Category Archives: Film

The medium has a message, and it’s inequality


From Walter Benjamin to Marshall McLuhan, cultural critics have focused their attention on the impact of media as machines for the reproduction of cultural products.

It was Benjamin, that brilliant exemplar of Weimar Germany’s greatest thinkers, and a founder of the Frankfurt School, who in 1936 in his most famous essay made a seminal observation about the motion picture:

The characteristics of the film lie not only in the manner in which man presents himself to mechanical equipment but also in the manner in which, by means of this apparatus, man can represent his environment.

Or, as McLuhan titled the first chapter of his most famous book, The Medium is the Message.

And that begin the case, what is the message of today’s film, the medium that introduced mass audiences to the moving image, a medium shaped by corporations in search of profits in an ever-more-complicated mediascape.

Two new studies from the University of California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reveal sobering new insights about the state of today’s American films, and their message is anything but inclusive, as reflected in two charts, the first from “Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity LGBT & Disability from 2007 to 2017,” and the second from “Critic’s Choice? Gender and Race/Ethnicity of Film Reviews Across 100 Top Films of 2017” [click on the images to enlarge]:

Examining the sad state of diversity on the silver screen

First up, the key findings from the report on diversity among those who make movies:

Annually, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative conducts the most comprehensive and intersectional
investigation into inequality in popular films. We catalogue every independent speaking or named character shown on screen for gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, and disability as well as a series of contextual variables across an 11-year sample spanning 2007 to 2017. We also assess inclusion behind the camera, examining gender of directors, writers, producers, and composers and the race of directors. In total, 48,757 characters and 1,100 movies have been evaluated for this report.

Key Findings

Gender. A total of 4,454 speaking characters appeared across the 100 top films of 2017, with 68.2% male and 31.8% female. This translates into an on screen gender ratio of 2.15 males to every one female. The percentage of females on screen in 2017 was only 1.9 percentage points higher than the percentage in 2007.

Only 19 stories were gender balanced across the 100 top movies of 2017. A gender-balanced cast refers to a story that fills 45% to 54.9% of the speaking roles with girls/women. The percentage of gender-balanced movies was higher in 2017 than in 2016 and 2007.

Thirty-three films in 2017 depicted a female lead/co lead. The percentage of female leads in 2017 was nearly identical to 2016 [34%] and 2015 [32%] but represents a notable increase from 2007 [20%].

Only 4 movies were driven by a woman of color. All four of these women were from mixed racial/ethnic backgrounds. This number deviates little from 2016 [3] or 2015 [3]. Thirty movies featured a male 45 years of age or older at the time of theatrical release whereas only 5 films depicted a female in the same age bracket. Only one movie was led by a woman of color 45 years of age or older across the 100 top films of 2017.

Female characters [28.4%] were far more likely than male characters [7.5%] to be shown in tight or alluring apparel, and with some nudity [M=9.6%, F=25.4%]. Females 13-20 years old were just as likely as females 21-39 years old to appear in sexy attire or with some nudity.

A total of 1,584 individuals worked above the line as directors, writers, and producers. 81.7% were male and 18.2% were female. Of 109 directors, only 7.3% were female. Only 10.1% of writers were female and 18.2% of producers.

Only 4.3% of all directors across 1,100 movies were women, with 2008 the 11-year high mark during the sample time frame. Assessing the total number of unique female directors, a full 43 women have helmed one or more top-grossing films in 11 years.

Out of 111 composers across the 100 top movies of 2017, only 1 female worked. No more than two female composers have ever been employed per year during the 11 years studied. Only 1.3% of all composers across 1,100 movies were women.

A full 43% of all speaking characters on screen were girls/women in female-directed content [8 movies]. In comparison, only 30.9% of all on screen roles were filled with girls/women under male direction.

Race/Ethnicity. Of characters with an ascertainable race/ethnicity, 70.7% were white, 12.1% Black, 4.8% Asian, 6.2% Hispanic/Latino, 1.7% Middle Eastern, <1% American Indian/Alaskan Native, <1% Native Hawaiian, and 3.9% Mixed Race or Other. Overall, 29.3% of all speaking characters were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. In comparison to the U.S. population [38.7% underrepresented] and underrepresented movie ticket buyers [45%], film still lags behind.

Forty-three films were missing Black female characters, 64 did not include any Latinas, and 65 did not include one Asian female speaking character. In contrast, only 7 films were missing white females.

Underrepresented characters in movies from 2017 were least likely to be shown in action/adventure films [28.1%] compared to animated [34%] and comedy [35.6%] films.

Of the 109 directors in 2017, 5.5% were Black or African American. Only one of the Black or African American directors working last year was female. Of the 1,100 movies studied, only 5.2% have been helmed by a Black/African American director. Only 4 Black or AfricanAmerican women have worked in the top 100 movies in the years examined, representing less than 1% of all directors.

The percentage of Black characters in 2017 films increased by 41.8 percentage points when a Black director was behind the camera then when the film did not have a Black director. Of the speaking characters in movies from 2017 with a Black director, 18.5% were Black females, compared to just 2.5% of the speaking characters in movies without a Black director.

In 2017, 4 Asian directors helmed one of the 100 most popular movies—all of these individuals were male. This translates to 3.7% of the 109 directors working in 2017. A mere 3.1% of all directors were Asian or Asian American across 1,100 films and 11 years. Asian female directors are nearly invisible in the sample—of the three slots held by Asian women, two represent the work of Jennifer Yuh Nelson on the Kung Fu Panda films.

LGBT. A total of 4,403 characters were evaluated for apparent sexuality. Of those, 0.7% [n=31] were Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual. Over half of the LGB characters were Gay [51.6%], while 29% were Lesbian and 19.4% were Bisexual. In addition, there was not one transgender character who appeared across the 100 top movies of 2017.

There has been no change over time in the depiction of LGBT characters on screen since 2014. Out of 400 popular films from 2014 to 2017, only one transgender character has appeared.

A total of 81 films did not include one LGBT speaking character. Examining films missing LGBT females reveals that 94 movies were devoid of these characters.

Over half [58.1%] of LGB characters were male and 41.9% were female. LGB characters were
predominantly white [67.7%], while 32.3% were underrepresented. Only 8 characters of the 4,403 examined were LGB teens.

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And now for something completely different. . .


Or is it?

Following up on our previous post about the removal of Confederate statues from New Orleans, here’s the story of another sculpture, a delightful animation that depicts a severe case of alt-reality, and the use of force to ensure its acceptance.

It’s very like the world Donald Trump sees himself inhabiting.

From the archives of the venerable National Film Board of Canada:

“E”


Program notes:

Under the guise of a pretty fairy tale, this animated short makes a strong political statement. Animated paper cut-outs enact a drama in which a dictator imposes his delusions on his unfortunate subjects. The humour is black and, despite the absence of dialogue, the message is crystal clear.

Directed by Francine Desbiens, Bretislav Pojar – 1981.

Radiation levels signal nuclear crisis at Fukushima


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On 16 March 1979, Columbia Pictures released a new film starring three of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

The China Syndrome told the tale of a nuclear reactor accident in California, threatening to trigger a meltdown of the reactor’s radioactive core that would cause it to melt through the containment vessel into the earth below, threatening a massive radiation release as the superheated uranium made contact with the groundwater below.

The movie’s release was perfectly timed, thought the studios didn’t know it.

On 28 March 1979, just 12 days later, a reactor at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island plant suffered a partial meltdown, the nation’s first highly publicized reactor accident [although, as we have noted before, a potentially far worse disaster had happened in California twenty years earlier], sending ticket sales soaring.

And now, as new evidence of soaring radiation and a hole in one of the reactors at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi reactor complex [previously] is making The China Syndrome look more like prophecy that just a simple Hollywood blockbuster.

Soaring radiation surpass lethal levels by many times

We begin with this from the Guardian:

Radiation levels inside a damaged reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station are at their highest since the plant suffered a triple meltdown almost six years ago.

The facility’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said atmospheric readings as high as 530 sieverts an hour had been recorded inside the containment vessel of reactor No 2, one of three reactors that experienced a meltdown when the plant was crippled by a huge tsunami that struck the north-east coast of Japan in March 2011.

The extraordinary radiation readings highlight the scale of the task confronting thousands of workers, as pressure builds on Tepco to begin decommissioning the plant – a process that is expected to take about four decades.

The recent reading, described by some experts as “unimaginable”, is far higher than the previous record of 73 sieverts an hour in that part of the reactor.

A single dose of one sievert is enough to cause radiation sickness and nausea; 5 sieverts would kill half those exposed to it within a month, and a single dose of 10 sieverts would prove fatal within weeks.

Robot finds evidence the core escaped the reactor

And now for the China Syndrome angle.

There’s clear evidence the core melted through the containment vessel.

From the Japan Times:

Tepco also announced that, based on its analysis of images taken by a remote-controlled camera, that there is a 2-meter hole in the metal grating under the pressure vessel in the reactor’s primary containment vessel. It also thinks part of the grating is warped.

The hole could have been caused when the fuel escaped the pressure vessel after the mega-quake and massive tsunami triggered a station blackout that crippled the plant’s ability to cool the reactors.

The searing radiation level, described by some experts as “unimaginable,” far exceeds the previous high of 73 sieverts per hour at the reactor.

Tepco said it calculated the figure by analyzing the electronic noise in the camera images caused by the radiation. This estimation method has a margin of error of plus or minus 30 percent, it said.

An official of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences said medical professionals have never considered dealing with this level of radiation in their work.

Radiation so high it kills robots

The really scary part of the story from Japan Today:

The latest discovery spells difficulty in removing the fuel debris as part of decommissioning work at the plant. The government and TEPCO hope to locate the fuel and start removing it from a first reactor in 2021.

The debris is believed to have been created as nuclear fuel inside the reactor pressure vessel overheated and melted due to the loss of reactor cooling functions.

In the coming weeks, the plant operator plans to deploy a remote-controlled robot to check conditions inside the containment vessel, but the utility is likely to have to change its plan.

For one thing, it will have to reconsider the route the robot is to take to probe the interior because of the hole found on the grating.

Also, given the extraordinary level of radiation inside the containment vessel, the robot would only be able to operate for less than two hours before it is destroyed.

That is because the robot is designed to withstand exposure to a total of up to 1,000 sieverts of radiation. Based on the calculation of 73 sieverts per hour, the robot could have operated for more than 10 hours, but 530 sieverts per hour means the robot would be rendered inoperable in less than two hours.

And to conclude,. . .

Lest you be worried,, here’s a little cheering up in the form of an full page advertisement from Newsweek, published way back on 12 October 1964:

blog-news

Trumplandia ™ surrealism: She said/he said


Merle Streep, an actress who has received three Oscars, nine Golden Globes, and so many other honors for her acting prowess that it would be impossible to list them all in the modest space we have, won the Cecil B. DeMille Award [basically a lifetime achievement honor] at last night’s Golden Globes ceremony.

And she used the occasion to make a memorable speech, an indictment of President-elect Donald John Trump.

Here it is:


Needless to say, President Pussybrgrabber [already inaugurated to that position], did what he always does,

He tweeted his response this morning [and we’ve added a bonus tweet at the end]:

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So is he lying?

Well, consider the reason Trump had to discredit New York Times reporter Serge F. Kovaleski.

Back in November 2015, Trump said “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”

But that was a lie. Police in New Jersey did disperse a few small rallies, none involving more than 20 to 30 people. Hardly the “thousands and thousands” Trump claimed.

Kovaleski, a reporter for the Washington Post back in 2001, wrote an article for that paper four days after the 9/11 attack, which included this paragraph:

In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners’ plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.

What drew Trump’s ire was Kovaleski’s daring to question the “thousands and thousands” claim, and Trump claimed that Kovaleski has been forced to retract his original report — a lie.

Here’s a 25 November 2015 clip of the mocking which had drawn Streep’s outrage, via CNN:

Trump mocks reporter with disability

And here’s how the Washington Post reported on 2 August 2016 of Littlefingers’ denial that he mad mocked their former reporter:

Trump now suggests he was just imitating a grovel, but that’s not what he was actually doing.

Instead, Trump is clearly imitating Kovaleski’s disability — the reporter has arthrogryposis, which visibly limits the functioning of his joints. Trump claims he did not know Kovaleski, but the reporter closely covered Trump’s troubled business dealings while he was a reporter for the N.Y. Daily News between 1987 and 1993.

“Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years,” Kovaleski told the Times in November. “I’ve interviewed him in his office,” he added. “I’ve talked to him at press conferences. All in all, I would say around a dozen times, I’ve interacted with him as a reporter while I was at The Daily News.” In particular, Kovaleski covered the launch of the Trump Shuttle, spending the day with Trump in 1989 when the airline launched with typical Trump brashness. (Within a year, Trump had to unload the debt-burdened airline because of a cash crunch in his business interests.)

{Trump tweeted umbrage in response.] “All of a sudden, I get reports that I was imitating a reporter who was handicapped. I would never do that.”

Actually, he clearly did, protestations notwithstanding.

A poll and a personal aside

Clearly, Trump is furious, not for his own gross insensitivity, but for the fact that the news media reported on it.

And a week after the August denial, Bloomberg pollsters asked voters what bothered them most about Littlefingers:

More than six in 10 say they are bothered a lot that Trump mocked a reporter’s physical disability, the highest level of displeasure among the issues challenging Trump that were tested.

In the interest of fairness, we should note that we ourselves are afflicted with a malady that has deformed our hands and arms and afflicted joints in the hips and feet, rheumatoid arthritis.

You can judge the effects from this snap of our right hand, in which we tried to hold our fingers straight [they’re normal length; it’s just the best show we could get shooting left-handed]:

blog-hand

In decades of reporting since the malady’s symptoms had become evident, only a few interview subjects commented on it, invariably with sympathetic remarks.

And a parting thought

Say, doesn’t the Constitution require the President to be at least 35 years of age?

Judging by his words and actions, the President-elect can’t be more than 10.

Celebrities launch alternative inaugural festivities


They call it the Love-a-thon; we call it the anti-inaugural.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

For those who are, say, less than thrilled about the incoming president can now make some alternate Inauguration Day plans: A celeb-filled telethon will benefit a few of the GOP’s least-favorite things.

Set to take place on Jan. 20 at the same time as the presidential inauguration, the “Love-a-thon” (as it’s being billed) will raise money for Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Earthjustice, according to CNN.

So far, Jane Fonda, Jamie Lee Curtis, Judd Apatow and others will be taking part in the telethon of sorts and organizers are looking to raise at least $500,000 for the organizations, via crowdfunding company Crowdrise. Those donating money can choose the group their money will go to.

“It’s a really important opportunity to support causes like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Earthjustice, as they gear up to do [critical] work,” organizer Alex Godin told CNN.

The event will take place in New York City and CNN reported the programming will feature comedy skits, music acts and celebrity emcees.

Quote of the day: A filmmaker on Donald Trump


Errol Morris is perhaps the nation’s most prominent documentary filmmaker, and his remarkable films have exposed some of the darkest sides of the nation, ranging from police corruption to the astonishingly arrogant hubris of Donald Rumsfeld, as well as some of the nation’s most fascinating characters. He was also the creator of a famous documentary on British physicists Stephen Hawking, and a searing report on British tabloid journalism.

In 2002, he produced a short documentary for the opening minutes of that year’s Academy Awards presentation, interviewing famous folk about their favorite films.

One of those who appeared before his famous Interrotron was none other than Donald John Trump, describing his love of that Orson Welles classic, Citizen Kane: and the  famous image that dominated its ending:

In October, Anthony Audi interviewed Morris about Trump for a two-part series in Lit Hub [part one, part two].

And that brings us to our quote of the day, excerpted from the interview:

EM: Somehow he identifies clearly with Kane. Kane is Trump. And it’s not the kind of identification that I would make if I were Trump. Of course that issue—if I were Trump, what would I do, what would I think, what would I say?—it’s one of those counterfactuals I’m probably not equipped to address. But, if I were Donald Trump, I would not want to emphasize that connection with Kane. You know, a megalomaniac in love with power and crushing everything in his path. The inability to have friends, the inability to find love. The moral that Trump takes from Kane—I mean, it’s one of the great lines that I recorded. I ask, “Do you have any advice for Charles Foster Kane, sir?” You know, let’s get down to the psychiatric intervention. How can we help this poor man? He’s obviously troubled. How can we help him? Donald, help me out here!

And Donald says, “My advice to Charles Foster Kane is find another woman!” And you know, I thought, is that really the message that Welles was trying to convey? That Kane had made poor sexual choices, poor marriage choices?

>snip<

EM: You know, in Borges’ review of Citizen Kane, he cites Chesterton in “The Head of Caesar,” and it’s one of my very favorite quotes of all time. “There’s nothing more frightening than a labyrinth without a center.” An amazing phrase, which can mean so many things. He of course applies it to Kane. But it’s a world where there is no truth or falsity. For me, it’s a world of randomness, a world of chaos. A world of appearances with no substance. A world really, truly devoid of hope. And I find the review very powerful, actually truly meaningful, given when Citizen Kane first came out and what happened to the world. We forget how charged of a time that was. 1941.

AA: Are we in that kind of moment now?

EM: Like anybody that has half a mind, I feel that the republic is threatened, but this is a deeply internal threat. It’s not a threat from our enemies, from ISIS or ISIL or Al-Qaeda. You know, it’s an internal threat to what we stand for. (If we stand for anything, and I’m not so sure that we do anymore.) I often think about what I call fig leaf democracy. That we want to at least pay lip service to fairness, equality, even if it doesn’t exist, we want to pay lip service to it. We want to acknowledge that it’s a value that should be sought after, even if it can’t be attained. Equal opportunity, fairness, a level playing field for all. Even if it’s an illusory dream, we somehow think it’s part of our social compact, part of what defines us, that makes us who we are. That could also be some horrible self-deception or delusion.

I think the country is on the verge of becoming a disgrace. A disgrace to itself.

Maybe I sound severe, but to elect Trump is saying it’s okay to be self-deceived. It’s okay to say anything you want to say. It’s okay to sort of ignore reality and just make things up as you go along. It’s okay to be irrational, it’s okay to be any pernicious thing you want to be—racist, intolerant, duplicitous. Why not elect Diego as president? Or Richard III?

Carrie Fisher dies, and Disney profits


Every cloud must have a silver lining, goes the old saw, but for Disney, the lning to the cloud of Carrie Fisher’s death is pure platinum.

From the Independent:

Disney is expected to be awarded one of the largest insurance payouts in history after reports it took out a $41m policy on Carrie Fisher.

The company, which bought Lucasfilm in 2012, took out a policy with Lloyds of London to protect it from any losses if the actress was unable to fulfil her contract to appear in the new Star Wars trilogy, trade magazine Insurance Insider reported.

The 60-year-old, who renewed her role as Princess Leia – known as General Organa in the 2015 film The Force Awakens – died in hospital four days after suffering a heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles.

In her one-woman show Wishful Drinking, which we watched earlier tonight, Fisher mentioned that Disney owns all the rights to her image, and given that they already digitally recreated a younger Princess Leia for Rogue One, Disney doesn’t need her live performance before the camera for the final Star Wars film, so her death represents almost a pure windfall for the company that’s done most to ensure draconian intellectual property laws at home and abroad.