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.

A tiny independent movie has been picked by one of Hollywood's biggest moguls to promote his latest venture. Robert L. Johnson created BET and now, the Urban Movie Channel — an online channel that's being called the black Netflix.

The first original film it has acquired is a gay interracial romance set in the Deep South. In Blackbird, the main character Randy is in high school. Everyone thinks he's gay, and they're totally fine with it.

Randy, 18, is fervently religious. Even though his best friend is gay, Randy's in denial about his own sexuality.

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"The Daily Show" has a new host.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE DAILY SHOW" THEME SONG)

In 1966, when Leonard Nimoy was offered a minor role on a new space drama, he was thrilled. As he told Archive of American Television: "You have to understand that prior to Star Trek I never had a job that lasted longer than two weeks in any TV show or movie. Never. Two weeks — max. And here I was, looking at a season of work."

The actor beloved for his role as the pointy-eared half-human, half-Vulcan died of lung disease at his home in Los Angeles on Friday. He was 83.

Here's a tough Oscar trivia question: Who is the only person to twice achieve the feat of receiving nominations for acting, writing and directing on the same film?

Wait. Was that not hard enough? Try naming the four worst-performing best picture winners from the past 10 years.

Trivia champions live for questions like this. That's why they flock to O'Brien's Pub in Santa Monica, Calif. Regulars such as Brad Rutter (Jeopardy!'s leading all-time money winner) and Daniel Avila (a game show staple since 1984) compete over a $75 bar tab.

"The right actors win Oscars, but for the wrong roles," Katharine Hepburn once said.

The Motion Picture Academy has a history of rewarding stars for less-than-celestial performances, and this week's Oscar nomination announcements left a lot of people scratching their heads — over the snubs for Selma, for example, and the nomination of Robert Duvall for best supporting actor in The Judge.

"I think most people hadn't even heard of The Judge before that nomination," says Alyssa Rosenberg, culture columnist for The Washington Post.

Sports. TV shows. Daily news. All grist for online arguments. (Not to mention culture, politics, race and feminism.)

Now, everyday people can communicate directly with people in news stories, celebrities and activists on social media. But not every conversation works on every platform. We're getting more sophisticated about choosing where we say things online.

Joe Cocker died Monday at his home in Crawford, Colo., after what his publicist described as a hard-fought battle with small-cell lung cancer. He was 70.

The straight white men of Straight White Men aren't what you might expect. Near the beginning of the new off-Broadway play, two adult brothers play a homemade, family board game, refashioned out of an old Monopoly set. Because the family is liberal and progressive, it's called "Privilege." It makes fun of their own straight-white-male privilege.

"Ah, 'excuses' card!" one of the brothers exclaims. The other reads it aloud. "What I just said wasn't racist/sexist/homophobic because I was joking," he deadpans. "Pay $50 to an LGBT organization."

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When I invited people over for brunch not long ago, the last thing I expected was a wander into the murky world of food preservatives. It started off so simply — with enchiladas, in fact. Enchiladas are my go-to brunch dish, mostly because a little store near me stocks incredible tortillas from a local factory in Maryland called Moctec.

Black Jesus, a new show premiering Thursday on Adult Swim, is about, well, a black Jesus. Set in contemporary south Los Angeles, it presents a Jesus roaming around a neighborhood filled with liquor stores, mini-marts and people praying for help.

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.

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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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.

"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."

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 — 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.

"!!!!"

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 — and report this piece.

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 — may hit all your sweet spots. Imagine an all-star Gothic revue that brings together Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, Count Dracula — 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 — 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."

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.

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.

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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