Tag Archives: representation

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” continues the tale of brunettes in space in leaked teaser poster

The first teaser poster for Solo: A Star Wars Story has been released, and let’s just say the response hasn’t been overwhelming. Or at the very least, my response isn’t overwhelming.

I’m not sure if it’s the Photoshop treatment, the color scheme (yellow’s not my favorite color), or just how the actors don’t really seem to be nailing their looks in this image, but the whole effect is just one that screams “This movie was salvaged.” Perhaps it’s also the background drama that’s surrounded this film, what with Phil Lord and Chris Miller being fired and replaced with Ron Howard.

You can read all about Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy’s reasons for firing Lord and Miller here, but what it ultimately came down to was a lack of directorial leadership amongst Lord and Miller and a mismatch between Lucasfilm’s well-oiled machine way of doing things and Lord and Miller’s more improvisational style of directing. Innovation is great, but all that admirable innovation goes out the window if you’re someone who’s not a team player. But overall, I feel like Kennedy and Lucasfilm are probably viewing this film as the new Star Wars franchise’ first big bust.

Another thing that’s infuriating to the nth degree is how there’s another brunette woman in a Star Wars film.

With respect to Our Lady of Star Wars Carrie Fisher, we need to tally up the amount of brunettes there have been in this franchise, counting Emilia Clarke (who will play someone named Kira).

Now let’s count how many women of color have been in Star Wars leading roles, including Thandie Newton (who is in this movie as a main character, but that character is shrouded in secrecy–in this photo set, she’s shown in her role in Westworld).

In short, that’s too many brunettes and too few WOC.

I’m quite sure there’s a reason Star Wars typically casts brunettes in their films; it’s to honor the first Star Wars brunette, Princess Leia. But that odd nod to Leia is only undercutting Lucasfilm’s focus to diversity. I’ve already written at length about Star Wars’ issues with WOC representation, and I’d basically be repeating myself, so I’ll just link my post here. Basically, the problem is simple: How can you have a universe full of aliens and creatures and not have a universe equally as full with people of color, especially women of color? To alter Whitney Houston’s famous lyric, It’s not right, and it’s not okay. But we’re gonna make it anyway (because that’s what women of color do).

There are two things that give me hope for SOLO: A Star Wars Story eeking out a minor win.

1. Lucasfilm do actually use WOC writers: As profiled by The New York Times, the head of Lucasfilm’s story group is Kiri Hart, a former TV and film writer and woman of color. Again, to tout Kennedy’s feminist-centric way of running Lucasfilm, Kennedy is the one who installed Hart in this seat of power.

Hart’s first act as story group head was to give female points of view a voice, and indeed she has. She’s also given women of color particular power in an industry that aims to silence them. To quote the Times:

“Today, the Lucasfilm story group is a diverse outlier in Hollywood: five of its members are people of color, and the team includes four women and seven men. This is a rarity in 2017, where women account for 13 percent, and minorities represent 5 percent, of all writers working on the top-grossing films. In addition to maintaining the continuity of the ‘Star Wars’ universe, they aim to increase its diversity.”

I don’t know if the casting branch and the writer’s branch work together at all—it can be hard to know exactly where one set of red tape ends and where another set begins. It’s also unclear if the casting decisions were left up to Lord and Miller. But regardless, hearing that there’s diversity behind the scenes gives me hope of seeing more well-rounded women of color grace the big screen soon. It also gives me hope that other marginalized people will be represented as well. You probably already know how much I talk about Stormpilot, and it’s for a reason; it’s because the LGBT community must be represented as well as women of color. Knowing that a diverse group is behind the Star Wars writing process gives added credence to Kennedy’s assertion that the fandom pairing is actually being considered as a legitimate avenue for exploration.

2. Thandie Newton is a main character; we just don’t know who she is: What has got some Solo followers upset is the rumor that several women of color tried out for Clarke’s role, with the role ultimately going to Clarke. What many WOC Star Wars fans hoped was that the role was Sana Starros, Han Solo’s former wife, and the worry is that Clarke’s role is of a whitewashed Sana. According to The Hollywood Reporter as of 2016, it’s unclear if Clarke’s role is actually the same one the other actresses—Tessa Thompson, Adria Arjona, and Zoe Kravitz—tried out for. Also, since Lucasfilm does have one of the most diverse writers’ rooms in Hollywood right now, one would hope that they wouldn’t make this kind of mistake.

However, we just might have our first clue as to who Newton is playing. In a September set photo featuring Newton and Howard, Newton is wearing a jacket with a mysterious-looking patch. SlashFilm’s Jacob Hall has surmised that the patch just might be an Imperial one, meaning Newton could be playing none other than Imperial naval officer Rae Sloane. If that’s the case, then Newton’s character will be a much-welcomed sight in the Star Wars universe.

Granted, there’s the critique that could be made that the first prominent black diasporic woman we’ve seen in a major Star Wars role is evil. But again, we don’t know who Newton is playing for sure. For all we know, she is actually playing Sana, who just happens to be wearing an Imperial jacket as some sort of subterfuge.

This was a lot of words on a teaser poster I hate, but there you have it. What do you think about Solo: A Star Wars Story? Give your opinions below!

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2018 is a whole lot hotter with the new Haikus with Hotties calendar

In what’s become an annual tradition, Haikus with Hotties has released its 2018 calendar full of–you guessed it–hotties.

The calendar, created by writer Ada Tseng and features good-looking Asian dudes from all sectors of the media industry, is meant both as a play on the “beefcake” calendar as well as an important socio-political statement.

“Haikus With Hotties is a calendar series that highlights the attractive and talented Asian men in media that often don’t get as much attention as they deserve,” states the Haikus with Hotties website.

The lack of attention stems from stereotypes Asian men are still dogged by, such as being nerdy, feminine, and goofy, much like Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles. (The “Long Duk Dong effect” was also tackled in a 2016 episode of Fresh off the Boat, in which Randall Park’s Louis Huang is afraid that he’s doing the Chinese equivalent of “cooning” as the recurring guest of a local news show.) But the stereotypes inherent in Long Duk Dong stem from decades of racist propaganda created by the U.S. from the 1800s onwards to create fear about Asian immigrants. The same stereotypes were used in World War II propaganda to keep America focused on defeating the Axis Powers, which included Japan. Between the 1800s to the 1940s, and certainly in the years after the war ended, these stereotypes have become part of the problem that keeps America from reaching its full potential as a democracy.

Those stereotypes once again became the subject of current events in January 2017, when Steve Harvey made a series of offensive jokes about Asian men and their supposed unattractiveness. To combat the stereotypes, Haikus with Hotties gifted Harvey a calendar.

If you still don’t get what’s being written here, just take a look at the Breakfast at Tiffany‘s character Mr. Yunioshi (Mickey Rooney), an older version of the same stereotypes Long Duk Dong represents (and yellowface on top of it), in comparison to actor/model Godfrey Gao in the summer 2015 issue of Harper’s Bazaar Men Thailand.

See how ridiculous these stereotypes are?

South Asian men also suffer from the same stereotypes, but now those stereotypes are also laced with Islamophobia. Still, the reality outweighs the stereotypes once you open your eyes to the truth. Take for instance another ’80s character, Short Circuit’s Ben Jabituya (Fisher Stevens), yet another role in which a white man is portraying an ethnic character, coupled with an extreme accent and gestures, and Dev Patel–who should be starring in tons of romantic comedies right now–from InStyle Magazine’s 2016 Oscar coverage for Lion.

Again, the reality outweighs the stereotype.

With that said, check out some of the images from the new 2018 calendar. This year, Iron Fist fan favorite and new Into the Badlands cast member Lewis Tan is featured, as well as Kim’s Convenience star Simu Liu, queer/trans comedian, actor and writer and D’Lo, and Pretty Dudes star Yoshi Sudarso (pictured below with his brother, Power Rangers Hyperforce actor Peter Sudarso), among many more.

Want to see the rest? Check out Haikus with Hotties’ website and order your 2018 calendar!

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Why America needs Marvel superhero Kamala Khan now more than ever

Katie M. Logan, Virginia Commonwealth University

During the first few weeks of the Trump administration, we’ve seen increased pressure on Muslim and immigrant communities in the United States.

In the face of these threats, which Marvel superhero might be best equipped to defend the people, ideals and institutions under attack? Some comic fans and critics are pointing to Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel.

Khan, the brainchild of comic writer G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat, is a revamp of the classic Ms. Marvel character (originally named Carol Danvers and created in 1968). First introduced in early 2014, Khan is a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager who fights crime in Jersey City and occasionally teams up with the Avengers.

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, fans have created images of Khan tearing up a photo of the president, punching him (evoking a famous 1941 cover of Captain America punching Hitler) and grieving in her room. But the new Ms. Marvel’s significance extends beyond symbolism.

In Kamala Khan, Wilson and Amanat have created a superhero whose patriotism and contributions to Jersey City emerge because of her Muslim heritage, not despite it. She challenges the assumptions many Americans have about Muslims and is a radical departure from how the media tend to depict Muslim-Americans. She shows how Muslim-Americans and immigrants are not forces that threaten communities – as some would argue – but are people who can strengthen and preserve them.

Superhero-in-training

After inhaling a mysterious gas, Kamala Khan discovers she can stretch, enlarge, shrink and otherwise manipulate her body. Like many superheroes, she chooses to keep her identity a secret. She selects the Ms. Marvel moniker in homage to the first Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, who has since given up the name in favor of becoming Captain Marvel. Khan cites her family’s safety and her desire to lead a normal life, while also fearing that “the NSA will wiretap our mosque or something.”

As she wrestles with her newfound powers, her parents grow concerned about broken curfews and send her to the local imam for counseling. Rather than reinforcing her parents’ curfew or prying the truth from Khan, though, Sheikh Abdullah says, “I am asking you for something more difficult. If you insist on pursuing this thing you will not tell me about, do it with the qualities benefiting an upright young woman: courage, strength, honesty, compassion and self-respect.”

Her experience at the mosque becomes an important step on her journey to superheroism. Sheikh Abdullah contributes to her education, as does Wolverine. Islam is not a restrictive force in her story. Instead, the religion models for Khan many of the traits she needs in order to become an effective superhero. When her mother learns the truth about why her daughter is sneaking out, she “thank[s] God for having raised a righteous child.”

The comics paint an accurate portrait of Jersey City. Her brother Aamir is a committed Salafi (a conservative and sometimes controversial branch of Sunni Islam) and member of his university’s Muslim Student Association. Her best friend and occasional love interest, Bruno, works at a corner store and comes from Italian roots. The city’s diversity helps Kamala as she learns to be a more effective superhero. But it also rescues her from being a stand-in for all Muslim-American or Jersey City experiences.

Fighting a ‘war on terror culture’

Kamala’s brown skin and costume – self-fashioned from an old burkini – point to Marvel Comics’ desire to diversify its roster of superheroes (as well as writers and artists). As creator Sana Amanat explained on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” last month, representation is a powerful thing, especially in comics. It matters when readers who feel marginalized can see people like themselves performing heroic acts.

As one of 3.3 million Muslim-Americans, Khan flips the script on what Moustafa Bayoumi, author of “This Muslim American Life,” calls a “war on terror culture” that sees Muslim-Americans “not as complex human being[s] but only as purveyor[s] of possible future violence.”

Bayoumi’s book echoes other studies that detail the heightened suspicion and racial profiling Muslim-Americans have faced since 9/11, whether it’s in the workplace or interactions with the police. Each time there’s been a high-profile terrorist attack, these experiences, coupled with hate crimes and speech, intensify. Political rhetoric – like Donald Trump’s proposal to have a Muslim registry or his lie that thousands of Muslims cheered from Jersey City rooftops after the Twin Towers fell – only fans the flames.

Scholars of media psychology see this suspicion fostered, in part, by negative representations of Muslims in both news media outlets and popular culture, where they are depicted as bloodthirsty terrorists or slavish informants to a non-Muslim hero.

These stereotypes are so entrenched that a single positive Muslim character cannot counteract their effects. In fact, some point to the dangers of “balanced” representations, arguing that confronting stereotypes with wholly positive images only enforces a simplistic division between “good” and “bad” Muslims.

Unbreakable

Kamala Khan, however, signals an important development in cultural representations of Muslim-Americans. It’s not just because she is a powerful superhero instead of a terrorist. It’s because she is, at the same time, a clumsy teenager who makes a mountain of mistakes while trying to balance her abilities, school, friends and family. And it’s because Wilson surrounds Kamala with a diverse assortment of characters who demonstrate the array of heroic (and not-so-heroic) actions people can take.

For example, in one of Ms. Marvel’s most powerful narrative arcs, a planet attacks New York, leading to destruction eerily reminiscent of 9/11. Kamala works to protect Jersey City while realizing that her world has changed – and will change – irrevocably.

Carol Danvers appears to fill Kamala in on the gravity of the situation, telling her, “The fate of the world is out of your hands. It always was. But your fate – what you decide to do right now – is still up to you … Today is the day you stand up.” Kamala connects the talk with Sheikh Abdullah’s lectures about the value of one’s deeds, once again linking her superhero and religious training to rise to the occasion. In both cases, the lectures teach Kamala to take a stand to protect her community.

Arriving at the high school gym now serving as a safe haven for Jersey City residents, Kamala realizes her friends and classmates have been inspired by her heroism. They safely transport their neighbors to the gym while outfitting the space with water, food, dance parties and even a “non-denominational, non-judgmental prayer area.” The community response prompts Kamala to realize that “even if things are profoundly not okay, at least we’re not okay together. And even if we don’t always get along, we’re still connected by something you can’t break. Something there isn’t even a word for. Something … beautiful.”

The ConversationKamala Khan is precisely the hero America needs today, but not because of a bat sign in the sky or any single definitive image. She is, above all, committed to the idea that every member of her faith, her generation, and her city has value and that their lives should be respected and protected. She demonstrates that the most heroic action is to face even the most despair-inducing challenges of the world head on while standing up for – and empowering – every vulnerable neighbor, classmate or stranger. She shows us how diverse representation can transform into action and organization that connect whole communities “by something you can’t break.”

Katie M. Logan, Assistant Professor of Focused Inquiry, Virginia Commonwealth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Finally! A Native-American comedy is coming to TV! 3 facts on FOX’s new acquisition

Looks like Fox is not looking to be outdone by ABC and its inclusive comedies. Fox is making history by buying an autobiographical comedy Reservations, bringing a Native American story to the forefront of American TV.

So what do you need to know about this groundbreaking comedy? Thanks to Deadline, here are the big three facts you need.

1. Reservations comes from writer Lucas Brown Eyes: Lucas Brown Eyes (pictured above), a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, got his start with the ABC Disney Writing Program in 2014 and worked on various Disney shows including Freeform’s Young & Hungry, where he worked as a writer and executive story editor, and KC Undercover.

2. Reservations is based on Brown Eyes’ own experiences growing up: The show follows a Native American family “that trades their impoverished reservation for Los Angeles, a move inspired by the dreams of a 14-year-old boy to live in Hollywood.” The move to the glitzy, fame-obsessed town puts the family through an intense (but hilarious) adjustment process.

The story mirrors what Brown Eyes’ family did to help him achieve his writing dreams. As stated in his biography on IMDB, Brown Eyes’ family moved to California so he could study film and television at the Orange County High School of the Arts.

3. The show is brought to us by the people who brought us the new Pennywise: Reservations is the first sale David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith’s KatzSmith production company has made under their new deal with 20th Century Fox. KatzSmith is proving itself to have an eye for what the zeitgeist want to see; they are behind theIt reboot, and they’re also backing the new Beetlejuice sequel and a film version of Kung Fury.

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Can transgender TV characters help bridge an ideological divide?

File 20170808 5037 hg5q3y.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
file404/shutterstock.com

Erica L. Rosenthal, University of Southern California and Traci Gillig, University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

In 2014, Time magazine declared American culture had reached a “transgender tipping point,” with transgender people achieving unprecedented media visibility.

However, in light of recent policy shifts – such as the White House’s rollback of federal guidelines that supported transgender students and Trump’s July 26 Twitter pronouncement that the U.S. military will no longer allow transgender service members – some have questioned whether this visibility has actually meant greater acceptance of trans people.

Studies have shown that entertainment has the power to shape attitudes on health and social issues, from organ donation to the death penalty. But little research has explored the impact of portrayals of transgender people.

For this reason, we wanted to see how transgender TV characters might influence the attitudes of viewers. Specifically, we tested whether political ideology plays a role in how audiences respond to these potentially polarizing depictions.

Transgender media visibility

Time’s “transgender tipping point” from a few years ago was attributed to fictional trans characters in shows like “Transparent” and “Orange Is the New Black” and news coverage of controversial policy issues, such as discrimination lawsuits about school bathrooms. In April 2015, nearly 17 million people watched Caitlyn Jenner come out as transgender on “20/20.”

It was in this context that the USA Network drama “Royal Pains” included a storyline about a fictional transgender teen named Anna who experiences complications while transitioning from male to female. Although Anna’s subplot lasted only 11 minutes, it grappled with numerous issues: the medical profession’s historical treatment of transgender individuals as mentally ill, parental rights regarding adolescent transitions and the risks of hormone replacement therapy.

We first learned of the upcoming “Royal Pains” storyline in early 2015, when the show’s writers contacted Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a USC Annenberg-affiliated program that gives entertainment industry professionals accurate and timely information for storylines on health, safety and national security. (Erica is a researcher at HH&S.)

HH&S facilitated conversations between the writers and an expert in the medical treatment of transgender youth. The resulting June 23, 2015 episode, “The Prince of Nucleotides,” received a 2016 GLAAD Media Award, with transgender activist Nicole Maines making her acting debut as Anna.

Media bubbles

Before we could study the impact of Anna’s storyline, we wanted to make sure that the audience was mixed in its views on transgender rights – in other words, that the show wouldn’t simply be preaching to the choir.

Since the 2016 U.S. election, countless stories have explored the “media bubbles” in which Americans live. This trend toward fragmentation permeates news, social media and entertainment. TV shows with broad audience appeal tend to address hot-button social issues relatively infrequently and superficially. Regular viewers of boundary-pushing series, on the other hand, may already be left-leaning.

Research by GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) indicates that transgender characters have appeared primarily on streaming platforms and premium cable channels, while broadcast network shows – which have larger audiences – tend to feature transgender characters only in brief storylines, if at all.

This means viewers disinclined to watch a show like “Transparent,” which features several trans characters, might still encounter such characters in minor storylines in mainstream programs.

“Royal Pains” (2009-2016) was about as mainstream as TV gets today. The show had no real history of addressing LGBTQ issues, so Anna’s episode was unlikely to attract a particularly trans-supportive audience. For us, this made it the ideal show to study transgender portrayals and how they might influence viewers across the ideological spectrum.

Do minor subplots make a difference?

Because HH&S had consulted on the storyline, the members of USA Network’s social media team were open to helping us with our study. They posted links to our survey on the show’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts following the episode. We supplemented this sample by recruiting “Royal Pains” viewers from market research panels. Only those who had seen the episode or one of the two prior episodes were eligible. Of the 488 viewers in our study, 391 had seen Anna’s episode.

A scene from the ‘Royal Pains’ episode featuring Anna, a transgender teen.

Because there were several different shows at the time featuring transgender characters, we asked viewers which of these they had seen. We also measured their exposure to transgender issues in the news, including the unfolding Caitlyn Jenner story.

Finally, we examined several important variables that are known to impact viewers. These include identification with main characters, a sense of being drawn into the world of the story (what media scholars call “transportation”) and the emotions evoked by the storyline.

We found that “Royal Pains” viewers who saw Anna’s story had more supportive attitudes toward transgender people and policies, and we found a cumulative effect of exposure to transgender entertainment narratives. The more portrayals viewers saw, the more supportive their attitudes. Neither exposure to such issues in the news nor Caitlyn Jenner’s story had any effect on attitudes. In other words, the fictional stories we examined were more influential than events in the news.

Consistent with previous research, in our data, political conservatism strongly predicted negative attitudes toward transgender people and lower support for policies that benefit transgender people. However, exposure to two or more transgender storylines cut the strength of this link in half. That is, politically conservative viewers who saw multiple shows featuring transgender characters had more positive attitudes toward trans people than those who saw just one.

Political ideology also shaped viewers’ responses to the “Royal Pains” narrative. Those who were politically liberal were more likely to feel hope or identify with Anna, whereas those who were politically conservative were more likely to react with disgust.

Beyond the bubble

Hollywood is not a panacea for healing our nation’s deep partisan and ideological divisions. To influence attitudes on a broad scale, entertainment storylines must first reach audiences outside cloistered media bubbles.

However, our research suggests nuanced portrayals of transgender individuals – particularly in mainstream forms of entertainment – can break down ideological barriers in a way that news stories may not. Cumulative exposure across multiple shows had the greatest impact on attitudes, but even a relatively brief storyline had a powerful effect too. While politically conservative viewers were more likely to react with disgust, such reactions were tempered by seeing trans characters on a variety of shows.

At a recent GLAAD-sponsored panel, trans actress and activist Laverne Cox noted:

“We’ve got to tell these stories better because lives are on the line. Trans people are being murdered, are being denied health care, access to bathrooms and employment and housing because of all of these…misconceptions that people have about who we really are.”

The ConversationAs the future of thousands of active duty service members hangs in the balance, it’s more imperative than ever to understand how the public responds to media representations of transgender people.

Erica L. Rosenthal, Senior Research Associate, Hollywood, Health & Society, University of Southern California and Traci Gillig, PhD Candidate in Communication, University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Short film “Cross” highlights San Fernando Valley’s Filipino and Latino communities

The indie film industry seems to be where it’s at when it comes to creating highly-inclusive stories, and Gerry Maravilla’s short film Cross is no exception.

The film, which was released last week, features a young man, Cross (Jason Sistona), who is lured into the San Fernando Valley’s world of backyard boxing in order to get enough money to save his mom’s life. It’s a 9-minute tale that quickly draws us into our protagonist’s life, which pits the urge to do whatever it takes to get his mom the life-saving medicine she needs against his reticence to become part of an underground boxing ring. At least he has someone looking out for him–Salvador (Daniel Edward Mora), his co-worker and friend.

Jason Sistona as Cross and Jing Sistona as Cross’ mother, Elvira. (Screencap)

One of the big draws to the film is Maravilla’s insistence that the film reflect his experiences growing up in the Valley.

“Growing up Mexican-American in the San Fernando Valley, I never really saw myself or my friends represented in the movies. I attended a high school that was predominantly Latino and Filipino,” said Maravilla in a statement. “Every other Tuesday we’d get out two hours earlier than normal. Kids would get together at a friend’s house to box without getting into trouble with deans, teachers or parents. While photographing my two closest friends sparring in the backyard, I snapped an image that grew into a larger story about trying to find your way into a profession that you have no connections to, while also balancing responsibilities to your family and culture. When it came to write the screenplay based on the image, it felt dishonest and unnecessary to change the races of the characters.”

Daniel Edward Mora as Salvador. (Screencap)

“I had a unique opportunity to craft a compelling narrative that looked at traditional ideas of masculinity found in both Filipino and Mexican culture,” he continued. “With the help of a talented cast and crew from all different backgrounds, we strived to honestly reflect the people who live in the Valley, people whom have never really been portrayed in film. There are more stories than the ones mainstream Hollywood chooses to focus on. By honing in on cultural specifics and exploring the social and family structures that affect these characters, universal themes and emotions emerge that will connect with audiences of all backgrounds.”

Maravilla said the film was shot as a cross between a noir and a western, but with the suburbs as the backdrop. Indeed, the decision to make this short film in a non-traditional setting and with inclusive characters makes Cross a fun film to lose yourself in. For a short while, you feel like you’ve entered a lived-in world. Since it is based on Maravilla’s childhood, it very much is a lived-in world, one we don’t see enough of on the big screen. It’s clear to see how Cross has touched a positive chord with viewers and film critics; it’s already acquired a slew of accolades.

“My team and I had an extraordinary opportunity to bring a story and characters to the screen that audiences have never seen before,” said Maravilla. “This story has the ability to expands viewer’s frame of reference for two unique cultures and humanize individuals that have seldom had a voice in independent film.”

You can watch Cross and learn more about the film at its website, its Seed and Spark page, and on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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The Academy’s 2017 Class is a Much-Needed Step in the Right Direction

The Academy has taken a huge step forward with rectifying their “white old man” look by adding a new freshman class of 774 actors and directors, including Gal Gadot, Leslie Jones, Jordan Peele, Nazanin Boniadi, Grace Lee (whom I’ve interviewed before), Zoë Kravitz, Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Betty White (why hadn’t she been added yet???), B.D. Wong, Donnie Yen, Leslie Jones, Riz Ahmed and Dwayne Johnson.

(For the full list of new members from all branches, visit Oscars.org.)

According to the Oscars’ stats, the new members hail from 57 countries and are 39 percent female, with seven of the branches inviting more women than men. Thirty percent of the new members are also people of color.

This is a vast improvement for the Academy, especially taking in where the organization was about a year and a half ago, with threatened boycotts and outrage over the lack of minority-led Oscar nominated films. Fans had utilized April Reign’s hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to voice their anger, and the Academy has taken meaningful steps to respond, first by adding more members from various backgrounds last year, and now this new batch of members this year.

Of course, even though these numbers are huge steps in the right direction, there are some gaps that need to be filled. Such as there aren’t many listed who are also disabled. I say “many” because there could be people with invisible disabilities, such as mental illness, that are listed. As of my review, I only see one actor with a physical disability, Warwick Davis. The focus for the Academy right now is purely on gender and race demographics, but it’d be great to see the organization focus on disability demographics as well, since it might spur the organization to recognize films that feature actual disabled actors.

Also, there aren’t any Native actors listed and there’s very little Latinx and LGBT representation as well. Bigger gains could be made on these fronts. But on the whole, this fleshed-out Academy voting board will benefit both the Academy itself and movie goers, despite the opinion of one Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter.

Usually, I refrain from jumping on fellow movie critics and analysts, since oftentimes, we are getting paid for our opinion, and an opinion is something that you can either agree with and support or disagree with and turn the other way. However, for Feinberg’s analysis about the new batch of voters, I have to make an exception for.

Feinberg’s initial point—that jamming the voting board with more actors might seem more like a vapid political move to avoid bad PR—is rather innocuous by itself. You can either take it or leave (and even as an innocuous point, I would leave it because of the positive impact any move, including ones that could be seen as vapid and political, could have on the poor state of representation in Hollywood today). But what gets more intolerable is how aggressive Feinberg becomes in discrediting the actors who got the invite.

I hate to single anyone out, but I don’t even think the people who I am going to reference would argue that they have had the sort of film career that already merits an invitation to the film Academy. Let’s start with this year’s invitees to the acting branch, whose names are the most familiar to the general public. Wanda Sykes? Zoe Kravitz? Terry Crews? Really? Some have made only one big-screen contribution of any note, such as Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot. And many are predominately known for their work on the small screen: The Night Of‘s Riz Ahmed, Atlanta‘s Donald Glover, Underground‘s Aldis Hodge, Saturday Night Live‘s Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon, The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad, The Golden Girls‘ Betty White and Mr. Robot‘s B.D. Wong (I have similar reservations about several white male invitees, as well, such as Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm and ex-bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno.)

…None of this is intended to insult the talent and/or doubt the future potential of any of these individuals, but rather to examine and question what the Academy is trying to do here. I believe that the Academy’s intentions are admirable, but that its tactics are foolhardy. The bottom line is that the Academy cannot fix the industry’s diversity problems any more than a tail can wag a dog. This is not a problem that can be reverse-engineered.

Feinberg might write that he’s not trying to insult these newly-minted Academy members by rejecting their entire body of work as a reason to be invited into the Academy, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. First of all, he’s acting like none of the people he’s listed have ever been in movies–they all have film credits to their name along with television credits. I mean, how many Jurassic Park films does B.D. Wong have to be in to be recognized as an actor in a film franchise, not to mention the voice of Mulan’s (bisexual) partner, Shang? Before Mr. Robot, Rami Malek was a film actor, having been part of the Night at the Museum and Twilight franchises. Heck, he just finished a movie, Buster’s Mal Heart. Doesn’t Rogue One count as a good reason for Riz Ahmed to be a part of the Academy? Also, are you really going to go as far as s**t on someone as respected and beloved as Betty White?

The bottom line is you can’t be invited to the Academy unless you’ve been in the movies or work in the film industry in some way (along with some other qualifiers such as sponsorship, etc.). For Feinberg to say that because these actors in particular have made their mark in TV as well is needlessly splitting hairs. Secondly, why not add them to the Academy?? What’s the big deal? With as long as these folks have been in the game, and with as many hours as they’ve dedicated to their craft, they deserve to give their say on what they feel are the best films of the year. It’s not like they don’t know what makes a good story, and that’s all a film is–a story. It would seem the only problem is that the Academy has proven that they aren’t just inviting people for good PR; they’re inviting people to double down on the promise it made to its members and audiences alike–to create an organization that actually reflects the movie-going public.

Feinberg is poking a bear by singling out majority POC actors whilst adding parenthetically that he has some gripes with two white male members, as if that makes his poking okay (and tell me why Hamm and Ferrigno can’t sound off on films?). This is not the hill to die on, especially if your argument is created from something as baseless as “they’ve been on TV, therefore the films they’ve been in don’t count towards Academy membership.”

Feinberg does write in an earlier post about the new members that “there is a refreshing presence of other highly accomplished minorities throughout the list” and that many among the new members, particularly the new members of the directing branch, should have been invited long ago. However, he takes such a disturbing tone in his later analysis, with the excuse for it being the argument that adding more people of color to the Academy won’t stop racism from happening in Hollywood at large. But you can’t be both for and against more representation in Hollywood, unless you’re a champion at doublethink. Besides, arguing that the Academy can’t solve racism is like not seeing the forest for the trees.

The gag is that everyone knows the Academy can’t solve industry racism by itself. The Academy, and its viewpoints up until the past year or so, is a product of a society that is still grappling with the realities of race, the sexual spectrum, mental illness, and how to deal with all of it in a respectful manner. There’s a lot more that has to happen inside of Hollywood to truly change the industry culture, sure. There’s also a lot that has to happen outside of Hollywood before it begins to trickle into Hollywood en masse. Like the Academy, Hollywood’s ills are only a product of America’s ills.

But that’s not to say the trickle isn’t already happening. We’ve seen more filmmakers bolstered by the many avenues now available to producing their visions, and we’ve seen more and more actors of color and marginalized communities speak out against terrible treatment in the industry. We’ve also seen the online community of movie fans—the audience members themselves—voice their frustration with the industry on social media, their message finding a place where it can be amplified and heard by The Powers That Be.

All of this led up to many watershed moments of representation in the past year, but none that inhabit the whole purpose of expanding the Academy more than Moonlight, an indie film showcasing a story about black gay men, winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Only two years ago, a film like that wouldn’t have made it to the nomination rounds. But, because of an Academy that had more minority members, Moonlight got the organization’s attention and became the Best Picture Winner, beating out a movie that couldn’t be more Status Quo if it tried, La La Land.

Also, the fact that more people from underrepresented communities will now have a chance to give other creators from underrepresented communities Oscar nods, it’ll give those creators the same clout and marketability their white counterparts have been enjoying for years. It’ll also give films featuring minority casts the same monetary and critical opportunities white films have never been without. In short, it’ll open up more possibilities in Hollywood for directors and actors, which will lead to more films being made, more awards given, and so on and so forth. The expansion of the Academy has the potential to have a snowball effect in Hollywood, and it can only be for the positive.

So, I, as a fellow entertainment analyst and critic myself, can’t abide the rhetoric that moves like these don’t change anything. It’s like telling the members of SNCC back in the ‘60s that their sit-ins at lunch counters wouldn’t amount to anything. Since we can now take for granted the concept of sitting at a booth in a restaurant, it would seem their sit-ins did make a world of difference. You can’t throw out progress just because it is slow and not immediately all-encompassing. That’s ridiculous.

I suggest for readers to take a look at Flavorwire’s article “THR Doesn’t Think All Those Women and POC ‘Merit’ Academy Inclusion'” by Jason Bailey, since he goes more in on Feinberg’s hitpiece-as-analysis way more than I did. But what Bailey writes at the end is particularly important:

It’s one thing for Academy members, terrified of their own obsolescence, to voice these thoughts in private (and, as writer Charles Bramesco notes, in the Reporter‘s loathsome annual tradition of ‘Anonymous Oscar ballots’). But it’s reprehensible for an industry publication like THR to hand Feinberg the bandwidth to mouthpiece it for them, with all the conviction of a country-club president who assures us that it means nothing that their membership is all-white. It’s just how things are done around here.

To end this on a positive note, I’m excited that so many actors, many of whom should have been a part of the Academy in the first place, have now been added to this illustrious roster. I’m sure they’ll serve the organization well, and I can’t wait to see what films they nominate for 2018.

 

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