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Daily Reads: How ‘Empire’ Bet on Black Audiences and Won, Why Critics Have Failed Female Filmmakers, and More

Daily Reads: How 'Empire' Bet on Black Audiences and Won, Why Critics Have Failed Female Filmmakers, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential
news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Critics Have Failed Female Filmmakers. There’s a host of talented young female filmmakers working today, from Josephine Decker to Amy Seimetz, but they might not have long careers if critics don’t draw more attention to them. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody writes that critics have failed major female filmmakers in the past:

I’m thinking, of course, of Elaine May. Alas, her third film, “Mikey and Nicky,” now a justly acknowledged classic, was hardly released. It took a decade for her to get another film going, which turned out to be the unjustly derided masterwork “Ishtar,” from 1987. That’s the last movie, to date, that May—to my mind one of the few great geniuses of the modern American movie business—has directed. Neither the movie business nor critics have done right by her. And had critics recognized May’s directorial genius—not mere skill or talent but true originality, the creation of a new cinematic world—and clamored when it wasn’t being fostered, financed, and realized, then my vision of her present-day preëminence might be no pipe dream. Read more.

2. Netflix’s Algorithm is a Human. Netflix claims to have an algorithm to determine what people want to watch, but its gravitation towards shows with cult creators has The New Yorker’s Tim Wu convinced that the “algorithm” is actually chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

I presented Sarandos with this theory at a Sundance panel called “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Algorithm,” moderated by Jason Hirschhorn, formerly of MySpace. Sarandos, very agreeably, wobbled a bit. “It is important to know which data to ignore,” he conceded, before saying, at the end, “In practice, its probably a seventy-thirty mix.” But which is the seventy and which is the thirty? “Seventy is the data, and thirty is judgment,” he told me later. Then he paused, and said, “But the thirty needs to be on top, if that makes sense.” Read more.

3. An Interview with Paul Thomas AndersonThere are plenty of mysteries and lingering questions around “Inherent Vice,” but in an interview with Paul Thomas Anderson, Little White Lies’ David Ehrlich learns the answer to at least one: no, he doesn’t know Thomas Pynchon.

“I don’t know Thomas Pynchon; I don’t know who he is, I don’t know what he looks like. I didn’t consult with him on the script. That’s all I’ve got to say. I really feel like he’s like B Traven. Remember B Traven? The guy who wrote ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre?’ He was this kind of shadowy figure who would come drop pages on John Huston’s desk.” Read more.

4. How “Empire’s” Targeting of Black Audiences Paid Off. “Empire” was pitched by Fox directly to black audiences, and it’s paid off big time, with 15 million viewers in time shifted ratings. The Hollywood Reporter’s Michael O’Connell (no relation) explains:

The hip-hop drama from co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and executive producer Brian Grazer counts 62 percent of its adults 18-to-49 viewership as African-American, according to Nielsen, and the first two episodes averaged a massive 17.1 rating in that demo (compared with a 3.9 rating in 18-to-49 in live-plus-same-day). “Our goal was to make this show an event for a core group of people and make it really tantalizing for a really broad group of people,” says Fox Television Group COO Joe Earley. “It’s broad and niche at the same time.” Read more.

5. Don’t Hate “American Sniper” – Hate “The Imitation Game.” Contrary to popular belief, “American Sniper” isn’t a blatantly pro-war movie, with New York Magazine’s Frank Rich arguing that its politics are closer to Rand Paul or Barack Obama than Dick Cheney. Meanwhile, he argues that there’s another Oscar nominee that should earn the ire of liberal viewers.

Meanwhile, if liberals want to find a movie celebrating a real-life war hero that’s really worth getting angry about, I nominate “The Imitation Game.” As Christian Caryl writes in a definitive takedown in the New York Review of Books, the filmmakers’ fictionalization of the genius British code-breaker Alan Turing “managed to transform the real Turing, vivacious and forceful, into just the sort of mythological gay man, whiney and weak, that homophobes love to hate.” It’s rather incredible that a gay-rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign, is lending its imprimatur to this movie for its Oscar campaign. Read more.

6. Netflix and Amazon Lost Big at Sundance. Netflix and Amazon had trouble picking up movies at Sundance. Mashable’s Josh Dickey argues that it’s because no one is ready to sign up for token theater runs prior to primarily digital releases.

The shot-callers took the meetings, heard the pitches and considered the bids from Amazon and Netflix, but they’re just not ready to seal the deal right now. Make no mistake: streaming networks will buy independent films here someday soon. They may even pull off a deal in the coming days and weeks, as many top titles sell after everyone goes home and the market cools down.But for the time being, nobody wants to be a guinea pig. Not even the rise of same-day VOD success stories, such as Radius TWC had with recent titles like “Snowpiercer” and 2012 Sundance title “Bachelorette,” is enough to grease the skids for the next wave of digital buyers. Read more.

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