Neda Ulaby

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.

Scouring the various and often overlapping worlds of art, music, television, film, new media and literature, Ulaby's radio and online stories reflect political and economic realities, cultural issues, obsessions and transitions, as well as artistic adventurousness— and awesomeness.

Over the last few years, Ulaby has strengthened NPR's television coverage both in terms of programming and industry coverage and profiled breakout artists such as Ellen Page and Skylar Grey and behind-the-scenes tastemakers ranging from super producer Timbaland to James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features. Her stories have included a series on women record producers, an investigation into exhibitions of plastinated human bodies, and a look at the legacy of gay activist Harvey Milk. Her profiles have brought listeners into the worlds of such performers as Tyler Perry, Ryan Seacrest, Mark Ruffalo, and Courtney Love.

Ulaby has earned multiple fellowships at the Getty Arts Journalism Program at USC Annenberg as well as a fellowship at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism to study youth culture. In addition, Ulaby's weekly podcast of NPR's best arts stories. Culturetopia, won a Gracie award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation.

Joining NPR in 2000, Ulaby was recruited through NPR's Next Generation Radio, and landed a temporary position on the cultural desk as an editorial assistant. She started reporting regularly, augmenting her work with arts coverage for D.C.'s Washington City Paper.

Before coming to NPR, Ulaby worked as managing editor of Chicago's Windy City Times and co-hosted a local radio program, What's Coming Out at the Movies. Her film reviews and academic articles have been published across the country and internationally. For a time, she edited fiction for The Chicago Review and served on the editing staff of the leading academic journal Critical Inquiry. Ulaby taught classes in the humanities at the University of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University and at high schools serving at-risk students.

A former doctoral student in English literature, Ulaby worked as an intern for the features desk of the Topeka Capital-Journal after graduating from Bryn Mawr College. She was born in Amman, Jordan, and grew up in the idyllic Midwestern college towns of Lawrence, Kansas and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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History
5:44 am
Sat August 1, 2015

Edison's 'Little Monsters' Restored To Their Original Freakishness

Originally published on Sat August 1, 2015 9:31 am

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

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A word of caution now. You're about to hear the old nursery rhyme "Little Jack Horner" in the creepy voice of one of the world's first talking dolls.

(SOUNDBITE OF TALKING DOLL)

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Movies
3:11 pm
Sun July 26, 2015

Getting The Ants In 'Ant-Man' Right Was No Tiny Challenge

Originally published on Sun July 26, 2015 3:48 pm

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")

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Movie Interviews
3:09 am
Fri July 17, 2015

Little Hero, Big Screen: The Entomology Of 'Ant-Man'

Visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison wanted Ant-Man's titular insects to be both accurate and relatable.
Marvel

Originally published on Sun July 19, 2015 9:56 pm

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.

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Television
1:44 am
Mon July 6, 2015

After Sketchy Science, Shark Week Promises To Turn Over A New Fin

Originally published on Wed July 8, 2015 6:48 pm

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.

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All Tech Considered
3:02 am
Thu June 25, 2015

For Online Video Stars, YouTube Is No Longer The Only Stage

Anna Akana, a bespectacled, 25-year-old comedian who writes, directs and stars in skits about everything from personal stories, to friendship and even dealing with anxiety, says she is sort of over YouTube.
Anna Akana/Screenshot via YouTube

Originally published on Thu June 25, 2015 3:04 pm

When it comes to online video, the world is glued to YouTube. People watch billions of videos on it every day. And that huge share of online eyeballs is why other companies are trying to chip away at its dominance and lure some of its biggest stars away from the service.

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Television
5:35 am
Sat June 20, 2015

HBO's 'The Brink' Puts The Situation Room In Situation Comedy

The Brink imagines how the White House situation room —€” and the U.S. secretary of state, played by Tim Robbins —€” respond when Pakistan is taken over by a certifiably crazy general.
Merie W. Wallace HBO

Originally published on Sun June 21, 2015 2:04 pm

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.

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Movies
3:07 am
Tue June 16, 2015

'Jurassic World' Speaks A Universal Language

Originally published on Thu June 18, 2015 12:21 pm

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

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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Movies
6:26 am
Sat June 6, 2015

Roy Andersson: From Mordant Ad Director To Philosophical Filmmaker

Andersson's new film, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, consists of a series of absurdist episodes. It opens with a man (Per Bergqvist) wandering a museum, looking at exhibits of stuffed birds.
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Originally published on Mon June 8, 2015 8:30 am

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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Fine Art
5:31 am
Sun May 24, 2015

Online Art Sites Aim To Fill Gap Between Etsy And Sotheby's

Why does there seem to be such a vast space between Etsy and blue-chip virtual auction houses like Sotheby's? Where's the website where you can spend $200 or $2,000 on quality art online? New companies are trying to fill that gap.
Don Emmert AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue May 26, 2015 1:47 pm

Let's say you're not a millionaire but you're still interested in buying affordable art from the comfort of your living room. Where do you find something that is between craft-oriented websites like Etsy and high-end auction houses like Sotheby's? Now, new companies — like Paddle8, Ocula, Artline, Saatchi Art, Artsy, Amazon Art — are trying to fill the gap.

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Fine Art
3:45 pm
Mon May 18, 2015

Artist Shirin Neshat Captures Iran's Sharp Contrasts In Black And White

Shirin Neshat is an Iranian-born visual artist who has made her home country's turbulent history the subject of high art. The Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., is hosting a retrospective of her work. Above, Neshat's 1999 Rapture Series.
Photograph by Larry Barns Courtesy Gladstone Gallery

Originally published on Mon May 18, 2015 9:22 pm

Shirin Neshat, the most famous contemporary artist to come from Iran, is playing with her rambunctious Labrador puppy in her airy Manhattan apartment. "Ashi, Ashi, come here!" she calls.

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Arts & Life
2:59 pm
Tue May 12, 2015

Picasso Painting Breaks Record For Most Expensive Artwork Sold At Auction

Originally published on Tue May 12, 2015 10:31 pm

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

The Two-Way
3:24 pm
Tue May 5, 2015

Edison's Talking Dolls Can Now Provide The Soundtrack To Your Nightmares

Thomas Edison's talking dolls were reportedly pretty robust, but their miniature phonographs were another story.
Collection of Robin and Joan Rolfs Courtesy of Thomas Edison National Historical Park

Originally published on Sun June 14, 2015 1:34 pm

Back in 1890, Thomas Edison gave us some of the world's first talking dolls. Today, the glassy-eyed cherubs that are still around stand about 2 feet tall; they have wooden limbs and a metal body; and they sound supercreepy. (If you're looking for a soundtrack to your nightmares, listen to the audio story above.) Edison built and sold about 500 of them back in 1890. Now, new technology has made hearing them possible for the first time in decades.

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Code Switch
4:09 am
Fri April 24, 2015

A Look At 'Blackbird,' The First Film On The New 'Black Netflix'

Blackbird is about a gay interracial romance set in the deep South.
courtesy of blackbirdthemovie.com

Originally published on Fri April 24, 2015 10:27 am

A tiny independent movie has been picked by one of Hollywood's biggest moguls to promote his latest venture. Robert L. Johnson created BET and now, the Urban Movie Channel — an online channel that's being called the black Netflix.

The first original film it has acquired is a gay interracial romance set in the Deep South. In Blackbird, the main character Randy is in high school. Everyone thinks he's gay, and they're totally fine with it.

Randy, 18, is fervently religious. Even though his best friend is gay, Randy's in denial about his own sexuality.

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Media
3:35 pm
Mon April 20, 2015

Small South Carolina Newspaper Takes Home Top Pulitzer Prize

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 4:01 am

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

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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Theater
2:21 pm
Thu April 16, 2015

Broadway Passes The Bechdel Test With 'Fun Home'

Sydney Lucas as Small Alison and Michael Cerveris as her father in the new production of Fun Home.
Joan Marcus

Originally published on Sat June 6, 2015 2:06 am

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Remembrances
12:17 pm
Fri February 27, 2015

He Was, And Will Always Be, Our Friend: Remembering Leonard Nimoy

While Leonard Nimoy became famous as Star Trek's Mr. Spock, he was conflicted about the role. He later came to embrace it. He's shown here with actor William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk.
Getty Images

Originally published on Mon March 2, 2015 8:45 am

In 1966, when Leonard Nimoy was offered a minor role on a new space drama, he was thrilled. As he told Archive of American Television: "You have to understand that prior to Star Trek I never had a job that lasted longer than two weeks in any TV show or movie. Never. Two weeks — max. And here I was, looking at a season of work."

The actor beloved for his role as the pointy-eared half-human, half-Vulcan died of lung disease at his home in Los Angeles on Friday. He was 83.

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Movies
3:16 am
Sat February 21, 2015

King Of Condensed Films: Meet Chuck Workman, The Oscars' Montage Master

Chuck Workman at his editing station in Beverly Hills in 2010, the last year he created montages for the Oscars. Workman says montages today have a less highly edited style.
Damian Dovarganes AP

Originally published on Sat February 21, 2015 7:20 am

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Movies
3:23 pm
Fri February 20, 2015

'I'll Take Insanely Hard Oscar Trivia For 400, Alex'

This year's Oscars will be given out at the 87th Academy Awards on Sunday night. At O'Brien's Pub in Santa Monica, Calif., pub trivia regulars — including many former game show champs — had their own competition, answering harder-than-average questions about Academy Awards past and present.
Tim Boyle Getty Images

Originally published on Mon February 23, 2015 6:57 am

Here's a tough Oscar trivia question: Who is the only person to twice achieve the feat of receiving nominations for acting, writing and directing on the same film?

Wait. Was that not hard enough? Try naming the four worst-performing best picture winners from the past 10 years.

Trivia champions live for questions like this. That's why they flock to O'Brien's Pub in Santa Monica, Calif. Regulars such as Brad Rutter (Jeopardy!'s leading all-time money winner) and Daniel Avila (a game show staple since 1984) compete over a $75 bar tab.

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Movie Interviews
2:20 pm
Thu February 12, 2015

'Fifty Shades' Director Explores Passion, Performance And Control

Sam Taylor-Johnson directs Jamie Dorn and Dakota Johnson on the set of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Chuck Zlotnick FOCUS/UNIVERSAL

Originally published on Thu February 12, 2015 4:26 pm

Universal Pictures put a woman in charge when it hired Sam Taylor-Johnson to direct Fifty Shades of Grey. It also got an art world star nominated for such prestigious awards as Britain's Turner Prize. Truth be told, Taylor-Johnson sounds slightly relieved to discuss her photography and videos instead of the movie she's in the thick of promoting.

"It feels so far away from me right now," she says, in her plummy London accent. "And it's so nice to talk about again — gives me a bit of a breather."

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Book News & Features
6:01 am
Sun February 8, 2015

Christian Grey Began His Fictional Career As A Vampire

Originally published on Mon February 9, 2015 12:53 pm

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

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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Movies
8:13 am
Sat January 17, 2015

And The Oscar Goes To ... Wait, Who Hasn't Had One In A While?

Robert Duvall (right) was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Judge, which also starred Robert Downey Jr. The nomination left many critics scratching their heads.
Claire Folger AP

Originally published on Wed February 11, 2015 12:12 pm

"The right actors win Oscars, but for the wrong roles," Katharine Hepburn once said.

The Motion Picture Academy has a history of rewarding stars for less-than-celestial performances, and this week's Oscar nomination announcements left a lot of people scratching their heads — over the snubs for Selma, for example, and the nomination of Robert Duvall for best supporting actor in The Judge.

"I think most people hadn't even heard of The Judge before that nomination," says Alyssa Rosenberg, culture columnist for The Washington Post.

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Remembrances
2:18 pm
Mon January 12, 2015

'La Dolce Vita' Star Dies At 83

Originally published on Mon January 12, 2015 4:20 pm

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

Arts & Life
3:54 am
Sat January 10, 2015

Satire In The Muslim World: A Centuries-Long Tradition

Syrian political cartoonist Ali Farzat sits at his desk at a Kuwaiti newspaper on Dec. 14, 2011. Earlier that year, Farzat was badly beaten in retaliation for cartoons that mocked Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Yasser al-Zayyat AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 5, 2015 1:18 pm

"Can't they take a joke?" That's the question that came up after the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy and now, again, after the massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The suspected killers obviously reflect a tiny minority of extreme religious fanatics, but the question made us wonder: What is the role of satire in the Muslim world?

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All Tech Considered
2:58 pm
Wed January 7, 2015

Managing Conversations Online Is A Puzzle Of Picking Platforms

Social media provides voice to movements and helps drive them. Picking the right platforms for these sensitive conversations, though, is a sign of our growing digital sophistication.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed January 7, 2015 4:17 pm

Sports. TV shows. Daily news. All grist for online arguments. (Not to mention culture, politics, race and feminism.)

Now, everyday people can communicate directly with people in news stories, celebrities and activists on social media. But not every conversation works on every platform. We're getting more sophisticated about choosing where we say things online.

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Remembrances
2:54 pm
Tue January 6, 2015

Bess Myerson Was An Author, TV Personality, Civil Servant

Originally published on Thu January 8, 2015 4:39 pm

Bess Myerson was crowned Miss America in 1945 and was the only Jewish-American woman to ever hold the title. She went on to have a long career in public affairs, though it was sometimes marked by scandal. She died Dec. 14 at the age of 90.

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

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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Around the Nation
2:42 pm
Wed December 24, 2014

'Crabs For Christmas': A Tuneful Baltimore Tradition (Really!)

Every year, David DeBoy and The Hons (Wendy Savelle, center, and Karen Fitze) perform a live — and often sold-out — show in the upstairs cabaret of a Baltimore restaurant.
Courtesy of David DeBoy

Originally published on Wed December 24, 2014 3:09 pm

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Remembrances
2:23 pm
Mon December 22, 2014

Charismatic Singer Joe Cocker Dies At 70

Joe Cocker.
Ernesto Ruscio Getty Images

Originally published on Mon December 22, 2014 3:54 pm

Joe Cocker died Monday at his home in Crawford, Colo., after what his publicist described as a hard-fought battle with small-cell lung cancer. He was 70.

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Code Switch
3:16 pm
Tue December 9, 2014

The Annie Of Tomorrow Has The Same Hard Knocks, But Different Hair

Quvenzhané Wallis, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild, plays little orphan Annie in the new film adaptation of the 1977 musical.
Barry Wetcher Sony Pictures Entertainment

Originally published on Mon December 15, 2014 12:09 pm

When you think about the musical Annie, what associations come to mind? Probably the song "Tomorrow," right? And Annie's bright red, curly hair? Red hair comes with its own cultural mythology. In this case, it underscores Annie's plucky, independent spirit.

As it turns out, hair is almost a character in this trailer for the new version of Annie coming out Dec. 19, says Noliwe Rooks, a professor at Cornell University. In just 2:19 minutes, you'll see three or four jokes about or references to hair.

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All Tech Considered
3:30 pm
Thu December 4, 2014

Sapiosexual Seeks Same: A New Lexicon Enters Online Dating Mainstream

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 10:25 pm

This post was updated at 11:10 a.m. ET for clarity.

How would you — or do you — identify on online dating sites? Gay? Straight? Bisexual? Well you're about to have many more options on OkCupid, one of the most popular sites for people seeking love and connection.

OkCupid has about 4 million users, and within the next few weeks the site will give all of them brand-new options for specifying their gender and sexual orientation — options like androgynous, asexual, genderqueer and questioning.

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Movie Interviews
2:23 pm
Thu November 27, 2014

Beware The 'Babadook,' The Monster Of Your Own Making

In an independent, Australian film, a single mother (Essie Davis) and her troubled young son (Noah Wiseman) are terrorized by a mysterious character from a children's book called Mister Babadook.
Matt Nettheim Causeway Films

Originally published on Wed December 24, 2014 11:10 am

The monsters of repression are what terrorize a single mom and her little boy in The Babadook. The small, independent, Australian, feminist horror movie was one of the buzziest films coming out of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. As of this writing, The Babadook enjoys an impressive 97 percent positive score on Rotten Tomatoes.

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