think about what it means to be a part of a workplace family. Because yes, sometimes companies say their employees are a family when they want people to have no lives outside of work. But sometimes workplace families form all on their own—through common enemies, small victories (and sometimes big ones), inside jokes, and years of sharing both the memorable and the mundane with the same group of people.

That’s what Garrett’s final monologue was all about. It wasn’t some glorification of work. That’s not what Superstore has ever been about. No, it was an honest admission of the fact that work is usually terrible. But then, every so often, it’s not. Every so often, you get what this show memorably called a moment of beauty.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: BTS, The GRAMMYs, and That Fangirl Feeling

Every fangirl knows that feeling.

You’re watching a TV show and two characters share a look, and you know they’re going to be the next fictional couple to keep you up at night writing fanfic in your head. You’re scrolling through Tumblr, and you see a GIF of an actor, and you know that you’re going to be looking up their entire filmography on IMDb. You’re watching a movie trailer, and you know this is going to be the only movie you want to talk about for the next 6 months.

You’re watching a band perform at the GRAMMYs, and you know that you’re going to be headed down a YouTube rabbit hole of every version of that song and every staging of that choreography.

Before Sunday night, it had been a long time since I’d felt that feeling. It’s that little spark in your fangirl soul that a lifetime of bouncing from one obsession to another tells you is going to grow into a fire that’s bright and warm and all-consuming. And I’d started to genuinely worry that I’d lost the ability to feel that spark—that this year had taken away the part of me that can throw herself into a new fandom with reckless abandon, happy tears, and lots of capslock.

I feel the most like me when I’m deep in that feeling (and usually when I’m dragging other people into it with me—or enabling the ones already there), and without it, I didn’t feel like me anymore.

Who knew all it would take to bring back the best version of me was 7 guys from Korea dancing on top of a building in snazzy suits?

Hi, my name is Katie, and I’m obsessed with BTS.

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Using It: Pain, Purpose, and a Year in a Pandemic

I knew it would be hard.

But I had no idea it would be this hard.

Exactly one year ago today, I sat down at my dining room table to work from home because COVID-19 was spreading into my part of New York State.

I thought it would be for a couple of weeks. Once we flatten the curve, it’ll all go back to normal, I told myself.

Then two weeks went by. Once summer comes, it’ll start to get better, I told myself.

Then summer came and went.

I stopped telling myself anything.

This pandemic has taken so much from so many. And I’m luckier than most—a year later, I still have my job, my health, and my family.

But no one escaped this year without losing something. A graduation. A wedding. A vacation. A concert. A movie’s opening night surrounded by friends and fellow fans. The sound of laughter in a classroom before a teacher says to quiet down. The feeling of hugging your best friend. The sight of a stranger smiling when you compliment their shoes while you wait in a long line for coffee.

The version of you that you used to be. The version of you that you were becoming.

Exactly one year ago, I knew who I was. It had taken me 31 years to get there, but I felt confident and content in a way that I’m not sure I’ve felt since I was a kid. I knew what made me happy—what made me feel the most like me.

Planning trips. Flying to new places by myself. Saturday afternoons in a darkened movie theater. Sitting with my team at work and helping them through problems and giving them advice. People-watching at the mall. Making little kids laugh. Walking into a crowded restaurant or hotel lobby or airport in my high heels, finding the friend I’m supposed to meet, and hugging them like my life depends on it.

I thought I’d just be giving up those things for a few weeks.

Then, I thought I’d just be giving up those things for a season.

Now, one year later, I’m still trying to figure out who I am—what makes me happy and what makes me feel the most like me—without those things.

It’s like the last year slowly, painfully dug these deep holes in my sense of self, and there’s a whole lot of nothing where my plans, dreams, and extroverted energy used to be.

I know I’m not the only one with those holes. I know we all have them to some degree. But I also know so many resilient people who’ve worked to fill those holes with something new—who forged new fandom connections, picked up new hobbies, and learned new things.

I admire these people so much.

I envy these people so much.

I don’t want to feel like I wasted a year of my life.

I don’t want to look back on this year and realize I came out of it a worse person than I was before.

I don’t want these holes in me to turn into scars.

But maybe they already have.

And maybe that has to be okay.

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Understanding My Power: WandaVision as a Journey of Feelings and Forgiveness

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Source: TVLine

When I was 17 years old, I had a breakdown inside the Electric Umbrella restaurant in EPCOT.

Looking back on it, it’s easy to see what caused it. It was my last family vacation as a high school student, before I “grew up.” It was also my last family vacation with my grandfather—my Disney trip buddy for my entire life up to that point. He was getting older and slowing down, and we didn’t know it then, but we’d lose him about 6 months later.

But in the moment, I didn’t know what was happening to me. I couldn’t name it. All I knew is that whatever I was feeling was too much. So I cried into my Disney World french fries—not quiet, gentle tears, but ugly, loud, scary sobs that felt like they were never going to end.

I didn’t even feel like a person. I just felt a vessel for feelings that I couldn’t control.

And all I really remember were the looks on people’s faces. Confusion from my grandfather. Fear from my little sister. Embarrassment from my parents. Concern from the strangers around me.

In that moment, my feelings weren’t just mine anymore. They overwhelmed not just me but everyone in my path. And I couldn’t stop it.

Sometimes I still can’t stop it.

I have big feelings. I feel things deeply and express my feelings openly. And there’s power in that. It makes me a better writer, it helps me forge deeper and more honest connections with people, and it often makes me a bright light to be around—because when those big feelings are enthusiastic and warm and good, they’re infectious; they spread positivity and encourage others to embrace their own vulnerability.

But when those big feelings are dark and difficult and bad, that power isn’t used to help people. It makes me more impatient and melodramatic, it causes me to lash out or cut people off, and it can make me a hard person to be around—projecting my pain onto others just so I don’t have to carry it anymore and making myself the main character in everyone else’s stories because my pain feels more pressing than theirs.

Sound familiar?

Wanda Maximoff’s journey through WandaVision meant so many different things to so many different people. Some people empathized with her path through grief. Some people connected with her story of self-acceptance.

And for me, I learned a lot about myself through Wanda’s struggle with her powers and how deeply they’re tied to her feelings.

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Here’s to Women

Today is International Women’s Day, which means that it’s likely we’ve all seen this quote a million times on our social media feeds:

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.”

It’s an empowering quote—one that I’ve said myself more than once and shared often. But this year, something about it isn’t sitting right with me.

I don’t feel strong right now. I haven’t felt strong for long stretches of the last year. And there’s a part of me—a tired, broken, sad part of me—that sees this quote and feels like the only kind of woman worthy of being admired, celebrated, and seen is a “strong” woman.

What about the women who are struggling? What about the women who cry, the women who lose their patience, the women who have days when they can’t get out of bed because everything feels like it’s too much?

Most of us will be these women at some point in our lives because to be a woman is to be human, and to be human is to fail and falter and feel big, overwhelming, messy feelings sometimes. But all too often, when we feel those big, overwhelming, messy feelings or when we snap at a loved one or when we spend most of our waking hours in tears on a bad day, we don’t give ourselves the grace to not be okay—to not be strong.

Because somewhere along the way, in our quest to inspire and empower, “strong” became synonymous with “good” and “worthy.”

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