Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. Why Aren’t British Audiences Seeing Black Lives on the Big Screen. In the U.S., there’s a noticeable absence of black lives in movies, but in the U.K., the few examples that do exist hardly ever make it to the big screen. Buzzfeed’s Simran Hans explores the best ways to serve black British movie audiences.
For many years, UK distributors have been more cautious about films featuring black protagonists, says Gant. Even writer-director Tyler Perry – a pioneer of modern black cinema in America – has struggled to gain traction in the UK and across Europe. Perry has created a secure niche for himself in the US, his popularity with black audiences leading to him to establish his own distribution subsidiary in partnership with Lionsgate. Here in the UK, neither Perry nor his audience have such equivalents. Where a 2013 study reported that 46% of US cinemagoers were non-white, the BFI’s Statistical Yearbook reports that 9.4% of UK cinemagoers in 2014 were black and minority ethnic. Out of context, it’s easy to see why the numbers make UK distributors nervous. Yet the BFI says BME groups are actually over-represented in ticket sales: With proper care, attention and audience development funding – as well as content that actually reflects the broadness of black life – the captive audience of BME cinemagoers is ripe for growth. However, an age-old logic persists: If black audiences make up only a small percentage of cinemagoers, why should distributors and exhibitors cater to them? On the other hand, if black films aren’t being screened, how can film executives expect black audience numbers to improve? The myth that black people don’t go to the cinema becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, predicated on the assumption that cinemagoers are only interested in seeing themselves represented on screen. This seems to be at the heart of the problem.
2. Six Female Directors Discuss Diversity in the Film Industry. Last year, less than 5% of major studio films were directed by women, which is staggering considering the obvious statistic that they make up over half the population. The LA Times’ Rebecca Keegan talks to six female directors about the diversity problem in Hollywood and how best to address it.
What’s the stupidest reason you’ve ever heard for why women can’t direct?
Vallot: That we’re not ambitious, that there aren’t enough female directors, that our content isn’t something the larger audience will respond to. That doesn’t make any sense. Fifty percent of the population is female…We do show up to the theaters, and a lot of the times we make the household decisions of what the family’s going to see.
Cohn: It’s partly about being the leader, being the father, being the person in control, and partly it’s about trusting women with money and people don’t want to do that and film costs a lot of money.
Allain: I don’t like to repeat stupid things because people repeat them and somewhere along the way it becomes true.
3. “Magic Mike XXL” and the Rise of the Female Gaze. The sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike” enters theaters this weekend and, seeing as it’s about male strippers, it will surely feature buff men taking their clothes off. It’s a nice change of pace from the male gaze stranglehold movies have been under since the beginning of film. Flavorwire’s Sarah Seltzer examines the rise of the female gaze in movies today.
Bare chests and man-thongs are only the beginning: “Magic Mike XXL” is explicitly geared to women. The male strippers talk constantly (and to me, a little dubiously) about how their work involves healing women, listening to their customers as other men don’t, and multiple plotlines involve making sad women happy once more or bringing sexual satisfaction to women who haven’t had enough. Joe Manganiello’s best moment is a convenience-store striptease that gets a sad female clerk to grin; Channing Tatum works on a forlorn photographer who’s lost her smile. The other men claim to see beauty in all women — the camera pans across strip-club clientele of all shapes, colors, and sizes — and don’t mind being surrounded and mobbed by this diverse array of adoring, leering fans. Jada Pinkett Smith, hamming it up as a fabulous proprietress of a fantasy strip club in Savannah, calls all the women who come to her club “queens,” and her eyes rove for the ones who need a confidence boost, and will then get serenaded by Donald Glover’s soulful singing self-esteem-bestowing stripper. In Magic Mike’s world, women come first.
4. Which Version of “The Abyss” Is Better? After the success of “The Terminator” and “Aliens,” director James Cameron’s next project was set on the ocean floor. “The Abyss” was a financial disappointment, but critics weren’t thrilled by it either. The Dissolve’s Keith Phipps analyzes the cult fascination with “The Abyss” and which competing cut of the film is the best.
After the success of “The Terminator” and “Aliens,” writer-director James Cameron and his producing partner (and wife) Gale Anne Hurd had options. Given their choice of projects, they decided to develop an idea Cameron had carried with him since his teen years: an adventure set in the deepest reaches of the ocean floor. Science fiction and the ocean were among Cameron’s abiding interests. (And they remain so.) With “The Abyss,” he sought to combine them via a story that combined real-life science about the wonder and difficulty of exploring the deep, and an alien encounter that raises philosophical questions about humanity’s future. Factor in a central relationship between an estranged married couple who have to maintain a professional relationship while overcoming their differences — Cameron and Hurd separated during the film’s pre-production, and divorced before its release — and you have the makings of a deeply personal film, however grand its scale. And the scale of “The Abyss” could hardly be grander: To simulate bottom-of-the-ocean conditions, Cameron and his crew created a pair of large underwater tanks at an abandoned South Carolina nuclear facility. Working in an unpleasant-sounding mix of water, milk, and walnut shavings — a combination chosen for its photographic qualities — the cast did as many of their own underwater stunts as they could, in the name of verisimilitude. The scene of Ed Harris swimming with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s unresponsive body in tow, to choose just one example, really is Harris and Mastrantonio. Even shooting out of the tank was no easy feat, with large chunks of the film requiring the cast to wade around sets that had been filled with water. That’s to say nothing of the film’s elaborate, ultimately Oscar-winning special effects, which employed everything from models to puppets to groundbreaking CGI. Few productions this side of “Fitzcarraldo” have had a comparable level of difficulty.
5. Author Lois Lowry on “Inside Out”. Lois Lowry is the author of acclaimed young adult fiction, such as “Number the Stars” and “The Giver,” so she knows a few things about childhood and emotions, which means Pixar’s “Inside Out” seems like it’s up her alley. Over at Slate, Lois Lowry wrote about seeing “Inside Out” and wishing there were more emotions and less noise.
[“Inside Out”] undertakes something remarkable and darn near impossible: It tries to explore — and portray — the complicated, frequently warring emotions inside the head of a pre-adolescent girl, and especially during a time of tough transition. It does it well, with wit, charm, and insight, and with a near-perfect cast of voices. But one of the pitfalls of Pixar, if a necessary one, is a certain kind of oversimplification. Like protagonist Riley, I too, at 11, underwent a dislocating move; mine was from Pennsylvania to Tokyo. I too had to stand in front of a class of strangers and introduce myself. The five characters of the film — joy, anger, sadness, fear, and disgust — were all there, jockeying for position. But oh my, I remember also the hulking deep pink of Humiliation, and the wide amber eyes of Curiosity—and so many others raising their hands to be noticed. I’m sorry they had to be set aside. It might well be because of just that — the fact that I remember so clearly, 67 years after the fact, how it felt to be the new kid in the classroom, the one with the bad haircut and unbecoming dress — that as a writer I have made that kid and her cohort my audience. People often ask me if I plan to write, eventually, for adults — as if that would be the natural progression. But my answer is no. I do like adults. And I am one. But my fascination lies in the inside-out world of childhood and the kaleidoscopic whirl of its emotions, the same world depicted, albeit a little simplistically, by Pixar.
6. A Timeline of Hating Seth MacFarlane. Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted 2” came out recently and was lambasted by critics, but that wouldn’t be the first time. MacFarlane’s work has been deeply criticized since the days of “Family Guy.” Rolling Stone’s Nick Schager charts the history of hating Seth MacFarlane.
He was one of the youngest TV executive producers in the medium’s history, created not one but two successful animated programs, hosted the Oscars and had a blockbuster comedy bring in beaucoup box office receipts. He has contributed $1 million to the “Reading Rainbow” Kickstarter fund and produced the recent reboot of the classic science series Cosmos; Harvard named him their 2011 Humanist of the Year. Yet Seth MacFarlane has managed to inspire an intense, rabid hatred of his raunchy comedy and retro-dude attitudes that’s been as fervent as the fanbase that brought the canceled Family Guy back to life. It’s a sentiment that seemed to reach a fever pitch this past weekend with the poorly received release of “Ted 2″ — the sequel to his 2012 hit that’s garnered its fair share of condemnation for a racial-allegory story about the titular profane teddy bear’s attempts to be legally recognized as a person. Those criticisms are the latest in a long line of censures for the 41-year-old filmmaker, who’s been the target of scorn and ridicule ever since he first hit it big in TV animation. Call it Sethenfreude: the irrepressible urge to hate on MacFarlane, which as our timeline indicates, has been steadily escalating for the past 16 years.
Tweet of the Day:
Just got called Captain Save-a-Ho for my Schumer tweets. I think of myself more as Sergeant General Nuanced-Critique-a-Ho, but okay.
— emily nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) June 30, 2015