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Daily Reads: Where Are The Latino Film Critics, The Oscar Whiteness Machine, and More

Daily Reads: Where Are The Latino Film Critics, The Oscar Whiteness Machine, and More

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

1. Where Are All the Latino Film Critics?
If you recall, there’s a bit of a diversity problem in Hollywood, which was highlighted by the almost all white Oscar nominations. However, shocking as this may be to some, there is also a diversity problem in film criticism as well. At Remezcla, Manuel Betancourt asks why there aren’t more Latino film critics, and underlines why representation matters.

Then again, a question as simple as “Where are the Latino film critics?” seems to not really get at the heart of the matter. After all, it reeks of the tokenism we’re supposed to deplore. More importantly, it’s perhaps easily answered by offering a smattering of names. If the internet has taught us anything it’s that you can drum up a list of pretty much anything if you know where to look. Thankfully, we need not look too far. There’s Claudia Puig, former Chief Film Critic at “USA Today” now working with NPR’s KPCC, Ed Gonzalez at “Slant Magazine,” Rene Rodriguez at the “Miami Herald,” Jack Rico from “Showbizcafe,” Nina Terrero at “EW,” Isaac Guzmán at “Time,” well-known video essayists Nelson Carvajal and Steven Santos, and many more whose names we hope get added to this necessarily provisional list. Thus, while there clearly is a growing number of prolific and eloquent critics of Latin American descent, the argument remains that their voices have seldom garnered the respect, or perhaps, the profile that they would need to make any sort of dent into the cultural conversation. Case in point: the most well-regarded critic of Latin American cinema stateside is American B. Ruby Rich, who may well be the face of New Queer Cinema criticism, but who was one of the few English-language critics paying attention to the changing Latin American cinema scene since the seventies. In fact, she’s often spoken about how many of her editors (including at the “Village Voice”) were uninterested in pieces about filmmaking in Latin America. Were there no Latinos hoping to get their voices heard about their own cultural legacy? Boom writers like Gabriel García Márquez (who briefly attended the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome and oversaw the creation of the Fundación del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano in Cuba) were having these conversations abroad – but did that mean they needn’t have taken place within Anglophone film criticism circles from those Latino writers who were finding their own bilingual voices? For the second year in a row, the media is rightfully outraged by #OscarsSoWhite but it also marks the third year in a row that a Mexican-helmed film dominates the Oscar conversation, an issue that barely merits a mention within a discussion that remains — for better and for worse — locked into seeing this in terms of black and white, sometimes at the expense of more nuanced visions of diversity.

2. The Oscar Whiteness Machine.
The film industry has never been an inclusive institution and has routinely made money off the backs of women and minorities, never mind awarding them for their work. But it’s 2016 and people are more aware than ever about the lack of diversity in America’s many institutions, including and especially Hollywood. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody examines the whiteness of the Oscars and how damaging it is to the culture as a whole.

An Oscar or a nomination gives an artist’s career a boost, and for now, those boosts — those roles, that financing — remain limited mainly to white filmmakers and actors. Of course, many of the movies and artists who get this boost aren’t necessarily topflight. The Academy has an appalling record of bestowing prizes and nominations on movies of an astonishing mediocrity. But the actors — especially the actors — in many of those movies nonetheless are able to channel their newfound prestige, and the potential backing that comes with it, into worthy and enduringly important projects. And it takes a collective tide of artistic activity to thrust the most interesting and daring movies to the surface. It’s never good when bad movies are upheld as among the best — but it’s even worse when the distribution of honors is discriminatory and thwarts not only the most talented artists individually but the entire creative environment that would yield the next generation’s innovators. The Academy’s failure to acknowledge the achievements of black actors — even (as with many white actors) in Oscar-aimed movies of less than the highest artistry — inhibits the very future of filmmaking by black artists. The underlying issue of the Academy’s failure to recognize black artists is the presumption that baseline experience is white experience and that black life is a niche phenomenon, life with an asterisk. Many of the great classic jazz and blues recordings were marketed as “race records.” To this day, the Academy proceeds as if movies about black experience were race movies. The result is that only narrow and fragmentary views of the lives of African-Americans ever make it to the screen — and I think that this is not an accident. If the stories were told — if the daily lives and inner lives, the fears and fantasies, the historical echoes and the anticipations of black Americans were as copiously unfolded in movies as are those of whites — then lots of white folks would be forced to confront their historical and contemporary shame. They’d no longer be able to claim ignorance of what they’d like not to know — which includes their own complicity in a rigged system.

3. 32 Network Executives Discuss Their Competitors’ Decisions.
In an overcrowded TV marketplace, it’s difficult to stand out, especially when it seems like every off-beat cable network has a hit show on their hands. At The Hollywood Reporter, Lacey Rose and Lesley Goldberg talk to 32 network executives who quickly sound off on what impressed them from their competition and what they want moving forward.

What competitor move most impressed you in 2015?

Robert Greenblatt (NBC)
 CBS rebooting “Star Trek” for CBS All Access.

Kevin Reilly (TBS/TNT)
 “Mr. Robot.” I didn’t know if USA had it in them, but they did a great job with it.

Jana Bennett (History)
 Amazon’s range of shows, from “Man in the High Castle” to “Transparent.”

Chris Albrecht (Starz)
 Netflix’s $5 billion announcement on programming was pretty eye-opening.

Matt Cherniss (WGN America)
 FX’s decision to expand “American Horror Story” to a different genre with “American Crime Story.”

Tom Ascheim (Freeform)
 I’m interested to see how the 25-hour marathon of “Angie Tribeca” does on TBS.

Mark Pedowitz (The CW)
 The amount of money the streaming services spent on marketing.

Chris McCumber (USA)
 Turner’s Kevin Reilly for coming out and saying he’s reducing commercial load by 50 percent. We have to make the viewing experience better.

4. “World of Tomorrow” and the Copy-Pasted Brain.
Don Hertzfeldt’s 16-minute long animated short film “World of Tomorrow” is legitimately one of the very best films of 2015. It’s difficult to discuss the film without spoiling anything, but suffice it to say, it’s about a girl named Emily who gets a call from her future clone self, the third such clone that the original Emily’s memories. The Atlantic’s David Sims writes about “World of Tomorrow” and the scientific concept of the copy-pasted brain.

The idea of the copy-pasted brain, and the moral quandaries that could stem from it, has enjoyed a quiet revival in sci-fi recently, with “World of Tomorrow” as the must-see standard-bearer. Hertzfeldt, whose work always tends towards the absurd, had never experimented with the genre before making this short, which was his first digitally produced film. As Emily and her clone drift through the “outernet,” the virtual reality through which all people in the future apparently communicate, the environment pops and crackles around them. But for all of his fantastical imagery, Hertzfeldt triumphs by focusing tightly on his protagonist’s emotions, which are seemingly haywire thanks to their being a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. “I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive,” the clone proclaims, while acknowledging that she has occasionally fallen in love with inanimate objects in the past. It’s hard to say too much about “World of Tomorrow” without spoiling its delicate balance of world-building and surreal humor. But its central, hypothetical concept, that of transferring your mind to a new body or a computer, has long been debated within scientific and transhumanist communities. Emily Clone is something of a great-granddaughter to Emily Prime, who will give birth to her first clone, who then gives birth to the next one, and so on. But is she a separate entity altogether or just a continuation of Emily’s lifespan? This clone is strange and affectless, but certainly possesses pathos and consciousness. If humans create these “backups,” are we generating new life, or extending our own? My colleague Conor Friedersdorf examined this vaguely horrifying idea from a socio-political point of view last year. It provokes so many questions — how would criminal justice function in such a world, especially if life was mostly lived within a computer and physical concerns were forgotten? How could we conceive of any human experience without the bounds of mortality? “Nuclear war could come tomorrow,” Conor wrote. “Those of us who survive it might spend the rest of our days in misery. But that misery would be relatively short. Radical life extension via mind uploads would seem to risk inconceivably long, possibly endless misery.”

5. For The Second Time, New York Loses The Ziegfield.
New Yorkers are still mourning the loss of the one-of-a-kind Ziegfield theater in Manhattan after it was announced it will be closing in favor of a “new event space.” Vulture’s Christopher Bonanos examines how New York lost the Ziegfield for a second time.

The history of the Ziegfeld — Manhattan’s largest movie theater, whose leaseholders announced Wednesday that it would be closing in a few weeks — is one of really lousy timing. Opened in 1969, it arrived in Times Square just as the neighborhood was going to hell, and nobody wanted to go there after dark. Within just a few years, the film-exhibition business began moving to the multiplex model, and a 1,100-seat auditorium soon became an questionable business. It soldiered on for decades, increasingly rumored to be in financial difficulties, but also regularly booked for events that required movie magic: premieres, 70-millimeter screenings of classics, major-event films like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (Lately, it’s been losing a lot of money.) The building’s not going to be demolished, at least not imminently. Instead, its owners will turn it into a ballroom, to host product launches and parties. They run a similar business out of an ornate former bank at Broadway and 36th Street called Gotham Hall. Maybe it was the name that was the kiss of death. The theater’s predecessor, the building put up on (more or less) the same site by Florenz Ziegfeld himself, opened in 1927 and had all of two good years before the stock-market crash. Within six years, it had failed and been turned over to showing movies, and later became a TV studio. In 1963, it was returned to Broadway use — just in time for Broadway’s business to start caving in on itself — and the building was razed in 1966. Stephen Sondheim used a lightly fictionalized version of it as the dramatic backdrop to a musical about midlife regrets. Really, you have to wonder whether, now that the newer Ziegfeld is going to become a party space, the event-planning business will find a way to collapse, just to keep the theme going. The Ziegfeld — the latter one, the one we will have for another few weeks — is also a victim of poor architectural fortune. Were it a grand old thing like the Belasco or the Morosco, it would surely have been landmarked by now. Unfortunately, it had the lousy luck to have been built in the age of the joyless concrete box, and it is, externally, about as graceful as your average Korvette’s. On grounds of prettiness, rather than cultural utility, the present building is entirely expendable. More bad timing.

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