Hollywood

Disrupting Hollywood

by Sheree L. Ross

Over a hundred thousand scripts will be written in 2017, as well as tens of thousands of independent films made. Hundreds of contests will be entered and most filmmakers will not move very far towards their goal of a distribution deal or theatrical release.
What once seemed like the “impossible dream” has now almost become a thing of the past.  Yet, so many filmmakers go forward as they make their films like the magical payday myths of the industry still, if ever existed.
Most distribution deals and all of Hollywood have created an accounting system where only they get paid and the creative winds up with accolades (hopefully) but empty pockets. Crowdfunding has been a big move forward to help mitigate the ever shrinking traditional access to funds but after a film is made the blue print to a sustainable business model is rarely understood. It is especially hard for women and women filmmakers of color, where financing a film can be a Herculean event – as well as finding access to, and building an audience large enough to not only pay cast, crew, and themselves but make enough to distribute it and then do it all over again.
The industry has changed even for Hollywood. This change began decades ago but was solidified when the markets crashed in 2008, and demystified with access unprecedented with digital cameras, the internet, and streaming platforms. This is a new and ever more inclusive frontier yet so many indie filmmakers still structure their business model like it’s the 1970’s – still believing in the big payoff yet never realizing that filmmakers getting paid on the net receipts has been an inside myth perpetuated by industry media to entertain the public and string along hopeful filmmakers since time began.
The power of the industry is shifting but the new paradigm must be created by the independent filmmakers themselves. Big business has always had too much of a say and taken all of the profits. We, as creatives, are the reason they have built fortunes, mostly because we have wanted others to take care of the business while we concentrate on the creative. The other truth of many creatives is we haven’t developed the emotional and mental stamina for the business side of our filmmaking and have often blindly handed the responsibility over to others. This is a wake up call to build that muscle and take full control of our careers and creations. Owning our IP and figuring out how to distribute in a way that puts the rewards back into our own business is key to growing and maintaining a healthy and striving independent film ecosystem for all of us.

Black Panther Footage Reveals the Ferocious Female Warriors

…of Wakanda

April 18, 2017 12:13 pm

Update 7:35 E.T.: A Marvel representative reached out to say that the nature of the relationship between Danai Gurira’s Okoye and Florence Kasumba‘s Ayo in Black Panther is not a romantic one and that specific love storyline from the comic World of Wakanda was not used as a source.

Whether or not he had the approval of Disney when he did so, Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon caused quite a stir in the April issue of Attitude—both of hopeful expectations and of conservative pushback—when he touted Josh Gad’s character LeFou and his “exclusively gay moment.” Though Condon surely had his heart in the right place, the phrase overpromised on what the film ultimately underdelivered: the moment comes when LeFou ends the movie by dancing, briefly with a man. O.K. However, early footage of Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther screened for journalists Monday night movie promises much more.

The scene in question features Walking Dead star Danai Gurira dancing on a boat with her fellow Dora Milaje, i.e., Black Panther’s personal female bodyguards. These women—first introduced to moviegoers in Captain America: Civil War— are the warriors who watch over Chadwick Boseman’s royal family. In Civil War, Uganda-born actress Florence Kasumba made an instant impression on audiences as one member of the select group when she curtly ordered Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow to “move” aside for T’Challa.

In the rough cut of this Black Panther scene, we see Gurira’s Okoye and Kasumba’s Ayo swaying rhythmically back in formation with the rest of their team. Okoye eyes Ayo flirtatiously for a long time as the camera pans in on them. Eventually, she says, appreciatively and appraisingly, “You look good.” Ayo responds in kind. Okoye grins and replies, “I know.”

This quick moment between two warrior women on their way to T’Challa’s coronation leans into a current very popular run of the Black Panther comic. A 2016 spin-off called World of Wakanda by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, and Yona Harvey is all about the relationship between two members of the Dora Milaje. The official description:

A Wakandan love story—its tenderness matched only by its brutality.

You know them now as The Midnight Angels, but in this story they are

just Ayo and Aneka, young women recruited to become Dora Milaje, an

elite task force trained to protect the crown at all costs. What happens when your nation needs your hearts

and minds, but you already gave them to each other?

Other footage from the film screened early for reporters centers more closely on T’Challa, including scenes of a traditional and elaborate Wakandan ceremony, and a shoot-out in a South Korea casino featuring Andy Serkis’s Claw and Martin Freeman’s Everett K. Ross. For fans of Lupita Nyong’o, there was also a pair of scenes showing her character dancing (she gets her own boat) and taking out several armed guards.

The costumes in Black Panther—especially the ones worn by the Dora Milaje—are truly dazzling, with a lot of bright colors and elaborate patterns. Angela Bassett, as T’Challa’s mother and Queen of Wakanda, sports a jaw-dropping coiffure of snow-white dreadlocks. According to the production team, director Ryan Coogler was interested in giving Black Panther—the star of which debuted in Civil War—an updated look that was more faithful to the current run of comics. And though Marvel didn’t screen any footage of Michael B. Jordan in costume—he’s playing villainous Erik Killmonger—concept art tacked to the Marvel office walls revealed a fearsome mask compete with horns and mane.

In other words: even if Marvel and superhero fatigue is setting in, rest assured that Black Panther isn’t going to look like anything you’ve seen from them before.

Full Screen

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See the Tony-Nominated Costumes from Eclipsed and the Sketches that Inspired Them

Photo: Left, courtesy of Clint Ramos; Right, courtesy of Joan Marcus.

Will ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Be the Last Racially Insensitive Blockbuster?

Between the phenomenal success of “Get Out” and the failure of “Ghost in the Shell,” might Hollywood finally wise up?

Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell

“Ghost in the Shell”

Between the phenomenal success of “Get Out,” the imminent next chapter of the emphatically diverse “Fast and the Furious” franchise, and the recent failure of “Ghost in the Shell,” (among other examples), is there genuine reason to hope that racially insensitive blockbusters might soon become a thing of the past?

Vadim Rizov (@vrizov), Filmmaker Magazine

I think a lot about Bilge Ebiri’s 2013 piece on how the “Fast & Furious” franchise blew up by self-consciously becoming “diverse.” The short takeaway: Universal execs didn’t throw together a super-diverse cast out of the goodness of their progressive hearts, but out of a keen awareness that targeting multipole, oft-underserved demographics was a key, underexploited pathway to making much more money. It’s long been reported that there’s a big gap between onscreen representation and the audiences showing up: Latinos are the biggest moviegoers in the US, which you wouldn’t guess from the number (or lack thereof) of prominently cast Latinos onscreen.

So the examples cited are, sure, apposite, but what we’re really talking about here are two examples of black filmmakers breaking through plus one self-consciously “inclusive” blockbuster — hardly a monster wave, and anyone with a memory of how the late ’80s wave of black filmmakers ground to a halt after a while should be wary that non-white filmmakers are now, finally, about to become an integral part of the Hollywood apparatus, with attendant changes in onscreen diversity to follow; all it takes is one flop for the machine to change its mind (which is admittedly very stupid). So I’m sadly wary that we’re on the way to a more inclusive onscreen future.

READ MORE: ‘Ghost In The Shell’ Anime Director Defends Scarlett Johansson’s Casting

Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse), Freelance for Vulture, Nylon, the Guardian

While it would certainly be nice if Hollywood got its shit together and stopped casting white people in nonwhite roles, and while I agree that there have been tiny incremental decreases in that practice year by year, I fear it’ll be a long time until it become a complete thing of the past. You trace a positive trend through “Get Out,” “Moonlight,” and “Fastly Furious 8: Fambly Matters,” but we could just as easily draw a less heartening conclusion from a glance at the next few months. By the end of June, we’ll have a film in which Guatemalan-born Oscar Isaac plays Armenian, something called “How to Be a Latin Lover” (gulp) from my beloved Ken Marino, and loads of all-white studio projects.

Things are definitely better now than they were as recently as 2014, but until people of color have been installed in key decision making positions, I fear a meaningful step forward will be impossible.

The Fate of the Furious Fast 8 Vin Diesel

Manuela Lazic (@ManiLazic), Freelance for Little White Lies, The Film Stage

In our frequent tearful and angry comments against the big monster that is Hollywood, we critics often fail to recognise this industry’s undeniable complexity. Somewhat simultaneously, progress seems always on the cusp of realisation, while signs of Hollywood’s backward ideas about race and identity continue to surface in countless new films, especially blockbusters. In theatres this weekend, a brave spectator — or one into cognitive dissonance — can have herself a double-bill of the ground-breaking “Get Out” and the whitewashed “Ghost in the Shell” remake. Hollywood is a messy place.

Nevertheless, “Moonlight”’s exhilarating critical triumph (with a gobsmacking twist ending on Oscars night) and “Get Out”’s massive commercial success recently may make “Ghost in the Shell” seem like an anomaly, a last misjudged attempt by Hollywood to pursue its long-held tradition of reappropriation and flattening out of racial difference in favour of the majority. It almost feels like real change is taking place, which can explain the vigorousness of the outcry against “Ghost.” Yet while evidently justified, this violent dismissal also risks making us forget about the similar and in fact not so distant scandal of “Doctor Strange,” which followed many others. Despite all the anger that these previous films generated, such attitudes evidently persist.

Hollywood nonetheless always tries to give its audience what it wants, if only because this strategy makes economical sense. And this explains the very existence of a “Ghost in the Shell” remake: the original regained popularity in recent years by becoming more available to Occidental spectators and thanks to the surge of interest in anime. But as the casting of Scarlett Johansson blatantly reveals, Hollywood is a clumsy pleaser. It is willing to tap into different stories, but cannot fully commit to their specificity. In some cases, as with the casting of Tilda Swinton as “the Ancient One” in “Doctor Strange,” traces of Orientalism even emerge, where Asian cultures are not only populated with white people, but also made to look inaccessible, exotic, magical and even dangerous.

Perhaps the solution to Hollywood’s racial problem lies in this very desire to please: critics, and social media users in general, might have the power to guide the big studios on their tedious path to sensitive representation. Through trial and error — that is, unsatisfying attempts at diversity in films, then virulent attacks by spectators in the press and the media- the industry might eventually understand what is so wrong about itself, and finally deliver consistently racially conscious movies. Until then, we shall stay mad.

Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko) Pajiba/Nerdist/CBR

Man, I wish. And not just because I’m an alleged and unrepentant SJW, but also because wouldn’t it be amazing if films as original, challenging, and riveting as “Moonlight” and “Get Out” became the standard and not the exception?

Personally, I’m hopeful that the success of these films — as well as the box office success of “Hidden Figures”— will prove to Hollywood once and for all that white-straight-male need not be the default setting for any given story. And I expect we’ll start to see a shift toward more Black actors getting lead roles, instead of the parade of blandsome white ingendudes of which Hollywood seems to have an endless supply. But I’m doubtful the success of these movies will impact Hollywood’s loathsome tradition of Asian erasure, as Asians and Asian-Americans are all too often left out of the race and representation conversation.

It all comes from Hollywood believing only white heroes (often white men) sell movies globally (which is bunk). Yet, this year alone we saw examples of Asian erasure in “The Great Wall,” “Iron Fist,” and “Ghost in the Shell.” While not all are clear examples of white washing, each is a story that relishes in an Asian culture, while centering on a White protagonist. And that reduces Asian people to set dressing, even within their own stories. What needs to happen for this kind to change is not only the failure of such properties, but also the success of ones that dare to recognize Asian and Asian-American stars as more than cameos that’ll help bolster overseas sales. We’ll know a sea change is actually happening there when Asian/Asian-American women can front a story that doesn’t involve martial arts, or when an Asian/Asian-American man can be cast as the lead in a romantic-comedy. Because — as Jack Choi pointed out last year — allowing an actor to be seen as a sex symbol is a crucial step in making him a star.

Here’s hoping someone soon will finally realize the untapped potential of the internet’s crush John Cho, or that some clever producer will run with the swoons Dev Patel has stirred from his surfer-bro “Lion” look. Because here is the rare case where objectification could actually help in representation.

Jordan Peele Get Out

Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker

The “Fast and Furious” franchise has a diverse cast; so do the most recent “Star Wars” entries, and so does “Captain America: Civil War”; and these films’ successes have hardly ushered in a new era in empathy and justice. Or, rather, unfortunately, not at all. Big-budget, mass-market films are effects, not causes. The commercial success of these movies with diverse casts and the failure of “Ghost in the Shell” may give studio executives the hint they need. On the other hand, “Life” was a failure, too (the capital letter matters). On the third hand, one of the things that makes “Get Out” a great movie is its depiction of racial identity as a matter of historical consciousness and personal experience.

Tentpole movies don’t offer much of either — for people of any ethnicity; the amount of human experience that filters into these films is pretty slender overall. That’s why the diversity of casts needs to be joined by diversity behind the camera — executives, producers, directors, screenwriters; otherwise, the diverse casts (though important in themselves, as opportunities for the actors) will have little effect on the films’ substance.

Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic), Nonfics, Film School Rejects

The sad thing is that “Ghost in the Shell”s disappointing box office may not be seen as the result of the casting controversy, and maybe it is not entirely. But we’ve seen so many movies that have had similar issues, including “Gods of Egypt” and “The Great Wall,” unable to financially back up the offenses in terms of being what audiences want, that it has to be getting to Hollywood. Unless they see the success of films like “Get Out” and “Fast and the Furious” being enough to counter the films deemed insensitive, like “Ghost in the Shell,” which is a box office failure, and Doctor Strange, which is not. And they may be doing well enough outside America where the controversies don’t alway carry over, that they don’t care. Maybe the only way to tell if anything was learned with “Ghost in the Shell” is to see what happens with “Akira.”

Tasha Robinson (@TashaRobinson), The Verge

I don’t think we’re ever likely to be entirely rid of tone-deaf adaptations, for the same reason we’ll never be rid of bloated blockbuster sequels or dumbed-down copycats of hit movies: at least half of Hollywood is always chasing what looks like the safest payday, by trying to plug “bankable” stars into everything, regardless of appropriateness or optics. What the success of films like “Get Out” and “Hidden Figures” gets us that I find heartening is a new set of profitable stars. There’s always going to be some clueless money-minded Hollywood exec pushing Tom Cruise or Matt Damon for the lead role in a President Obama biopic, because “Their films make money, and making money is what’s important.” But as actors like Michael B. Jordan, Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, and Mahershala Ali gain more cachet as Hollywood moneymakers, we’re more likely to see their names come up in conversation. The success of films like “Get Out” and “Hidden Figures” — or, on another scale entirely, the admirably diversity-minded “Star Wars: Rogue One” — isn’t just a boon for people who want to see themselves reflected onscreen, and it isn’t just a boon for people who want to point to “diverse” films and say they make money and have an audience. It’s also a boon for producers and directors and casting agents who want to widen their net, and need to be able to point to past successes when they’re pitching future projects. The more “bankable” stars of color we have, the less likely we are to live in a world where Scarlett Johansson is seen as the only possible star for an action film about a tough woman, regardless of that woman’s race.

 

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Hollywood women: They got respect

 

Never mind the criticism President Trump recently aimed at Meryl Streep: A new study has found that admiration and respect for Hollywood women such as Streep is at an all-time high, marking a shift in attitudes that crosses geographical and demographic lines.

So, good news to mark Wednesday’s International Women’s Day, according to the University of Southern California’s indefatigable Jeetendr Sehdev, the expert on celebrity branding and marketing who churns out regular examinations of Americans’ attitudes toward celebs and their doings. Example: His new book,The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells (and How to Do It Right).

Sehdev’s latest survey (of 10,000 people in North America, Europe and Australia during February) found what he called an “extraordinary shift” in attitudes, especially obvious among Millennials and Gen Xers, in which strong Hollywood women such as Oscar winners Streep, Viola Davis and Patricia Arquette are perceived to have outperformed men in a variety of areas, including risk-taking, tenacity and digital savvy.

“Hollywood women have found their voice, are demanding attention and respect from their audiences, and are finally getting it,” Sehdev says.

Despite the routine and widespread criticism of female celebrities in the media — the recent body shaming of Lady Gaga after her Super Bowl performance comes to mind — “audiences have actually developed a greater compassion toward female celebrities through their public failures and insight about the ‘pain of fame,’ ” Sehdev says.

There’s “an overwhelming perception” among those surveyed that women have to work harder than their male counterparts to succeed in Hollywood, he says. Plus, female celebs get more respect than male celebs from those surveyed because they are perceived to show “less competition and more camaraderie” among themselves.

Whether it’s Adele’s shout-out to Beyoncé at the Grammys or the number of female celebrities seen marching arm-in-arm at the post-inauguration Women’s Marches, “a more open idea of sisterhood among Hollywood’s top stars has changed the perception of female celebrities,” Sehdev says.

Streep, Davis and Arquette, for instance, all have taken strong public stands in favor of more diversity in Hollywood, more women in positions of power and closing the pay gap between male and female stars. In the case of Streep, who has three Oscars and a record 20 nominations, she denounced Trump policies at the Golden Globes, which earned her one of his signature tweet insults as “overrated.”

On the issue of pushing for more women in leading roles before and behind the cameras in the entertainment industry, Sehdev found that 50% of the women he surveyed believe having more women-led movies would improve the overall perception of women within society, and another 28% of women say this would positively impact all women’s lives.

Compare this, he says, to responses by men he surveyed: Only 15% of men said that having more women in leading movie roles would do a lot to impact the perception of women, while 31% say this would improve women’s lives to a degree.

In terms of leadership, Sehdev says he found that most people surveyed (74%) perceive female celebs as the same as men in leadership qualities. Younger people are especially likely to hold those views.

“Millennials are the first generation to believe female celebrities are every bit as capable of being powerful leaders as male celebrities,” Sehdev says. “They are the most gender-blind generation we’ve seen. This in combination with the fact that more women in film are unafraid to speak up is causing an extraordinary shift in attitudes.”

Female celebs are also perceived to be more tenacious, more willing to take greater risks, more passionate and compassionate on human rights issues, even more intelligent about connecting with younger audiences.

“Female celebrities are seen to be more digitally savvy and more active in social media, and that increases relevance with younger audiences,” he says.

All demographics surveyed agreed that female celebs over 40 and female celebs of color can be considered desirable and sexy, but Millennials and Gen Xers were especially more likely to agree.

“A turning point for attractiveness, Hollywood women of color and those over 40 are perceived as increasingly desirable as definitions of what is considered sexy continue to change,” Sehdev says.

If these attitudes are increasing among audiences, why does the entertainment industry place the most emphasis on box office returns? Sehdev says it’s inevitably a losing position given the changing attitudes he has found.

“Strong female characters have always been good business at the box office,” he says. “Hollywood has no choice but to recognize this and reinvent itself or it will continue to lose relevance among younger audiences.”

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5 Black Women To Watch In Hollywood In 2017

Be on the lookout for these glow-ups.

Black Voices’ associate editor Taryn Finley and senior culture writer Zeba Blay sat down with Murray, who was also joined by Buzzfeed entertainment reporter Sylvia Obell, to share her perspective as an entertainment insider.

Here are five women Murray said should be on your list of Hollywood up-and-comers to watch in 2017:

1. Gina Prince-Bythewood

Nicholas Hunt via Getty Images
Prince-Bythewood will be co-directing “Shots Fired” with husband Reggie Bythewood.

Best known for her 2000 romance film “Love and Basketball,” starring Sanaa Lathan, Gina Prince-Bythewood is no Hollywood newbie. Prince-Bythewood will be directing the upcoming fictional Fox series “Shots Fired,” which is centered on police brutality in South Carolina. Lathan will also star in the series.

2. Dee Rees

Maarten de Boer via Getty Images
Rees also directed the film “Pariah,” about a young, black lesbian struggling with her identity in Brooklyn.

In a $12.5 million deal, Netflix recently bought director Dee Rees’ critically acclaimed film “Mudbound.” The film, which follows soldiers returning home from WWII, stars Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige.

3. Stella Meghie

Earl Gibson III via Getty Images
Meghie’s directorial debut “Jean of the Joneses“ premiered last year.

Stella Meghie’s name may not ring a bell just yet, but the Toronto native may soon be at the center of Hollywood’s attention when romance film “Everything, Everything,” starring Amandla Stenberg, is released this May.

4. Jessica Williams

Mike Coppola via Getty Images
Williams spoke at the Women’s March on Sundance earlier this year.

Former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams should have been on your radar yesterday. One half of the “2 Dope Queens” podcast, Williams will be starring in Netflix’s “The Incredible Jessica James,” about a young playwright living in New York City.

5. Yvonne Orji

Rodin Eckenroth via Getty Images
Issa Rae and Orji gained everyone’s affection IRL when a photo of them sharing excitement over the Golden Globes nomination for “Insecure” while in their headscarves made its rounds on the internet.

Yvonne Orji is everybody’s bestie as Molly in “Insecure.” But Orji really won our hearts with her realness when she opened up to “The Breakfast Club” in November about being a virgin at 32 years old and having experienced bullying when she was younger.

Look out, Hollywood. All this black excellence ain’t here to play.

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