When John Leguizamo was a young teen, he commandeered a New York City subway conductor’s intercom and workshopped his first public comedy routine. With impressions of cartoon characters and early glimpses of his signature wit, commuters got an impromptu taste of what the rest of the world was in for. The mediums have changed, but Leguizamo’s style has not: clever, quick, real, and raw. The actor-writer-director-comedian graced the Northwestern School of Communication community with all this and more during the first Dialogue with the Dean of the academic year on November 16 in the Josephine Louis Theater at the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts.
Two-time Academy Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi dazzled the Northwestern filmmaking community with stories of his creative process during a special virtual masterclass offered to students on November 18. “I made my first film when I was 13 years old,” Farhadi said through an interpreter on Zoom. “I didn’t know what filmmaking was. I read a book that I couldn’t understand, but I did get one part of it, and based on that, I found out how they make movies. I found that when you want to make a movie, take it in parts, and stitch them together. From that moment on, I made one short movie each year.” Farhadi twice won Oscars in the category of Best Foreign Language Film—for A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016)—which makes him one of the few directors worldwide who have won in this category more than once. He also won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival for The Salesman and the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prix for A Hero.
The Television Academy announced on Tuesday the nominees for the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards, and School of Communication alumni are among many of the high-profile talent on the ticket. In addition to the successful alumni working in the entertainment industry, the SoC this year boasts a faculty member nominated for his work on a televised documentary.
Thunderstorms might have delayed the School of Communication Convocation June 12 by a couple of hours, but that wasn’t going to stop the Class of 2021 from walking across the stage at Ryan Field. “The fact we’re here together is nothing short of a miracle, rain be damned,” said School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson who praised the Class of 2021 for all they’ve endured this last year, including a global pandemic. “Your resilience is awe-inspiring. Trailing a year that has taken so much, I’m buoyed to see you as a group so willing and able to give time, give expertise, give yourself space and grace to be and become.”
School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson will be welcoming Ebs Burnough (C02) as the School’s 2021 Convocation Speaker. Burnough, a filmmaker, writer, producer, and marketing and communications executive, formerly served as the White House’s Deputy Social Secretary and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Senior advisor. Burnough in 2019 made his directorial debut with the documentary The Capote Tapes, which explored the impact of author Truman Capote’s unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, through new interviews with friends and enemies and never-before-heard audio archives. The film will be released this summer by Greenwich Entertainment.
With sharply funny and deeply insightful stand-up centered on the importance of advocating for one’s own mental health, Maria Bamford, a comedian known for her personal and experimental comedy and her character voice work, gave the annual Van Zelst Lecture in Communication via Zoom on April 30. “I adore Zoom… I’m so afraid to leave this venue. I love the power to mute and to be muted at any point. It’s democracy in action,” she said during the Zoom event, made possible by a generous gift from Louann and the late Theodore Van Zelst. “And I miss the Zoom bombers. I don’t know if it’s happened to you, but it happened to me a view times, and it was so explosive, just like they promised. It stopped at a certain point. I don’t know if the firewalls got too high. I just wanted to give creative support to the Zoom bombers out there. I assume it’s men in their 60s in the suburbs of Denver.”
Despite near-dependance on technology to communicate, work, socialize, and consume, we don’t quite understand what our digital traces are. And given Big Tech’s global dominance and notorious reticence, their exploitation of these gaps poses a serious threat. As much a warning as it was a call to action, Safiya Noble, scholar of technology bias, shared this and more about her research and advocacy during the ninety-minute April 22 Dialogue with the Dean event, hosted over Zoom by School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson.
The School of Communication has a message for those long left out of the dialogue: we’re here, we’re listening, and we’re taking action. In a frank, invitation-only discussion, Dorothy Tucker (C78), Chicago journalism mainstay and the president of the National Association of Black Journalists interviewed School of Communication (SoC) Dean E. Patrick Johnson about his mission to identify and amplify the experiences of students, faculty, staff, and alumni of all underrepresented groups, but in particular those in our Black SoC community. The hourlong April 7 Zoom event, “Elevating Black Voices,” covered much ground, including the story behind the dean’s name, how he wound up at Northwestern more than two decades ago, the challenges of starting his deanship in 2020, the ups and downs of being a Black student at the University, and the central focus of his administration: diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It’s funny how our alumni in comedy want to give back. Case in point: prolific writer, performer, and MFA in Writing for the Screen Stage alum Jen Spyra (GC12) served up inspiration, guidance, and encouragement to the Northwestern community April 9 during a Zoom Q&A session. Sponsored by EPICS and hosted by Department of Radio/Television/Film lecturer, playwright, and performer Eliza Bent, the virtual Q&A touched on a range of topics from Spyra’s time working as a staff writer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to her new project, a book of satirical shorts titled Big Time Stories—which includes a forward by Colbert (C86, H11) himself.