Dear White People…The Movie

It’s like Spike Lee’s School Daze for the “post-racial” era. But as we wait for the much talked about sequel to Lee’s groundbreaking film, we are certainly looking forward to seeing this. See the recently released trailer after the jump.

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Co-Screenwriter of ‘Noah’ Explains Why There Are No Black People Or POC In The Film

O.K. let’s see if this makes sense.

No doubt, one of the most talked about films so far this year is Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. The film has gotten its share of rave reviews, though there are those who have major problems with it. However, one cannot deny that it is truly an ambitious, unique and original film – the kind of risk-taking movie you wish Hollywood would make more of, like they used to.

However, there is that one thing; That one thing that stuck out in my mind when I saw the film: “Hey, where are the black folks or people or color in the film?

If this film had been made back during the epic “Biblical film” era, in the 1950s, well then, yes, you would expect that.

But even Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments has black people in it. So, here we are well into the 21stcentury, and Noah is populated with nothing but white people, many who speak with British or Australian accents.

Well, in a new interview on the website The High Calling (HERE) the co-screenwriter of the film Ari Handel, who wrote Noah with Aronofsky, was asked about the lack of diversity and addressed by saying:

“From the beginning, we were concerned about casting, the issue of race. What we realized is that this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people. Either you end up with a Bennetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise.”

He goes on to say:

“You either try to put everything in there, which just calls attention to it, or you just say, “Let’s make that not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman.” Looking at this story through that kind of lens is the same as saying, “Would the ark float and is it big enough to get all the species in there?” That’s irrelevant to the questions because the questions are operating on a different plane than that; they’re operating on the mythical plane.”

Really? That’s the best he could do? Why not just say, we just didn’t want to be bothered? I would have bought that.

So let me see if I understand this. In other words, if we put black people or POC in the film, then people would notice it, and that would have been like really, really distracting, taking people out of the film. So instead, we got a whole bunch of white British, American and Australian actors to represent all mankind, because it‘s just a lot easier?

And, furthermore, putting people of color in the film would have somewhat diminished the biblical Noah, making it look, God forbid, like some kind of Star Trek movie?

Sorry I’m all confused here. I was thinking that, if you want to represent all mankind in a film, then wouldn’t it make sense to have a cast that did actually represent all of mankind, in every color and hue, instead of having an all white cast, and telling audiences to just squint their eyes, and pretend that he’s another race, because it’s all just a myth after all? So black people can’t be mythical too? Nope, I guess we’re too real, too urban.

Am I wrong here, or is Handel? You tell us.


How American Films Use Black Cops for Comic Relief

If you’re a black cop in an American movie, you’re a lot more likely to end upsquatting on a toilet with a bomb in it than sharing scars with the hottie from Internal Affairs. This isn’t anecdote; it’s research. A recent study from two criminal justice experts shows that for 40 years black police officers have most often been the punchlines of the American cop movie genre.

The researchers found that only 21 out of 112 police movies released from 1971 to 2011 had a black cop in a heroic role. And, in over half of those, black officers were there to give the audience laughs, rather than significantly advance the plot. Outside the movies, around one in five officers is black, say the authors.


The researchers took every film classified as a “cop movie” since the Clint Eastwood vehicle Dirty Harry (which they say defined the genre as we know it today), and culled all those that were specifically comedies, science-fiction, or anything that featured cops acting outside their jurisdictions. Then they sat down and watched over 240 hours of cinema, looking to see how the black and white main characters were portrayed, and using 40 criteria to classify on-screen actions into types.

Franklin Wilson, of Indiana State University, was one of the paper’s authors. He told Quartz: “Quite honestly, it’s eye-opening. You can watch a film and see one thing here or there, but when you watch 40 years’ worth of films, you can start seeing a pattern develop.”

In addition to the comic-relief stereotype, black cops were often portrayed as being caught between the black community and the police, Wilson said. There is a longstanding lack of trust between police and African Americans, stretching from colonial laws that allowed police to arrest blacks for being out after dark (ebook, pg. 22), to modern stop-and-frisk practices.

There’s lopsided justice inside the police force, as well: There have been black officers in America since 1802, but even up until 1962 many police departments required them to get a white officer’s permission before arresting a white suspect. In his book Policing America (pg. 364), author Ken Peak said this results in a so-called “double marginality”, where black officers feel ostracized both by the African-American community, and their fellow police.

The researchers say their next project is to see if the movie-world portrayal of black cops has any relationship to the way they’re perceived in the real world. If past efforts to connect media portrayals to society are any indication, they are up against a steep wall.

And if you’re wondering whether being a “hottie from Internal Affairs” is the typical fate of a female co-star, you won’t have to wonder for long: Wilson and his co-author’s next paper will give the same treatment to women in American cop movies.

What to Watch: BUSK [documentary]

BUSK is a short, social issues and subcultural music documentary, following five musicians as they busk in the arteries of the NYC subway system––Persevering to display their talent for income, sustenance, and a means to work, the busker’s experiences are portrayed through interviews, and live performances on the subway platforms. By exploring the city’s music programs, laws, and the musicians’ passion to perform, BUSK, takes the audience below into the heart of New York to hear the real sounds of the subway system.

BUSK – film from Ramon Nyitrai on Vimeo.

Street performance or busking is the practice of performing in public places, for gratuities.[1] In many countries the rewards are generally in the form of money but other gratuities such as food, drink or gifts may be given. Street performance is practiced all over the world by men, women and children and dates back to antiquity. In English speaking countries people engaging in this practice are called street performers or buskers.

Japan’s Female Directors Making Their Mark in Patriarchal Industry

Women working in Japan’s socially conservative film sector are making inroads, even if true gender equality remains a long ways off.

TOKYO – The 2013 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Japan 105th in the world in terms of equality for women, having actually slipped four places from 101st the year before. While Japan’s slide down the rankings is due mostly to improvements elsewhere, it remains a damning indictment of sexual discrimination in the world’s third largest economy. As for the film industry worldwide, it has not been what you might call an equal opportunity employer, particularly for those behind the camera. Although women have been directing movies since the 19th century, it was only five years ago that Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the best director Oscar.

In Japan’s case, factor in the rampant sexism still found in most areas of a socially conservative society, and a dearth of female filmmakers in the country hardly comes as a shock. However, over the last decade female directors have been making their mark. Slow though it may be, change is happening.

Tazuko Sakane is credited with being Japan’s first female director, her chance to make New Clothing (Hatsu Sugata) coming after she was taken under the wing of legendary helmer Kenji Mizoguchi. It was to be her only production; she was reportedly given a hard time over its failure, as well as her predilection for short hair and dressing in suits. There were to be no more films made by women in Japan until after World War II. The most prolific Japanese female director post-war is Sachi Hamano, who has made more than 400 films, though all but one in the erotic soft-core ‘pink eiga’ genre.

“The situation has been improving in recent years, though film production is still a macho environment in Japan, where most people in the crew do a lot of physical work,” says female producer Yukie Kito,whose credits include Tokyo Sonata and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. “It’s tough even for men, and it can be hard for a woman to get respect in that environment.”

According to the Directors Guild of Japan, there are now “about 20 female members” out of 550: a marginal improvement on the 15 out of 500 it registered at the end of the 20th century. Though this means only about 3.5 percent of members are women, the figures are somewhat skewed by the fact that many young directors don’t join the guild.

At the Japan Institute of the Moving Image, a leading film school, female students now account for about a third of those taking the directing and screenwriting course.

“I think female directors are now quite visible in Japan. There are many interesting documentaries and features being made by women, from Ayumi Sakamoto to Iguchi Nami, and of course, Naomi Kawase,” suggests Yoshi Yatabe, programming director at the Tokyo International Film Festival. “I don’t think the doors are closed in Japan, they have equal opportunities.”

While it looks to be a while yet before real gender equality is achieved in Japan, it’s not likely to be so long before a female director emulates Bigelow and become the first woman to win Japan’s Academy Prize.


Naomi Kawase

By far the most well-known Japanese female director outside of her home country, Naomi Kawase is a two-time winner at Cannes, where she also served on the jury last year. However, while media coverage of her international triumphs means most people in Japan know her name, few have seen her films, some of which haven’t even had domestic theatrical releases.

“She has a very high reputation on the international festival circuit, but her films don’t really work in cinemas in Japan,” says Yatabe. “In that way, she represents the contradiction of the film industry.”

Miwa Nishikawa

Hiroshima-born Miwa Nishikawa got her big break when she worked as assistant director for Hirokazu Kore’eda (Like Father, Like Son), who went on to produce her first feature, Wild Berries (Hebi Ichigo) in 2002. Her 2006 mystery Sway (Yureru) established her reputation as one of Japan’s most promising directors, irrespective of gender, while 2009’s Dear Doctor garnered a Japan Academy Award nomination.

“She’s an interesting case because she doesn’t look like a director, she looks like a smartly-dressed office lady, but her sensibility is ‘oyaji’ [old Japanese guy],” says producer Yukie Kito. “With films like Sway and Dear Doctor, the sensibility is very male.”

Yang Yong-hi

Korean-Japanese director Yang Yong-hi has mined the experience of her and her family being in thezainichi minority with her Dear Pyongyang documentary and debut feature Our Homeland (Kazoku no Kuni), which was selected as Japan’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Oscars.

Yang’s work has examined the prejudice faced by the zainichi in Japan, as well as the contradictions in the pro-Pyongyang stances taken by some its members. The release of Dear Pyongyang, which included reunions with members of her family who had returned to the motherland, resulted in her being banned from making any more trips to North Korea.

Nami Iguchi

Nami Iguchi’s 2004 Inuneko was a 35mm remake of the 8mm film she’d written, shot and edited three years previously, and went on to win awards internationally as well as make her the first woman to win best newcomer from the Directors Guild of Japan.

Her latest film, released in February in Japan, Nishino Yukihiko no Koi to Boken (Yukihiko Nishino’s love and adventure), stars heartthrob Yutaka Takenouchi as a ladies man who is somehow always unlucky in love.

“Her style and the topics she tackles make her one of the most exciting directors, not just as a female, of her generation,” says Yatabe.

Yuki Tanada

Following in the footsteps of Nami Iguchi, Yuki Tanada won the Directors Guild of Japan’s best new director in 2008 with One Million Yen Girl. Her films, which are often frank depictions of sex and relationships, have been featured at festivals across Asia and North America.

“There are female directors that make interesting films because they are women,” says producer Yukie Kito. “Yuki Tanada makes the kind of films that women can do better.”

Released in November last year, Mourning Recipe, based on the novel Shijuukunichi no Reshipi by Yuki Ibuki, is a family drama and probably her most accessible, mainstream film to date.


Diplo, Haim and Spike Lee Reveal Nike’s U.S. Soccer Kit For 2014 FIFA World Cup

Earlier today Nike unveiled its national soccer team uniform for the coming 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and assisting in the reveal of the red, white and blue uniform is DiploSpike Lee, and sister trioHAIM. Creating a bridge between fans and soccer players, the musical figures were pictured alongside the likes of players Andrew Luck and Ndamukong Suh, as well as other notable soccer fans such as skateboarder Erik Koston and track and field gold medalist Allyson Felix. Check out the kit above and head here for information on how to purchase.


Hollywood’s Women-of-color Problem is Worse Than You Realize

Hollywood is playing with fire. American films have a significant global cultural impact on how, what and why people think the way they do, yet Hollywood has repeatedly supported the telling of one story, and one story only: that of being white and being male.

In a new infographic, the Representation Project analyzed the top 500 films of all time based on worldwide box office numbers from Box Office Mojo, and found that just six starred a woman of color. That’s 1% of the top 500 films — a startling stat that poses serious implications regarding how people of color and women are valued in society.

*Protagonist defined here as the primary character in a film’s primary story line.

On the heels of one of the most significant awards seasons yet for women and people of color — John Ridley became the second black man to win an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, Lupita Nyong’o the sixth black woman to win Best Supporting Actress for her work in 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuarón the first Latino to win Best Director for Gravity — it might seem easy to dismiss these claims.

Yet despite these wins, Hollywood has proved itself to be ignorant — or simply uncaring — of the monumental influence American cinema has in promoting one-sided ideals of womanhood and racial identity across the world.

None of the six films starring a woman of color have cracked the top 200. Five of these films are animated (PocahontasMulanSpirited AwayLilo & Stitch and The Princess and the Frog), and Sister Act, the sole live action film on the list, was released in 1992! That means it’s been over 20 years since Hollywood really put its monetary muscle behind a film centered on a living, breathing woman of color.

Yes, I said Hollywood — not audiences. Consumer tastes are often considered to be the driving force behind which films get made, but film industry insiders are ultimately the ones who not only decide what stories get told on screen, but also which ones get the support of powerful marketing dollars to push them into the consciousness of movie-going audiences.

Films made with Hollywood’s stamp of approval win big at the box office, despite their frequently egregious short-comings. Consider this fantastic point made by Imran Siddiquee in his write up of the Representation Project’s findings: “[Last] year’s The Lone Ranger … was largely panned by critics, called racist and deemed a relative failure by almost everyone in the industry. But it still made $260 million worldwide, placing it at #386 on the all-time list. Why? The film had a budget of $215 million and was marketed by Disney, with the trailer premiering during the 2013 Super Bowl.”

Audiences vote with their wallets, and by all accounts, if the top 500 grossing films do not feature a significant representation of women of color, then it could be argued that people simply do not want to see those stories being told. But these audiences can’t pay to see films that they don’t know exist in the first place.

The lack of money — really, faith — that Hollywood funnels into promoting these films results in people all over the world not being encouraged to watch, understand and empathize with stories about women of color. And that is simply dangerous.

As author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns, the danger of telling a single story from a white, male perspective is that people outside of that experience begin to believe that their stories are less valid. But the majority of the world’s population are people of color. Thirty-six percent of U.S. moviegoers are, too. Thus Hollywood’s apparent refusal to support, fund and advocate for films that reflect these narratives, especially those of women of color, creates a cultural vacuum that paints a less authentic picture of humanity.

When Nyong’o accepted her Oscar, she reminded kids around the world watching at home that their dreams are valid. And when Cate Blanchett won her Oscar for Best Actress, shereminded Hollywood that films with women at the center are not “niche experiences.” I can’t wait for the day when speeches like these don’t need to be made, but if this year’s Oscars proved anything, it’s that the voices of women and people of color matter, and their stories deserve to be told. It’s time Hollywood listened.

Image Credit (all): The Representation Project


[Infographic] The Oscars Diversity Problem

Well this really doesn’t look good. It’s not news that the Academy Awards have lagged behind when it comes to recognizing actors, directors, producers, and other pros who aren’t white. The blame for that failure could fall in a few places: our culture at large, risk- and change-averse producers, the oddly regressive dynamics of the Academy voters. Either way, it’s not great.

An infographic published on The New York Times‘ Carpetbagger blog has spelled out the Academy Awards diversity gap in stark, visual terms. Created by children’s book publisher Lee & Low Books, the chart reveals just how stacked the deck is against anyone hoping to see a shift in the racial make-up of Oscar winners. One stat sticks out like a very sore thumb: Of the Academy’s 85 Best-Actress winners, only one — Halle Berry for 2001′s Monster’s Ball — has been anything other than white. That’s inflated to 1% for the purpose of being visible on a pie chart.

Over the past few years, the field of Oscar nominees has been inching into more-inclusive territory — which could give us a glimmer of hope for change. Then again, with 94% of all Academy voters being white, that change may still be a sad many years away. (New York Times)


Fox Says Diversity Leads To Good Ratings And Better Business

Today’s TV executives are betting that millennials expect more diversity in their pop culture than previous generations — a thought echoed in a recent study released by UCLA that found more viewers were drawn to shows that mirrored the country’s ethnic diversity, with smaller audiences for programs on either side of parity.

It’s easy, when writing about network TV, to be cynical.

For example, when I heard the Fox network had been holding annual conferences on diversity, telling top show producers their casts and crew had to feature more people of color, I remained skeptical. What’s the catch, I wondered?

Turns out, the network began talking about diversity as a business imperative about three years ago, shifting the conversation to the need for TV programing that reflects the multicultural reality of today’s world to keep younger viewers. One year, representatives from several advocacy groups representing different ethnic minorities made presentations. The next time, Fox offered a simpler presentation.

The Deadline Hollywood blog reported on this year’s event, held in October for more than 150 people including representatives from the top talent agencies in town, Def Jam Recordings co-founder Russell Simmons, and top executives from several Fox-owned TV and film business divisions.

The message: Diversity increases the chance Fox will pick up a new show, promote it, syndicate it and see it do well with audiences.

Years ago, an actor/writer working on a pilot episode for Fox told me she suspected a 2010 session just led producers to transform tertiary white characters into ethnic minorities, with no change in the scripts to acknowledge the shift in race or culture.

But then came this fall’s sleeper hit, Sleepy Hollow, Fox’s tale about the modern-day adventures of Ichabod Crane. Ichabod somehow awakens in modern times after a 250-year sleep. The story unfolds like The X-Files meets A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court(except the Yankee moves forward in time rather than back). Crane teams with a young cop to tackle supernatural weirdness related to the return of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

And the young cop, Abbie Mills, is played by Nicole Beharie, an up-and-coming African-American actor who made a splash as Jackie Robinson’s wife this spring in the film 42. Suddenly, the show was anchored by a strong black woman who gets to kick down doors, tote a trusty sidearm and play skeptical Dana Scully to Ichabod Crane’s witchcraft-wise Fox Mulder (for the uninitiated, that’s an X-Files shout-out).

When the show featured a storyline centered on Mills’ sister, we got to see two black women in an action/adventure setting, fighting the bad guys instead of waiting to be rescued or seduced. It was exactly the kind of diverse casting I had been waiting for since 1999, when the issue hit a crisis point as the broadcast networks offered a fall slate of new TV shows without a single character of color.

This isn’t just about helping redefine roles for black women on TV. In the case of Sleepy Hollow, it’s about finding new storylines and fresh perspectives. An upcoming episode will find the duo facing the legacy of slavery — a storyline that a more old-fashioned network series might have glossed over now has a new twist with an African-American co-lead.

Look across Fox’s schedule and you see similar diversity on the comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine,featuring Andre Braugher, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz (when I met the cast in July, Fumero and Beatriz joked about their surprise at being on a show with two Latinas, but no one playing the “spicy character”). The network’s Almost Human, which makes its debut Sunday and Monday, features African-American actor Michael Ealy as co-lead alongside New Zealand native Karl Urban.

And my friend and fellow TV critic James Poniewozik at Time magazine wrote a great online column about how Fox’s adding Damon Wayans Jr. back to the cast of The New Girl breaks the unspoken “one black friend” rule on many TV comedies (I’d expand that to “one minority friend” rule, just to include shows ranging from Big Bang Theory to Super Fun Night, where the nonwhite best friend isn’t black).

I’m told such casting at Fox is often a result of the diversity sessions, which now include corporate siblings such as FX and Fox Searchlight studios. In the sessions, the case is made that diversity is good business as well as a good deed. Casting an actor like Beharie doesn’t happen unless someone is pushing for it, and it’s been fun to see that move rewarded with strong ratings and an order for Season 2 before the first has barely started.

This makes it all the more ironic that Fox has been criticized as airing the most racist new show of the fall season, a comedy from the producers of Family Guy and Ted called Dads.

The show features Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green as millennial video game entrepreneurs with horrifically embarrassing fathers. Said fathers aim insulting jokes at Latina and Asian-American cast members, including a bit where an attractive Asian staffer has to dress like a schoolgirl to distract a group of Chinese businessmen.

Some people reduced the controversy to a case of “don’t make fun of minorities.” But my theory is that the humor in Dads failed because it centered on stereotypes about the characters, encouraging the audience to see them as crude caricatures. You may be able to get away with that after viewers get to know characters of color; but if you begin by putting them in a cultural box, it’s tougher to see them any other way.

There’s one wild card left: How will white audiences react? Ask producers of long-ago shows such as Homicide: Life on the Street or The Wire, and they’ll note that one reason their shows struggled for viewers was their casts were so diverse that white audiences seemed apathetic.

But today’s TV executives are betting that millennials expect more diversity in their pop culture than previous generations — a thought echoed in a recent study released by UCLA that found more viewers were drawn to shows that mirrored the country’s ethnic diversity, with smaller audiences for programs on either side of parity.

There’s more to be done. ABC’s Scandal proves there’s ratings gold in giving a talented person of color the sole starring role. And there’s a lot of hiring left to do before TV catches up with the country’s population of Hispanics or features Asian-Americans and Native Americans.

But Sleepy Hollow just may teach a lesson some of us have been shouting for years.

Sometimes, by doing good, you can also end up doing well, too.


What to Watch: American Promise Documentary on PBS

…this provocative, intimate documentary presents complicated truths about America’s struggle to come of age on issues of race, class and opportunity.

American Promise spans 13 years as Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, middle-class African-American parents in Brooklyn, N.Y., turn their cameras on their son, Idris, and his best friend, Seun, who make their way through one of the most prestigious private schools in the country. Chronicling the boys’ divergent paths from kindergarten through high school graduation at Manhattan’s Dalton School, this provocative, intimate documentary presents complicated truths about America’s struggle to come of age on issues of race, class and opportunity. Winner, U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award, 2013 Sundance Film Festival. A co-production of Rada Film Group, ITVS and POV’s Diverse Voices Project, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Part of American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, made possible by CPB. Produced in association with American Documentary | POV. A co-presentation with the National Black Programming Consortium.

To coincide with the POV documentary, Spiegel & Grau will publish Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life, by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson with Hilary Beard. Where American Promise raises provocative questions, Promises Kept delivers answers, combining insights Brewster and Stephenson derived from their own experiences with the latest research on closing the black male achievement gap, providing readers with an unprecedented toolkit full of practical strategies from infancy through the teenaged years.

After the broadcast, you can visit the American Promise companion site to read an excerpt from the book Promises Kept, watch interviews with the filmmakers, download graphics to share on social media, guides for bringing the film into the classroom and community, and more.

POV has partnered with the online video journalism studio Storyhunter to commission a series of short web documentaries about the challenges and achievements of young black males in the United States. The web series will premiere on February 3 with shorts Teaching FatherhoodThe Jazz Ticket, and The Algebra Ceiling.

American Promise premieres February 3, 2014 at 10 PM on PBS stations. (Check local listings.).

Watch the trailer for American Promise online at