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 adventurousnessβ€” 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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The Salt
2:58 pm
Mon July 21, 2014

For These Vegans, Masculinity Means Protecting The Planet

Mixed martial arts fighter Cornell Ward (from left), chef Daniel Strong, triathlete Dominic Thompson, lifestyle blogger Joshua Katcher and competitive bodybuilder Giacomo Marchese at a vegan barbecue in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Courtesy of James Koroni

Originally published on Tue July 22, 2014 12:32 pm

Real men eat meat. They kill it and then they grill it.

That's the stereotype, or cliche, that's about as old as time.

At a recent barbecue in Brooklyn, N.Y., a half-dozen guys who resist that particular cultural stereotype gathered together. Many of them are muscled semi-professional athletes, including triathlete Dominic Thompson, competitive bodybuilder Giacomo Marchese and mixed martial arts fighter Cornell Ward.

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Author Interviews
1:19 am
Mon July 7, 2014

Rainbow Rowell Does Romance With A Subversive (Read: Realistic) Twist

Rainbow Rowell lives in Nebraska with her husband and two sons.
Augusten Burroughs St. Martin's Press

Originally published on Mon July 7, 2014 11:14 am

Rainbow Rowell writes conventional fiction unconventionally. They're romances, but there's no meeting-cute, or ripping bodices β€” the people in them seem real.

Rowell got a lot of attention last year for her best-selling young adult romance, Eleanor & Park, about a half-white, half-Korean boy who falls in love with an overweight white girl. Her newest novel, and her second for adults, is called Landline.

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Book Your Trip
3:05 pm
Sun June 29, 2014

In 'Snowpiercer,' A Never-Ending Train Ride And A Society Badly Off Track

In Snowpiercer, Curtis (Chris Evans) and Yona (Ah-sung Ko) are trying to fight their way to the front of a train that is cruelly class segregated. "[It's] similar to Occupy Wall Street in terms of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent," says South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. "That's something that happens in other countries and also in Korea."
Radius TWC

Originally published on Sun July 6, 2014 9:50 pm

The world has frozen over in the movie Snowpiercer. Set after a climate change disaster, all the action happens aboard a train that has to keep circling the globe for its passengers to stay alive.

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Television
1:20 am
Fri June 27, 2014

Cory Still β™‘s Topanga As A New Generation 'Meets World'

In Girl Meets World, Topanga (Danielle Fishel) and Cory (Ben Savage) have two kids β€” Riley and Auggie β€” and Cory teaches history at his daughter's middle school.
Ron Tom Disney Channel

Originally published on Sat June 28, 2014 1:08 am

Among that enormous demographic of people born after 1981, you'll find a major generational touchstone: the TV show Boy Meets World.

Nick Gray, 24, says, "Everybody that I know that is our age --"

"-- watched it," interrupts his girlfriend, 21-year-old Elizabeth Spivey, "and loved it!"

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Television
6:00 am
Sun June 22, 2014

Why TV Drama Is So Obsessed With Pandemics

Originally published on Sun June 22, 2014 10:56 am

Transcript

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And now for a warning. Television is in the grip of a terrifying pandemic. Or maybe an obsession with pandemics is a better way to put it. This year has seen a feverish spike in dramas where the antagonist is a deadly virus. These shows include "Helix" on Sy-fy, "The Strain" on FX and "The Last Ship," which starts Sunday on TNT. NPR's Neda Ulaby wondered why the enthusiasm for these programs is so infectious.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: You can probably trace this outbreak to one of the most popular shows of the past few years.

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Monkey See
3:47 pm
Fri June 6, 2014

'I Kinda Stole The Show': Laverne Cox And The Path To Prestige Television

Laverne Cox of Netflix's Orange is the New Black.
Netflix

Originally published on Fri June 6, 2014 5:29 pm

"My femininity was seen as a problem that needed to be solved."

Laverne Cox is talking about her childhood in Mobile, Ala. She remembers being routinely chased and beaten by classmates after school. Cox was born biologically male, and her gender identity was confusing and threatening not just to other children but to the grown-ups in her life as well. Her third-grade teacher warned her mother, "Your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress if we don't get him into therapy right away."

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Author Interviews
1:30 am
Thu June 5, 2014

John Green's 'Stars' Shines Bright On The Silver Screen

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort play the cancer-stricken lovers in The Fault in Our Stars.
Temple Hill Entertainment

Originally published on Thu June 5, 2014 10:40 am

It's a writer's fantasy. You author a book. It hits the young adult jackpot. It sells 10 million copies. Hollywood actors fight for parts in the movie.

Welcome to John Green's reality. Not too long ago, in New York City, he introduced a screening of the film based on his novel, The Fault in Our Stars, to an audience of hundreds of teenagers ecstatically screaming his name. They cried copiously throughout the film, which follows a romance between two teenagers with cancer.

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Movies
2:36 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

With Possible Theme Park, 'Hunger Games' May Live Beyond Final Film

Originally published on Fri May 30, 2014 5:07 pm

The movie studio Lionsgate is exploring the possibility of a theme park based on The Hunger Games films and books. To test the idea's viability, the company announced that it will launch a Hunger Games exhibition at museums around the country next summer.

Television
3:30 am
Sat May 24, 2014

'Normal Heart' Teaches New Generation About The Early Years Of AIDS

In the HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer's 1985 play, The Normal Heart, Mark Ruffalo (right) plays Ned Weeks, who begins to seek answers after he observes a mysterious disease claiming lives in his gay community. Joe Mantello plays a member of the AIDS service organization, Gay Men's Health Crisis.
Jojo Whilden HBO

Originally published on Sat May 24, 2014 12:09 pm

Why would Ryan Murphy, one of TV's hottest and most prolific producers, decide to adapt a 30-year-old play about the forming of an AIDS service organization for HBO? Because he thought the story of the outbreak of AIDS was being forgotten.

Murphy is the creative mind behind the shows Glee and American Horror Story, and he's remaking The Normal Heart β€” Larry Kramer's 1985 off-Broadway sensation which revealed the gay community's often fractious response to an epidemic that was then essentially ignored by the government.

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War On Poverty, 50 Years Later
2:05 pm
Thu May 15, 2014

In Pricey Cities, Being A Bohemian Starving Artist Gets Old Fast

Rolando Villazon and Alexia Voulgaridou star as Rodolfo and Mimi in a June 2001 production of Giacomo Puccini's opera La Boheme. Some real-life artists say the story cuts a little close to home.
Arno Balzarini AP

Originally published on Thu May 15, 2014 6:18 pm

There are very few professions where poverty is romanticized, but if you're a Franciscan friar or an artist, being poor is seen as somehow ennobling. Josh Shaw, who ran a recent Pacific Opera Project production of La Boheme in Los Angeles, says the opera's famous story of starving artists hits a little close to home.

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Pop Culture
1:38 am
Fri May 9, 2014

Hard 'G' Or Soft, The GIF Takes Its Place As A Modern Art Form

Dramatic chipmunk is one of the examples of the The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture installation at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City.
Courtesy of Museum of the Moving Image

Originally published on Mon May 12, 2014 1:26 pm

"!!!!"

That was the body of the note from NPR producer Evie Stone, along with a link to an exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image titled The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture.

Obviously, Evie and I share a certain sensibility. And just as obviously, I had to go to Astoria, Queens, to check out the exhibit β€” and report this piece.

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Television
2:54 pm
Thu May 8, 2014

Lurid Meets Literary In 'Penny Dreadful,' An All-Star Gothic Revue

Showtime's new psychological thriller re-imagines classic Victorian boogeymen like Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and Count Dracula all lurking in London's darkest corners, discussing romantic poetry. Reeve Carney and Eva Green star as Dorian Gray and Vanessa Ives.
Pat Redmond Showtime

Originally published on Thu May 8, 2014 6:19 pm

There's a specific subset of NPR listeners who are also dedicated horror fans. If you fall in that category, the new drama Penny Dreadful -- premiering Sunday on Showtime β€” may hit all your sweet spots. Imagine an all-star Gothic revue that brings together Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, Count Dracula β€” plus a core team of original characters including a Wild West sharpshooter, an astringent lady spiritualist and an intrepid explorer, in the Sir Richard Burton or David Livingstone mode.

But the show's creator was originally inspired by romantic poetry.

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Monkey See
2:21 pm
Wed April 23, 2014

On Television, More Transgender Characters Come Into Focus

Laverne Cox plays Sophia on Netflix's Orange Is The New Black, one of several current shows exploring the lives of transgender characters.
Paul Schiraldi Netflix

Originally published on Wed April 23, 2014 9:06 pm

Over the past year or so, I've looked at how TV's expanding universe represents gays and lesbians and working women. This piece about transgender representation feels like an important part of the same project.

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News
3:25 pm
Mon April 14, 2014

NSA Coverage Garners Pulitzers For Post And Guardian

Originally published on Mon April 14, 2014 4:42 pm

Winners of the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday. The Washington Post and The Guardian were among the notable winners, commended for together breaking the news of NSA surveillance programs.

Code Switch
12:45 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

Coming Out In Basketball: How Brittney Griner Found 'A Place Of Peace'

Brittney Griner puts up a shot against Japan during a 2013 preseason WNBA game in Phoenix.
Christian Petersen Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 9, 2014 3:24 am

Brittney Griner is 23 years old, 6 feet 8 inches tall and one of the best female basketball players in the world. She was the WNBA top draft pick last year, and in college she set records for the most blocked shots in a season and the most career blocks in history β€” for male and female players. She's so good that the owner of a men's team β€” the Dallas Mavericks β€” has said he'd recruit her.

Now, Griner is also an author. She's co-written a new memoir, In My Skin, in which she describes being bullied and taunted as a kid for her height and athleticism.

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Remembrances
2:01 pm
Tue April 1, 2014

Dance Music Legend Frankie Knuckles Dies At 59

Frankie Knuckles in 2007.
Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 8:45 am

Frankie Knuckles, a legend in the world of dance music and one of the inventors of house music, a steady, beat-driven style played in nightclubs all over the world, died unexpectedly at his Chicago home on Monday. He was 59.

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Movies
1:23 am
Fri March 28, 2014

This Year, Biblical Films Are Fruitful And Multiplying

The 2014 film Noah has stirred up the ire of some conservative Christians, who accuse the filmmakers of using a story about environmental catastrophe to push a message about climate change and conservation.
Niko Tavernise Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Originally published on Mon March 31, 2014 10:12 am

There's a flood of biblical proportions this year in Hollywood: Noah, starring Russell Crowe, floats into theaters Thursday. It follows Son of God, another Bible-based movie released by 20th Century Fox. And later in 2014, we'll see Exodus, a 3-D epic based on the story of Moses from director Ridley Scott.

Why so many Bible movies in 2014? "It just has to be that God is moving. There's no other explanation for it," says Son of God producer Mark Burnett.

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Movie Interviews
3:39 am
Fri March 21, 2014

From Action Hero To Teenage Nerd, Shailene Woodley Has Range

Shailene Woodley, pictured at this year's Independent Spirit Awards, stars in the forthcoming Divergent, a big-screen adaptation of the first book in Veronica Roth's dystopian trilogy.
Kevin Winter Getty Images

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 5:45 am

"I'm sorry you have to see my pancake face."

Those are among Shailene Woodley's first words as she opens the door to a suite in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. She's got a publicists' luncheon later in the day β€” otherwise, she explains, under absolutely no condition would she have worn makeup for an interview.

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Pop Culture
1:26 am
Fri March 14, 2014

Forget Nancy Drew: Thanks To Fans, 'Veronica Mars' Is Back On The Case

In the movie, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) is a recent law school grad living in New York when an old flame β€” Logan Echolls β€” calls her back to her home town of Neptune, Calif.
Robert Voets Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

Originally published on Fri March 14, 2014 3:03 pm

When Rob Thomas created Veronica Mars, his show about a sharp-elbowed girl detective, he had an ulterior motive: He wanted to kill off the reigning queen of teenaged sleuths β€” one who's been around for more than 80 years.

"Nancy Drew," Thomas says, his soft-spoken affect barely betrayed by a trace of a snarl. "Like, I feel like she had her run."

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Business
7:50 am
Sat March 1, 2014

A Picket Line At The Oscars: Visual-Effects Artists To Protest

Originally published on Sat March 1, 2014 9:37 am

Hundreds of visual-effects artists are planning to picket the Academy Awards on Sunday for the second year in a row. They're hoping to bring attention to what's been happening in their industry.

The field is losing jobs and relocating to countries with bigger subsidies for employers. It's the result of a technical revolution that's changed the profession since it kicked off in the 70s with Star Wars creator George Lucas' visual-effects company, Industrial Light and Magic.

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Oscars 2014: The 86th Annual Academy Awards
1:18 am
Fri February 28, 2014

Oscar Glow, Today's Tech Help Short Films Find Their Fandom

One of this season's Oscar-nominated shorts is Mr. Hublot, a French-language animated film about a reclusive man who must learn to adapt to a new housemate β€” a robot dog.
Zeilt Productions

Originally published on Fri February 28, 2014 7:53 am

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Movie Interviews
2:02 pm
Tue February 18, 2014

Hard To Watch '12 Years A Slave'? Try Editing It

Lupita Nyong'o and Chiwetel Ejiofor in the Oscar-nominated 12 Years a Slave. Director Steve McQueen and film editor Joe Walker took a restrained, formal approach to portraying the "casual nightmare" of American slavery.
Francois Duhamel Fox Searchlight Pictures

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 3:38 pm

A lot of people believe 12 Years A Slave is the best film yet made about slavery in the United States. That doesn't make it easy to watch.

It also wasn't easy to edit.

"Editing is like a massive, 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle," says director Steve McQueen. He's just arrived from Europe and is relaxing in a suite in a swanky West Hollywood hotel with the film's editor, Joe Walker.

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Movies
1:31 am
Tue February 18, 2014

Getting 'Dallas Buyers Club' Made Took Tenacity And 'Will'

Rayon (Jared Leto) and Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) are fellow AIDS patients smuggling alternative medications into the U.S. in Dallas Buyers Club, directed by Jean-Marc VallΓ©e.
Anne Marie Fox Courtesy of Focus Features

Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 9:03 am

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The Edge
5:22 pm
Thu January 23, 2014

A Baby Didn't Bump These Moms Out Of Competition

Malaysian shooting athlete Nur Suryani Taibi was eight months pregnant in 2012 as she prepared for the Summer Olympics in London.
Rebecca Blackwell AP

Originally published on Fri January 24, 2014 3:32 pm

Let's be clear: Olympians handle the physical challenges of childbirth differently than most of the rest of us.

Aretha Thurmond is a discus thrower who'd already competed in two Olympics when she went to the hospital in labor.

"So I get there and they're like, 'Yeah, whatever, you're 4 centimeters dilated. Go walk around the hospital and come back,' " she says.

Thurmond's hospital was part of a university, so she headed straight for its track, where she power-walked for the next two hours. Then the school's discus throwers came out.

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Television
3:11 pm
Wed January 15, 2014

The Few, The Fervent: Fans Of 'Supernatural' Redefine TV Success

Dean Winchester (left, played by Jensen Ackles) and his brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) battle evil beings on CW's Supernatural. The brothers may be easy on the eyes, but sex appeal alone doesn't explain Supernatural's passionate fan base.
Cate Cameron The CW

Originally published on Wed January 15, 2014 5:44 pm

How do you measure love?

OK, it's a huge question. And maybe not one generally applied to television. But the metrics of success determine whether a television show lives or dies. (If this is the sort of topic that seems frivolous, consider the billions of dollars TV and other copyright industries contribute to the U.S. economy. The stakes start feeling higher.)

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Remembrances
3:44 pm
Thu January 9, 2014

Amiri Baraka's Legacy Both Controversial And Achingly Beautiful

Amiri Baraka, shown here in 1972, was a renowned poet whose politics strongly shaped his work.
Julian C. Wilson AP

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 8:31 am

One of America's most important β€” and controversial β€” literary figures, Amiri Baraka, died on Thursday from complications after surgery following a long illness, according to his oldest son. Baraka was 79.

Baraka co-founded the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. His literary legacy is as complicated as the times he lived through, from his childhood β€” where he recalled not being allowed to enter a segregated library β€” to the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. His poem about that attack, "Somebody Blew Up America," quickly became infamous.

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Digital Life
2:18 pm
Mon December 23, 2013

A YouTube Powerhouse Looks Beyond Its Gamer Base

One of Machinima's signature offerings is a series called Christopher Walkenthrough, in which creator Jason Stephens, in character as actor Christopher Walken, navigates his way through popular video games. You kind of have to see it to understand.
Machinima.com

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 4:53 pm

One of the most popular channels on YouTube is aimed toward people who play video games. It's got tons of content β€” thousands of game reviews, how-to videos of people gaming away enthusiastically, even little homemade movies that people have made using video-game software.

That last format is a user-generated phenomenon called machinima β€” "little m" machinima. "Big M" Machinima is a company, and it wants to be a new media empire. It's the entity behind that YouTube channel.

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Movies
3:55 pm
Thu December 5, 2013

The 'Anchorman' Legend Continues, And It's Everywhere

The massive marketing campaign for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues has gone way beyond trailers and commercials. Some critics say the journalists are embarrassing themselves β€” and some say the character has become tiresomely ubiquitous.
Gemma LaMana Paramount Pictures

Originally published on Fri December 6, 2013 9:57 am

Way back in March, actor Will Ferrell took the stage on Conan O'Brien's talk show in full character as Ron Burgundy, the '70s-vintage, dopily misogynistic hero of the 2004 movie Anchorman. Lapels flaring, jazz flute in hand, he announced that the world would have to wait another nine months for the sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

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Code Switch
12:55 am
Mon November 25, 2013

Hollywood's New Strategy: Supporting Chinese-Made Blockbusters

Hollywood's version of Iron Man 3 shown in China played down the rather unfortunately named baddie, The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley.
Marvel

Originally published on Mon November 25, 2013 11:11 am

If you've seen the 2012 science fiction movie Looper, you might remember a telling exchange when a time-traveling hitman (Bruce Willis) sits down with a young version of himself (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and offers some advice.

"You should go to China," Willis says firmly.

Gordon-Levitt resists: "I'm going to France."

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Business
3:14 am
Fri November 8, 2013

Neflix To Stream Original Series Based On Marvel Characters

Originally published on Fri November 8, 2013 8:17 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It was a wham, boom, pow kind of an announcement from Netflix. They're making four original series based on Marvel Comics.

NPR's Neda Ulaby reports on why Netflix is leaping into the business of capes, masks and superpowers.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Netflix has gotten a reputation for decidedly grown-up original series, "Orange Is The New Black," "House of Cards" and the revival of "Arrested Development."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT")

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