Women-Led Movies Make More Money

Posted on December 13, 2018 at 8:10 am

A new study shows that over the past few years, movies with a female lead character made more money in every category from low-budget to blockbuster-budget, than movies with a male lead character. And that didn’t even count films like “The Force Awakens” because technically Daisy Ridley was not listed as the star.

According to findings from the Creative Artists Agency and shift7, a company started by the former United States chief technology officer Megan Smith, the top movies from 2014 to 2017 starring women earned more than male-led films, whether they were made for less than $10 million or for $100 million or more.

The research also found that films that passed the Bechdel test — which measures whether two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man — outperformed those that flunked it.

That may be, as one of the study’s authors notes, that it is harder to get financing for a woman-led film, so the extra hurdles mean that only the best get made. It may be that executives are willing to bet on a film with a popular male star, even if the script is weak, but not a female star. It will be interesting to see if this research leads to any changes in the way productions are greenlit.

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Gender and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture

The MPAA: 50 Years of Movie Ratings

Posted on December 9, 2018 at 10:46 pm

MPAA head Charles Rivkin writes about the first half century of the Motion Picture Association’s Ratings system.

It took a little time but, over the decades, the rating system gained credibility and acceptance with audiences. And this month, as we celebrate the system’s 50th anniversary, it remains the gold standard of voluntary industry self-regulation.

Given the extraordinary changes in our culture, entertainment, and society over the past half century, this anniversary feels particularly hard-earned and special. And if you can measure success by how long it has lasted, then I agree with The Center for Association Leadership which recently called the ratings system “the most famous association initiative of all time.”

We could point to many factors behind that success. But the clearest one of all comes directly from its founding mission: to maintain the trust and confidence of American parents.

I have often complained about the MPAA rating system, but Rivkin is right that it was a huge improvement over the Hays Code, which literally set a time limit for kisses and forbade portrayal of clergy as incompetent or corrupt — and, most importantly, required all movies to be suitable for all audiences. We look forward to continued refinements over the next half century.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Sherin Nicole: Life Imitates Art in “Idiocracy” and “Terminator 2”

Posted on December 3, 2018 at 12:16 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2005

My friend and fellow critic Sherin Nicole wrote a perceptive and thoughtful essay for The Black List about two movies considered to be wildly imaginative when they were released that now seem eerily accurate in predicting where we are now. She calls them Essential Political Films.

She begins with Idiocracy, which it’s star Dax Shepard jokingly calls a “documentary,” the wildly satiric story of a present-day time traveler who arrives in an America of 2505 to find that everyone is corrupt and, well, idiots. Nicole writes:

IDIOCRACY worried me in 2006 because it seemed plausible. We already had criminals pleading not guilty to crimes because they “were shooting reality TV shows.” Intelligence had begun to be a liability; people would fight you if you made them feel dumb. And beverages at the movies were served in plastic buckets so large you could pour a 2-liter into them and still have room for ice cream.

However, IDIOCRACY didn’t become an Essential Political film until 2016. Looking back on it from today’s vantage point, Mike Judge didn’t make a stupid slapstick throwaway, he made a smart satire about “how stupid we peeples r.” Sounds ridiculous, I know, but there are several parallels between Judge’s 2505 and our now: Logic and reason are shot down while lies and nonsense are repeated. Bullying and misogyny are desirable traits in a politician. We’ve gone back to glyphs to express ourselves. Reality TV stars are revered as purveyors of culture. And the kicker, the president is a wrestling enthusiast, former reality TV star who uses foul language and fouler gestures, incites violence, and has inexplicable hair.

And then there’s Night of the Living Dead. When it was released, no one realized that a low-budget horror film would be so influential, inspiring an entirely new genre of zombie films. And its filmmakers did not realize how revolutionary it was to cast a black man as the lead actor and hero of the film and how prescient the ending would be. She writes:

Yet, the final scenes are where NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD truly leaves a mark. After repeatedly risking himself to save his comrades from a horde of ravenous dead, Ben finally survives the night. Help arrives as the local sheriff and a group of militiamen sweep the area. As a viewer you feel a sense of relief — our guy made it through — but when Ben approaches a boarded up window, the darkened lighting tells us something is wrong. One of the militiamen sees Ben’s silhouette and fires his shotgun, putting a bullet through our hero’s forehead. He’s a good guy with a gun but they kill him and they burn him the same as the monsters.

Fifty years later and earlier this month, armed security guard Jemel Roberson had successfully subdued a violent shooter outside the bar where he worked in the suburbs of Chicago. Those who were wounded that day must have felt such relief when Roberson stopped their attacker. More help came afterward but not for their rescuer. When officers arrived on the scene they shot Jemel Roberson dead. He was a good guy with a gun. A black-American hero. They shot him anyway.

The parallels are painful.

The essay is highly recommended. And all of us should think about what movies today we think will and should give us insight not only into where we are now but into where we are going.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

The MPAA Reveals Some Details of its Famously Secretive Rating System

Posted on November 3, 2018 at 8:18 am

As the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system celebrates its 50th anniversary, it has revealed some details of its first half-century. The rating system was instituted after three decades of the famous, highly restrictive Hays Code, was no longer workable in the tumultuous 1960’s. Filmmakers and audiences wanted a wider range of material and movies like “The Pawnbroker” and “Carnal Knowledge” were undeniably (even, in the latter case, SCOTUS confirmed) of artistic merit. So then MPAA head Jack Valenti adopted a parental guidance rating which was further refined over the years. The documentary “This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated” exposed some of the failings of the system, including inconsistent ratings based on whether the movie was independent or studio-made, the lack of any qualifications of the secret raters, and the absurdity of the appeal system.

The LA Times reports on the MPAA’s new report on 50 years of movie ratings:

In the eyes of many filmmakers, the Motion Picture Assn. of America should be rated R — for reticent. The MPAA has long kept its rating methods a tightly guarded secret as it continues to wield enormous power over the types of explicit content that can been shown in U.S. cinemas.

Now the MPAA is drawing back the curtain on its rating system, at least partially. In a new report published Monday, the Washington-based trade organization representing Hollywood’s major studios released data on all films rated since the system was created five decades ago. The MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration has rated 29,791 movies, the majority of which have received an R rating, which requires children under 17 to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The most films the MPAA has reviewed in any given year was in 2003, when it rated 940 titles (compared with just 563 last year). The organization attributed the surge to the popularity of DVDs at the time.

R-rated movies account for nearly 58% of all titles rated by the MPAA, followed by PG at 18%. The dreaded NC-17, and its predecessor the X, accounted for less than 2% of titles, though they have garnered the vast share of negative publicity whenever a director has sought an appeal. NC-17 prohibits children younger than 17 from entry into a movie theater.

The MPAA said that of the nearly 30,000 films it has rated, only 1.4%, or 428, have been appealed, and a scant 0.6% have had their rating overturned. Filmmakers often appeal NC-17 and R ratings in an effort to reach the largest audience possible. Recent successful appeals include Clint Eastwood’s “The 15:17 to Paris,” which went from R to PG-13, and the upcoming Rebel Wilson comedy “The Hustle,” which was also reduced to PG-13.

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SPOILER ALERT: Troubled by The End of A Star is Born

Posted on October 10, 2018 at 9:34 am

SPOILER ALERT: Anyone who has not seen “A Star is Born” or any of the previous versions and does not want to know the anding should read no further.

Many thanks to USA Today’s Bryan Alexander for writing about the troubling ending to “A Star is Born.” Like the previous versions of the story, it ends with a suicide, and as I explained in my review, while writer/director Bradley Cooper brought some nuance to the conclusion, it still concerns me that suicide should ever be portrayed as noble or a sacrifice for others. As I told him:

“I sat through this whole movie, thinking, ‘I hope they find a better way of dealing with this,’ ” she says. “I don’t want anyone to think (suicide) is ever a choice.”

Minow was pleased about a scene in which Maine’s brother (Sam Elliott) tells a distraught, guilt-ridden Ally that the singer’s death was not her fault.

“That took the responsibility off of her,” says Minow, who thought that still didn’t go far enough. “You want to be sensitive about portraying nobility or catharsis through suicide. Suicide is nothing but sad. Always sad. We can do better in 2018.”

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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