Tracee Ellis Ross: giving voice to a heroine for the pandemic era | Rebecca Nicholson

Daria Morgendorffer’s buddy Jodie grows up, thanks to the Black-ish star

It has been quite the week for 90s nostalgia. An acoustic guitar belonging to Kurt Cobain, used for Nirvana’s eerily ceremonial MTV Unplugged show just five months before he died, sold for an astonishing $6m, becoming the most expensive guitar ever bought at auction. Its price tag certainly befits a band whose most famous T-shirt witheringly referred to them as “corporate rock whores”.

In other 90s news, Daria, the greatest cartoon series of my youth, is being brought back at last. For those unfamiliar with Daria Morgendorffer, the animated series, which ran from 1997 to 2002, centred on a misanthropic teenage girl who had a withering line on everything and everyone. There was a lot of withering in the 90s. You could say it reached, er, withering heights. Daria is so fondly remembered that there have been a few years of speculation as to what a potential revival might look like and now we know.

The newly announced spinoff (of a spinoff – Daria was a Beavis and Butthead regular before she got her own show) will see Black-ish’s Tracee Ellis Ross playing Jodie Landon, who was at high school with Daria. According to industry mag Deadline, Jodie will follow the title character as she graduates from college and enters the workplace and “will shine a light on the personal and professional issues young black women face today”. Its creator and head writer, Grace Edwards, cut her teeth on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Insecure. All of which is to say, I am excited.

This is a boom time for adult animation, not least because, in this era of pandemic, it is as socially distanced a medium as it’s possible to work in. Apparently, during the early stages of lockdown, being an animator was the equivalent of being a lavatory paper manufacturer or sitting on top of a vast pile of dried pasta and tins. You were quids in. But it has been a long time coming. At the end of 2019, Time magazine referred to this as the “new golden age” for adult cartoons and pointed out that its big hitters – BoJack Horseman, Big Mouth and The Midnight Gospel – are emotionally intelligent, inventive and created by a wide range of diverse voices.

They have also had some catching up to do, with white actors stepping down from playing mixed-race characters in both Big Mouth and Apple TV’s Central Park last week, a decision that does make you wonder why they were offered, or took, the roles in the first place. All the more reason to have high hopes for Jodie.

Megan Fox: let her tell her own story

Megan Fox
Megan Fox: ‘a long and arduous journey’. Photograph: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

A Twitter-led retrospective of Megan Fox’s career sparked a discussion about Hollywood misogyny last week. After the usual game of deador criminal that we play when a name trends on Twitter, it turned out that the actress was there because fans had unearthed old interviews she had given on TV and in print, in which she discussed her experiences of sexism in the industry. In one, from 2009, the audience laughed as she recalled auditioning to play an extra in Bad Boys II, in a bikini and 6in heels, when she was 15 years old.

Twitter was both supportive and outraged, which led Fox to issue a statement regarding some of the points raised in the subsequent furore. “While I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support, I do feel I need to clarify some of the details,” she wrote on Instagram. While it is ironic that Fox had to speak out to take back ownership of her own story from well-wishers, in a classy move, she did so while managing to keep the focus where it should be. “These specific instances were inconsequential in a long and arduous journey along which I have endured some genuinely harrowing experiences in a ruthlessly misogynistic industry,” she wrote.

Alan Bennett: when a little context goes a long way

Alan Bennett
Alan Bennett: anything but fluffy. Photograph: Handout/BBC via Getty Images

It would have taken a catastrophe to make Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads unwatchable, such is the quality of the source material, but perhaps theirnational treasure status made them more of a risk to bring back. (Incidentally, I wonder how many people, coming to them for the first time via these new versions, expected fluffiness – I often think people assume Bennett will be soft and warm and I would have loved to have seen how they reacted to the unfurling menace.) So far, it has been a delight, a fantasy football team of TV and theatre heavy hitters, having a blast with the impeccable storytelling.

Watching on iPlayer, when I pressed “play” on A Lady of Letters, a note popped up. “The film is set in the 1980s and reflects the language and social attitudes of its time,” it said. It is not with pride that I say I felt defensive, instinctively. Don’t, I thought, tell me how to watch or understand something. I can work it out for myself.

On reflection, I was wrong. I read about Gone With the Wind being reinstated to the streaming platform HBO Max in the US, with the addition of a new introduction by the film professor Jacqueline Stewart, which provides historical context around the film’s racism. Stewart argues that films of a certain era “invite viewers to reflect on their own values and beliefs when watching them now”. It seemed sensible and considered, notions that can often get lost in the shouting matches. It felt like a way forward, as was leaving the poisonous Miss Ruddock to her many awful views, with the simple addition of a little context.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist

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Rebecca Nicholson

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