Samuel Gwamaka Mwakasisi

Sam Mwakasisi

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Ever since I was a child, writing has been a passion of mine. It came so naturally that there was no denying that it was a personal gift that I had. I was consistently prolific in the creative aspects of all of my English classes, and I’ve used the creation of stories as something of a cathartic outlet to this day. In 2010, in a haze of immature and ambitious naivete, my nine-year-old self started a WordPress blog that served as a vessel for my young, bustling mind and somehow racked up over 100,000 hits in some seven years. Even though the blog has mainly become a retrospective dumping ground, it gave me a lot of experience and knowledge. After excelling in creative writing in my freshman year, both my creative writing teacher and my counselor recommended that I join North Star News for my sophomore year. Since the newspaper’s broadcasts had won my curiosity for NSN, I decided to take the leap into uncharted territory.

I never really saw myself fitting into the shoes of a journalist, and I felt like the cold, hard news I saw online and on TV just wasn’t for me. However, once I tried the class out, I saw my already-existing knowledge of writing being exercised and at times challenged in a very healthy way with the work I did for NSN. My status as a natural introvert gave me a lot more trials that were far out of my comfort zone when it came to gathering information from a wide variety of people for both written pieces for the site and my media package. Additionally, I grew to understand, respect, and take interest in the art of journalism, which I had never really given much heed to before.

I plan to apply all that I’ve learned in a way that builds upon my current understanding of writing, since I have seen these same tools applied to a new medium. These future endeavors will probably include pursuits of additional classes and courses to try and find more angles of writing, both during my time at Niles North and possibly down the line. Having a compelling and sophisticated understanding of the English language and how to use it is a skill that is generally helpful in a number of jobs in the same sense that weightlifting is helpful for a number of sports, and will aid in my own personal versatility in that field.

The following are my best works produced thus far as part of NSN.

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The Emoji Movie: Is it really a bad apple?

There’s no denying that technology and the culture it has fostered are a cornerstone of modern society, a society that runs on constant connection and communication. Companies can use this to their advantage by advertising through these societal facets to appeal to a young target audience; sometimes it works well, and other times it comes across as petty and cringe-worthy. However, in the most extreme of cases, there can be the moment where they just go too far, and The Emoji Movie seems to have stemmed from that moment.

This film seemed to face trouble from the public right out of the gate, even though it was working with big names such as James Corden, television host, and TJ Miller, actor. As soon as the idea of a feature film based around Apple’s famous digital icons was announced, it was met with mass ridicule and backlash from every side of the Internet and seen as the ultimate pandering only heard of in our wildest fantasies. To add onto this, the official teaser for the film (which ironically features the “meh” emoji promoting the film with the same dullness many of us are feeling) has over 70,000 dislikes in comparison to 6,000 likes; that’s a like-to-dislike ratio of nearly one to 12. “Hollywood, discovering that something is popular and seeing the door ‘opened’ by The LEGO Movie (without realizing the amount of talent and skill that went into that picture), has now jumped on the bandwagon,” Matt Goldberg, writer for Collider, said.

That same sense of disdain has even been felt by people here at Niles North despite the names attached to it. “I like TJ Miller, but I think this movie wouldn’t have a very interesting plot,” Sophia Keay, sophomore, said.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”There’s the potential for this to be wry and clever, but there’s also the potential for it to go horribly wrong.”[/perfectpullquote]

Originally titled Emojimovie: Express Yourself, the film centers around a unique, multi-expression emoji named Gene, who after being ostracized for his individuality, teams up with a few partners and embarks on a quest to become normal. The quest takes place entirely on a teenager’s cellphone, which will inevitably lead to an almost nauseating amount of product placement. Ridiculousness aside, the whole “yearning to be normal” concept is an innocent idea, if not one that is perhaps overused and rather predictable. Here’s the main question of consideration: could this idea have been salvaged in any way, or was it really doomed from the start?

One of the reasons Toy Story is held with such high regard to this day is because of its “bringing life and heart to inanimate objects/characters” concept that got assimilated and emulated with other animated films, which led to films such as Cars, BarnyardWreck-It Ralph, and the aforementioned LEGO Movie. The film seems to be built on shaky but purposeful ground, although all of that seems to be completely overshadowed by the silliness of its idea. There are even some people out there (although they’re in the vast minority) that have some optimistic thoughts about the film. “I think it’s a weird concept for a movie, but it’s probably going to be unique,” Petros Berrios, sophomore, said. “If it’s made by a good animation studio, that’s a plus.”

Many people are hoping for its execution to justify its premises. “There’s the potential for this to be wry and clever, but there’s also the potential for it to go horribly wrong,” Goldberg said.

At the end of it all, The Emoji Movie may seem like an idea so outlandish and egregious that it deserves to fail, and perhaps not even the tech-addled millennials that this film is marketing to will give this film a chance. Still, films with concepts that sound absurd on paper can turn out to possess surprising quality when they are actually executed (i.e. The Social Network), and at the same time, films with great concepts can turn out to be undesirable when executed (i.e. Suicide Squad). It may seem like blind optimism, but there truly could be a chance for a movie about digital icons to impress and shine. Between now and the film’s release date, Aug. 4, 2017, all we can do is hope.

Featured image from Cosmopolitan, created by Sony Pictures Animation

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The pantheon’s performers: Will current musicians stand the test of time?

There’s no denying that there’s a certain essence and art to creating legendary music. There’s a difference between music that gets overplayed on the radio for a few months and music that is listened to and celebrated for decades. When we think of legendary musicians, our minds drift to a glut of artists from yesteryear; David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Prince, Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, the list goes on. We never really think about what artists that are famous right now will keep that relevance long into the future. This leads us to a driving question: will current musicians be remembered?

There are a number of noted factors that go into exactly how an artist’s legacy is measured. One of the largest and most important factors is how much an artist has shaped their field in music or possibly music as a whole through a massive ripple effect, breaking new ground and blazing a trail for others to follow. “From a revolutionary point of view, artists like Run DMC, The Beatles, Elvis, Lou Reed, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Aphex Twin, James Brown will be up there, though the potential list is long,” Lucy Jones, author for music journalism magazine NME, said.

Additionally, musicians are often remembered for the stories that surround them, which sometimes assume the forms of tragedies. “Artists with a story attached stand a good chance of surviving,” Jones said. “Michael Jackson may be remembered for Thriller being the first video by a black artist to air on MTV, but he may also be remembered for his bizarre life and the child abuse allegations. Biggie and Tupac may be remembered for their fatal rivalry.”

However, one of the most essential traits of modern, lauded artists is that they find a deep relevance that will have value for long into the future by tying into topics that are ever-present in society, including race and gender. Although social commentary has been present in music for a long time, with artists such as the Beatles incorporating social themes into songs such as “All You Need Is Love”, it’s still an important element that has led to artistic statements such as those of Kendrick Lamar.

Now that we know some of the ways artists can be remembered, how does this apply to the musicians of now, if at all?

When student’s opinions were garnered on this topic, the main consensus hearkened back to older music in the sense that current music will fail to have the same impact in decades to come, even with the multitude of talented people that are popular today in the world of music.

“I don’t think we have less talented artists,” Hannah Niederman, sophomore, said. “I just don’t think artists nowadays will be remembered forever because their music wasn’t widely known and impactful in the same way it was back then. [70’s music] was tied to the transformation of the country, which is why it inspired so many people.”

Some based their opinions on their pessimism over the lack of artistic merit in modern music.

“Before, it was raw and [artists] poured their talent and heart in the music, but now all they do is blabber with a drum machine in the back,” Petros Berrios, sophomore, said. “Some people make amazing music, don’t get me wrong, but others are just missing the jam.”

However, others saw relevance and applicability as the secret for long-lasting music, and in this day and age, now is a time that we may need more people than ever to use this as a springboard to create something that people need to hear.

“Without a clear message tied to the changing tides and the division of the country, we are less able to unify under one artist, making all art less profound for a long period of time,” Niederman said.

In the end, there may not be a single clear-cut answer to the question of how artists will certify their legacies. With the changing values and ideals that may alter the future’s views of music, and the fact that music is a constantly evolving medium, it may be best to capture zeitgeists before they die out. Creating visionary music that ties to these themes while they’re still universal could be what separates one-hit-wonders from musical legends. Although the question of which current musicians will be remembered is seen as a daunting “be all, end all” test, perhaps the most significant additions to today’s music will be made when it’s not seen as a difficult task and everything falls into place. And who knows? Maybe our future generations will look back on the music of now like ignored relics.

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The wrong ghost in the shell: How does casting affect films?

There are few factors that can impact the outcome of a film as much as casting, and choosing the correct actors for a project can make all the difference in the world. As a result, people are known to get upset when a casting decision is made that doesn’t reflect how they perceive a character, and we were reminded of this when the upcoming live-action adaptation of the Ghost in the Shell manga series received large amounts of hate and backlash for casting Scarlett Johansson, a white actress, into the role of an Asian character. It seems like Ghost in the Shell has brought up an important question when it comes to films: how does casting affect a film, if at all?

Ghost in the Shell released its official trailer last month, and instead of focusing on the eye-popping visuals and designs, some chose to stick to the disputes and arguments that are still ongoing. The topic of the importance of casting in films has been brought back to the forefront this year, and it has been a center of very heated discussion for a long time. The task of juggling a proper, fresh casting choice and avoiding all possible stereotypes has turned into a minefield in this day and age that many a filmmaker has unintentionally activated. When race is involved, it gets far more serious and leads to situations such as the oft-dreaded “whitewashing” (the casting of white actors into non-white roles), which is enthusiastically protested against but still preeminent in films today. Why is that?

There have even been books written on the representation (or lack thereof) of race and gender in films. “Even today, many white viewers choose not to see films starring non-white actors…allegedly because they feel they cannot identify with the characters,” Harry M. Benshoff and Sean Griffin said in their book, America on Film. “Because of that fact, Hollywood tends to spend more money on white stars in white movies, and far less money on non-white actors in overtly racial or ethnic properties.”

GITS wasn’t even the only film we’ve heard of this year to instigate this debate. The recently-released Doctor Strange garnered a similar controversy after revealing that it would be casting another white actress, Tilda Swinton, into the role of the Ancient One, who is portrayed in the original comics as an Asian male.

However, the creators of both films responded with their own defenses. Ghost in the Shell was defended primarily for its casting contributing to the diversity in its cast. “I don’t think [the original GITS story] was just a Japanese story,” Steven Paul, film producer, said. “Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world. […] There [are] all sorts of people and nationalities in the world in Ghost in the Shell.” Additionally, a spokesperson for Marvel spoke on behalf of Doctor Strange to justify its casting. “Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU to life,” the spokesperson said.

This leads us to consider the following: is fitting a given description really the most important factor in choosing an actor?

Many believe that actors should be analyzed for their performance capabilities and not just for how much they fit a certain look, considering that actors are always measured for their talent in the grand scheme of things. This “ability over appearance” rule is present for both of the criticized actresses in the films, who have both received awards and are perfectly capable in their own right.

This opinion has even been shared by people in the film industry. “If you have a chance to have a great actor in the part, everything else is irrelevant,” Kenneth Branagh, British actor and director, said.

While casting can be something that will perhaps inevitably make some upset, it’s important to know that good intentions and wariness can be catalysts for controversy just as potentially and powerfully as a lack of care. There is no single thing to prioritize when it comes to casting; rather, it’s a mix of several equally important factors, from ability to correlation with your original vision. Although the idea of whether or not casting choices like those of Ghost in the Shell and Doctor Strange seems like a massive blame game, with everyone from all sides of the spectrum pointing a finger aggressively at someone else, it seems like the filmmakers have stood by their choices and feel like their decisions were the best to make in order to fully encapsulate their creative purpose. And besides, if you’re not making the film that you 100% want to make, what’s the point of making it in the first place?

Original images used in featured image from Den of Geek and Zerochan

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A globe more golden: Meryl Streep’s political statement

With the 74th annual Golden Globe Awards occurring this past Sunday, as well as this year’s Grammy and Oscar ceremonies just around the corner, the award season seems to be in full swing for this new year. It was a night of celebrating achievements and artistic expression in both film and television. However, it ultimately ended up making news headlines and even gaining controversy for another memorable expression from an award recipient.

2016 was a year that contained one of the most intense and emotionally charged presidential elections in American history, and the post-election fallout has more than carried into 2017. Meryl Streep, the most nominated and awarded actress in Golden Globe history, made note of that and seized the opportunity when she received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award for her extensive dedication and contributions to film. Although no names were mentioned, Streep criticized President-elect Donald Trump on a number of different facets during a speech that left the audience generally silent, including his infamous imitation of Serge F. Kovaleski, disabled New York Times journalist, at a rally in November 2015.

“There was one performance this year that stunned me,” Streep said about the imitation. “It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. […] Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

Streep continued to tie her thoughts on Trump’s actions to bigger pictures by demonstrating how the diversity in Hollywood is currently being undermined. “…All of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments of American society right now,” she said. “Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”

Predictably, her brave act saw a lot of mixed reactions from the media, ranging from support to outrage. Many of the people unhappy with Streep’s words saw that her very prestigious position made her points of victimization less effective. “The press and Hollywood are some of the most privileged segments of society,” Mollie Hemingway, senior editor for The Federalist, said. “Whether you measure it in terms of cash money, prestige, fame, or an ability to fail year after year and get promoted, Hollywood and media elite do not get to cast themselves as victims.”

Additionally, President-elect Trump himself stepped into the fray for self-defense on Twitter. “For the 100th time, I never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him ‘groveling’ when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad,” Trump said.

On the other side, the speech also gained a lot of positive reception from people who believed that Streep was never in the wrong for voicing her opinion; freedom of speech is, after all, a privilege we have as Americans. “As an organization of journalists, the [Hollywood Foreign Press Association] stands by your defense of free expression and we reject any calls for censorship,” Lorenzo Soria, president of the HFPA, said on Twitter.

“I would say that [Streep’s act] is justified because this is America, and she should be free to share her opinion no matter what it is,” Divya Barod, sophomore, said. “She was expressing something she really cared about and wanted others to understand how she was feeling and how she felt about the path that America is going in.”

Even though her speech saw extreme reactions from both sides of the spectrum, Streep should not be held accountable for standing up for what she believed in. Like many in this country are right now, she was concerned, uncertain for the future, and driven to do something to prevent the worst-case scenario. Instead of using her acceptance speech to just thank a list of people, she took the opportunity to make a statement that she knew not everyone would agree with.

Some saw Streep’s speech as an act of bravery, while others saw it as an act of foolishness. Nevertheless, as we face a turning point for our country, we must learn that unity is needed more now than ever, and we’re not going to get anywhere by constantly pulling each other down. Politics will forever remain a subject that will inevitably stir the pot and get many people upset, and perhaps for good reason in the sense that there is truly no right or wrong answer; it all depends on perspective. Instead of holing ourselves up in bubbles, we should learn to see things from others’ viewpoints and coexist as one nation. And that, if you think about it, is what being an American is all about.

Images used in featured image from CodePen, Bergen Kino, Wallpapercave, and Collider

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Greatness galore in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Although its source material was relatively unknown, the gamble that was Guardians of the Galaxy made waves when it premiered in 2014 and stunned the world with an irreverent blend of wit, thrills, and heart that provided a breath of fresh air for the superhero genre. The film was a success both with critics and moviegoers, grossing over $770 million, so it was no question as to whether it would birth a franchise. Its sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, was released this past Friday, and it no longer runs on the same element of surprise. There’s only one question to answer: is it good?

Taking place shortly after the first film, Vol. 2 centers around the Guardians, a ragtag superhero team of space convicts, being on the run from the Sovereign, an alien race who they promised to help that is now seeking revenge after being wronged, as well as a group called the Ravagers that has been hired to kill them. While this is happening, a special limelight is shined on the Guardians’ leader, Peter Quill/Star Lord (played by Chris Pratt), as he sets out to uncover the mystery of who his parents are when he comes across an ancient being named Ego the Living Planet (played by Kurt Russell) who claims to be his long-lost father.

This film still has the fast-paced, eye-popping action and special effects that were utilized so well in the first film and look even better in IMAX 3D, which is how I saw the film. Even when it’s not focusing on action, it still presents stunning and colorful visuals that make the fantastical worlds shown all the more of a feast for the eyes. Additionally, its aesthetic and style has an impressive nostalgic polish, especially through a soundtrack containing songs from bands such as Electric Light Orchestra, Fleetwood Mac, and Cheap Trick.

However, Vol. 2 really shines through its story, which is not an afterthought to pass time between action scenes but rather the core of the film. The intimacy of the story helps to make the characters three-dimensional, which makes it all the easier to root for them once the action ramps up again, alongside all of the work that the fantastic actors do to make their characters enjoyable. (And then there’s the little tree creature Baby Groot, who is engineered to be enjoyable by default.) Additionally, alongside having heart, Vol. 2 has a commendable sense of wit that makes the viewing experience even more enjoyable by packing in many a laugh, even though it starts appearing more sporadically as the film progresses and takes somewhat of a backseat from the climax onwards.

In retrospect, Vol. 2 is not without its detractions, as few as they appeared to me. While Quill’s backstory gets a lot of time and energy put into it, the film also tries to stir sympathy through the backstories of other Guardians (always under the uncannily unifying idea of “family”), but it attempts this to such a minimal effect that it feels strained and done merely out of obligation.

Vol. 2 ultimately suffers from not being the same shot in the dark that the original film was, and through its calculations loses some of the freshness. Despite this, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very energetic and entertaining–if not a little exhausted from standing in its predecessor’s shadow.

Featured image from IMP Awards

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NSN Audio Story: Father dearest

Inspired by NPR’s StoryCorps and to capture the spirit of Thanksgiving, the North Star News staff created several audio stories framed around this question: “What was a moment or event in your life that at the time seemed small, but ended up having a large impact or effect on you later in your life?” The staff sought people of different generations and crafted these pieces.

Picture this: you have a number of extremely important tests to study for to get into your dream school, but at the same time your firstborn child has fallen extremely ill in the hospital. That’s what my dad went through.

 

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Boys’ swimming and diving makes a splash with titles and broken records

Niles North is no stranger to success in a multitude of fields, and athletics is certainly one of the most prominent. A huge reminder of this emerged recently as our school’s boys’ swimming and diving team rode an impressive wave of success.

Through sports, our school has managed to hold our own and make a name for itself within the Central Suburban League, and it’s no little league; it’s been described by the school’s official athletic site as “one of the most prestigious and competitive interscholastic high school athletic leagues in the state of Illinois”, so it’s no joke and truly requires pure prowess and skill to succeed in the conference. Success has been achieved through a variety of different sports, but history was made recently in boys’ swimming/diving. To give a quick rundown of the team’s amazing feats, several student athletes on the team qualified for the state finals, Mitchell Mages broke another school record while placing seventh in breaststroke, and senior Max Royzen won the diving state title, becoming the first swimming and diving champion from Niles North in history.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”We strive to teach our students the power of success through humility, and perseverance through challenges, obstacles, and defeat.”[/perfectpullquote]

Also, the team as a whole finished 11th out of the 48 qualifying teams, had several first place finishes, and set numerous brand new records for both school and pool. Alongside the team’s joint achievements, coaches Seth Orlove and Joe Wilson were recognized as the sectional coaches of the year, and individual student athletes also achieved considerable success. Furthermore, the relay team (composed of Ethan Lee, Jared Brown, Anthony Zagorov, and Mitchell Mages) finished fourth at their state competition, simultaneously setting a new school record. “It has been a special season for our swimmers and divers,” Brett Bildstein, athletic director for the school, said.

The team didn’t achieve all of this magically; they worked hard for it and earned it. Like with all teams, the swimming and diving team runs and functions on a rigid work ethic and copious amounts of dedication, focus, and contribution from the students, which can bring individual challenges that are just as daunting, especially such as balancing athletic work with academic work. “It definitely takes a lot of work, but I think when diving and swimming [are] so important to our athletes, we find a way to do it,” Max Royzen, senior and state diving champion, said.

This same tenacity and persistence is what Niles North’s athletics have been about since the beginning, and it’s something that is important for success not just in athletes, but all students and people in general; that constant push is what truly creates great things. “Through intentional teaching and positive reinforcement, we strive to teach our students the power of success through humility, and perseverance through challenges, obstacles, and defeat,” the athletic site said.

There’s no doubt that this season has gone down in history for Niles North, and hopefully we can expect more feats like these from both our boys’ swimming/diving team and other sports teams in the future.