February 2018 - JuVee Productions

Monthly Archives: February 2018

Hollywood Diversity Report Says Minority Groups Still Underrepresented

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“The population is becoming more diverse over time and the question is: What is Hollywood doing relative to that population increasing in diversity?” said study co-author Darnell Hunt at a Tuesday night discussion.

Despite the emergence of film and television series heralded for their diversity, such as Black Panther, Girls Trip, Atlanta and Black-ish, Darnell Hunt, sociologist and co-author of UCLA’s 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report, maintains little has changed both in front of and behind the camera.

Hunt highlighted key trends of the five-year study that took place from 2012 to 2016, specifying how, despite the annual steady increase of the national minority population, representation in Hollywood remains disproportionate. The study, titled Five Years of Progress and Missed Opportunities, focused on 11 main arenas and their proportion of people of color and women in various film, broadcast, cable and digital sectors.

“The bad news in every arena, regardless of the progress we made last year, is that women and people of color remain woefully underrepresented,” said Hunt to the small gathering at UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center on Tuesday night. “The minority population is increasing by about half a percentage per year. … So the population is becoming more diverse over time and the question is: What is Hollywood doing relative to that population increasing in diversity?”

In terms of gender parity in film director roles, Hunt said it was “the single worst statistic in our study” and called attention to the importance of highlighting female helmers like Gina Prince Bythewood and Felicia D. Henderson, who also spoke at the evening’s panel.

Henderson, currently working on the TV series The Quad and Marvel’s The Punisher, said the success story of Black Panther, while deserving of praise, was worrisome.

“You see change, but you don’t see consistent change,” she said. “The more you see a success story like Black Panther, while you celebrate it, you’re also freaking out because you don’t want it to be a moment. … So how do we do that, so it’s a movement instead of a moment?”

Behind the camera, statistics showed most of the executive decision-making is being carried out by white males in both television and film. The report also found that films and TV shows perform best with 21 percent-30 percent minority casting, and yet the trend of disproportionate casting remains.

“Films that have casts that look more like America in terms of diversity of the cast, on average, do the best,” Hunt said. “So it’s a contradictory sort of practice here where they’re making lots and lots of films that aren’t diverse that are bombing at the box office.”

Bythewood said she encountered such resistance while pitching Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State to four studios. After being rejected by three studios pitching to white men, she and Gay went to Fox Searchlight, where two women of color bought the project on the spot.

“It was like a warm cuddly blanket,” she said. “They just got it, they felt it in their soul. We’re passionate about it — they seemed even more passionate about it … they wanted to see it onscreen. That makes all the difference and that’s where the change has to happen. More women and more people of color in these positions.”

Henderson said the next step for the industry is to cast culturally specific roles in order to teach the next generation how to celebrate differences.

“What I still see is now people who all look different, but all behave like mainstream America,” she said. “You don’t see them necessarily being culturally specific. I still think that’s a huge problem and that’s, to me, the next shift I’d like to see. When I think of children, I think of how are they ever going to live in a world where difference is celebrated if they don’t see that cultural specificity depicted in the media?”

When Will African-American Films No Longer be Considered Unicorns?

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For as much as Hollywood loves a repeatable phenomenon, it is comforted by the anomaly, the unsolvable puzzle that deposits hundreds of millions in the bank while cutting against the grain of received wisdom and can’t possibly be replicated.
The anomaly provides cover for executives to do what they’ve always done, to stay greenlight-complacent, to never have to chase the unicorn because the unicorn can never be caught.When Get Out was released nearly a year ago and went on to make $255 million worldwide on a reported $4.5 million budget, it was viewed in many quarters — too many quarters — as a fluke.
Jordan Peele’s film landed just after Donald Trump, who ran a divide-and-conquer presidential campaign, was sworn into office and spoke to the felt realities of a Black America confronting an ineffable slide into overt hostility. But, clearly, there was no pattern to be mimicked there. No real lesson to learn. Anomaly.
Then Wonder Woman landed in June — the first major studio film about a comic book superheroine to be helmed by a female director, Patty Jenkins. And it touched off a movement: Women, long sidelined in the superhero arms race, flexed their muscles and flocked to the Warner Bros. release over and over and over again, bringing friends, sisters and mothers to see themselves centered in the action in ways they’d never seen before.
They pumped fists and shed tears at the triumphant “No Man’s Land” sequence, which Warners brass reportedly didn’t understand and asked Jenkins to cut, until she dug in her heels. “It’s the most important scene,” the director said. “It’s also the scene that made the least sense to other people going in.”
Domestically, Wonder Woman has outgrossed every other DC Extended Universe film, and at $821.8 million globally, it fell just $50 million shy of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice — and that had Batman and Superman. Anomaly. Girls Trip, a raunchy $19 million comedy starring Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish, dropped a month later and made $140 million worldwide while surrounded by testosterone-heavy franchise entries.
(It came a month after Rough Night, a raunchy, $20 million comedy starring Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer, whiffed at the box office with $47.3 million globally — and that’s with an Avenger in the cast.) Anomaly. And now there’s Black Panther — the Ryan Coogler-directed Marvel film with an overwhelmingly black cast and an incredibly diverse crew — which has smashed every expectation in its first two weekends.
There’s a temptation to say that its $242.2 million four-day opening “overperformed,” but that word just reveals the failure of the establishment to understand the product and its audience. Just a month ago, the film was tracking to open at $100 million: How do you account for a $140 million underestimation? Were those 10 million people hiding somewhere? (No.) That’s simply a prognostication machine that wasn’t paying attention to the social media response to those first trailers back in June or reading the not-that-hard-to-read tea leaves of GoFundMe campaigns to take kids by the classroom to see Black Panther.
There’s been a long-held belief in Hollywood that black films don’t play overseas, yet Black Panther was at $500 million worldwide as of Feb. 22. If you string enough anomalies together, they’re not anomalies anymore. They paint a picture … and not the kind of picture you have to stare at for hours until the pirate ship appears.
The next few weeks will find Hollywood executives and agents, networks and studios trying to wrap their minds around what they were previously happy to dismiss as anomalies but have now presented themselves as a New World Order. It will be tempting to look at the past year at the box office and decide that Narrow is the New Broad. That the old four-quadrant model is just that, old. That bland spectacle is no longer enough.
That the way forward is to be culturally specific.But it’s not like specificity is some new concept. Comedy has taught us that lesson for decades. Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, George Lopez, Ellen DeGeneres, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock have all enjoyed massive crossover success by embracing their specificity rather than avoiding it.
A joke devoid of detail ain’t gonna make no one laugh. And genre storytelling has lived and died by the tactile realness of its world-building. If Westerners didn’t feel like an actual place, with various rivalries, traditions, legends and politics, then Game of Thrones would’ve died the unheralded death of so many uninspired sci-fi/fantasy dramas. Detail is what makes it breathe. (And if you don’t have detail, you’d better have nostalgia. Just ask Jurassic World.)

Illustration by: Ryan Garcia

The idea of filmmakers of a specific ethnicity getting to tell their tales isn’t entirely revolutionary: Try to imagine The Godfather or Goodfellas from directors without the intimate knowledge of Italian family dynamics that Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese brought to bear. Or Schindler’s List in the hands of a filmmaker who didn’t feel the tonnage of history the way Steven Spielberg did.

No, the reason we’re in the midst of a halcyon age of representational storytelling that’s resonating on a historic scale is that a far more diverse pool of storytellers — black filmmakers, female filmmakers, Asian filmmakers — are getting empowered to tell their stories their way with all the resources usually reserved for white, male creatives. Black Panther isn’t just the story of a handsome prince taking the throne of a fictional, advanced African nation, it’s also the story of a filmmaker reckoning with the disconnect that lives in the hyphen between “African” and “American.” It’s about a man who grew up around women of strength and grace and power who didn’t think twice about populating both his art and his set with those same kinds of women. It’s about a kid from Oakland dreaming dreams that the world told him he couldn’t.

Similarly, Thor: Ragnarok would never have been both a balls-out buddy comedy with a perfectly timed anus joke and a trenchant examination of the paved-over sins of colonial expansion without the half-Maori New Zealander Taika Waititi at the helm. And we have proof positive of how Jenkins’ centering of Diana in Wonder Woman is different from Zack Snyder’s treatment of the same character in Justice League: More openness, innocence and resolve … fewer gratuitous shots of Gal Gadot’s ass.

And there’s no one who could’ve conceived of Get Out but Peele, who spent years exploring the ways race and genre collide on TV’s Key & Peele, is a student of horror and has definitely found himself navigating the frothy waters of meeting a white girlfriend’s parents for the first time.

The way forward isn’t simply to decide to greenlight stories about diverse people. It’s to cultivate a generation of writers, directors and producers who see the world through their own unique lens and then bring that perspective to bear. If Marvel didn’t have someone like Nate Moore in its producer ranks, someone who knew who T’Challa was and what he could mean, you’d never get a Black Panther. If Pixar didn’t elevate story artist Adrian Molina to co-director and co-writer, Coco might’ve seemed more like a Day of the Dead theme park ride than a haunting, heartbreaking exaltation of Dia de los Muertos.

What audiences are responding to, in every movie that’s popped in the past year, is a sense of truth. Just as we can tell, somehow, when CG is spackled on a little too heavily, we can sense when something feels inauthentic. We can tell the difference between 12 Years a Slave and Amistad, between The Joy Luck Club and The Last Samurai, between Selma and Mississippi Burning. One of them feels true — and truth, ultimately, is what makes something universal.

Marc Bernardin is a television writer and former THR editor who co-hosts the Fatman on Batman podcast with Kevin Smith.

Latest UCLA diversity report signals little improvement in Hollywood movies and TV

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As Marvel’s “Black Panther” continues to break box office records worldwide in its first two weeks of release, the first superhero blockbuster with a majority black cast has been hailed as a major step forward for diversity and inclusion in Hollywood.

Others might call that merely a good start.

A new study from UCLA makes the case that the industry could still use a boost when it comes to proportional representation of minorities and women on screens large and small.

Moreover, the industry lag in diverse representations may be negatively affecting box office receipts and ratings.

“Diversity sells, and for the past five years, we’ve seen that all audiences, regardless of race, want to see diversity on-screen,” said Ana-Christina Ramón, who wrote the report with Darnell Hunt. “They prefer movies that have diverse casts, and they prefer to watch TV that has diversity as well.”

UCLA’s “Hollywood Diversity Report 2018,” also co-written by Michael Tran, Amberia Sargent and Debanjan Roychoudhury, is the fifth in an annual series examining relationships between diversity and the bottom line in the entertainment industry. This year’s study evaluated the top 200 theatrical films released in 2016 and 1,251 broadcast, cable and digital platform television shows from the 2015-16 season to document the degree to which women and people of color are present in front of and behind the camera.

Regarding minority representation, since last year’s report (which covered the 2015 film year and the 2014-15 TV season), people of color posted gains relative to their white counterparts in eight of 11 industry employment arenas examined: film directors, film writers, broadcast scripted leads, cable scripted leads, broadcast reality and other leads, cable reality and other leads, digital scripted leads and digital scripted show creators. They lost ground in the area of broadcast scripted show creators and merely sustained representation as film leads and cable scripted show creators.

It’s not a case where people can take their feet off the pedal.

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Overall, people of color remained underrepresented, considering they were 40% of the U.S. population in 2016. A total of 13.9% of the year’s film leads were people of color. On TV, 18.7% of scripted broadcast leads, 20.2% of scripted cable leads and 12.9% of scripted digital leads were people of color.

As for female representation, women gained in all evaluated employment arenas except for film directors, broadcast scripted show leads, cable scripted show creators and broadcast scripted show creators. They fell further behind in the former three arenas and merely held their ground in the latter. Women nabbed 31.2% of film leads, but only 6.9% of the movies surveyed were directed by women and only 13.8% were written by women.

The study also noted that as 2016 brought inclusive films like “Moonlight,” “Hidden Figures” and “Fences” to theaters, minority-directed projects and those with minority leads gained ground at the 2017 Oscars relative to those led by white directors or that featured white leads. That followed two consecutive years of #OscarsSoWhite protests over all-white acting nominees.

Comparatively, films released in 2016 with female leads lost ground at the Academy Awards, while those directed by women failed, for a second year in a row, to win a single Oscar.

A chart from the 2018 UCLA diversity Report.
A chart from the 2018 UCLA diversity Report. (UCLA)


On the television front, during a year in which inclusive shows like “Empire,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder” were the highest rated across multiple demographics, broadcast scripted shows created by people of color were actually in short supply. Only 7.1% of the creators of broadcast scripted programs were people of color, with a similar 7.3% of cable scripted shows created by people of color. And only 15.7% of digital scripted shows were created by people of color.

This data arrive after a presumed landmark year in film and television — with projects like “Coco,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Get Out,” “Master of None” and “This Is Us” — hugely successful and nabbing awards season honors for their diverse talent. And while that could signal better numbers on the horizon, Ramón cautions that what audiences may feel like they’re seeing in terms of an increase in representation doesn’t necessarily manifest when data are evaluated.

“Even though we have these examples [of inclusiveness,] it’s like a psychological thing where you have a handful of examples and so you think there should be a big increase, but that’s not necessarily the case when you look at the whole population [of film and television shows],” she said. “The vast array of movies and television shows out there still aren’t representative, and when you look at the whole picture, the needle isn’t moving that much.”

ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder" stars Matt McGorry, Karla Souza, Aja Naomi King, Alfred Enoch, Jack Falahee, Viola Davis, Liza Weil, Billy Brown and Charlie Weber.
ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” stars Matt McGorry, Karla Souza, Aja Naomi King, Alfred Enoch, Jack Falahee, Viola Davis, Liza Weil, Billy Brown and Charlie Weber. (Bob D’Amico / ABC)


While television is doing a lot better on the diversity front than film, the UCLA study also evaluated both media in regards to their bottom lines, ratings and box office, respectively. Median 18-49 viewer ratings, as well as median household ratings among black people, Latinos and Asian Americans, were highest during the 2015-16 season for broadcast scripted shows that were greater than 20% minority. For white households, ratings were highest for broadcast scripted shows with casts greater than 40% minority.

Film-wise, pictures with casts that were between 21% and 30% diverse enjoyed the highest median global box office and return on investment. Movies with the most racially and ethnically homogenous casts were the poorest performers on average.

This research falls in line with a study released by the Creative Artists Agency last year which noted that across every budget level, a picture with a diverse cast outperforms a release not as diverse.

Overall, UCLA’s study, taking into account the five years data have been collected and evaluated, presents an image of only slight improvement in representation for women and people of color. Much of that development has centered on black talent, with other communities of color experiencing very little increases.

“It’s not a case where people can take their feet off the pedal,” Ramón said. “They need to keep pushing forward.”

Ava DuVernay Cautions Against Premature Victory Lap for Hollywood’s Diversity Gains

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“We sit on top of a broken system,” the ‘Wrinkle in Time’ director said Friday as part of W Hotels’ What She Said series.


As Ava DuVernay prepares to release Disney’s eagerly anticipated A Wrinkle in Time adaptation, which has put her in the history books as the first woman of color to direct a film with a $100 million-plus budget, she cautions against thinking that Hollywood has finally solved its diversity problems.

“I’m an anomaly,” DuVernay told the intimate, mostly female, gathering at W Hollywood on Friday night, kicking off the 2018 season of W Hotels’ What She Said speaker series. “[Black Panther’s] Ryan Coogler is an anomaly, [Moonlight’s] Barry Jenkins is an anomaly, [Mudbound’s] Dee Rees is an anomaly. When you can name us all on two hands, that’s not change.”

That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress. “There was a time when Hollywood said, ‘We will tell your story,’” said DuVernay, pointing to films like Glory and Beasts of the Southern Wild, which featured black characters but were made by white filmmakers. “That didn’t feel like what I knew as a black girl, but it’s an interpretation, not a reflection, and that’s valid. But we’re in a dynamic time right now, telling our own stories.”

But to be truly effective, just having a woman at the helm if the rest of the crew is male is not enough. “These are moments that are not sustainable unless there’s systemic change,” DuVernay continued. “We sit on top of a broken system. Unless there is systemic change, we’re just the sparkly stuff on top that makes people feel good.”

After two decades in the industry — much of it spent as a publicist moonlighting as an indie filmmaker — DuVernay has a certain wariness, something she now actively fights against as she tries to approach meetings “with an open heart and mind, as opposed to being on guard.” Her close friend and Wrinkle actress Oprah Winfrey offered valuable advice: “This bad thing’s not happening to you, but for you. You have to figure out why.”

A live performance of Ever Huerta's 'Watertopia,' during the premiere of shorts inspired by 'A Wrinkle in Time'

Student Writers Present Short Films Inspired by Ava DuVernay’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

Wrinkle in Time proved to be a therapeutic experience for DuVernay, who admitted that she is “the type to stay on Twitter all day, stewing and tweeting mean things to the president.” Instead, the massive motion picture kept her mind on more pleasant tasks, such as designing flowers and other otherworldly visuals for the film. And making this kids movie also showed the 45-year-old filmmaker she still had an inner child, to her surprise.

DuVernay praised Wrinkle in Time author Madeleine L’Engle as a “radical, interesting white woman” whose 1962 sci-fi classic blended “social commentary, spirituality and spectacle.” At a recent dinner party, the director met someone who personally knew L’Engle, who died in 2007. DuVernay found herself pulling him aside and questioning him anxiously, “What do you think she’d think of me directing this movie? With a black Meg [the book’s young female heroine, portrayed by Storm Reid]?” When the man responded that L’Engle would have loved it, she burst into happy, relieved tears.

In addition to making her own films featuring strong, diverse women in front of and behind the camera, DuVernay also continues to champion films made by other women and people of color through her six-year-old distribution platform Array, which became a nonprofit last year on the advice of Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, who said it couldn’t be as sustainable if it was fueled solely by DuVernay’s directing profits, as it had been. With grants from Ford and others, DuVernay announced that Array had purchased “three stubby buildings in the textured, non-gentrified part of Echo Park” and is moving in this weekend.

Change needs to occur at multiple loci and will be driven by “passion from a large consensus of people,” DuVernay said, pointing to the tide turning in the AIDS crisis not so much by policy or government agencies but by movies and plays such as Philadelphia and Angels in America. “That’s what film can do.”

“The only thing that instigates change is audiences saying, ‘We don’t want that anymore. Black Panther, we want this,’” said DuVernay, adding that a good indication of progress beyond the surface will be, “Is this gonna do anything more than Panther 2?”