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.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A word of caution now. You're about to hear the old nursery rhyme "Little Jack Horner" in the creepy voice of one of the world's first talking dolls.

(SOUNDBITE OF TALKING DOLL)

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Superheroes, by definition, are extraordinary individuals - not exactly the type to blend in with a crowd - but what about Ant-Man?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANT-MAN")

If superheroes are one of the ultimate expressions of individualism, what are we to make of Ant-Man, a Marvel Comics character based on one of the least individual, most collective creatures on the planet?

Ant-Man can shrink to the size of an ant — and, in the movie which opens this weekend, ants are his greatest allies. "The ants are loyal, brave and will be your partners on this job," explains the scientist who invented Ant-Man's supersuit.

It has been called the "Super Bowl of the ocean."

Shark Week is a ratings bonanza for the Discovery Channel with more than 40 million people tuning in last year. Shark Week kicked off this weekend with the most hours of programming ever in its 28-year history But many scientists think the huge audiences — and the hype — have come at the expense of real science.

A generation of shark scientists cut their teeth on Shark Week.

When it comes to online video, the world is glued to YouTube. People watch billions of videos on it every day. And that huge share of online eyeballs is why other companies are trying to chip away at its dominance and lure some of its biggest stars away from the service.

HBO's new comedy The Brink refers to a world on the brink of nuclear warfare — possibly one of the least-funny premises imaginable. But the two brothers who created the show cut their teeth on a particular kind of political scripted satire that had its heyday in the 1960s and '70s. Think Dr. Strangelove, M*A*S*H and Network and other films by Paddy Chayefsky.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Roy Andersson just might be one of the most interesting oddballs in the world of film. His Hollywood fan base includes high-class auteurs like the Wachowski siblings, Darren Aronofsky and Alejandro González Iñárritu — but he's best known in his native Sweden.

Back in 1970, Andersson's first film, A Swedish Love Story, took Europe by storm. He was only 26. "It was a fantastic time for me," he recalls. "However, I was not very happy after that. I was a little depressed. My second movie was a flop in all senses. A very, very big flop."

Let's say you're not a millionaire but you're still interested in buying affordable art from the comfort of your living room. Where do you find something that is between craft-oriented websites like Etsy and high-end auction houses like Sotheby's? Now, new companies — like Paddle8, Ocula, Artline, Saatchi Art, Artsy, Amazon Art — are trying to fill the gap.

Shirin Neshat, the most famous contemporary artist to come from Iran, is playing with her rambunctious Labrador puppy in her airy Manhattan apartment. "Ashi, Ashi, come here!" she calls.

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Back in 1890, Thomas Edison gave us some of the world's first talking dolls. Today, the glassy-eyed cherubs that are still around stand about 2 feet tall; they have wooden limbs and a metal body; and they sound supercreepy. (If you're looking for a soundtrack to your nightmares, listen to the audio story above.) Edison built and sold about 500 of them back in 1890. Now, new technology has made hearing them possible for the first time in decades.

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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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

"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.

Universal Pictures put a woman in charge when it hired Sam Taylor-Johnson to direct Fifty Shades of Grey. It also got an art world star nominated for such prestigious awards as Britain's Turner Prize. Truth be told, Taylor-Johnson sounds slightly relieved to discuss her photography and videos instead of the movie she's in the thick of promoting.

"It feels so far away from me right now," she says, in her plummy London accent. "And it's so nice to talk about again — gives me a bit of a breather."

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

"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.

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"Can't they take a joke?" That's the question that came up after the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy and now, again, after the massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The suspected killers obviously reflect a tiny minority of extreme religious fanatics, but the question made us wonder: What is the role of satire in the Muslim world?

Bess Myerson was crowned Miss America in 1945 and was the only Jewish-American woman to ever hold the title. She went on to have a long career in public affairs, though it was sometimes marked by scandal. She died Dec. 14 at the age of 90.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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.

When you think about the musical Annie, what associations come to mind? Probably the song "Tomorrow," right? And Annie's bright red, curly hair? Red hair comes with its own cultural mythology. In this case, it underscores Annie's plucky, independent spirit.

As it turns out, hair is almost a character in this trailer for the new version of Annie coming out Dec. 19, says Noliwe Rooks, a professor at Cornell University. In just 2:19 minutes, you'll see three or four jokes about or references to hair.

This post was updated at 11:10 a.m. ET for clarity.

How would you — or do you — identify on online dating sites? Gay? Straight? Bisexual? Well you're about to have many more options on OkCupid, one of the most popular sites for people seeking love and connection.

OkCupid has about 4 million users, and within the next few weeks the site will give all of them brand-new options for specifying their gender and sexual orientation — options like androgynous, asexual, genderqueer and questioning.

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