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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When you want a movie to generate international buzz, you take it to Cannes. The annual film festival in an otherwise sleepy French coastal city has in the past honored such movies as Parasite, Pulp Fiction and Apocalypse Now with its top prize, the Palme d'Or, months before they were nominated for best picture Oscars.

But this year, for the first time since it began, the Cannes Film Festival will be postponed from its opening date of May 12, because of concerns over the coronavirus.

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There's this buzzy new reality TV show on Netflix called "The Circle." The hook is that the characters live in total isolation from each other. They only communicate through social media like IMs and group texts.

Bryan Stevenson's bestselling book Just Mercy may not seem like the most obvious candidate for a splashy Hollywood movie adaptation. It's about the founding of a not-for-profit advocacy organization that helps low-income people who were denied fair trials. And the plot follows the grueling legal work necessary to appeal the sentences of convicted murderers on Alabama's death row, not all of whom are wrongly accused.

Looking At Reality TV

Dec 27, 2019

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This week, we have been looking at stories that got lost in the crazed news cycle of 2019. Some of them, of course, were arts stories, and NPR arts correspondent Neda Ulaby is here to tell us about an unexpected and welcome trend on television. Neda, thanks for coming in.

Walters Sports Bar is a gleaming new pub just blocks from the largest stadium in Washington, D.C. The decor is industrial chic — exposed ducts and poured concrete floors — and it's spacious enough to accommodate the enormous throngs of elated fans who crowded in after the Washington Nationals' recent World Series win.

On a recent night, the bar was quieter. Still, customer after customer strode up to a stainless steel wall lined with beer taps to insert a card, touch a screen and pour a glass of self-serve beer.

No waitstaff. No waiting.

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Fifty years ago this week, a perfect family appeared on television.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BRADY BUNCH")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Here's the story of a lovely lady...

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Franco Zeffirelli once said that when the curtain comes up "you have to give the audience a big thing to look at."

The Italian filmmaker and opera director gave audiences plenty to look at — in his lavishly styled operas and his biblical and Shakespearean film adaptations.

Zeffirelli died Saturday in Rome after a long illness. His death was announced on the Foundation of Franco Zeffirelli website. He was 96.

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Screenwriter William Goldman died last night at the age of 87. He's responsible for the scripts for more than 30 movies, including classics like "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" and "The Princess Bride." NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.

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The perfect home for a perfect television family is for sale.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BRADY BUNCH THEME SONG")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Here's the story of a lovely lady...

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When Clarence Fountain was only 8 years old, his family left him at an Alabama boarding school for the blind. He eventually went on to help create The Blind Boys of Alabama.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO CLOSE TO HEAVEN")

When Henrietta Lacks was dying of cancer in 1951, her cells were harvested without her knowledge. They became crucial to scientific research and her story became a best-seller. Since then, Lacks has become one of the most powerful symbols for informed consent in the history of science.

On Monday, when the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., honored Lacks by installing a painting of her just inside one of its main entrances, three of Lacks' grandchildren were there.

When Trenton Doyle Hancock was 10 years old, he made up a superhero: Torpedo Boy. The character has become the center of a complicated cosmos Hancock has developed obsessively for more than 30 years. There are drawings, paintings, sculptures — and now, a plush stuffed doll.

"Well, he looks like me," Hancock says. "He's a black guy. His face is basically my face."

Every weekday for more than three decades, his baritone steadied our mornings. Even in moments of chaos and crisis, Carl Kasell brought unflappable authority to the news. But behind that hid a lively sense of humor, revealed to listeners late in his career, when he became the beloved judge and official scorekeeper for Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! NPR's news quiz show.

Kasell died Tuesday from complications from Alzheimer's disease in Potomac, Md. He was 84.

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Rachel Morrison is the first woman ever nominated for an Oscar in cinematography.

"I can't believe I am the first," she says. "It's really kind of crazy!"

It was her lensing on Mudbound that earned her this recognition, but Morrison also served as director of photography for the massive blockbuster Black Panther. Being a DP means you're in charge of all the cameras, everyone who operates them, the electricity on set and the look of the entire film.

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The California woman who was the most likely model for Rosie the Riveter has died. If you'll remember, Rosie was the apple-cheeked icon who helped inspire the American workforce during World War II.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSIE THE RIVETER")

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Would you like a little distraction? There's a new movie that's being described as one of the most over-the-top samurai movies ever made.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWORD BATTLE)

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All right, we're now going to hear a doctor describing what's going to happen to a patient during a cutting-edge medical procedure.

JAMES STEEIL: So Karl's going to come in through this door. We'll put him down on the ground, restrain him.

You might know it as a garbage truck.

But to police departments around the country, it has become a cutting-edge tool in law enforcement.

"More and more, we're seeing attacks both in the U.S. and abroad where vehicles are utilized," says Daniel Linskey, a retired Boston Police Department superintendent in chief who now works for a security management firm called Kroll Associates.

He points to the lethal examples of cars running into crowds in Nice, France, in London and in Charlottesville, Va., among many others over the past few years.

Chuck Lorre is, without question, television's sitcom king. He created two of today's top money-making syndicated shows — The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men — and his other hits over the years include Dharma & Greg, Grace Under Fire, Mike & Molly and Mom.

So why did every single broadcast network turn down his latest sitcom?

One word: Cannabis.

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Actor and playwright Sam Shepard has died.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE RIGHT STUFF")

SAM SHEPARD: (As Chuck Yeager) I think I see a plane over here with my name on it.

One of the main characters on HBO's hit series, Game of Thrones, is paralyzed. Another has lost his right hand. We've met an important character with a severe skin disorder and another with an intellectual disability.

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Hollywood has solved another cliffhanger. A massive writers' strike was narrowly averted Tuesday, as a tentative agreement was reached between the members of the Writers Guild of America and the group representing the studios they work for, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Details of the deal are expected to be provided to members on Thursday. Around 13,000 film and TV writers were ready to strike starting at midnight, but they managed to reach an agreement over pensions and health plans and how much writers get paid.

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