Four Very Different Movies Out Right Now Ask the Same Question

Posted on March 12, 2017 at 3:31 pm

SPOILER ALERT! This post discusses important plot surprises in four films.

They could not be more different in genre, budget, and intended audience, but four movies now in theaters have one important central theme in common: they are all about someone at the end of life, looking back and trying to see what it all meant. They all deal with meaning and purpose.

In The Sense of an Ending, Logan, Before I Fall, and “The Last Words” characters discover that their life is not what they thought and not what they wanted when it is almost too late to make a change. That’s one film based on a literary novel with top British actors, a complicated plot that goes back and forth in time and elegant, understated dialog, one conclusion to a comic book franchise with references to classic Westerns like “Shane,” one movie based on a YA novel that’s like a sad “Groundhog Day,” and one is a heartwarming story with a beloved Hollywood Oscar winner playing an irascible woman who wants to control her own obituary. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that these all come at the same time. But they seem to be in conversation with each other in a way that makes these existential conundrums even richer.

And they pretty much agree on the answer: loving and being loved, and doing good in the world.

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Hollywood Still Distorting Depictions of Gender

Posted on September 7, 2016 at 12:19 am

Though the conversation on inequality in Hollywood is getting more attention than ever, a new report reveals that little has changed on screen or behind the camera.

Authored by Professor Stacy L. Smith and the Media, Diversity & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the study is the largest intersectional analysis of characters in motion picture content to date. The group examined the 800 top films from 2007 to 2015 (excluding 2011), analyzing 35,205 characters for gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status and – for the first time – the presence of disability. The results reveal that Hollywood remains resistant to change.

Copyright USC Annenberg 2016
Copyright USC Annenberg 2016

Just 31.4% of all speaking characters across the 100 top films from 2015 were female, a figure that has not changed since 2007. While race/ethnicity has been a major focus of advocacy in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups were 26.3% of all characters. LGBT-identified characters represented less than 1% of all speaking characters. The report includes data on characters with disabilities, who filled a mere 2.4% of all speaking roles.

The report also has extensive and disturbing data on the depictions of minorities, including people with disabilities, and on the sexualization of young woman.

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Commentary Disabilities and Different Abilities Gender and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Alicia Keys Stops Wearing Makeup — Good!

Posted on August 30, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Singer-songwriter-actress Alicia Keys has announced that she is not going to wear make-up any more, even in performance and on television. In the midst of the over-the-top as always VMA awards on MTV Sunday night she looked fresh, natural, and comfortable. Her spontaneous a capella song from the podium matched her unretouched look.

Women are bombarded with a lot of messages about what is wrong with the way they look, mostly from people who want to see us things to make us look and smell “better.” It is great to have a counter-message from Keys that tells us it is possible to feel happy the way we are.

She says she was inspired by showing up for a photo shoot ready to be made up and photographed, and then the photographer asked if he could take her picture without makeup.

“I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt,” she wrote.
“I hope to God it’s a revolution … ‘Cause I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing.”

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Gender Bias in Reading Box Office Returns

Posted on August 5, 2016 at 9:11 pm

Bravo to Manfeels Park, for this outstanding Tumbler post that makes clear the gender bias in reporting on what should be straightforward box office numbers.

Today’s news: Ghostbusters ‘tanks’, ‘stumbles’ with 53% drop in its second week.

Presumably that’s a bad performance compared to other action movies in their second week then?

Let’s check…

Captain America: Civil War: -59.5%
Dark Knight: -52%
Amazing Spider Man: -61%
Oh, and for an example of an actual ‘tanking’:

Batman vs Superman: -69%
Now, let’s examine all the reporting last week that Ghostbusters was going to struggle because of its first week multiplier against its budget…

Ghostbusters first weekend US figures: $46m
It had a $144m budget, so in its first week it made 32% of that.
Descriptions: ‘Lacklustre’, ‘problematic’, ‘will haunt Sony’

Star Trek Beyond first weekend US figures: $59.6m
It had a $189m budget, so in its first week it made 30% of its budget.
Reporting: ‘Dominates’, ‘wins big’

To be clear: there are articles describing both movies’ openings as ‘solid’. But there’s basically no one calling Beyond worrying or Ghostbusters a big win.

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Commentary Gender and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Nell Scovell on Hollywood’s Obstacles to Women Directors

Posted on July 18, 2016 at 7:50 am

My friend Nell Scovell has a terrific article in the New York Times about Hollywood’s poor record on women directors. While just about any male director with an indie at a festival is handed a superhero movie with a $100 million budget and, even more telling, male directors whose films lose money still get a chance to make another, women directors, even those with a record of excellent work, do not.

In television, most studio executives and showrunners claim they are looking for female directors, but I suspect it’s the same way that I sometimes look for the sunglasses on my head: They’re right there, but I can’t see them.

People insist it’s a pipeline problem when it’s really a broken doorbell problem. Competent and talented women are right there on the doorstep, hitting the buzzer, but no one is answering the door. Last year, even with constant calls for more gender diversity, 86 percent of the first-time TV directors were still white males.

Past efforts, including allowing aspiring women directors to “shadow” established directors, have not been successful at increasing the number of women in director jobs. Scovell has some practical suggestions for change that go beyond the usual “let’s try harder.”

All networks and showrunners should look at the genders of their directors for the coming season. They don’t have to balance the roster 50/50 — although that would be awesome — they just have to make sure they beat last year’s 17 percent benchmark, which includes a scant 3 percent minority women. Make every fifth director a female. Just do better and the numbers will rise each year, creating a new benchmark to beat, until we hit equality.

Next, studios should flip the shadow programs. From now on, let the newcomers do the directing and pay the old hands to shadow them. The green directors get to rack up real credits while the show has a safety net.

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Commentary Gender and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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