Month: June 2016

Disney Channel’s “Elena of Avalor” To Premiere July 22

Disney Channel fans (or family members of fans), take note: Disney’s first Latina princess, will make her debut on Elena of Avalor, airing Friday, July 22 at 7 p.m.-8 p.m. ET.

Princess Elena of Avalor will finally be presented to the world in a one-hour premiere event. Gaby Moreno, Latin Grammy Award winner for Best New Artist, will perform the theme song; Aimee Carrero, the voice of Elena, will also sing Elena’s anthem, “My Time.”

The show is set to star tons of talent, such as Switched at Birth and George Lopez star Constance Marie, movie star Danny Trejo, Jane the Virgin’s Jaime Camil and Ivonne Coll, Ugly Betty and Devious Maids star Ana Ortiz, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Tituss Burgess, movie and TV star Hector Elizondo and other guest stars. Here is a ton (and I mean a TON) of info, some of which is especially pertinent for those of you with the Disney Channel App and Disney Channel VOD.

Set in the enchanted fairytale land of Avalor, the series tells the story of Elena, a brave and adventurous teenager who has saved her kingdom from an evil sorceress and must now learn to rule as crown princess until she is old enough to be queen. Elena’s journey will lead her to understand that her new role requires thoughtfulness, resilience and compassion, the traits of all truly great leaders.

The stories incorporate influences from diverse Latin and Hispanic cultures through architecture, traditions, food and customs. Magic, mythology, folklore and music also play an important role, with each episode featuring original songs spanning an array of Latin musical styles including Mariachi, Latin Pop, Salsa, Banda and Chilean Hip Hop.

A full-length preview of the first episode, “First Day of Rule,” will be available for verified users on the Disney Channel app and Disney Channel VOD platforms beginning Friday, July 1. Following its U.S. debut, the series will roll out globally in 33 languages in 163 countries on Disney Channels worldwide.

In the first episode, Elena officially becomes crown princess and rescues her sister, Isabel, from Noblins, elf-like shapeshifting creatures based on a Chilean peuchen myth. The episode also introduces Zuzo, Elena’s spirit guide in the animal world, based on the belief of a Mayan tribe in southern Mexico. In the second episode, titled “Model Sister,” Elena is torn between a promise she made to help Isabel and fulfilling her royal duties.

This fall, Disney Channel will air a special TV movie titled “Elena and the Secret of Avalor,” which explains how Elena was imprisoned for decades in her magical amulet and eventually set free by Princess Sofia of Enchancia.

Extensions for the series include Disney Parks & Resorts, which will welcome Princess Elena at Walt Disney World Resort this summer and at Disneyland Resort in the fall; print and e-book titles from Disney Publishing; and dolls, role-play products, accessories, home décor and apparel from Disney Store and licensees including Hasbro, Jakks Pacific, Franco Manufacturing and Children’s Apparel Network. Products will begin setting later this month at Disney Store and will continue to roll out at mass retailers throughout the summer. Walt Disney Records will release Elena’s anthem titled “My Time” as a digital single on iTunes Friday, June 24, followed by a seven-track EP featuring songs from the series on Friday, July 22, and Disney Studios will release an episode compilation DVD later this year.

“Elena of Avalor” stars Aimee Carrero as the voice of Elena; Jenna Ortega as Princess Isabel; Chris Parnell, Yvette Nicole Brown and Carlos Alazraqui as the jaquins Migs, Luna and Skylar respectively; Emiliano Díez as Francisco; Julia Vera as Luisa; Christian Lanz as Chancellor Esteban; Jillian Rose Reed as Naomi; Joseph Haro as Mateo; Jorge Diaz as Gabe; Keith Ferguson as Zuzo; and Joe Nunez as Armando.

The recurring guest voice cast includes: Constance Marie as Doña Paloma, Magister of the Traders Guild; Lou Diamond Phillips as Victor Delgado, a debonair villain who uses his charisma to deceive the people around him; Justina Machado and Jaime Camil as siblings Carmen and Julio, who run a restaurant in Avalor; Rich Sommer as Captain Daniel Turner, Naomi’s father and harbormaster; Tyler Posey as Prince Alonso, a charming prince from the Argentine-inspired Kingdom of Cordoba; Lucas Grabeel as Jiku, the leader of the Noblins; and Echo Kellum as King Joaquín, a monarch from the Caribbean-inspired Kingdom of Cariza, who is a trusted and close friend of Elena.

The guest voice cast for season one includes: Tituss Burgess as Charoca, a magical volcano creature based on a Chilean myth; Ana Ortiz as Rafa, Mateo’s mother; Ivonne Coll as Doña Angelica, an absent-minded and overly dramatic ghost; Hector Elizondo as Fiero, a wicked wizard; Odette Annable as Señorita Marisol, Isabel’s enthusiastic young teacher; Danny Trejo as Antonio Agama, a popular Avaloran hero; Anthony Mendez as King Juan Ramón, a monarch from the Argentine-inspired Kingdom of Cordoba; Eden Espinosa as Orizaba, an evil moth fairy banished to the spirit world; Marsai Martin as Cat, a budding scientist and adventurer; Aasif Mandvi as King Raja, a monarch from the Indian-inspired Kingdom of Napurna; and George Takei as King Toshi, a monarch from the Japanese-inspired Kingdom of Satu.

Latin Grammy Award winner Gaby Moreno performs the series’ theme song and will also voice a guest role. Born in Guatemala, Moreno performs her music, which ranges from blues to jazz to soul to R&B, in both English and Spanish. In addition to winning the Latin Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2013, Moreno was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Theme Music in 2010 for co-writing the theme song to “Parks and Recreation.”

“Elena of Avalor” was created by Emmy Award winner Craig Gerber, who also serves as executive producer. Silvia Cardenas Olivas is the story editor, and Elliot M. Bour is the supervising director. The series’ cultural advisors are Marcela Davison Avilés, founder of The Chapultepec Group, co-founder of the international Latino arts initiative Camino Arts, and Director of Humanities Programs at the FDR Foundation at Harvard University; and Diane Rodriguez, Associate Artistic Director of Centre Theatre Group and co-founder of the theatre ensemble Latins Anonymous, who was recently appointed by President Obama to be a member of the National Council on the Arts.

Check out some of the pictures of Elena and Isabel below. What do you think about Elena of Avalor? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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“Tyrant”: Adam Rayner on Bassam Al-Fayeed in Cigar Aficionado

I’ve talked a lot about Tyrant on this site, as well as on my slice of the Entertainment Weekly Community. One of the biggest points of contention I’ve had is that the main character, Bassam/Barry, is played by a white British actor, Adam Rayner. Tyrant is a show completely about the Middle East and Middle Eastern characters. Seeing how actors of Middle Eastern descent have to face tons of stereotyping and marginalization in Hollywood to get meaningful roles (roles that aren’t terrorists), and how young Bassam is actually played by young actors of Middle Eastern descent despite Rayner playing adult Bassam, I’ve not only called the show out on its casting of the main character, but have personally wondered how Rayner felt about it. Well, he’s spoken about this and more in his interview with Cigar Aficionado.

“My main research was reading about the region…I’m not playing someone who was fully culturally an Arab man—to him, this world has become alien,” he told the magazine. “Still, I was learning about Bedouin and Arab culture, the history and politics, as well as the current political climate, trying to gain an understanding and knowledge that Bassam would have grown up with.”

Howard Gordon, the executive producer of Tyrant (along with other Middle Eastern-based—and contentious—shows 24 and Homeland), said of Rayner, “Obviously it’s a challenge for someone with no experience of the Middle East to play someone from there. Adam has been up to it.”

Let me analyze these points for just a second. These are my thoughts, not the thoughts of Cigar Aficionado. First, let me say the comments in the article are very enlightening. But I do have some stuff to say after watching two seasons of Tyrant.

I’ve always felt that a person of Middle Eastern background should have been awarded this role and a person such as that would kill this role. Why? Because they’d have a lot more tacit knowledge to work with and they wouldn’t have to do the research, as it were, to play another culture and another race. Or, let me look at it from the point of view of a Bassam; why not cast an American of Middle Eastern descent (or a Brit of Middle Eastern descent, or anyone else), someone who is removed from the day-to-day life of the Middle East, but, like Bassam, has a link to their culture and a curiosity to learn more. Either way, whether you go with an actor from the Middle East or an actor of Middle Eastern descent, you have a much more realistic portrayal of Bassam.

However, I’ll give Rayner credit for finding his way into Bassam’s point of view. To me, Rayner’s Bassam hints at something unsavory that seems to be true to the character; Bassam has a large level of self-hate. Not just for his own actions, but for his culture. Sure, he comes from a line of despots. But he can’t separate the actions of his family from the overall culture of his home and the citizens that make up his home. He strikes me just as what he looks like; a Middle Eastern man who passes for white so he can get the benefits of living in America, and who lives in America so long that he removes himself from his home, his former identity, and his former actions. But, with Rayner’s Bassam taking this tone, there are new questions. Is this the tone the creator(s) wanted for Bassam in the first place? Does this tone make him less sympathetic? Would critics like me even see this side of Bassam if he was cast using an actual Middle Eastern actor (because Middle Eastern people come in all shades)? I don’t know. Such is the case with a complicated scenario of Rayner as Bassam.

The only thing I can say is that at least the production and Rayner himself seem to be aware of the issues involved. But, if the production was aware of this to begin with, why go with a non-Middle Eastern actor? An actor, I must also point out, who is someone no one in the U.S. had heard of before?

I bring this up because production teams always like say that they’re looking for “star power.” That argument has been made over and over for choosing white actors over Asian actors, and it was just used again when discussing who could play Rumi. The erroneous thought process is that they want someone with star wattage attached to their name, so they pick a white actor. However, Rayner was not a star here in the U.S.; British folks would have to fill me in on if he was a star in in the U.K. The same can be said for someone like Tom Mison, who I’m sure would be the first to say (and has said in so many words) that he’s not the sole star of Sleepy Hollow despite him having the caché of being a white Briton; Nicole Beharie, who has acted in high caliber films such as 42 and Shame, and has more star wattage because of it, is the star, and therefore the leader (or should have been if there didn’t seem to be a conspiracy to make Sleepy Hollow another iteration of Dr. Who).

The point is this: if a white actor who is looking for his big break can be given his chance by playing a Middle Eastern character, why couldn’t a Middle Eastern actor (or actor of Middle Eastern descent) who is looking for his big break be afforded the same, especially in a role reflective of his ethnicity? Again, there are a lot of questions that could have been nullified if the complications from casting were taking care of from the beginning. Again, such is the case with a complicated scenario of Rayner as Bassam.

Make no mistake; I’m not faulting Rayner or saying he’s a bad actor. In fact, most of the actors who get cast as roles outside of their ethnicity/race aren’t bad actors. It’s just there’s a can of worms Hollywood always has to open when it comes to who gets cast as whom.

All right, now that that’s out of the way, check out some of the other tidbits from the article (which is, in all fairness, a really good article):

Eric Schrier, FX Networks president of original programming, on filming in a war zone: “We try to take big swings. A show set in the Middle East? That’s a big swing…Let’s say this show had its challenges, production-wise, that first season. I mean, they were shooting rockets.”

Gwyneth Horder-Payton, co-executive producer, on the challenges of shooting scenes set in a mosque: “We built the set and hired extras of Arab descent. When Barry [Rayner’s character] walked into the middle of the service, they were upset because they said this would never happen in a mosque—it would never be allowed. Plus, here I am, a woman, in the mosque. Also not allowed. And I’m wearing shoes, because I’m going back and forth outside…Also not allowed. And they were serious, even though it was a set we’d built and not a real mosque.”

On the similarities between Rayner’s character and Syria dictator Bashar al-Assad: “The parallels to Assad are obvious. The old-style dictator father, the son who’s been trained in the West.  Still, it’s important to say that this isn’t a show about one country. That would prevent us from dealing with issues that are more common region-wide.”

On the dethroning of dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi: “How do you rule over a democracy when you’ve got a gun to your head? One easy way to solve the problem is to get a gun to the other guy’s head.  It solves the problem—but it’s not democracy…How do you create security for the country without compromising those democratic principles? Democracy requires a lot of preparation, with elections after you’ve educated the people. But how long will that take? And who’s in charge in the meantime?  It’s not as simple as, well, we got rid of Hussein or Qaddafi and now we’ll have democracy.”

On being compared to Abraham Lincoln: “When you’re playing a president or a dictator, it’s a time-honored cliché that a beard bestows authority on a man- or that’s my hope, anyway. People on the show have started calling me Abe Lincoln, which is an interesting comparison.  I’m not quite sure if it’s a compliment or not.”

On the significance of cigars in Tyrant:They’re considered quite a Western symbol, associated with the power and wealth, smoked by the Tony Sopranos of the world.”

On authoritarianism and building democracy: “Because to build the democratic process, first you have to delay the democratic process—and that’s an authoritarian government.”

Read the entirety of the Tyrant interview with Cigar Aficionado (including quotes from Moran Atias, who plays Leila Al-Fayeed) in this month’s issue, on sale now (the full cover is below). Tyrant, in its third season, comes back at 10/9c July 6 on FX.

Adam-Rayner-Cigar-Aficionado-FULL

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New “Suicide Squad” Posters Feature Characters, Marshmallows

Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ Suicide Squad have released new posters, and they are all sugary sweet. Literally.

I think it’s a rather ingenious move to showcase the characters of the film in Lucky Charms-esque marshmallow form. It seems to say it all about the film; it’s a comic book film, of course, but it’s a comic book film that is also highly aware of the candy-coated action film it’s striving to be, a film non-comic book fans can watch and like too. If there’s one thing I don’t like about Marvel movies (and I have more than one thing I don’t like), it’s that Marvel Studios only seems to market their films to die-hard comic book fans, leaving not-so-regular Marvel readers like me feeling a little out in the cold. DC, though, also seems like a lot of their big characters, like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc., seem to be more equal-access characters than Marvel characters, as in they seem to be a bigger part of the American collective consciousness than Marvel’s big characters like Captain America. The only Marvel character that is as much a part of the collective consciousness like Batman is Spider-Man. Anyways, let me not get into a dissertation about how accessible certain characters are.

Here are the character posters as well as that aforementioned marshmallow poster. Wouldn’t it be great if Kellogg’s partnered with DC and actually made this poster into a cereal? I’d eat a ton of that.

Suicide Squad comes to theaters August 5. Here’s more about the film:

From director David Ayer (“Fury,” “End of Watch”) comes “Suicide Squad,” starring Oscar nominee Will Smith (“Ali,” “The Pursuit of Happyness”), Oscar winner Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”), Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Focus”), Joel Kinnaman (Netflix’s “House of Cards”) and Oscar nominee Viola Davis (“The Help,” “Doubt”).

It feels good to be bad… Assemble a team of the world’s most dangerous, incarcerated Super Villains, provide them with the most powerful arsenal at the government’s disposal, and send them off on a mission to defeat an enigmatic, insuperable entity. U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller has determined only a secretly convened group of disparate, despicable individuals with next to nothing to lose will do. However, once they realize they weren’t picked to succeed but chosen for their patent culpability when they inevitably fail, will the Suicide Squad resolve to die trying, or decide it’s every man for himself?

Written and directed by Ayer based on the characters from DC Comics, the film also stars Jai Courtney (“Insurgent”), Jay Hernandez (“Takers”), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Thor: The Dark World”), Ike Barinholtz (“Neighbors”), Scott Eastwood (“Fury”), Cara Delevingne (“Paper Towns”), Adam Beach (“Cowboys & Aliens”), and Karen Fukuhara in her feature film debut. It is produced by Charles Roven and Richard Suckle, with Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Colin Wilson and Geoff Johns serving as executive producers.

Ayer’s behind-the-scenes creative team includes director of photography Roman Vasyanov (“Fury,” “End of Watch”), production designer Oliver Scholl (“Edge of Tomorrow”), editor John Gilroy (“Pacific Rim”), costume designer Kate Hawley (“The Hobbit” Trilogy) and Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Jerome Chen (“Stuart Little,” “Fury,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” films). The music is by Oscar-winning composer Steven Price (“Gravity”).

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, an Atlas Entertainment production, a film by David Ayer, “Suicide Squad.” The film will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. The film opens worldwide in 3D, and in 2D, and in select IMAX 3D theaters beginning August 5, 2016.

 

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JUST ADD COLOR’s Rumi Online Roundtable with Mihrimah Irena, Rana Tahir, Imran Siddiquee, Nora Rahimian and Evadney Petgrave

Jalal al-Din Mohammad Balkhi, the Sufi mystic and popular 13th century Persian poet better known as Rumi, is going to become a Hollywood superstar. Great; we’re getting diversity in storytelling, right? It would appear that it’s only a mirage. Despite the film focusing on a popular Middle Eastern historical figure, and despite screenwriter David Franzoni stating that he’s working on a script that will “challenge the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim characters in western cinema by charting the life of the great Sufi scholar,” Franzoni still gave the suggestion that a white actor would play Rumi, such as Leonardo DiCaprio. Franzoni also suggested that someone like Robert Downey, Jr. would be great to play Shams of Tabriz, who was Rumi’s spiritual teacher.

To be fair, producer Stephen Joel Brown said that it’s too early to discuss casting, saying that the star caliber of a DiCaprio and Downey is what they’re looking for in their prospective leads. But the mere suggestion of DiCaprio and Downey, white actors, and conflating that with star power seems to suggest that once again, Hollywood has the potential to go the whitewashing route. That fear and anger resulted in the hashtag #RumiWasntWhite.

However, despite the backlash, there was another point of view voiced on Twitter. One thread in particular suggested that even though some Americans might be up in arms about the Rumi film, people overseas in Turkey, where Rumi was buried, wouldn’t be offended by DiCaprio playing Rumi; instead, they’d see it as a compliment that Hollywood wanted to give Rumi the Hollywood star treatment. However, the Afghan government is now aware of the film and are monitoring its development. Haoon Hakimi, the spokesperon for the country’s ministry of Information and Culture, told DW.com that the government is “still collecting informatoin on this issue” and that “[a]s soon as we have something, the ministry will share its views with the film makers.”

I wanted to see what potential audience members felt about this movie. So for this online roundtable (via email and Twitter direct message), we have Twitter user Mihrimah Irena, poetry writer, freelance editor and blogger Rana Tahir (rana-tahir.com), film and media critic, filmmaker, speaker and consultant Imran Siddiquee (imransiddiquee.com), music festival organizer and co-founder of global arts and culture collaborative network #CultureFix Nora Rahimian, and writer and Citrine Magazine founder/editor Evadney Petgrave.

JUST ADD COLOR: What were your immediate reactions to the news that Rumi could be played by Leonardo DiCaprio?

Mihrimah Irena : My immediate reaction was, pardon the French, WTF. literally. I was and am furious.

Rana Tahir: Honestly, I just had to roll my eyes. I love DiCaprio, I’ve been a fan since Titanic (screw everyone, that movie is a masterpiece), and I’m a fan of Rumi too. I’m not blaming either of them for this (well, I can’t blame Rumi, he’s been dead for a long time). I sincerely hope Leo turns this down. If not for us, then at least for himself: You can get other roles, Leo! Don’t taint yourself with racism!

Imran Siddiquee: I was actually surprised by how surprised I was at the news, only because you would think at this point we’d all be accustomed to such ridiculousness from Hollywood (since there have been way too many examples of this kind of whitewashing in the past year alone). But honestly, I feel like it only becomes more ridiculous the more it happens, because at some point you’re like – wait, are people really not paying attention at all? (They really aren’t).

Nora Rahimian: I was so excited for a Rumi film, in part because I was excited to see a representation of my culture that celebrated some of the parts of us I love the most: celebrations of poetry and love and beauty. That they want Leo to play the role is a symbol of the deeper whitewashing that inevitably will happen—that they’ll do—to Rumi’s story. It felt like an erasure of my people, of a denial of our cultural legacy.

Evadney Petgrave: Mainstream Hollywood’s nonsense has been getting so much attention since April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite was created, so I wasn’t too surprised when this announcement was made. Sadly, people of color are always on alert for how white people are going to try us next- this was just another one of those times. I feel like they just won’t ever get it, which is why I’m advocating for hitting them where it hurts – their pockets.

The director claims to want to affect people’s perceptions of the Middle East. What do you think of the irony that he’d choose non-Middle Eastern actors? In other words, would casting a non-Middle Eastern actor prevent the film from achieving what it aspires to?

Irena: The Middle East is rife with people of ALL skin colors – there are red haired Palestinians, blue eyed Lebanese, the list goes on. But to me, it’s the issue that he picked someone who is clearly European, who does not originate from that place and therefore doesn’t understand our history or our issues or our heritage… that to me is an issue. Look at Kingdom of Heaven– casting was right for that film and audiences in the Middle East greatly appreciated the portrayal of Saladdin by a middle eastern actor. I think the casting will cause and causes such an issue it will prevent the aspiration of this film.

Tahir: First of all, I think his premise is wrong. Making a movie about Rumi is probably not going to affect how people see the Middle East. Rumi was co-opted by white poets since Robert Bly introduced his poetry to the US in the 70’s. Often, Rumi’s poetry is divorced from his life, and more specifically, his faith. Rumi’s been whitewashed long before the idea of this movie, so to [white people] he might as well be European now.

Also, ancient depictions of the Middle East aren’t necessarily at issue when we talk about representation. Yes, it would be cool if the world knew a little more about how much Middle Eastern and Muslim societies have contributed to the world, but it’s more about the modern day representation. Highly developed games like “Call of Duty” can’t even bother to get the language right (Pakistanis speak Urdu, not Arabic!), and after all these years people still don’t get that turbans are usually worn by Sikhs not Muslims. If the director wants to help: recruit us to tell our stories as they are today, give us the platform! Want to help? Make a movie about the debacle that was Sykes-Picot. That shit has repercussions today, and he can even cast white people!

Siddiquee: I think casting a white man like DiCaprio to play this part actually would have an affect on people’s perceptions of the Middle East, in that it would further confirm/perpetuate an idea which white supremacy is always teaching us: that white men are more interesting than men of color. That white men are the heroes of history, and that people of color are only worth seeing as criminals and enemies of peace. This may not be what the creators overtly aspire to do, but I do get the sense that they aspire to make a film about Rumi for white people. That seems pretty clear to me given their comments – “He’s like Shakespeare” – and the fact that they reference Lawrence of Arabia as an inspiration. They have a particular audience in mind already and in that sense – which is a harmful, dismissive, and oppressive sense – casting Leonardo DiCaprio would help them achieve an unspoken goal.

But to your actual question, to make this casting decision would prevent the film from truly challenging stereotypes about Muslims or people from the Middle East.

Rahimian: Hollywood is very comfortable casting Middle Eastern actors as terrorists, villains, and monsters, but the fact that any positive portrayal of the region has to be done by a white actor is proof of how deeply white supremacy is embedded in our culture. The director can’t even imagine a “positive Middle East” with actual Middle Eastern people in. But what they can do is take a story that they find lucrative- Rumi is the best-selling poet in the US- and co-opt it for commercial gain. So the message is that the potential financial earnings are good enough for Hollywood, but the people, the cultural legacy, the history itself is not.

Petgrave: Almost everyone has heard or read a poem of Rumi’s, even if they don’t know his name. Yes, we do have to acknowledge people like Coleman Barks for anthologizing his work and helping bring it to the masses, but white-washing Rumi in a movie is a totally different animal. It just affirms that some white Americans think that something is not important unless they say it is. Writers, poets, and other people who love Rumi’s work would see the movie regardless of who is starring in it. In fact, this would be a Rumi movie that I will never support.

How do you think a whitewashed Rumi film would affect the fight for diversity in Hollywood?

Irena: The casting of a white actor for Rumi further exacerbates the issue of the CLEAR lack of diversity in Hollywood and shows that other people of color don’t matter and their stories and their struggles don’t matter.

Tahir: I think, and this may be the pessimist in me, that it won’t do much. There have been countless numbers of movies that were whitewashed. I mean look at what they are doing to Ghost in the Shell. Producers will continue to do this until there are real consequences. In order to have real consequences we need solidarity among a majority of moviegoers. This means that the burden (just demographically speaking) falls on white people. They are the majority of moviegoers in the U.S. according to the MPAA, and they are the ones Hollywood caters to more than anyone else. They’ve got to put their hat in the ring, so to speak.

The problem is white supremacy, the solution is white people. Ironic.

Rahimian: Rumi is one example in a long line stories that Hollywood has appropriated and whitewashed. What concerns me with this story in particular is that not much is actually known about Rumi’s life. So whatever Hollywood portrays will become fact for most people. They’re not just whitewashing history; they’re rewriting it.

Is it going to change Hollywood? No. But I think the backlash against Leo-as-Rumi reflects a shift where audiences are not just no longer accepting whitewashed films but also are demanding diversity in stories, characters, actors, and decision-makers.

Petgrave: There’s been a lot of people of all colors speaking out against this, so I think it will help to spread more light on Hollywood’s whitewashing. We are making our voices heard (and that is good), but we must do more than tweet and leave comments. Creating and sharing our own stories is the only way I believe we can have real diversity in Hollywood.

There’s a thread on Twitter about how some overseas wouldn’t see Leo-as-Rumi offensive because they might not see themselves as POC. What are your opinions on this?

Irena: I know from Pakistan and the Middle East there is a likeness and desire to have white skin and look lighter and look like those of European descent. But to me, I don’t agree with the opinion that people see themselves as white and stuff. The point is he doesn’t represent us, our heritage, our struggles, probably never even read Rumi or Hafez or any other poet from the Middle East when people from there read and learn it as soon as they are born.

Tahir:  I understand this point [in the thread] all too well. I grew up in the Middle East, in Kuwait specifically. When I lived there, I didn’t really have a problem with brown face, mostly because I never had to think about it. Two of my favorite movies are Jinnah and The Message where Christopher Lee and Anthony Quinn play brown people. What did it matter if one white guy played an Arab or Desi, when I could switch the channel and watch tons of people in the media who looked like me, or go outside and see the majority of people looked like me? I had daily representation. PoC in places where they are underrepresented don’t have that, so of course they think about representation in different ways.

But ultimately this is a cop-out. A Pakistani-American has as much right to Jinnah as a Pakistani does. Those of Arab/Turkish descent in the U.S. have as much right to think about how Rumi is represented as Turkish people. The politics change in the so-called melting pot we live in. The director is American, and he’s making an American movie which he will probably market and sell in the U.S. primarily. Dude can shove it with his excuses.

Another aside on this: do you really think Turkish people won’t be happy if someone of Turkish descent (or even an actor from Turkey) plays Rumi in a major Hollywood picture? People abroad are always noting with pride when someone like Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai Bachan, or even Omar Sharif breaks that barrier and gets into Hollywood. If the director is so concerned about people abroad, he could really give them something to root for by casting one of their own as Rumi.

Rahimian:  Race is a social construct. Ethnicity is about culture, history, etc. Color really doesn’t have to do with either. But the legacies of colonialism and imperialism that many of our countries suffered have left behind these ideas that “white is better” and set up the U.S./the West as standards to be compared to. So to say that Leo-as-Rumi is an honor is a symbol of deeply embedded internalized racism and the on-going colonial mentality.

Petgrave: Fair enough [re: the thread’s opinion]. I certainly can’t tell people what they should be offended at, but there are plenty of Middle-Eastern people who do agree that the filmmakers already have the wrong idea. I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to see someone who shares Rumi’s nationality, play Rumi. It’s elementary thinking. It’s not “an honor” to have your culture mimicked by whiteness and erased. There are plenty of Middle Eastern actors that can play this role and it’s a slap in the face to them to not even be able to be involved because they’re not white American. It’s more than being the same color.

America doesn’t have a great track record with proper Middle Eastern representation. What positive impact could an American-made film about Rumi (starring a Middle Eastern actor) have on America?

Irena: If Rumi starred a Middle Eastern, it would be a start towards better portrayal of middle easterners instead of having them as always terrorists. With a major film like this, it can catalyze having better portrayals of middle eastern and Muslims and thus work towards bridging the communities together and have better inclusiveness.

Tahir: I think, again, the issue is still about modern representation. Rumi is one of the top-selling poets in the U.S. right now, but misrepresentation about Islam and Middle Eastern people in general is rampant. A movie about Rumi done well, that incorporates his culture and faith properly, could have a good impact. It might make people think more about our contributions to the world over human history, but it does little to combat stereotypes today.

Rahimian:  If done well, the film would add a counter-narrative to all the negative portrayals of Middle Easterners. It would be another representation of us. At its best, it would be an invitation for people to further explore parts of Middle Eastern culture, history, and poetry that they perhaps hadn’t thought about it before. But do I trust that this film is being created to challenge stereotypes or actually pay homage to Rumi and his culture? Not at all.

Petgrave: Rumi is well-known here. People who care about his work, will support it. People who care about accurate representation will support it. I’m not sure how the filmmakers plan to tell his story since so little is known about him, but if the film is of good quality, it will do well in the box office. Accurate representation in media will finally show us that America might just be starting to get “great.”

How do you hope Hollywood addresses the Rumi film controversy and prevent potential erasure?

Irena: I hope they address the controversy OPPOSITE of how they handled Gods of Egypt. Like at least say “Oh, we will cast this Middle Eastern person instead and apologize.”…My overall message is this—Hollywood’s casting has, since it’s very inception, is dismissive of POC and if they have POC, most of the time, they cast them for “diversity sake” or as a filler or to fulfill a negative stereotypes. Which is wrong considering the world we live in.

Tahir: I think the best thing it can do is make a lot of money and prove to filmmakers that movies featuring Middle Eastern actors as the protagonist can succeed in the market. I hope the director just realizes his mistake and casts a PoC. If not, I hope DiCaprio publicly turns this role down and uses his platform to talk about representation like he does climate change. If that doesn’t happen either, I hope people boycott and send a message with their dollar.

Siddiquee: I think it’s a plus that this call out happened now, rather than later, since the film hasn’t completed casting. Too often we find about these things after production has begun – or sometimes even when we’re sitting in the theatre watching a film (which is the worst). There’s really a simple solution for these men in power, if they’d like this conversation to go away: don’t cast Leo or Robert Downey Jr. in these roles. And then, make the effort to cast someone who isn’t white.

But, if I’m being completely honest? I’m not really confident, at this point, that people who would suggest Leo in the lead role are then going to be able to make a film about Rumi which truly works against the dominance of whiteness in Hollywood—regardless of who they ultimately cast. And so, if they haven’t already, I think the most significant thing they can do at this point is bring on a co-writer or director who is a person of color, and preferably someone from somewhere close to where Rumi was born. (I know this is a slim possibility, but one can dream).

Rahimian: Bring in Middle Eastern filmmakers, consultants, actors, directors… Let us tell our own story.

Petgrave: I hope they do the right thing and put profits aside and focus on telling and showing an accurate representation. I have no hopes that will actually happen.

Who would you cast as Rumi?

Irena: I would cast as Rumi Halit Ergenç who is a prominent Turkish Actor and who starred in a Turkish Show called Magnificent Century ( a show about Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent) that is an international sensation. Or perhaps Remi Malik from [Mr.] Robot. Or Alexander Siddig.

Tahir: Mihrimah mentioned Alexander Siddig, I second that! I thought he was the perfect person to play Doran Martell on Game of Thrones, but then they gutted the Dorne storyline. Needless to say, I’m heartbroken. Turkey’s TV game has been amazing lately. Their shows are popular all over the [Middle East]. I would be interested in seeing Halit Ergenç from the show Harem Al-Sultan play Rumi. (Also, just to clarify, I know Rumi is Persian, I’m just using Turkey because that is where he is buried and where a lot of westerners go to learn about Rumi.)

Siddiquee:  Someone like Shahab Hosseini, who just won Best Actor at Cannes, or two other men who’ve recently starred in Asghar Farhadi films, Peyman Moaadi and Ali Mosaffa, would be more than capable.

Rahimian: Honestly, couldn’t name names. But what something Imran tweeted earlier about the idea that Leo being the best possible person in the world to play this character is a symbol of white supremacy stands out. Even if the argument is, “But Leo and RDJ would draw box office crowds,” we only have to look at Bollywood and Nollywood to point out the market value of people of color in leading roles (made by and for people of color).

(And Rana, I love your point about the timeline of this film. There is a trope around the old or ancient Middle East as exotic that comes from an orientalist lens. I can easily see this film building off that, where the Middle East, and its people, would still be this exotic “other”. How does this challenge stereotypes? How does this touch on the continuity of history, of geopolitical nuances, etc? So it would completely be possible to make this film and devoid of all nuance and context.)

Petgrave: I’m not too keen on Persian and Middle-Eastern actors, but I have seen names thrown around like: Shahab Hosseini, who has won the Best Actor award at Cannes this year. The talent is out there.

Other articles to check out:

“The Hollywood bull enters Rumi’s china shop” | Aljazeera.com

“Leonardo DiCaprio as Persian poet Rumi: Gladiator screenwriter faces cries of Hollywood whitewashing” | The Telegraph

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Exclusive Interview: Brandon Stacy Discusses “Roots”

The updated, modern retelling of the seminal classic miniseries Roots left most Americans knee-deep in emotions Memorial Day weekend, and you have The Big Short star Brandon Stacy to thank for some of that. Stacy’s role aired during Night 4 of the miniseries, and Stacy was happy to discuss his role and what it was like to be a part of Roots with me during a recent phone interview. We also discussed his love for Star Trek and what it was like playing Spock in Star Trek: The New Voyages.

JUST ADD COLOR: I watched Roots, and just like the first one, this one left me in shambles, so congratulations to you and the cast for affecting me and a lot of other people in America like that. 

BRANDON STACY: Thank you. Yeah, it’s definitely intense, powerful stuff. It’s very moving; we knew it would be, and we’re glad that it is moving people.

Just for the folks reading this interview, can you refresh us on your character?

Sure, I play Clingman. He’s in Night 4 of the mini-series. The Civil War’s approaching, and Clingman serves as council to one of the key players, Frederick, who is not a nice guy. Neither is Clingman. I guess he has some sort of qualities that might be admirable, as far as standing up for his country in the way that he was brought up. But he’s a product of his environment, and that’s not a good thing sometimes. He’s got these traditions that he was brought up with, so I think we all could be bad people given our environment and our lack of understanding of humanity and right and wrong. Ultimately, he’s a pretty dangerous guy.

When the original Roots came out, it changed TV forever. What does it feel like to be in the retelling of that story?

It means a lot to be able to reach so many people and it’s a lot to live up to, making Roots again. But we do cover some new ground in a new way, [with] a more modern way of storytelling. It is very, very powerful stuff and hopefully people take a positive message [from it] and use it for something positive. People can always use history to divide us, but the point is to use history to unite us. I hope that’s how people take from it; that a new generation can learn from the past and we can all shape a better future.

That segues into my next question; you mentioned the younger generation—what specifically do you hope they take away from it, since they might not have seen the original and with everything going on in the media and politics today, there are a lot of opinions about what America is supposed to be. So what do you hope the younger generation took from this retelling?

Well, it’s a fine line to walk, but I hope that we all can use the past to unite us like I said and to do something positive rather than to deconstruct us and divide us. We have the past, and there’s nothing we can do to change the past. But we can use it, we can heal, we can come together to make something positive in the future. That is something we have the power to do. We can shape the future. That’s what we need to take from this, while honoring our roots. That’s what I want people to take from this and I’m certainly glad to be part of such a moving, inspirational story.

Roots came back at an interesting time in television because before Roots aired, we had Underground telling one side of the story of slavery, then we had Roots, and in movies, we’ve got Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation and the HBO Harriet Tubman biopic coming. So what do you think about the fact that this year there have been and will be so many stories like this in one to two years?

The great thing about these shows and that it comes at a great time is that it does showcase great actors, fantastic black actors…and that’s what we want. The important thing is that these are great stories. We will always have this era to showcase fantastic talent, and that’s great, I think that’s a good stepping stone. Now, we can go on to some other stories. We’ll always have those stories to go back to, but now is the time to really seize the moment and branch out from that once we get through this period.

How did working on this project affect you personally?

It’s tough. I definitely can get involved in my characters and still be in the trauma and that dark place for that moment…Certainly when you watch it, me being Caucasian, I feel pain. I feel shame, even. I’m not sure the exact things that happened my lineage, but it’s certainly shameful what did go on, and I think it’s in our DNA that we feel that pain no matter who we are, as humanity. We just have to live with that and made something positive. That’s what we face everyday; we can take anything and spin it negatively and go down a negative path.

I think now is a very important time and I think as society, we are evolving in a way that really speaks to the energy inside us. We can use that in a positive way that we haven’t before. There’s something special going on between us right now energetically that we can really come together.

My last questions are about Star Trek; I read that you’d played Spock in [Star Trek: The New Voyages] before so my questions are 1) how big of a Star Trek fan are you and 2) what do you think of the new Star Trek film, Star Trek Beyond, that’s going to come out soon?

I’m a huge Trek fan. The Gene Roddenberry message is really something special. For me personally, I like to be involved in things that comment on society and [focus on] ways to move society in a positive direction. That’s what The Big Short tries to do, that’s what Roots tries to do, and all of Gene Roddenberry’s projects do the same thing.

Star Trek is a really special thing, and certainly being able to play Spock in any capacity is wonderful. He’s a really, really layered being and I certainly enjoy the subtleties that show so much in his character. You have to look closely for it, but you find that he is quite emotional while trying to be so logical. He’s a torn person; he’s constantly at war with himself, which I find very interesting to play. And the new movies—I love them. I love J.J. Abrams; I think he does a great job of producing these things. It’s not the ’60s Star Trek, and that’s fine. We evolve. I think there’s a place for ’60s Star Trek and I think there’s a place for what’s going on now, so I’m a big fan of all of it. ♦

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#YourBigBreak: A Truckload of Filmmaking Grants

It’s been a while since I’ve highlighted a #YourBigBreak opportunity. Lately, I’ve been retweeting opportunities on Twitter (so follow me!) but here we go; a post on a smorgasbord of filmmaking grants.

No Film School has posted a huge resource post of grants. Some of them have already past as of the writing of this article, but there are still tons of grants that extend throughout July, August, and September. Some of the open grants include the Sundance/Sloan Commissioning Grant & Fellowship, BlueCat Screenwriting Competition, Disney|ABC Writing Program, The Jerome Foundation’s Film and Video Grant Program, Digital Bolex Grant for Women Cinematographers and more.

So if you want to get your grant-writing on, click here to get more information! Good luck!

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“Moana” Teaser Trailer Gives First Intro to Maui and Moana

Who’s excited for Disney’s upcoming animated film, Moana? I’m excited, and this teaser trailer only makes me want to see more! Which means the teaser has done its job of teasing well. Check out the teaser below as well as the teaser poster. Moana, coming to theaters this Thanksgiving, stars Dwayne Johnson and introducing Auli’i Cravalho as the title character.

Three thousand years ago, the greatest sailors in the world voyaged across the vast Pacific, discovering the many islands of Oceania. But then, for a millennium, their voyages stopped – and no one knows why.

From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes “Moana,” a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once-mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “The Princess & the Frog”) and produced by Osnat Shurer (“Lifted,” “One Man Band”), “Moana” sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.

Disney
Disney
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Celebrate Father’s Day and Fatherhood with “Daddy Don’t Go”

Father’s Day is coming up, and if you and your dad are looking for something meaningful to watch together, try Daddy, Don’t Go, coming to Vimeo On Demand June 19.

The film, executive produced by Malik Yoba and Omar Epps and directed by Emily Abt, follows fathers as they journey through the experience of fatherhood amid social and financial pressures. Here’s more about the film.

In New York City more than half of African-American children and over 40 percent of Latino children are growing up without fathers.

Fatherlessness is one of the most urgent social issues currently facing American families and is linked to alarming rates of child poverty and incarceration.

Fatherless children are more than twice as likely to drop out of high school and nine times more likely to break the law than their peers raised in two-parent homes.

DADDY DON’T GO follows the lives of four young fathers – Alex, Nelson, Roy and Omar – as they struggle to navigate parenthood. For disadvantaged men, parenting is a daily decision. Filmed over the course of two years by acclaimed filmmaker Emily Abt, DADDY DON’T GO illuminates the various socioeconomic pressures low-income fathers face and provides compelling portraits of men who persevere. Epic in scale but intimate in focus, the film shows viewers how men can still be present fathers despite having limited means and facing certain obstacles. By allowing the viewer extraordinary access into the daily lives of its subjects, DADDY DON’T GO removes the negative lens through which underprivileged fathers are currently viewed and offer audiences a new image of the American family.

Filmmaker Emily Abt was one of Variety Magazine’s “Top 10 Directors to Watch,” and has produced and directed documentaries for PBS, OWN, MTV, Showtime and the Sundance Channel. Abt earned her MFA from Columbia University, receiving a Fulbright fellowship for her thesis film. Her documentary features include TAKE IT FROM ME (2001 POV) and ALL OF US (Showtime’s 2008 World AIDS Day film). Abt’s first narrative feature, TOE TO TOE, premiered at Sundance 2009 and was released in 2010 by Strand Releasing. AUDREY’S RUN, Abt’s most recent narrative feature which she wrote and will direct, is currently in development with Paula Patton (Duncan Jones’ WARCRAFT), Mike Epps (Lee Daniels’ RICHARD PRIOR: IS IT SOMETHING I SAID?) and Pablo Schreiber (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) starring. Abt’s latest documentary DADDY DON’T GO will have its world premiere at the 2015 DOC NYC.

Take a look at the trailer below. It looks like it’s going to be a tearjerker. You can pre-order your digital viewing of Daddy, Don’t Go for $6.99 on Vimeo.

Daddy Don’t Go from Pureland Pictures on Vimeo.

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Orlando Terror: Analysis From Around the Internet + How to Help

It’s one day after the horrifying terror attack that took place at Pulse, an Orlando LGBT nightclub. Now that there’s more information, let’s take a look at what we know and how we can offer help to those in need (as well as how to stick it to those who have allowed certain loopholes to persist).

News/analysis

“What You Need to Know About Gun Control in America” | The New York Times: If you are muddled on the issues surrounding gun control, the ways guns can get into the wrong hands legally and illegally, and what is being done to close the legal loopholes, read this comprehensive coverage by the New York Times, comprised of several articles giving fuller detail on the issues.

“How They Got Their Guns” | The New York Times: The Times also has an article, an article that was written last year but has since been updated to reflect the Orlando shooting, that details how mass murderers get their weapons. This article also includes profiles on how the shooters of San Bernadino, the shooter at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College and others got their guns as well.

“Victim vignettes” | Associated Press: Some people might find reading about the victims as a way to cope with what happened. If that happens to be the case for you, the AP has compiled small bios of those lost.

“Florida Man Feels ‘Helpless’ After Failed Blood Donation Attempt” | NBC OUT: One of the stories coming out of this tragedy is that, despite the attack being leveled against LGBT men and women (specifically Latino LGBT men and women), some in the LGBT community can’t give blood to help their own. NBC OUT posted a story about a young man who felt “helpless” after being unable to give blood to help victims.

Calling out insincere congresspeople

Igor Volsky, the deputy director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has used his Twitter feed to expose congressmen and women who gave “condolences” and offers for “prayers” on social media, but have been funded by the NRA, the main organization keeping certain congresspeople from acting on common sense gun reform.

“These GOP Lawmakers Sent “Prayers” After Pulse Shooting–But Took Money From NRA” | Mic: Mic also has an article on Volsky’s Twitter feed, showing just a small sampling of how many elected officials have been funded by the NRA.

GetEQUAL, a grassroots social justice network for LGBT equality, also tweeted out to several congressmen who offered condolences despite having the ability to save lives with legislation:

This is just some of the amount of tweets GetEQUAL sent to members of Congress.

How to Help:

There are many blood donation centers that need help. As of June 12, News Talk Florida tweeted out blood donation centers who were asking for donations.

“How To Help Orlando” | MTV: MTV has compiled a list of how people can help as well, which includes many of the blood donation centers on this list, as well as where people can donate to victims’ families and who people can call for counseling.

People can also contact their elected officials to urge them to close legal loopholes and, frankly, do their jobs to protect their constituents.

“It’s On Us, Too: An Easy Guide to Contacting Your Elected Representatives about Gun Control” | Medium

Keep Guns Out of Criminals’ Hands | Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence

Ban Assault Weapons | MoveOn Petitions

If you have any link, petition, or service you’d like to add to this list, let me know either via Twitter or at monique@colorwebmag.com.

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“Free State of Jones” Releases New Set of Pictures

More Free State of Jones images! In this batch, we get less of Matthew McConaughey and more of Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mahershala Ali. Check them out below.

My worries about the film are the same as they’ve been a few weeks ago. To recap from my earlier article:

Number one: Is this just a re-jiggered “Good White Man” story with a new coat of “inclusion” polish? Perhaps. Will Gugu Mbatha-Raw have a fleshed-out character beyond being just Matthew McConaughey’s “exotic” love interest? One hopes so. Will this story be centered around the feelings of McConaughey’s character, with the feelings of the black characters who are in the most peril as the film’s remote satellites? I certainly hope not. I don’t want to feel like another Dances With Wolves situation, in which the white man is taken in by the darker people of the region and is, in some ways, made their proverbial king.

Do I know it’s based on real life? Yes. Do I think it could fit into Hollywood’s favorite narrative, the “white savior” narrative? Yes. Or it could. We’ll see when we get into the movie theater, won’t we? (Am I judging a film before it comes out? Yes. But we all do this, so don’t single me out.)

In any case, here are the deets. The film comes out June 24.

Written and directed by four-time Oscar® nominee Gary Ross (The Hunger Games, Seabiscuit, Pleasantville), and starring Oscar® winner Matthew McConaughey, Free State of Jones is an epic action-drama set during the Civil War, and tells the story of defiant Southern farmer, Newt Knight, and his extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy.

Banding together with other small farmers and local slaves, Knight launched an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating a Free State of Jones.

Knight continued his struggle into Reconstruction, distinguishing him as a compelling, if controversial, figure of defiance long beyond the War.

Genres: Epic Action-Drama
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Keri Russell, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali
Directed By: Gary Ross
Produced By: Scott Stuber, Jon Kilik, Gary Ross

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