This horror movie is directed by and stars all women. It looks scary good.

Jovanka Vuckovic hates when it happens. But when you're a film director and a woman, it's inevitable: People are going to think you're on set in a different capacity.

"I've been on film sets where the stunt man comes up and says, 'Oh, are you hair and makeup?' Uh, no. 'Are you wardrobe?' No," Vuckovic says. "'Oh, then what are you doing here?' I'm the director. 'You don't look like a director.'"

"Well, what's a director supposed to look like?"


Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

A former horror magazine editor from Toronto, Vuckovic has been a fan of the genre for many years. Working in publishing and later in the male-dominated filmmaking world, it became clear to her how underrepresented women were behind the camera and, thus, how wildly misrepresented they were in front of the camera — particularly when it comes to horror.

"I kept asking people, 'Please, can you just write women characters as actual human beings?'" she explains. "I got tired of asking, so I just decided I'm going to do it myself."

Vuckovic's short film "The Box" is part of a horror anthology, "XX," that's garnering a lot of buzz at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

For many moviegoers, it's both a scary film and an important endeavor.

The trailer for "XX" is pretty damn terrifying. But even cooler, the anthology — which features four short films, including Vuckovic's — is completely women-led, with each film directed by and starring women.

Peyton Kennedy in “The Box," Vuckovic's short film in "XX." Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Vuckovic says women made up roughly 80% of the crew for her short. On most sets, that ratio is basically flipped.

Along with "The Box," "XX" features Roxanne Benjamin's "Don't Fall," Karyn Kusama's "Only Living Son," and Annie Clark's "Birthday Party."

If the trailer (embedded below) is any indication, each short appears as scary as the next. There's no shortage of creepy children, torn-off fingernails, and camping trips gone awry between the four dark tales.

"Birthday Party" marks the directorial debut for Clark, who's better known to most as musical artist St. Vincent. Her involvement helped "XX" premiere at Sundance on Jan. 22, 2017, to a sold-out crowd.

Directors (from left) Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Jovanka Vuckovic, and animator Sofìa Carrillo at Sundance. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images.

The thrill-seeking audience at Sundance loved the barrier-pushing concept of the film anthology just as much as it loved the blood, guts, and screams — probably in part because of how different "XX" truly is.

Historically, filmmakers in horror have been overwhelmingly male. And that means women on-screen are often portrayed in trope-y, unrealistic roles.

While the male gaze and gender stereotyping run rampant throughout most genres of film, horror may arguably be the worst offender. From the damsel in distress and evil seductress to the sexually liberated woman who must be killed and the vengeful lover, a handful of tropes have largely carved out the types of dehumanizing roles available to women in horror.

Actor Peter Cushing and producer Anthony Nelson Keys on the set of a Hammer Film Productions horror film in 1965. Photo by Terry Fincher/Express/Getty Images.

"The only thing you have to do to make a movie feminist is depict women as actual human beings," Vuckovic says of changing the status quo. But by that standard, many scary flicks fall embarrassingly short.

It should be noted that the genre isn't exactly known for its racial inclusiveness, either, as many films continue to fail at diverse casting: “We primarily see white-washed versions of the world in a lot of movies," Vuckovic says. "Young people need to grow up seeing versions of themselves on screen."

Sadly, there hasn't been as much progress for women in horror (or in Hollywood, more generally) as you might expect.

In fact, as Vuckovic points out, there were actually more women working as writers, producers, and directors during the silent era of film a century ago than in Hollywood today.

Director Dorothy Arzner and screenwriter Sonya Levien in 1930. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Women make up about half of film school graduates at top schools like the University of Southern California and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, yet they make up just a tiny fraction of actual working directors, MTV News reported. Lack of opportunity outside the academic world plays a big role in that lopsided reality, according to Vuckovic.

Women are "not allowed to fail the same way men are allowed to fail," she says, echoing the same injustice Reese Witherspoon spoke out about in March 2016: Men's movies can flop at the box office and they'll still get a second (or third or fourth) chance at financial redemption. For women, it doesn't work like that.

The good news: Signs are pointing to progress for women in the horror genre. But we all have a part in making that happen.

According to Vuckovic, recent films like "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" and the critically acclaimed "The Babadook" — a film that explores the difficulties of single motherhood through a horror lens — have helped move the genre forward for women behind (and in front of) the camera.

"The Babadook" director Jennifer Kent (left) and star of the film Essie Davis. Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images.

"I don’t think a lot of the filmmakers making horror now know its worth, or realize the potential of the genre," "The Babadook" director Jennifer Kent told New York Magazine in 2014. "Just because it's a horror film doesn't mean it can't be deep."

It's important we take note of the films that are created by women and make sure to support them at the box office, Vuckovic notes — showing that women-led films can succeed financially is the best way to provide more opportunities for more women down the road.

Through "XX," Vuckovic hopes young girls learn there is a space for them in the horror genre, despite what anyone else says.

"Go, pick up a camera, make some movies, and don't take no for an answer," she advises girls interested in the magic of filmmaking. "You didn't go to film school? Who cares. Get your friends to help you, and just start — start somewhere."

"XX" opens in select theaters and on video on-demand Feb. 17. Watch the trailer below:

Several years ago, you wouldn't have known what QAnon was unless you spent a lot of time reading through comments on Twitter or frequented internet chat rooms. Now, with prominent Q adherents making headlines for storming the U.S. Capitol and elements of the QAnon worldview spilling into mainstream politics, the conspiracy theory/doomsday cult has become a household topic of conversation.

Many of us have watched helplessly as friends and family members fall down the rabbit hole, spewing strange ideas about Democrats and celebrities being pedophiles who torture children while Donald Trump leads a behind-the-scenes roundup of these evil Deep State actors. Perfectly intelligent people can be susceptible to conspiracy theories, no matter how insane, which makes it all the more frustrating.

A person who was a true believer in QAnon mythology (which you can read more about here) recently participated in an "Ask Me Anything" thread on Reddit, and what they shared about their experiences was eye-opening. The writer's Reddit handle is "diceblue," but for simplicity's sake we'll call them "DB."

DB explained that they weren't new to conspiracy theories when QAnon came on the scene. "I had been DEEP into conspiracy for about 8 years," they wrote. "Had very recently been down the ufo paranormal rabbit hole so when Q really took off midterm for trump I 'did my research' and fell right into it."

DB says they were a true believer until a couple of years ago when they had an experience that snapped them out of it:

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True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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Two weeks ago, we watched a pro-Trump mob storm the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overthrow the results of a U.S. election and keep Donald Trump in power. And among those insurrectionists were well-known adherents of QAnon, nearly every image of the crowd shows people wearing Q gear or carrying Q flags, and some of the more frightening elements we saw tie directly into QAnon beliefs.

Since hints of it first started showing up in social media comments several years ago, I've been intrigued—and endlessly frustrated—by the phenomenon of QAnon. At first, it was just a few fringey whacko conspiracy theorists I could easily roll my eyes at and ignore, but as I started seeing elements of it show up more and more frequently from more and more people, alarm bells started ringing.

Holy crap, there are a lot of people who actually believe this stuff.

Eventually, it got personal. A QAnon adherent on Twitter kept commenting on my tweets, pushing bizarro Q ideas on many of my posts. The account didn't use a real name, but the profile was classic QAnon, complete with the #WWG1WGA. ("Where we go one, we go all"—a QAnon rallying cry.) I thought it might be a bot, so I blocked them. Later, I discovered that it was actually one of my own extended family members.

Holy crap, I actually know people who actually believe this stuff.

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Images via Canva and Unsplash

If there's one thing that everyone can agree on, it's that being in a pandemic sucks.

However, we seem to be on different pages as to what sucks most about it. Many of us are struggling with being separated from our friends and loved ones for so long. Some of us have lost friends and family to the virus, while others are dealing with ongoing health effects of their own illness. Millions are struggling with job loss and financial stress due to businesses being closed. Parents are drowning, dealing with their kids' online schooling and lack of in-person social interactions on top of their own work logistics. Most of us hate wearing masks (even if we do so diligently), and the vast majority of us are just tired of having to think about and deal with everything the pandemic entails.

Much has been made of the mental health impact of the pandemic, which is a good thing. We need to have more open conversations about mental health in general, and with everything so upside down, it's more important now than ever. However, it feels like pandemic mental health conversations have been dominated by people who want to justify anti-lockdown arguments. "We can't let the cure be worse than the disease," people say. Kids' mental health is cited as a reason to open schools, the mental health challenges of financial despair as a reason to keep businesses open, and the mental health impact of social isolation as a reason to ditch social distancing measures.

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