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Musings and Ramblings

* (3/14/18) "HEY, ONE FILM WON'T CHANGE AN INDUSTRY (... But Here Are Some Things We Can Do!) by CEJ
* (Dec. 2011 / Jan. 2012) "8 PAID ADMISSIONS; FOUR MOVIES, 2 FORMATS ..." by Jim Delaney
* (Sept / Oct 2011) "ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR, TOO!" by Adam Hughes
* (July / Aug 2011) "THE SNOB" by CEJ

Craig Ellis Jamison 

Based in Phila., PA, Craig is author of the screenplays TERRACOTTA HEARTS, NECESSARY EVIL, O.T., THE SECRET SONG, ROUGH ASSEMBLAGE, FATHOM, 13 O'CLOCK, NEGATIVE INGENUITY, KISS ME FOREVER,  BOTTLED LIGHTNING INC., INNUENDO, APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION, CAMP DAVID (co-author), 10,000 SNOWMEN (co-author), and the upcoming book "THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE: THE SOCIO-POLITICAL HISTORY OF THE SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY & HORROR FILM".  He is Editor In Chief of the GullCottage / Sandlot online film magazine / library; founder of the "CreateTiV.TV" online network; director / writer / co-producer of the documentary feature STEVE VERTLIEB: THE MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVIES; creator / producer / co-host of the cinema podcast series "THE MOVIE SNEAK (formerly "The Grindhouse: With Craig & Jim") and the YouTube "TUNE PLAY" FILM MUSIC CHANNEL. And, oh yeah, (to unwind?) he recently began penning the VAULTED TREASURE FILMS and MUSINGS OF A STRAIGHT GUY ON HIS DAY OFF! online blogs. Sleep these days is somewhat optional. 

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 (But here are some things we can do ...!) 

by CEJ


*NOTE*  This Musings & Ramblings opinion piece actually began as a subtextual component within the body of the article “BLACK PANTHER” PARTY: EVERYTHING OLD IS HOLY SH*T! NEW AGAIN – A REVIEW AND DISSECTION. But as a) in the end it made the original piece entirely too long, b) it was really concerned with another topic considerably removed from said review and dissection of the film per se, and c) we still felt it an important enough topic worthy of the time and space for expansion and discussion, we decided to grant it room enough of its own. And we ended up posting it on the same day as the aforementioned review / dissection that (for those who wish so) it may function as a “bookend” or companion piece of sorts to the other. While we begin with a look at genre based material such as comic book adaptations (after all they are presently the biggest elephants in the room) you'll see things quickly branch out into the much broader based issue of helping to bring about more diversity in film via "Audience Self Determination" with other non-genre examples and stories running the gamut from the films of producer Will Packer (GIRLS TRIP, RIDE ALONG and STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON among them), to the TV series of Shonda Rhimes (GREY'S ANATOMY, SCANDAL, etc.) the films and mini series of Reese Witherspoon's "Pacific Standard" and Nicole Kidman's "Blossom Films" - the two of which teamed up for HBO's BIG LITTLE LIES and more.


     As such, while this is a self-contained entity, and while it is in no way necessary that the other “bookend” article be read, for those who may be curious as to where things began to “fork off” from the other and into this standalone subject, it was after the last paragraph in the companion piece which comes just before the BLACK PANTHER theatrical trailer on page #1, right at …

     “… Make no mistake in thinking that the accolades and early success of BLACK PANTHER the film are but a fluke, luck or coincidence. Uh, uh! Perhaps more than anything it’s the thirst quenching response to a long extant void in the American cinemascape – every bit as much a cultural tectonic plate shift as was the success of last year’s WONDER WOMAN”.

     CEJ   ______________

     And from there we continue as herein (for us at least) lay the Shakespearean “rub” in how, just as we felt a slight unease during the revelry of WONDER WOMAN’s much deserved praise, we now similarly have concerns about BLACK PANTHER’s. Not in regards to either film blowing the hinges off the box office, or in shattering Hollywood’s proverbial glass ceiling in numerous ways. Hardly! But rather concern in (for lack of a better term) the “tunnel vision”-like view such “hinge blowings” can and do tend to encourage within many who perhaps put a bit too much stock in an individual film rather than in their own superhero-like power as a mass audience collective to determine the future of such and other films. Y’know, their own power to pull the tarp back from, and shine a light upon, other such long ignored characters, film makers and more waiting to be discovered.

     Like BLACK PANTHER, who was first introduced in 1966, then all throughout the tumultuous 1960s – 1980s became a symbol of empowerment for numerous children, college students, Civil Rights advocates, artists, writers, budding film makers and more, there are many more icons of varying races, of the female gender, and of varying lifestyles waiting not just to be discovered in film, but to be discovered in book and many other formats by those same audiences who justifiably said with a loud exhale “It’s about f**king time!” in regards to the film versions of BLACK PANTHER and WONDER WOMAN, and to Mr. Jordan Peele's much deserved Best Original Screenplay Oscar win for the genuinely unnerving GET OUT.

     Please remember that the Wonder Woman character didn’t just arrive on the scene last summer, but that she’s been around since 1942 (that’s three quarters of a century!), and an icon and empowerment inspiration to many including legendary women’s rights activist Gloria Steinam. These are not new characters, but many audiences are only now becoming intimately familiar with them. And the onus for not being as aware of them in the past must maybe, ... perhaps, ... kinda / sorta now in the present fall not just upon the shoulders of “the Hollywood Machine” but on the audiences themselves as these characters have never been cloaked, hidden or unavailable in those numerous printed and other forms and formats. This isn't finger wagging. And we think by the time you get to the end of this you'll understand that. It's more a loving entreaty, ... a born of the heart encouragement and attempt to get more individuals more familiar with the wealth of other amazing literary, historical, (and yeah) comic book characters and myriad source material which have perhaps gone unnoticed , unremembered, and in some cases quite simply unknown far too long. Tell 'ya why.  ...  

     Remember the reaction of audiences, critics (and yeah, without a doubt, of film industry bean counters) last summer? Remember that “pleasant surprise” ..., that “near-drop-dead” shock when a non male comic book character in the form of WONDER WOMAN became a mainstream filmic sensation to the same degree as previous big screen hero blockbusters like Tim Burton’s BATMAN, Chris Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT and Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN had become? Now, float this possibility - is it not conceivable how that degree of audience “surprise” or “shock” in the success of BLACK PANTHER and WONDER WOMAN could in the future lead to other such films being considered by that aforementioned Hollywood Machine as “one off” exceptions to the rule that movies with female leads or people of color don’t consistently or normally measure up at the box office like those other films?


      In other words “By our expectations (or more accurately, by our lack thereof) can there not be a perpetual motion machine of sorts created wherein if we don’t expect to regularly see such films and characters, it won’t bother to enter the ken of studio execs to want to even make them?”. If there is no demand then why should they concern themselves with a supply? And if there is no awareness on the part of the audience as to what else is out there, how can there be a demand for more of it? We know right now - when at the time of this writing BLACK PANTHER has just shattered the $1 billion dollar box office mark globally - this may sound like a left-field-as-all-shit notion. But stay with us. It makes sense because contrary to popular belief, and in spite of phrases like "game changer" currently bouncing around all forms of media, one very successful film won't change the industry.  Hop into the WayBack Machine with us, take a little trip to the past, and you'll see how in one way or another, to greater or lesser degree we've been down this road before.

     Ryan Coogler's BLACK PANTHER and Patty Jenkins' WONDER WOMAN are films whose arrivals were long overdue. And celebrating such films is also something far too long denied a significant segment of the cinematic audience. But in order for this time to be different, and to continue to see such glass-ceiling-breaking films made we believe there needs to be a combination of Industry Responsibility (which we hear all the time) and Audience Responsibility and expectation.


    And as far as audience “expectation” goes, here at least we aren’t defining it in that wishful manner as in getting down on one’s knees beside the bed like when you were a child and praying for the Santas or Tooth Fairies of the film industry to “Please o’ please, give us what we really, really, truly and absolutely want to see!” and we’ll get behind it. Uh uh. Here we need to become comfortable with the equation of “Expectation = Demand x Action”.

     As being among that split-down-the-middle / Jekyll - Hyde race of mutant lifeforms both film maker and (more importantly) film audience, we think we've experienced enough in our interactions with "both sides of the fence" over the years to come up with a few non-cliched' / non-rhetoric laden, (at-the-very-least) halfway intelligent / worthy-of-mulling-over ideas and notions about the current hot topic of diversity - and increasing demands for such - in Hollywood in the shadow of both the #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo / #NeverAgain movements. Now, at any moment you feel as though the "brown / greenish stuff in the baby's diaper" is getting a bit too tightly packed, and too much on the nostrils, you're more than welcome to check out. We won't be offended, swear to God. In fact we fully expect some to not entirely dig some of our ideas and opinions on the matter, ... or at least in how we state them. But we're willing to bet next month's rent that most of you will hang around for at least a little while. So let's jump right in. 

     TERMINATOR / AVATAR director James Cameron caught more than a bit of fire to his heels last summer (2017) when he opined that he felt certain aspects of the WONDER WOMAN film (namely the fact that the character as depicted was a drop dead gorgeous, leggy, bustier-wearing Miss Universe contestant) was in some regards a “step back” for women in film, as he felt it would give studio execs room to demand in the future that any female action heroine be sure to physically appeal to 14 year old boys in the throes of puberty (our words on that last part, not Cameron’s, by the way!), or risk not being made. And he likened it to the popularity of Rachel Welch in genre films of the 1960s (ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., FANTASTIC VOYAGE, FATHOM, et al) where her primary “assets” on display weren’t always necessarily her acting chops.

James Cameron's "women of action" include (clockwise) Sigourney Weaver: ALIENS,
                Zoe Saldana: AVATAR, Angela Bassett: STRANGE DAYS, and Linda Hamilton: TERMINATOR 2

     While we do feel that Cameron failed to acknowledge the multi-dimensional layers inherent in the Diana Prince character as portrayed by Gal Gadot (alternately naïve but brave, at times arrogantly self-absorbed then selfless, fearful but still protective of others, idealistic and more) the fact that he is the creator of some of the most beloved and often imitated depictions of strong female characters in all of action movie history (among them Sigourney Weaver in ALIENS, Linda Hamilton in T2, Angela Bassett in Kathryn Bigelow’s STRANGE DAYS and more), he’s not too far off the mark when it comes to experience knowing how execs will “second guess” then rationalize away the success of something in the future in order to prove that a particular film, a genre or type of character “Isn’t going to fly” at the box office, or that a previous success was an “exception to the rule” or a very rare "unicorn" as they say. In other words he knows how one “out of the box” or “breaking the paradigm” success will not (Boom!) necessarily change / alter the course of the entire film industry.

 Brie Larson becomes Marvel's CAPTAIN MARVEL for 2019

      So, yes, it's great and wonderful, ... hell, it's damned fantastic! to finally be able to come out of a theater with heads held high, having seen ourselves represented proudly - and not as a victim in distress and in need of rescue, or as the "sacrificial lamb" who dies honorably so that other characters get to go home and live happily ever after. But to rather see ourselves as the hero (male or female) who saves the day, kicks the evil doers' asses, and lives on to kick a little more gluteus in an already green-lighted sequel. But it's not so awesome to enjoy it ... and then just sit there waiting for it to happen again. It's not so great and wonderful to inertly wait and rely upon someone else (the "powers that be") to get it in their minds or get the bug in their ear to do it again for us. Because (and we're just speaking hypothetically here) what happens if the next WONDER WOMAN or BLACK PANTHER installment, or the next Jordan Peele film isn't nearly as successful or well received? Will things just do a 180 and go back to the commercially safe and sound cinematic grazing ground of non-diversity? 

     Enjoy where we are presently. It's sure as hell been a long time a'coming. But there's more we as filmmakers and as audiences need to be doing ,... which at present just isn't happening.



Marvel Studio head Kevin Feige talks CAPTAIN MARVEL 
(starring Brie Larson) in the wake of 2017's WONDER WOMAN

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  Lining up for THE EXORCIST (1973)

     Some will say THE EXORCIST, JAWS, STAR WARS and IRON MAN all in certain respects were individual films which defied the standard “wisdom” of their day to signal a course shift in the kinds of films being made. And those people wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But in other respects all of those films were still safely ensconced within long held, globally accepted race, gender and lifestyle tropisms – all of which are infinitely more difficult to supersede, overcome and change over the long run than mere movie genre trend tropisms.
And this is because assumptive beliefs regarding race, gender and more run much deeper within the human psyche, and as such are much more difficult psychological patterns to change both individually and collectively.

     If you grew up as member of a minority group in the U.S. – as black, as a woman, Asian, Jewish, gay, Latino, of Arabic descent or other - you more than likely received “the Speech” from a parent or other supportive loved one at one time or another about how “Being ‘as good’ is unfortunately not good enough". And how you would have to "Work harder and be better in order to achieve the same level of success as someone else". You were told straight-up that "Yup, it’s unfair, but that’s the way it is”.

Director Guillermo Del Toro on the set of BLADE 2 (2002)

     The same holds true for a barrier breaking film as subconscious assumptive beliefs (beliefs which are very often unbeknownst / unrealized even to the person or persons having them) about those films and their successes will eventually rise to the surface every bit as much as the varying - at times prejudicially dismissive - thoughts which unwillingly enter the mind when a large black man, a well endowed woman, orthodox Jewish Rabbi or other person passes one on the street. As such Wesley Snipes & Stephen Norrington’s BLADE (1998) was successful enough to warrant two sequels, a TV series, and serve as Marvel’s springboard into financial and critical prestige – leading to Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN and Bryan Singer’s X-MEN. But to this day, even though those films helped pull Marvel back from the (then) brink of imminent bankruptcy, they're seldom acknowledged as those which did.

Michael Jai White (the first African-American actor to portray
a major comic book superhero) as Albert Simmons / aka SPAWN (1997)


      Even during the hoopla in the days preceeding the release of BLACK PANTHER, the Snipes BLADE films were still forgotten as being among the first major motion pictures to feature a black superhero lead. Either that or they simply were just never known as such among a great many national newscasters and journalists hyping the new Marvel adventure with Chadwick Boseman. The other film with a black comic book superhero lead was SPAWN, released one year prior to the first BLADE entry. And perhaps the reason the BLADEs were forgotten is because at the time of their success they were primarily viewed (i.e. rationalized) as more “action films with crossover appeal, most likely because they were based upon a long established property” rather than as “action films with an African-American superhero lead”.

     In much the same way 2001’s LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER starring Angelina Jolie was a $275 million global box office hit (approx. $500 - $550 globally adjusted for inflation), yet it failed to alter the thought paradigm that “female action heroes don’t fly at the box office”. At the time of its release it was heralded by many as a breakthrough film shattering records as the largest opening ever for a movie headlined by a woman, surpassing the previous record holder CHARLIE’S ANGELS which had opened one year prior. It was also at the time Paramount’s second highest opening weekend ever just behind MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 - which had also opened the previous year. TOMB RAIDER also received considerable attention as being an actioner which had considerably bested the opening grosses of a number of Arnold Schwarzenneger adventures of the day (Box Office Guru: 6/19/01).

 Angelina Jolie & Gerard Butler: TOMB RAIDER - THE CRADLE OF LIFE ('03)

     Yet the later rationale for its success became “It’s an ‘Angelina Jolie’ movie; and she plays well globally” and / or that “It already had brand appeal as it was based upon a popular video game”. Attention of the negative sort was later also drawn to the fact that (as with the game upon which it was based) LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER’s largest audience demographic was young men. And as such one kind of has to wonder if James Cameron’s posit about WONDER WOMAN doesn’t at least partially apply here as well.

     The second Jolie LARA CROFT adventure - TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE (a better film as far as we’re concerned), was financially successful as well; and managed the feat with a smaller budget than its predecessor. But when Jolie didn’t return for a third installment the character went into cinematic hibernation for fourteen years awaiting the 2018 reboot starring Oscar winner Alicia Vikander as the titular (no pun intended, we swear!) famous archeologist / action heroine. Jolie herself had a series of successful action films in the years following the second TOMB RAIDER in MR. & MRS. SMITH (2005), WANTED (2008) and SALT (2010). But over time she grew less interested in actioners and more in dramas (as well as in directing). And as (the rationale was that) Angelina herself was specifically the draw rather than the general concept of a female action hero, that sort of character seldom appeared in mainstream cinema for damned near another half decade.

Angelina Jolie & Daniel Craig: LARA CROFT - TOMB RAIDER (2001)

     There were smaller scale and independently financed TOMB RAIDER wannabe films with female action heroines like ULTRAVIOLET and the RESIDENT EVIL franchise – both featuring Milla Jovavich, and ÆON FLUX with Charlize Theron. But in the end they were either out-and-out financial failures (like ULTRAVIOLET and ÆON FLUX) or once again ultimately rationalized away as “successes because …”. In the case of the RESIDENT EVIL films the “because” was split between them being products of popular genre writer / producer / director Paul W.S. Anderson (MORTAL KOMBAT, EVENT HORIZON, SOLDIER) and - as with BLADE and TOMB RAIDER - the fact that the series was based upon a very successful preexisting  “brand” - in this instance another immensely lucrative video game.

Alicia Vikander as a less cartoony / less video game-y
Lara Croft in MGM / Warner Bros. rebooted TOMB RAIDER (2018)

     Now, while we heartily enjoy all three of those aforementioned female actioners, let's be real and acknowledge, as is pretty damned nose-on-your-face obvious by their ad campaigns, that all were marketed as featuring young male oriented "hurt me so good" fantasy heroines than they were as featuring young female "lift me up" empowerment figures. And we're not saying that it's necessary for all (or even any) female hero to be an empowerment icon. In fact sometimes there can be so much of a lead-footed emphasis on that over simple, well realized, realistic characterization that the so-called "entertainment" can come off as little more than a disguised ABC Afterschool Special. Sorry for the "over 40s reference" there. But you get the idea. Many have lodged similar complaints against Ava DuVernay's sincerely intentioned A WRINKLE IN TIME (2018)

     Notwithstanding all of this, the point is that with RESIDENT EVIL, ÆON FLUX and ULTRAVIOLET, just as with the black youth, the girl or other minority being given “the Speech” by a parent, these films had to work harder right out of the gate in the hope of achieving more in order to reach the same plane of respect and success. The fact that they were deliberately marketed more as "boobilicious" than they were as "action hero ass kickers" is kind of / sort of evidence of this - indicative of the studios' lack of faith in the films to stand primarily and decisively on their own as the later, and without the support of the cinematic equivalent of a Victoria's Secret "sports bra" (so to speak). And as such it once again becomes just a little easier to see from whence stemmed / stems James Cameron's (admittedly still) controversial comments regarding WONDER WOMAN. 

     Personally we don't think he was complaining so much about the film per se as much as about what he felt certain aspects of the film were still continuing to do after so many years of progress. At any rate, while definitely a topic very much still worthy of debate, let's remember that Mr. Cameron doesn't alone corner the market on controversial comments regarding diversity and / or the lack thereof. In recent days actresses Elizabeth Banks and Taraji P. Henson have slung their own crosses to bear up that public relations hill as well. But before we bring them into the fray, let's quickly ask what so many have asked over the last ten years - "Whatever the hell ever happened to groundbreaking Wesley Snipes?".  

"Betting on black" with Wesley Snipes in PASSENGER 57 (1992)

     Not withstanding a little later income tax "trouble", just as with the “Jolie films” and “RESIDENT EVIL films”, after BLADE so would the concept of Wesley Snipes and his films – among them PASSENGER 57 (’92), DROP ZONE (’94), MONEY TRAIN (’95) and MURDER AT 1600 (’97) be considered the only cinematic trope where most studios felt it was safe to (borrowing a PASSENGER 57-ism) “Bet on black”. Contrary to generally accepted belief however (and regardless of how kick-ass enjoyable they are to rewatch on Sunday afternoons) among those aforementioned Snipes actioners only PASSENGER 57 was considered the bonafied box office hit of the lot.

  MONEY TRAIN (1995)

     As such, with what many execs considered "bankable" black stars like Denzel Washington more interested in doing (and directing) dramas, … and many of them featuring troubled protagonists such as his Oscar nominated characters in TRAINING DAY, FLIGHT and FENCES, it would take twenty years of genre films of varying degrees of success, and with a black lead (most of them featuring Will Smith, whom many of those execs had come to consider another “exception to the rule”) before 2018s BLACK PANTHER blew the door off of those earlier mentioned hinges.

     But it was a long hard slog; and it wasn’t any single film which opened the door. Each success, major and minor, cracked it ajar then opened it ever so slightly a bit more to the point where BLACK PANTHER could later do the “blowing off” part. And that’s our point. It’s not any one single film. So, erase that comforting myth from your mind, and settle in for that “long slog”.

(clockwise) Goldie Hawn - THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974),
Jobeth Williams - POLTERGEIST (1982), and Whoopi Goldberg - THE COLOR PURPLE (1985)

     We’ve always joked (admittedly in somewhat ribald, but not inaccurate, fashion) that the color Hollywood is most interested in isn’t Black or White or even pink (hence, the ribald part), but green! Let’s face it, folks, in regards to true representation and diversity on screen it will be achieved much sooner, more readily, and more lastingly with a series of across-the-board filmic successes born of and executed by those (film makers and audiences) who wish to see that diversity. Back in June 2017 many across the country kinda / sorta air-“high fived” actress / director Elizabeth Banks when, while being honored at the Women In Film Crystal + Lucy Awards (presented by the Los Angeles chapter of the Women In Film Organization) she “called out” director Steven Spielberg for a lack of female representation in his films, saying …

     “I went to INDIANA JONES and JAWS and every movie Steven Spielberg ever made, and by the way, he’s never made a movie with a female lead. Sorry, Steven. I don’t mean to call your ass out, but it’s true”.

 Elizabeth Banks: 2017 Women In Film Crystal + Lucy Awards

     Well, unfortunately not only was her assertion not accurate, as other women in attendance at the time (such as actress Shari Belafonte) pointed out – citing films such as THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (starring Goldie Hawn), THE COLOR PURPLE (starring Whoppi Goldberg), THE BFG (starring young Ruby Barnhill), and POLTERGEIST (which was cast, written, produced and co-directed by Spielberg; and which starred Jobeth Williams), but we feel it was a self-defeating and pointless transference of responsibility, as ultimately (and some may disagree, and that’s okay, drop us a line and we’ll discuss it!) it’s really not Spielberg’s job / responsibility to represent blacks or women or others in his films, but to represent his experiences and knowledge and (hopefully) awakenings in regards to others.

     We’d certainly like to see him and other film makers be as inclusively realistic as possible. For example in the neighborhoods of E.T., POLTERGEIST and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS there’s certainly no reason why we shouldn’t see some blacks, Jews, Latinos, Asians and even a same sex couple or two. But ultimately it is our own responsibility, and not Spielberg’s or anyone else’s, to raise to the forefront those representations of ourselves which we feel are most accurate and empowering. Generally speaking we're not big fans of waiting around for someone else to make us look good and to help us feel good about ourselves. Our sense of self worth is considerably greater than that.

McCarthy & Kristen Wiig on the GHOSTBUSTERS set  

     In this regard, while we understand (and as part of a minority group ourselves, can sure as hell relate to) Ms. Banks’ pissed-off-ed-ness (another one of our own made-up words there!) at the state of affairs within the cinematic arts, we’re much more impressed by, and inclined to want to imitate, the actions of those like Melissa McCarthy or producer Will Packer. In an early February, 2018 installment of our MUSINGS OF A STRAIGHT GUY ON HIS DAY OFF blog, we recounted McCarthy’s story of how back when she was announced as a Best Supporting Actress nominee for 2011's BRIDESMAIDS, her physical size at the time caused no fashion designer to offer to make the upcoming Oscar attendee a formal gown for the ceremony – something which designers normally fall over themselves to do as it's huge publicity for their respective labels - arguably only second to designing a royal wedding dress. 

     But rather than go into a funk, pen blogs about the industry's impossible standards of beauty, or point fingers during interviews, McCarthy very much said "F**k 'em!", and decided (as she'd herself also studied design while in school) to launch her own clothing line of stylish attire - both formal and casual - for larger women like herself. She also decided to not wait for others to create respectable roles for her, but took her destiny into her own hands by founding the motion picture company "On The Day" with husband and frequent director Ben Falcone, which would go on to produce films such as TAMMY (2014), THE BOSS (2015) and the upcoming Brian Henson puppet comedy / thriller THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018).


Taraji P. Henson as PROUD MARY (2018)

     In January 2018 actress Taraji P. Henson claimed that the primary reason her action thriller PROUD MARY failed to score at the box office during its opening weekend was because Sony Pictures (depending on which postings one tended to read) either “sabotaged” the film or failed to give it a proper promotional launch (burying it) because certain members of the studio brass had little faith in it, and felt that “African-American films don’t sell overseas”. We tend to think that while “sabotaged” may be a bit a stretch, it’s obvious the studio had little faith in the film, and dumped it on the market without a decent campaign.


     But this isn’t new. Stories of studios having no confidence in a film, and wishing to dump it on the market with a last minute advanced screening (or none at all), in the hopes of recouping as much money as possible during opening weekend before sending if off to home video / OnDemand-land, are as old as studios and films themselves.

     In 2001 director Peter Chelsom’s $90 million “sex comedy for older folks” TOWN & COUNTRY – scripted by Buck Henry (THE GRADUATE, HEAVEN CAN WAIT), and starring Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Gary Shandling, proved such a notorious embarrassment to New Line Cinema executives after viewing the final cut, it was buried / dump released with so little to no notice that, Warren Beatty fans that we are, even we didn’t know it existed until channel surfing early A.M. about ten years ago and catching it on Showtime. Stories and speculation swirl to this day as to why the film was treated as such, as it’s really no better or worse than many other films. Go figure.


      The shifting of a film’s prime release date to a much less impressive one is also often the “two minute warning” signaling a studio’s emerging lack of faith in a project. And the most recent such effort to pop onto social media radar is Lionsgate / Millennium Films’ upcoming HELLBOY reboot directed by Neil Marshall, and starring David Harbour and Ian McShane. Just recently reassigned the release date of January 2019, rumors and fears have already begun circulating that it’s producer / distributors may be planning a near simultaneous video or OnDemand dump release as industry insiders have long been aware that January is considered cinematic purgatory for films in which studios have little confidence.

MOON (2009)  

     The most recent headline grabbing example of that kind of lack of studio belief was seen in Paramount’s selling of its third film in the CLOVERFIELD trilogy, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX, directly to the streaming service Netflix, thus bypassing a theatrical release all together.

     And as far as Sony Pictures in particular, it’s no secret that studio has had a long and notorious reputation for dropping the promotional ball on films long before PROUD MARY - the most notorious scenario up to that point arguably being their lack of sending out screeners to Academy members for Duncan Jones’ 2009 science fiction drama MOON. Many felt Sony’s inaction in that regard caused perhaps the most deserving performance of the year – Sam Rockwell’s in that very small scale film – to go unnoticed by many of the Academy’s voting members. 

     As to the assertion that many execs don’t feel African-American films are marketable overseas?

  RED TAILS (2012)

     We agree with Taraji 100% on that one! And we’re pretty sure she probably even heard a narrow-minded exec say those very words verbatim. Hell, one of filmdom’s most successful producers of all time, George Lucas, was told the very same thing when he set out to make his 2012 Tuskegee Airmen war drama RED TAILS – produced and co-written by Lucas, directed by African-American filmmaker Anthony Hemingway (TREME, TRUE BLOOD), and featuring a nearly all black cast including Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding, Jr., David Oyelowo and Ne-Yo. Able to do what many filmmakers are unable to, Lucas decided to fund the film’s entire $58 million budget from his own pocket.

     Now, none of this is meant as an excuse or apology for narrow-mindedness in regards to Sony’s maybe yes / maybe no lack of confidence in PROUD MARY, or in their maybe-they-did / maybe-they-didn’t burying of the film. This is merely meant as an example that this sort of thing isn’t at all new. It’s also meant as an example of why we believe unfortunately that Taraji’s outcry is one which will ultimately fall upon a great many executive's deaf ears and before their tunnel-visioned eyes. Her comments

     "When women get older in this business they tend to send us out to pasture; meanwhile you have Liam Neeson, however old his is, still kicking ass in TAKEN, and Denzel Washington, who, at any given drop of a dime, will do an action film. Fuck that. If men can do it, why can't we? I feel like women get better as we age. Give us the same chances as you give men."

     And we agree with most of that, especially the “F**k that” part. But where we believe she goes off road / off course is in saying, as did Banks to Steven Spielberg, Give us the same chances as you give men”. And this is where we say “F**k that!”, because just as the tagline for Coppola’s THE GODFATHER PT. III stated that “Real power can't be given, it must be taken” so is true representation and diversity in film not given, but taken, … demanded. And it is taken and demanded via action, not through conversations about diversity, and in asking those holding the studio purse strings to “think differently”. No! What makes the "business" part of "show business" think differently is that aforementioned greenery. That is the action which speaks more loudly than any words or "serious conversation" in this (or any other) industry. Oh, and just as earlier we acknowledge that here too there may be those who disagree with us on this assessment. And once again that’s cool if you do. Just drop us a line and we'll chat.

     Now, that "loudly speaking action" occurs over time, and not with one (believed to be) “breakthrough” film which will from henceforth supposedly change all the rules as we've known them. But it seems the “occurs over time” aspect is that which many don’t seem to be “all in” about just yet. And we understand. the impatience. But take a look at some of the most successful non-white / non-male movers and shakers in the industry today, among them producer Will Packer and producer / writer Shonda Rhimes, to understand both the “occurs over time” and the “green is the most powerful color” axioms. 

     One of the most influential producers in Hollywood today, Will Packer – through his Rainforest Films and Will Packer Productions companies – has produced or executive produced nearly 30 films over the last 15+ years (among them OBSSESSED, STOMP THE YARD, THINK LIKE A MAN, RIDE ALONG, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, GIRLS TRIP and more) which have collectively tallied in excess of over $1 billion at the box office: a figure indicating a stunning consistency as most of those films were produced within the $15 - $40 million dollar range, then each made back at the very least three to four times their budgets.

 Producer Will Packer

      Packer sure as hell didn’t start at the top. In fact, after interning with producer Warrington Hudlin (HOUSE PARTY, BEBE’S KIDS, BOOMERANG), at age 20 he made his first film for $20,000, and set up a deal with Blockbuster Video to distribute it via rentals throughout the retailers chain of stores.

     Shonda Rhimes, the industry matriarch behind “Shondaland”’s lineup of network series juggernauts including GREY’S ANATOMY, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER and SCANDAL, is another “20 Year In-the-making Overnight Sensation”. Beginning as an assistant at Denzel Washington’s Mundy Lane production company, she also worked as an intern to producer Debra Martin Chase - with whom she as a screenwriter worked with on Disney’s PRINCESS DIARIES 2: ROYAL ENGAGEMENT. This was followed by her scripting of the 1999 HBO telemovie INTRODUCING DORTHY DANDRIDGE (starring Halle Berry), Britney Spears’ 2002 feature film theatrical debut CROSSROADS and more before establishing the clout to sell her first TV series pick up, GREY’S ANATOMY, which debuted as a mid-season replacement in March 2005.

Producer Shonda Rhimes 

     One of the few “brand name” TV showrunners in network history (along with Walt Disney, Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling), Rhimes’, through her “Shondaland” banner, has also been the force behind other series such as STILL STAR-CROSSED, THE CATCH and STATION 19. She’s netted a panoply of awards – including the DGA, NAACP Image, GLADD Media, Primetime Emmy, Producers Guild, Writers Guild and more. And, in the new industry era were streaming providers seek original content as opposed to the ancient broadcast paradigm of re-purposing the catalogues of other networks, in August 2017 Netflix proudly announced it had lured Shonda Rhimes away from her 15 year home at ABC with an exclusive four year / $100 million deal to create blocks of new shows for the streaming giant which, as Rhimes expressed will provide

 “… the opportunity to build a vibrant new storytelling home for writers with the unique creative freedom and instantaneous global reach provided by Netflix's singular sense of innovation”.

     So, within in the midst of this burgeoning “new industry era” how can we as audiences and filmmakers assure a fair degree of representation and diversity?

Jewels in the "ShondaLand" TV crown include (clockwise)


  Marvin Peart & John Travolta at the 2015 Napa Film Fest

     In those actions which actually talk while the "you-know-what" walks, there are those which can and should be taken on both the audience and Industry sides of the diversity coin. As for the Industry side …

     Back in early 2016, at the height of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, while many people of color called for a boycott of the Academy Awards in order to send a message about inclusion, African-American producer Marvin Peart (THE PERFECT HOLIDAY, TV’s MOB WIVES) expressed a much more daringly pragmatic alternative in a guest column penned for Variety (Feb. 9, 2016):

     “Why is it, as African-Americans, we long and clamor for seats at a dinner party where the host must be forced to invite us, instead of pushing for ownership of the house, which includes the kitchen, dining room, table, silverware and especially, the door and its hinges. Why does the African-American strive to be talent? Where is the outcry for content ownership: ownership of the studios and platforms where we so desperately want our talent recognized?

      I don’t mean token efforts — our equivalent of the 40 acres and a mule our ancestors were promised. I mean a serious approach to raising capital and producing content we want to create and own. As we push for Oscar inclusion, how far should we take it? Enact the Rooney rule, like they have in football — where one African-American coach must be interviewed for every head coach vacancy? Would any of us feel good — satisfied personally, proud in front of our children — accepting our industry’s highest honors, once the balance is re-calculated in our favor? Dash makes the point in THE INCREDIBLES ‘If everyone’s special, then no one is’”.


     Now, while Peart’s piece eventually posits the concept of an actual independently operated, black-owned studio (not unlike the Spielberg, Geffen, Katzenberg partnership behind the original DreamWorks), it begins with the notion of self-determination via content / product ownership. Rather than demand a seat at the dinner party table as (no personal slight towards either) Elizabeth Banks and Taraji P. Hensen did, he puts forth more the “deciding to buy and own the house itself” paradigm of a Melissa McCarthy, Will Packer or Shonda Rhimes, or Tyler Perry or Oprah Winfrey. And they aren’t the only ones "buying their own land" as opposed to demanding a once-upon-a-time promised "40 acres and a mule".

           In January 2018, at the 2017 SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Awards, actress Nicole Kidman - after already securing an Emmy and Golden Globe award, made it a trifecta by taking home the Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor SAG trophy for her interpretation of domestic violence survivor Celeste Wright in HBO’s BIG LITTLE LIES. Winning over series co-stars Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, and FUED: BETTE & JOAN heavyweights Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, during her acceptance speech, the 50 yr. old Ms. Kidman made some genuinely stirring commentary on the subject of ageism in regards to female actors. Addressing an audience which included legends such as Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Shirley Maclaine and others, she said …

     "I revere you, I’ve watched you, and I’ve learnt from you. I want to thank you all for your trailblazing performances you’ve given over your career and how wonderful it is that our careers today can go beyond 40 years old. 20 years ago, we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives. That’s not the case now. We've proven, and these actresses and so many more are proving that we are potent and powerful and viable. To receive this at this stage of my life is extraordinary, and at this time in the industry when these things are going on”.

Producer Byron Allen

     Now, keep in mind one of the reasons Kidman was able to give said speech is because one of “these things going on” at “this time in the industry” was the fact that BIG LITTLE LIES the mini-series – based on the 2014 best seller by Liane Moriarty, was a joint venture co-production of her own Blossom Films company (RABBIT HOLE, THE FAMILY FANG), co-star Reese Witherspoon’s Pacific Standard company (GONE GIRL, WILD) and David E. Kelly Productions (PICKET FENCES, ALLY McBEAL, BOSTON LEGAL). In other words, Ms. Kidman was one of the builders and owners of the house, rather than just a dinner guest awaiting, or even demanding, a well-deserved an invitation.

     Another possibly lesser known but equally as influential production entity is Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios. Known to most as a stand up comic because of appearances on THE TONIGHT SHOW and his own syndicated COMICS UNLEASHED, Allen has emerged as one of the most respected moguls in the business, with influential footholds in television, film, online networks and more. When he was a child his mother worked as a publicist at NBC’s Burbank Studios, which allowed young Allen the opportunity to sit behind Johnny Carson’s TONIGHT SHOW desk, pretending to be host. At age 14 he put together a stand-up routine which in time caught the attention of comedian Jimmie “JJ” Walker (of GOOD TIMES fame) – who then asked him to join his writing staff which at the time also included a couple of up-and-comers named David Letterman and Jay Leno.


     At 18 he made his own TV debut on THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON, and, deciding at any early age to call his own shots, he hasn’t looked back since – forming Entertainment Studios in the early 1990s, and becoming the creative force behind an growing empire which evolved from first run syndicated shows such as AMERICA’S COURT WITH JUDGE ROSS, WE THE PEOPLE WITH GLORIA ALLRED and COMICS UNLEASHED, to sitcoms like THE FIRST FAMILY and MR. BOX OFFICE to feature films such as the popular 2017 thriller 47 METERS DOWN, Scott Cooper’s critically acclaimed HOSTILES (also 2017) starring Christian Bale, Wes Studi and Rosamund Pike, director Rob Cohen's heist thriller / disaster flick THE HURRICANE HEIST, and the eagerly anticipated fact based 2018 political drama CHAPPAQUIDDICK with Jason Clarke, Kate Mara and Bruce Dern.

     Now, coming full circle, and ending this discussion where it began, we have to (don’t we now?) get into the responsibility within this game changing paradigm of its single most important component …

     The audience.

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