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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, 2015-2016, Part 2 – 2016 Analysis

Note to self: Get film analyses done before the chaotic month of May, especially as the “summer” season now officially starts in mid-March. Actually, with new strategies in releasing animated and thriller movies and such, you could say that it’s kind of summer all year round now. So while I was getting my ducks in a row once again, what has been happening/may be happening in 2016 for women in film?

While it is not likely that 2016 is going to be as seismic a year for actresses as 2015 or 2012, nor are the media likely to pay quite as much attention (they get bored, the dears,) there’s a definite shift going on that 2016 is busily helping push forward. Big action franchises looking to expand into global media empires, led by Marvel/Disney and DC Comics/Warner, are making use of women to further expand their tentacles. There are an enormous number of movies coming out, including women-led pictures that continue trends we’ve been seeing for the past six years or so.

The actresses hit the ground running first with SF YA movie The 5th Wave, based on the bestselling book, starring Kickass star Chloe Moretz and looking to pick up some of The Hunger Games and Divergent audiences. The alien invasion movie was cheap to make, and since it did well overseas, it made nearly $110 million, turning a very nice profit and possibly green-lighting sequels. Also early on, the horror movie The Boy, starring Lauren Cohan, took in nearly $65 million on a tiny budget, and other women-led horror movies The Forrest and The Witch (I sense a title trend here,) took in nice profits on low budgets. Sadly, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, adapted from the mash-up novel, finally came out with limited distribution, but it was late in the game and it did not succeed. Let’s hope it becomes a cult film.

The action kicked up in March with animated film Zootopia, starring Ginnifer Goodwin as a female rabbit cop who enlists a fox con artist to help solve a perplexing case. The kids movie was a massive hit, with over $993 million in world box office and still climbing towards a billion. 10 Cloverfield Lane, a loose sequel/concurrent film to J.J. Abrams’ cult horror movie Cloverfield, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead holding her own against John Goodman and aliens, was done on a small budget and earned over $100 million in box office. The third title in the Divergent series, Divergent: Allegiant, starring Shailene Woodley, did experience some mid-series fatigue but made over $176 at the box office, paving the way for the fourth and last film.

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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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Awesome Frequently Asked Questions about Jurassic World

I’m at work on something right now, but in the meantime, I went to see Jurassic World. Which was fun, especially because it turned out to be a very crowded movie theater, which meant we had to sit in the third row of the theater. You know how you go to a lot of these 3D movies and the 3D doesn’t really add much to the experience if it’s not IMAX? Sometimes I don’t even go to the 3D version because it’s more expensive and really not worth it. But if you sit in like the third or fourth row? Much more effective 3D experience. Things really do jump out at you, which when you are watching a bunch of rampaging dinosaurs, is kind of neat. Stiff neck at the end, but neat.

Jurassic World was nowhere near as awful as Prometheus, Avatar and the utterly horrible The Expendables 2. It had some very funny moments and great action. The CGI and animatronix dinosaurs are still not quite real looking, but they are getting closer with each movie and they did it pretty effectively here. The actors, including the young ones, gave the best performances they could despite the awful script. Howard went for a total 1980’s look, which allows for discussions of retro fashion. There is an utterly horrible death of a minor character that goes on for a horribly long time, but is, gore aside, unquestionably a really creative death. There are many little tribute details to the first Jurassic Park movie, which reminds you that Jurassic Park, for its occasional faults, was a way better movie. And the movie did make me desperately want a robot raptor doll.

And Jake Johnson is in the movie and almost manages to save half of it. He should star in the inevitable sequel (because this movie has already hit a billion dollars.)

For a much better take on the movie than I could give you, here’s io9‘s article by Rob Bricken, entitled, “Jurassic World: The Spoiler FAQ.” It is awesome and sums up the movie nicely.

 

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Little Note/Up-Date On the Women in Film

So it’s been a bit hectic. The Hugo Awards drama I’ve commented some on at Whatever and SFFWorld, and then had to re-think some of it as weirder and weirder information keeps coming into it. So I’ll probably post some links to articles about it in the Social Equality section by others, but otherwise, I’m moving on. When things get more equal in society, there will be this sort of blow-up reaction from some.

As expected, I did miss at least one woman fronted action film for 2015 — Survivor, starring Milla Jovovich, so we do get some of her despite the next Resident Evil film’s schedule delay. It’s a spy thriller where Milla is a Foreign Service Officer in London who has to go on the run and deal with Pierce Brosnan’s baddie. It’ll be hitting movie theaters in the beginning of June. Angela Bassett is in it too. Looks like a lot of action:

Also missed, a prestigious bio pic, Suffragette, about the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S., and a thriller based on the novel by Laura Lippman called Every Secret Thing, starring Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks and Dakota Fanning.

The first, sleepier part of 2015 had a hit with spunky version Cinderella (not unexpected,) with $494+ million box office so far, the animated Home with $326+ million, and Insurgent, #2 in the Divergent franchise, taking in over $272 million. Not a bad start, and women have been helping the more ensemble giant action pictures too, such as Furious 7 and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Did I see any of those? Only Age of Ultron so far. I’ll probably see most of the others later. I’ll give an Avengers #2 review in a bit.

Also, books! What? Stop laughing. Really, I’m going to talk about some books this week, I swear.

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Women In Film, Part 2 — 2015 Analysis

In this Part 2 of Women in Film, we are moving on from 2014 to our new year 2015.

2015 is going to be the year of big returning franchises. Some of the biggest of the biggest are set to hit from now in April through December this year: James Bond dusts himself off, a re-booted Mad Max, a new Jurassic Park, an alternate timeline (reboot) Terminator, Mission: Impossible V, and the big daddy of them all, the return of Star Wars, the final chapters, now that Disney bought out George Lucas. All of them are male-centric, and added to them are the starting films in Marvel’s multi-studio plan for world domination: Avengers 2, Ant-Man and a reboot of the Fantastic Four in the ancillary Marvel mutant-based universe owned by 20th Century Fox. Marvel has plans for the ladies (see below,) but they don’t really start this year (unless you count the wonderful show Agent Carter on television.)

So it doesn’t look like an ideal year for women film stars and I’m not going to pretend it will be a female showcase, but it’s not going to be a down-tread either. It’s kind of interesting what they’re doing. The new Bond film, Spectre, has been playing up its women more than usual – Monica Bellucci especially, and Lea Seydoux and Stephanie Sigman; and Mad Max: Fury Road has gone to enormous trouble to market having Charlize Theron kicking ass as a one-armed cyborg commander, with a bevy of young actresses playing major roles: Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, and Megan Gale. The Terminator franchise knows a warrior Sarah Connor goes over better, so in their new alternate timeline restart, Terminator Genisys, that’s what we’re getting with Emilia Clarke, backed by a possible android-playing Sandrine Holt.

Jurassic World has thrown their marketing focus understandably on having red hot Chris Pratt star, but the film is also featuring Bryce Dallas Howard in the co-star role, along with Judy Greer, Katie McGrath, and Lauren Lapkus. Mission: Impossible V returns, having disappointedly dumped Paula Patton’s very interesting character from the last movie (she’s off doing a t.v. series now,) but has substituted in up and comer Rebecca Ferguson. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been very closed-mouthed about their cast, but we do know that Carrie Fisher returns as Princess Leia and that Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o and Maisie Richardson-Sellers have major roles. And Furious 7 also returns this week, with its multi-ethnic cast in which Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Elsa Pataky, Ronda Rousey, and Nathalie Emmanuel play central roles, an aspect that they always market.

Moving to the female-led action films, so far this year, in what is considered the “dead” period at the start of the season, we’ve had Jennifer Lopez produce and star in the soapy psychological thriller The Boy Next Door, with a tiny budget that produced a solid hit. Jupiter Ascending, starring Mila Kunis, from the Wachowski siblings, was yanked from the summer blockbuster roster last year and dumped into February. While the movie is a bit of a hot mess, it made more sense than Prometheus and was a lot of fun. Its big budget special effects meant it wasn’t likely to be a hit, given the circumstances, but it’s breaking even and still doing world box office.

The big female-led action movie of the year will again be Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, the last film in the hit franchise. As such, and coming out around Thanksgiving a month before Star Wars, it’s likely to do pretty big. Also just coming out now is the sequel to Divergent, called The Divergent Series: Insurgent, with Shailene Woodley, which has already shot past its production budget in a week and is well on its way to being another big hit for that series. Disney is continuing to monetize its park rides with Tomorrowland, a big budget special effects sci-fi movie for the summer, starring Britt Robertson, who gets helped by George Clooney in saving an alternate world from destruction.

Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig again team up in May to produce and McCarthy to star in Spy, a comic spy thriller in which McCarthy plays a pencil-pusher analyst who has to take on a field agent role, backed by Rose Byrne, Jason Stratham and Jude Law. If successful, it puts McCarthy on a three year winning streak. Reese Witherspoon is also doing more producing and starring with Sofia Vergara in a comic buddy action film, Hot Pursuit, in which Witherspoon plays a cop protecting Vergara’s witness in a drug case.

Natalie Portman stars in Jane Got a Gun, a western about a woman trying to save her outlaw husband. And we have a whole passel of women-led thrillers: Selma Hayak produces and stars in a quirky film about a woman staving off assassins in Everly. Halle Berry seeks her stolen son in the film Kidnap. Emily Blunt continues her upward moves by starring in Sicario, as an FBI agent working with the CIA to take down a cartel. Viola Davis produced and stars in with Jennifer Lopez again the revenge thriller, Lila & Eve, in which two mothers go after the killers of their children. Olivia Wilde, Hailee Steinfeld and Nicole Beharie play three women surviving attacks by soldiers in The Keeping Room. Sanaa Lathan stars in the psychological stalker thriller The Perfect Guy, and Margot Robbie returns in the sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie Z for Zachariah, only very loosely based on the 1970’s novel.

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Women in Film, Part 1 — 2014 Review

It’s time again for Women In Film, where we look at blockbusters, action films of all types and big buzz films to see how actresses are doing in terms of prominence, box office moolah, and improving the state of female movie stars in the business. In this part, Part 1, we’ll be looking back at the films in 2014 to see what happened, and in Part 2, we’ll look ahead at what’s playing and up-coming in 2015 that we know about so far.

This analysis of mine has been going on since 2012, which media up-played as the year of the woman in film, because there were quite a few movies that year headed by women, including big action ones. As we know, part of that media coverage was simply hype – studies show that women are still hugely behind in grabbing major roles, and behind the camera it’s even worse, except for maybe producers. But it was also a valid reflection of shifts due to the trickle, trickle progress of getting Hollywood to accept and happily exploit the box office power of women, to an audience that largely doesn’t really care if it’s a man or a woman, (or even another gender,) helming a film. The year 2014 was, like 2013, a year mainly of sequels, old action franchises and superhero films, with Marvel dominating again (more on that later,) none of which tend to favor women as leads. So it wasn’t a ground-breaking year for actresses, like 2012, but it was a consolidating year, which did confirm that women can bring the box office themselves and are increasingly useful in ensemble action films. The bulkhead that was established still remains, with some interesting trends shaping for up-coming years.

Women had high impact roles in many successful action films this last year in which they weren’t the leads. In the superhero arena, Marvel again made good use of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in the hit Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, and employed go-to geek movie star Zoe Saldana and Doctor Who favorite Karen Gillan, plus a cameo from Glen Close, in the big summer domestic winner, Guardians of the Galaxy. In their ancillary franchises, we had Emma Stone in Amazing Spiderman 2, and X-Men: Days of Future Past making key use of Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, and Ellen Page. Women were front and center in most of the big sequels: 300: Rise of an Empire, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fast and Furious 6, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Rio 2, The Purge 2: Anarchy, Horrible Bosses 2, Muppets Most Wanted, Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb, and the biggest movies globally: Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. They also had critical leading roles in hits Gone Girl, Interstellar, Hercules, Monuments Men, Non-Stop, The Equalizer, The Maze Runner, the rebooted Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6, Noah, The Imitation Game, Selma, Neighbors, The Nut Job, Dracula Untold, Into the Storm, Blended, The Boxtrolls, and The Book of Life, and Emily Blunt bluntly stole hit sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow from Tom Cruise.

But while women have become an ubiquitous if not always powerful component of the big action films, playing more than just “the Girl,” how about when they lead the movies? The proven player this year again was The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, the next to last installment of the mega-franchise, starring red hot Jennifer Lawrence. Hunger Games 3 won the U.S. domestic box office for the year, and is still making the rounds of foreign box office for over $751 million worldwide so far. That didn’t make the billion club or yet beat installment #2 of the franchise, Catching Fire, but it definitely made its makers happy and sets the stage for the last film in the story to be quite huge.

Mockingjay

The other big female led movie of the year was Disney’s Malificent, a live action alternate version of their animated film Sleeping Beauty, showing the cursing fairy’s side of the story. Starring Angelina Jolie — because who else could have done it that perfectly — Malificent was a big budget film that has taken in nearly $760 million in world box office and will live on television forever probably. (Jolie also got her director on in 2014, with her third film Unbroken, the war bio of Olympian Louis Zamperini, a modestly budgeted action picture that has earned over $160 million and is still opening globally.)

Divergent, considered to be The Hunger Games’ little sister of sorts, was put out as a mid-budget film in the relatively quiet period of March, starring Shailene Woodley. Other recent YA series adaptations had done only middling, and the female led The Vampire Academy, out just before Divergent, had flopped, but Divergent’s high action dystopia brought in over $288 million. Another YA adaptation with a female lead, If I Stay, brought in over $78 million on a miniscule budget, and the buzzy YA romantic drama, The Fault in Our Stars, took in over $305 million on only a $12 million budget.

The surprise hit of the year, however, turned out to be a film called Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson. The mid-budget, largely under the radar sci-fi martial arts thriller ended up with world box office of over $458 million, cementing Johansson’s rep as a star in action films and praised indies. It also meant more interest in inexpensive action flicks featuring a female protagonist, a house built by the Underworld and Resident Evil franchises and recent smaller budget successes like Colombiana and this year’s In the Blood. Continue reading

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