Tag Archives: media

Tired of This

No, not the other bigger political and life stuff, though I’m more than tired of that too. I’m tired of the nitpicky stuff. I’m tired of Hollywood and western film white supremacy and how deeply ingrained it is.

Also not so long ago, I read the best-selling SF novel The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey. The novel is a post-apocalyptic zombie novel, set in the ruins of Britain, and it takes the time-honored SF approach of evolution, kind of like the original I Am Legend novel by Richard Matheson. It’s a well-written book with some interesting dynamics, although it feels a bit like what would normally be a novella dragged out to be longer. The novel centers around an unusual girl named Melanie and other children kept at a bunkered school where a woman named Helen Justineau is their teacher.

The novel has been made into a film in a joint UK/US production. (Don’t know if they changed the setting to the U.S. or not.) It’s starring Sennia Nanua as Melanie and Gemma Arterton as Ms. Justineau. The movie is scheduled to come out this year in September, which means I missed it in my round-up of women-led films and such for 2016, but you know, yay for another one!

In the book, Melanie’s exact appearance is a bit unclear. It seems like she is somewhat pale but also has kind of golden toned skin, so she might be a white girl or a black Briton or have Mediterranean or South Asian ethnicity. So any young actress might have played her and Sennia Nanua is a black actress. But also in the book it is quite clear that Helen Justineau is a black woman. It is in fact a key undercurrent in the story, related to some of the themes of the story. I like Gemma Arterton quite a lot, but that didn’t change the fact that it was ridiculous that she was playing a Persian princess in the game-based movie The Prince of Persia, and it doesn’t change the deliberateness of this switch here in The Girl with all the Gifts.

Now the filmmakers and the studios I’m sure can claim that they are just shifting things around, since they took a main character, Kieran, a soldier who in the book is a red-haired Irishman, and instead are having him played by black actor Fisayo Akinade. They also took another minor character who is indicated as South Asian in ethnicity and have her being played by black actress Dominique Tipper. But Kieran is mainly a sidekick character, so essentially it’s just having the black actor play support to the four leads, who except for Melanie, are played by white actors. Helen Justineau is a main hero/focus of the story. She is its questioning moral center. And what the film is putting forth is that such a hero role needs to be played by a white woman, not a black woman.

Add to that fact that Melanie, played by a young black girl in the film, spends the first part of the story strapped to a mobile chair with a mask on her face, controlled mainly by white people, and it gets more than a little symbolically problematic. You could say that it’s meant to function as a symbol of historic slavery related to the story, but so is switching out a black role for a white actress. The very strong possibility is that having decided to cast Nanua as Melanie because they liked her for the role, the filmmakers probably felt that they could not have two black acting leads in their movie. Because that’s how this kind of thinking works as well. Justineau also in the book has something of a romance with another lead character, a white British military commander played in the movie by Paddy Considine. While films have had inter-racial romances and it might not have been an additional factor, it does again contribute to the regular Hollywood approach of having only two white people bonding together as leads.

The reality is that white people play 80% of the roles in film, even though that’s not near their percentage of the population. It’s hard enough for actors of colors to get on screen at all, even when filmmakers are willing occasionally to racially change a white character in an adapted work. When lead and key roles in adaptations or that fit ethnically for non-white people are then given to white actors, it continues an industry-wide discrimination that visually helps fuel discrimination in the wider world, certainly in the Western world.

The logic that filmmakers use to apply to these things has slightly improved (trickle, trickle,) after lots of screaming, but they still regularly switch heroic roles, major and minor, of non-white characters to white actors and will now switch out other non-white roles of one ethnicity or race for another for seemingly strange reasons.

Take the film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Martian by Andy Weir. The film was a good adaptation of the novel overall and had a number of non-white actors playing key roles. But one very pivotal supporting role, Mindy Park, the technician who spots that the protagonist astronaut is still alive on Mars and who is one of his main contacts, would seem by her name and slight indications in the story to be Korean American and instead in the film is played by a white actress, Mackenzie Davis. Again, I like Davis as an actress, but it’s hard not to see this as switching the heroic role to a white actress to be on the safe side.

On the slightly brighter side, the character of Venkat Kapoor, her supervisor, a South Asian American, was replaced, but by a black actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor. But that may have been because the filmmakers decided that they had too many Asian characters — the chief engineer played by Benedict Wong and several Chinese characters who help NASA, to have another Asian actor in a main role, and that they figured a white actor couldn’t pull off the last name of Kapoor (the character’s first name was changed to the less South Asian moniker of Vincent.) So yay, that increased the presence of black actors in the movie, but only because they didn’t want the number of Asian actors to outshine the number of white ones who play most of the leading roles.

The author of the novel, Andy Weir, pointed out that he doesn’t do a lot of physical character descriptions or had prescribed notions of their appearances, including of his protagonist astronaut, so technically Mindy Park could be a white American and “Vincent” Kapoor could be a black American, though he had thought of Park as Korean American. But if that’s the case, then the lead astronaut didn’t need to be played by a white actor like Matt Damon either. Mark Watney could have been a black man, multi-racial or any variety of ethnicity. But that would have made some people quite upset — that the character wasn’t a square-jawed white guy as they no doubt imagined him to be because they’ve been trained to imagine the hero as white, even when there are no physical descriptions.

This is not a problem that is going to be easily solved, given the old, ingrained myths by which we treat each other (see the anger at The Hunger Games movie having black actors play heroic characters who were described as black people in the book, by those with poor reading comprehension who assumed such heroes had to be white children.) Hollywood is deeply uncertain about whether they can get away with giving the global audience a regular diet of non-white leads, given that they’ve force fed us white leads from the beginning of film’s existence. And despite ample evidence to the contrary, they have clung to white and mainly male leads like a security blanket, even though numerous movies with such leads tank and the income stats are actually better for women leads and lead actors of color. It is, again, partly a social status issue for industry bosses as well.

Regardless, it has in recent years taken a good chunk of enjoyment out of certain films for me when they do this stuff and has influenced my movie watching choices. I love old movies. I mean, I really love them. I’ve grown up on them. I’ve seen probably thousands of movies in my life. But the white supremacy can go now, as quickly as possible. And a good start would be to take characters who are already not white people in the original material and not turn them into white people for current and future films.

Because we don’t need them. We really don’t. Much as I like many white actors, they aren’t the only ones I like, and they don’t always need to be the heroes or the majority group in an ensemble movie. And that’s my big sigh for today.

 

 

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Women In Film Take the Stage – Part 1, 2015 Review

It’s time (finally!) for Women in Film, where we take a look at the state of women actors in tackling the serious Hollywood box office – the “summer” blockbusters, tent pole special effects movies, high octane action films, suspense thrillers, horror flicks, big buzz dramas, children’s and animated major features and comedy adventure films. In this first part, we’ll take a look at the past year of 2015. In Women in Film, Part Two, we’ll take a look at what’s been happening so far and what’s still to come in 2016 (and a little about 2017 and beyond.)

I will admit that I did not, going in, have particularly high expectations for the movies in 2015 when it came to the “lady actors.” I thought, from the look of those revamped big boy franchises for that year, that 2015 would be something of a placeholder year , like 2013 and 2014 – a year that didn’t particularly lose the trickle, trickle gains for women set off in 2012, since it would have some women leads in films and women in major supporting roles in big ensembles, but didn’t dramatically advance them either, since the machismo looked to be coming out the ears of the summer and winter line-ups.

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Stick Aliens Drink Soda

It’s been awhile since I did a post on the trend in advertising campaigns to not just photoshop women in ads into skinny forms, but to literally make them physically alien and insectoid in their concentration camp images, as something that is supposed to appeal to women in purchasing considerations. And not in a SFF sort of approach where it’s deliberately supposed to be strange, but in ads where we’re supposed to consider them beautiful human woman who we’d want to emulate. If we had elongated spines that turned in ways human bodies can’t actually go.

Previously, these ads have not made much sense in terms of the elegant products they were pitching — upscale fashion, handbags, perfume. And that’s what struck me about them. But this time, it’s a product where skeletalization of the body is directly connected to the product — Diet Coke. That staple of acidic corn syrup and artificial sweeteners that the company keeps pretending starving models drink to look the way they do. Sales of Diet Coke are declining, apparently, (along with non-craft soda in general,) so Diet Coke has launched a new campaign called “It’s Mine” with women grabbing after bottles of Diet Coke now packaged in cutsey colorful graphics of the kind they put on kids’ plastic cups. (Including pink and purple!) That pretty much hits the trifecta: women are easily distracted infants, greedy harpies and obsessive shoppers chasing after purchases.

But it’s this image in particular that ultra goes for the stick alien look:

mymo

The dress of course is supposed to resemble Diet Coke itself in a sort of bottle shape. (Hey, they may even have the word “sex” in there subliminally.)

But the woman, oh where to start with the woman. First off, she has one hip that apparently can elongate and swivel outward from her body and around. Her upper torso can twist at a dramatic angle from her lower half, facing forward, while her other leg goes straight back sideways. (Maybe she does yoga.) Her arms are cadaverous and her fingers elongated. Her neck is also elongated, really giving the stick alien appearance, further enhanced by her blonde-ish hair which has been done short and appears in the photo as kind of spiky, in a manner resembling antennae tendrils. (You think they’d do curls for a soda foam resemblance, but I digress.)

She looks, in a word, kind of scary. You would not be surprised to see webbing or ichor or something coming out of her hands and snagging the Diet Coke bottle.

The photo is actually kind of a still shot from a t.v. ad that Diet Coke ran for the Oscars ceremony. (Hence, the ball gown the model wears.) But that ad uses CGI to make the woman’s body like pouring soda with the dress rather than human mobility, and then clearly the image was further photoshopped for print for graphic design reasons over human ones. (In the t.v. ad, when the model drinks the Diet Coke she has caught, her arms are not nearly as frightening.) The print ad is now showing up in various magazines.

Again, it’s one thing to do all the tweaking and glass polishing they regularly do to women in ads. (I can no longer recognize the faces of actresses on magazine covers because they turn them into life-size ceramic dolls.) But to turn a woman in-human, beyond skeletal, does this work to sell the product by just producing a striking image? Maybe it works for something like Diet Coke, but it seems again a fascination of photo editors indulging in surreal art. Rather than selling sex or elegance that might be desired, it’s wiping out the human woman from the image altogether into the otherworldly.

In any case, way to keep it regressive on the product re-packaging and sales pitch, Diet Coke. The soda still tastes awful.

 

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A Little Silliness

For those of you who find the topic of fiction publishing utterly boring, here are some silly videos:

 

First, Alanis Morissette and James Corden update the lyrics of Morissette’s iconic song “Ironic”:

 

Second, Sesame Street tackles “Game of Thrones” in one of the best parody sketches they may have ever done:

 

And finally, actor McCauley Kulkin revisits his most famous character from his child actor days, Kevin from the hit movie “Home Alone” as a rage-filled Uber-like driver for a web series called “Dryvrs”:

And his co-star in that movie, actor Daniel Stern, responded to the video as his thief character Marv from the movie:

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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Amazon Gives In

Every few years, giant we’re-selling-parts-of-the-moon-next conglomerate Amazon decides whether it’s going to keep selling books (a mere 7% of its revenues,) and when it decides, so far, that it’s going to do so, it negotiates sales terms contracts with the Big 5 global conglomerates that dominate U.S. publishing, among other presses. (It doesn’t have to negotiate anything with the self-published authors since they agreed to a contract that states that Amazon can change their terms, including the monetary ones, whenever it wants.)

The sales terms do not include just what prices publishers will sell print books to Amazon for or price e-books with Amazon at, but also how much Amazon gets of each sale as its retailer cut, and how much additional monies Amazon gets of each sale in “developmental marketing” fees. Those are the fees that Amazon charges for search rhythm algorithims, search inside this book features, special screen displays, recommendations, etc., that all help books sell on Amazon and make it easy for people to find them. Amazon has been increasing the number of fees it demands the publishers pay to sell with Amazon in the contracts, squeezing the publishers for more revenue to feed its enormous business acquisitions engine. (Amazon gives most of these services away for free to self-pub authors, but it has been adjusting its cut and charging some fees to them.)

This has been particularly hard on small presses, for whom the balance between the costs of doing business with Amazon and making it up in cheap bulk sales they depend on from Amazon is very precarious. But it’s of concern for the big publishers as well, especially because some of the conglomerates also sell other merchandise to/through Amazon and because other retailers and wholesalers are likely to follow Amazon’s lead in charges. So when French-based global conglomerate Hachette entered into negotiations with Amazon this year, it balked at Amazon wanting a higher cut of revenues for marketing fees for e-books and print, as well as tighter control of the e-book market and better terms on print returns refunds (meaning more expenses and shipping costs for Hachette.)

Amazon promptly tried one of its favorite negotiating tactics with any size of publisher — suspending sales on Hachette’s titles, which it claimed were suddenly out of stock at Amazon or didn’t have a buy button anymore altogether, or messing up prices, so that Hachette would cave quickly. But Hachette isn’t as dependent on Amazon sales as some of the other Big 5, and more to the point, they are facing the same need as Amazon to cut costs and squeeze more revenue, so they dug in. Amazon promptly started a media campaign, claiming the dispute was only about e-book prices, that it was trying to decrease the costs to the consumer by making more e-books at the legendary price point of $9.99. This of course ignores that most e-books, including from the Big 5, are priced well below $9.99 already.

Hachette offered a few terse statements that the negotiations were about way more than e-book price points, but otherwise ignored media knattering in favor of confidentiality over the negotiations. That media coverage, as it was back when Amazon tried this tactic on Macmillan a few years ago, was not exactly positive towards Amazon. It got worse when a bunch of authors, some Hachette authors affected by the ban, some just big bestsellers, took to the presses to complain about Amazon’s author punishment negotiation tactic in a business deal that the authors had no say in. Amazon made pie in the sky promises that they knew contractually they and Hachette couldn’t actually do, even if authors and Hachette had been willing, over e-book prices only. But that didn’t change the general view that Amazon was riding roughshod over the book publishing business, especially in the States, which was still reeling from various retail shrinkage in recent years. That e-book sales have flatlined, having reached perhaps their natural share of the market for now, and that online selling of print books has expanded to more vendors, didn’t help Amazon have more leverage. Continue reading

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Gamesplayers Are A Mighty Wave

Once upon a time, a very angry man teamed up with some anti-feminist frothy guys to get revenge on his game-designer ex-girlfriend. They claimed that she had sex with a game reviewer in return for favorable review coverage of her game, and harassed, doxed and death threatened her. The fact that the favorable review coverage never occurred was irrelevant; the charge was meant only to raise questions on the Net. Meanwhile, the frothy guys proceeded to attack with doxing, harassment and death threats other women who had nothing to do with game reviewing or game company PR, and then went after anyone and any website that criticized them for it.

Despite all this, their efforts didn’t draw much media attention outside of the geekosphere until two events occurred. First, the frothy guys confused some Intel marketing folk into withdrawing one of thousands of ad buys from a games website that had been critical of them.* And second, they shut down a talk by an academic in women’s studies at a university by threatening a mass shooting at the event. The bulk of the media coverage from that was negative, depicting the frothy guys as terrorizing women and bigoted. Right wing activists, who used to decry games as violent degeneracy, about-faced and helped push the message that those calling for better diversity and talking about the presentation of women in games were somehow corrupting the gaming industry and engaging in vague, often contradictory conspiracies. (*Update: Intel has now re-bought the ads they pulled a month ago, after getting a clue.)

The saddening thing about this campaign – and it has been an organized campaign — is that its threats and identity theft towards these women are ultimately futile towards its main stated goals. Yes, women have only a toehold in the engineering, tech, animation and gaming industries. But women used to have only a toehold in the fields of medicine, law, education, publishing and laboratory sciences too. The men in those areas used to throw up their hands and suggest that maybe the women were few because they weren’t really suited for those fields, while frantically rolling boulders to try to keep women out and making the atmosphere as toxic as possible for the ones who were there.

Women have always worked in games, despite such barriers, from board and tabletop to educational games, sports, and electronic games from the arcade to the console to the computer networks. And women have always played electronic games, in great numbers, from their earliest days. Currently, they make up half the gaming market and the largest demographic group in the 18-39 age range. Electronic games have always been commercially mainstream, put out by large companies for a global market, and sporting a wealth-load of popular spin-off merchandise and toys, from Pac Man lunch boxes to Pong earrings.  Continue reading

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Interesting Writings on Writing and Publishing

Lot going on here and in about three, four weeks, I’m going to be making some changes to the blog, but until then, have some more links! These are about writing fiction, book publishing and SFFH media:

Author Ferrett Steinmetz talks about selling his novel.

Lauren Davis talks about the perils of genre shaming readers and writers.

Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff talks about issues in critiquing people’s writing.

Mary Robinette Kowal talks about turning off your inner editor when writing.

An article on award-winning SF author Ann Leckie, her novel Ancillary Justice and its impact in the field. (I quite liked Ancillary Justice — more on that later.)

Ask a Game Developer explains what it is important to focus on in higher education if you want to get into games development.

Gwenda Bond explains quite simply about fiction being a symbiotic market for authors and how you should concentrate on your own career in fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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