Brow Beat

The Week in Culture, “When Are We?” Edition

Back to the Future Part II.
Michael J. Fox—with a hoverboard—in Back to the Future Part II.

Image courtesy of Universal Studios

It’s the year 2015, but you wouldn’t know it from this week in culture.

In Hollywood, writer’s rooms are still overwhelmingly white and male. Aisha Harris interviewed more than 20 writers and showrunners to learn why—in a year when Empire and Shonda Rhimes rule the airwaves—TV writing is barely more diverse than it was 30 years ago. Well-intentioned diversity initiatives can lead, in practice, to tokenism, and on screen, the lack of representation shows. As one former showrunner told Harris, producers “are not going to change because it’s the right thing to do. They’re going to change because it leads to critical success, and viewership, and ad dollars.”

This week also had us looking back on 1985, as the world celebrated Back to the Future Day—the real arrival of the future date that Marty McFly traveled to in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II. At Slate, we wondered why we don’t have hoverboards, who exactly the Scott in “Great Scott!” is, what other time-travel movies we should watch, and more.

We also flashed back to another great movie franchise of the past (and future), Star Wars, with the arrival of this week’s new trailer for The Force Awakens, featuring brand-new music from John Williams and some hints at an expanded universe.

And we found inspiration for some newfangled wingdings in the literature of the past, publishing an interactive, annotated version of Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener with new bells and whistles that augment, rather than obscure, the novella’s genius. We also transformed the last lines of some classic novels into emoji. Can you figure out which is which? And Laura Miller reviewed Paul Murray’s “shrewd” new novel The Mark and the Void, which uses the oldest trick in literature—great characters creating empathy in the reader—to make its story of modern international banking compelling.

Elsewhere in vintage revivals, this week brought us Goosebumps, a movie anyone who read R.L. Stine’s series as a kid will appreciate for the abiding love for the books that fuels it, writes Katy Waldman, and news of a Netflix Gilmore Girls redux, which Sharan Shetty is cautiously optimistic about.

More stories that had us going 88 mph this week: