Define American Releases Best Practices Guide on Immigrant Representation in Film and TV 

Of interest:

Define American has released “Telling Authentic Immigrant Stories: A Reference Guide for the Entertainment Industry,” a best practices’ guide in telling immigrant stories, with a focus on film and television.

The guide is aimed at individual content creators, as well as production companies and studios at large, and it features detailed descriptions, definitions, historical timelines and dates, and other resources about specific communities. There is an emphasis on such still-evolving topics as DACA and, in partnership with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and International Refugee Assistance Project, global climate displacement.

“Our research shows that immigrants continue to be underrepresented on screen. As such, Hollywood has a unique opportunity, a unique power, and a unique responsibility to meet the moment and make meaningful cultural change by authentically and accurately telling the disparate stories of our country,” said Jose Antonio Vargas, founder, Define American. “We are making great strides forward with more diverse and equitable hiring in front of and behind the camera, more inclusive stories, more immigrant writers, but we still have much work to do. We encourage content creators at every level to use this guide as a starting point in that journey.”

The new guide centers six key things for those creating and/or greenlighting new content to consider. First among them is hiring more immigrants in the writers’ room and on the crew and casting them too so their perspectives can be heard and considered for the storytelling. Additionally, the guide suggests engaging with immigrant communities to get an even wider and deeper range of perspectives, seeking expert opinions, focusing stories on universal themes, being sensitive to risk and privacy and empowering immigrant characters to control their own narratives (rather than telling tales of white saviorism, for example).

The new guide also points out that not all immigrants are Latine, incorporating data and key findings from the organization’s 2020 television impact study, titled “Change the Narrative, Change the World” and published with USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center, to support this point. Through new partnerships with Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and The UndocuBlack Network, the guide puts a spotlight on AAPI and Black immigrants, noting they are still grossly underrepresented on TV at the moment. AAPI immigrants, for example, comprise 12% of immigrants on TV even though the study shows they represent 26% of the U.S. immigrant population.

It also dives into preferred terms, such as “undocumented immigrant” or “unauthorized immigrant” and offers arguments for moving away from stereotypes such as “the good immigrant,” “the marriage miracle” or only telling fear-based stories (such as immigrant characters worrying they will be deported). The guide includes a timeline of immigration law’s history and some other government and geography-based facts important pieces of the immigration narrative.

Define American is a media advocacy and culture change organization that has consulted on more than 100 film and television projects, including ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” the CW’s “Roswell, New Mexico” and the former NBC sitcom “Superstore.” The organization releases studies and guides periodically and also provides grants that prioritize undocumented and formerly undocumented artists.

These Numbers Show How More Diversity on TV Leads to Increased Viewership

Of note:

Television that reflects the growing racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S.resonates with audiences and industry stakeholders, a study from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) released on Tuesday shows.

In UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report for 2021, which covered the 2019-2020 TV season, researchers found that there was a general increase in hiring diverse talent for people of color and women, both for on-screen and behind-the-scenes roles, despite the challenges many productions faced during the pandemic. To collect the data, researchers tracked racial and ethnic diversity across multiple job categories for 461 scripted television shows across six broadcast networks, 29 cable networks and 15 digital platforms; they also tracked ratings and social media engagement.
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The study found that ratings and social media engagement for most groups, including white audiences, peaked for shows that featured casts that were at least 31% minority, while viewership among adults between the ages of 18 and 49 often peaked when a show had a majority minority cast. And for the first time in the study’s history, the percentage of scripted broadcast TV acting roles for people of color, which clocked in this year at 43.4%, surpassed the overall percentage of people of color in the U.S at 42.7% for ethnic and racial groups.

Darnell Hunt, dean of the Division of Social Sciences at UCLA, who co-wrote the report with his colleague Ana-Christina Ramón, says these significant shifts are indicative of the rise in streaming technology, which, through a non-traditional business model, has resulted in more shows by people of color and women being greenlit, which has paid off well. Increasing diversity in the U.S. also means that audiences are hungry to see themselves on-screen—a factor that will only become more important in the future; currently, 53% of all Americans under the age of 18 are people of color, putting the country on track to be majority non-white within two decades.

“People basically want to see the TV shows that look like America, that have characters they can relate to and have experiences that resonate with them,” Hunt told the Associated Press, pointing to the critical and commercial successes of shows like Insecure, which was created by and stars Issa Rae, and the Emmy award-winning Watchmen, which starred Regina King.

But there’s still plenty of work to be done in Hollywood when it comes to furthering diversity and inclusion, per the study. While numbers for representation on-screen have improved, this change can largely be attributed to increased roles for Black or multiracial talent. Asian Americans, who are the fastest-growing racial group in the U.S., Latinx and Indigenous people still remain mostly underrepresented in all acting categories. Both Hunt and Ramón attribute this to executive decisions that see diversity within a Black-white binary.

Behind the scenes, people of color face also face a large parity gap; in TV writing rooms across all platforms, while numbers were up for writers of color, they still made up less than 30% of the writers. This lack of representation was also evident for top roles like directors, show creators, and industry execs.

Source: These Numbers Show How More Diversity on TV Leads to Increased Viewership

Latinos vastly underrepresented in media, new report finds

Of note (not surprising):

Latinos are perpetually absent in major newsrooms, Hollywood films and other media industries where their portrayals — or lack thereof — could deeply impact how their fellow Americans view them, according to a government report released Tuesday.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to investigate last October.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, has made the inclusion of Latinos in media a principal issue, imploring Hollywood studio directors, journalism leaders and book publishers to include their perspectives.

Castro says the lack of accurate representation, especially in Hollywood, means at the very best that Americans don’t get a full understanding of Latinos and their contributions. At worst — especially when Latinos are solely portrayed as drug dealers or criminals — it invites politicians to exploit negative stereotypes for political gain, Castro said.

That could engender violence against Latinos, like the killing of 23 people in El Paso in 2019 by a gunman who was targeting Hispanics.

“None of this has been an effort to tell people exactly what to write, but to encourage that media institutions reflect the face of America. Because then we believe that the stories will be more accurate and more reflective of the truth and less stereotypical,” Castro said in an interview with The Associated Press. “American media, including print journalism, has relied on stereotypes of Latinos. If the goal is the truth, well that certainly has not served the truth.”

The report found that in 2019, the estimated percentage of Latinos working in newspaper, periodical, book and directory publishers was about 8%. An estimated 11% of news analysts, reporters and journalists were Latino, although the GAO used data that included Spanish-language networks, where virtually all contributors are Latino, and those employed in other sectors of news, not just necessarily news gatherers. That could inflate the figures significantly.

The report also found that the biggest growth among Hispanics in the media industry was in service jobs, while management jobs had the lowest representation.

Ana-Christina Ramón is one half of a team that has been collecting data on diversity in Hollywood for a decade, and began publishing annual reports in 2014. Ramón is the director of research and civic engagement at the UCLA College of Letters and Science.

Latinos account for only about 5% to 6% of main cast members in TV and film, despite being roughly 18% of the U.S. population, her research has found.

“It’s a bit of a ceiling. It doesn’t go over that percentage,” Ramón said, although she added that TV has made much bigger strides in significant roles for Latinos than movies have.

For years, Hollywood executives argued that films with diverse leads don’t make money. Ramón found that they do.

“There’s this idea that Hollywood has that ‘Oh, we can’t do too much diversity, it will scare off the white people.’ Well, it has not scared off the white people,” Ramón said.

Cristina Mislán, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia, was not surprised by the figures the GAO found, and noted that much of the growth in Latinos in media professions stems from the service industry.

“It’s important because the more representation we have of diverse cultures and peoples does allow for more opportunities to have richer, more complicated stories being told,” Mislán said.

Source: Latinos vastly underrepresented in media, new report finds

Chinese Culture and the Red Line of Morality

Of note:

Last week, members of China’s television, radio, and online entertainment sectors were made to attend a symposium in Beijing with the theme Love the Party, Love the Country, Advocate Morality and Art. They were instructed to abandon vulgarity, hedonism, the worship of money, and “extreme individualism.” These vague injunctions arrive amid China’s heaviest cultural crackdown in years. Film stars like Zhao Wei have been mysteriously memory-holed, their movies completely removed from streaming platforms, their credits erased from film information sites. “Once you touch the red line of law and morality,” warned state mouthpiece the People’s Daily, “you will reach the finish line of the road of performing arts.” If the exact nature of this “red line” remained unclear, another editorial put a finer point on the matter: Chinese films must be more socialist from now on.

American Idol-style TV shows have been banned; next on the list are karaoke songsthat fail to “promote socialist core values.” These moves are part of an attempt to end the “worship [of] Western culture.” True socialism has no time for smut, and so the sale of sex toys has been banned during livestreams hosted on e-commerce websites. One week before the symposium, the Party zeroed in on the specific problem of effeminate male TV celebrities: “Resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics,” broadcasters were told. Days later, building on recent video game restrictions for Chinese children, gaming companies Tencent and NetEase were ordered to cut content that encourages effeminacy.

All this machismo is beginning to attract admiring glances and approving noises from Westerners worried about their own culture’s alleged feminisation, but these lessons in morality are being delivered by the worst conceivable teacher. Lest we forget, this is a regime that packs ethnic minorities into concentration camps where the prettiest women are raped every day, sometimes with electric batons. This is a country where the founder of an orphanage for deprived children is arrested, tortured, and then sent to prison for 22 years. Bangri Rinpoche’s orphanage was declared an “illegal organisation” and the children he had saved were turned onto the street. In Communist China, civil society is always smothered in the crib. The moment we turn to such a regime for lessons on morality is the moment we lose our way completely.

The Party’s stern alternative to all that sex and pop and sissy chaos is “Chinese traditional culture, revolutionary culture, and advanced socialist culture.” Numbers two and three on the list indicate that Beijing understands culture about as well as it understands morality. George Orwell saw the problem clearly back in the pre-war years. As he observed in The Road to Wigan Pier, “Nearly everything describable as socialist literature is dull, tasteless, and bad. … Every writer of consequence and every book worth reading is on the other side. … Socialism has produced no literature worth having.”

This truth is borne out by the miserable state of China’s literary scene. When Anna Sun (assistant professor of sociology and Asian studies at Kenyon College) analysed the work of modern Chinese writers, she found that almost all of them had been infected by socialist language dating back to the Mao era—a clumsy jumble of communist jargon and Mao-ti (Maoist literary form). In fact, it’s not just the artists and intellectuals who speak this language—everyone does, from the diner in a restaurant who casually asks his friend to “Xiaomie [annihilate] the leftovers,” to the young mother who tells her little boy, as he struggles not to wet himself on the bus, “Jianchi! [Be resolute!]”

Originally fashioned to represent the authentic voice of the proletariat, Mao-ti is a language “repetitive, predictable, coarse, and mostly devoid of aesthetic value.” Sun argues that the most celebrated of today’s Chinese novelists actually owe everything to their translators. The language in which they were trained acts as a trap constricting thought, and as a result they can neither think nor write with the precision and truthfulness required of genuinely great novelists. Some have found that the only sure way to spring the trap is to abandon Chinese altogether, and write in English.

Even the Soviet Union had its Bulgakovs and its Pasternaks, of course, and there is no doubt that art sometimes flourishes in an atmosphere of oppression. But right from the very beginning, the CCP took the totalitarian impulse further than its predecessors—far enough that its natural supply of great literary voices was never allowed to develop. This was not the case in pre-revolutionary China. Sun cites with admiration Shen Congwen, Wang Zengqi, Lao She, Bing Xin, Qian Zhongshu, Fu Lei, Eileen Chang. In each of these cases the writer’s education occurred before Mao’s takeover, allowing them to develop a voice before they were exposed to the infection. Chang (widely considered the greatest short story writer of 20th-century China) even participated in re-education sessions once the communists were in charge, but it made no difference. Her writing still had too much complexity, too much depth, too much of her own voice. Incapable of descending to their crude level, she left for Hong Kong.

The incompatibility of classical Chinese with Mao-ti—of beauty with ugliness—shows the hopelessness of the Party’s dream to usher in a new culture that is at once “traditional” and “socialist.” These two cultural strains may have co-existed uneasily for decades in China (along with Western influence), but there can be no happy union of the two. They sit at opposite poles. Any emphasis on one of them will automatically undermine the other. It would be better to simply let go of the reins and allow Chinese culture to develop organically—something which has happened only once before.

While state propaganda paints the relatively open pre-communist period (1912–1949) as a time of chaos, societal weakness, and general regression, historian Frank Dikötter makes a convincing case in The Age of Openness: China Before Mao that those years really bore witness to a veritable golden age. Not only did China make political advancements; she enjoyed greater cultural diversity than at any point before or since. Religious movements long persecuted under the Qing were given their freedom. In the absence of both empire and socialism, Shanghai rose to become the Asian jazz Mecca; its numerous venues frequently played host to top musicians from the United States.

With the liberation of culture came the fast flourishing of individualism. Dikötter notes that “Women of all social backgrounds selected scarves, skirts, blouses, gowns, and corsets from a growing range of sartorial possibilities, using them in combinations which were often strikingly original: the use of the one-piece gown with a scarf and coat is but one example.” By 1934, when discussing new developments in public transport, the British traveller Peter Fleming was able to observe: “The running of a bus service, as compared with the running of a railway, is not only easier but offers more scope for individualism, and is therefore better suited to the Chinese character” [emphasis mine]. So much for the inherently collectivist nature of the Chinese. Just a few short years after the cultural shackles were removed, the natural human tendency towards individual self-expression had already asserted itself.

Then came the communist revolution, and the life was abruptly sucked out of China. Shanghai’s cafés and dance halls closed down; the Race Course at Nanking Road was transformed into a military barracks. Lipstick and makeup disappeared. Soon all of the men had crewcuts and all of the women wore their hair in short bobs. Everyone dressed in the same faded blue or grey cotton. And then in the 1960s, of course, Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution saw the widespread demolition of statues and temples, the smashing of antiques, and the burning of books. Today’s ominous developments do not mean that China is about to experience a second Cultural Revolution, but the promise of an “advanced socialist culture” bodes ill.

At last week’s Beijing symposium, one film director delivered a sycophantic addressin which he said, “It is our creators’ duty to do every work simply and unadornedly, and to pass positive energy silently to the audience.” This sentiment chimes with Stalin’s pithy proverb about writers being the engineers of the soul (a line echoed in recent years by Xi). And yet, the truth is that creators have a duty to their art and nothing else—not to their audience, not to “positive energy,” and least of all to some high-minded state-determined notion of the improvement of the people. Certainly art elevates, but not for reasons that we will ever be able to fathom.

As for the karaoke singalongs and American Idol copycat shows that sit at the other end of the spectrum, we might imagine that Chinese culture will suffer no great loss. But millions of people are about to have perfectly innocent pleasures removed from their lives, and this matters. In the small ways as well as the large, Xi Jinping continues to impose on a vibrant nation his narrow, pinched, joyless vision.

Source: Chinese Culture and the Red Line of Morality

Hollywood reaps the rewards of becoming more diverse

Of note:

HATTIE MCDANIEL was the first black person to win an Oscar, in 1940. She received her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of “Mammy”, a house slave in “Gone With the Wind”. Although critics allege that the film romanticised slavery in the antebellum South, McDaniel thought that her Oscar represented a watershed moment for America. “My own people were especially happy. They felt that in honouring me, Hollywood had honoured the entire race,” she wrote in the Hollywood Reporter in 1947.

Racial minorities have made significant gains in Hollywood in the 80 years since. Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramón of the University of California, Los Angeles, have tracked the diversity of film roles for the top 200 films (ranked by box-office revenues and viewers’ ratings) released in cinemas and on streaming platforms since 2011. They found that 2020 was the most diverse year yet. Actors from racial minorities were cast in 40% of leading roles last year, compared with an average of 27% for 2018-19. Women’s representation in leading roles increased towards parity, too (see centre chart).

Although racial minorities as a whole and women nearly match their shares of the American population in acting roles, they remain under-represented behind the camera. They made up about one-fifth to one-quarter of the directors and writers of the top 200 films last year. And in front of the camera some races are more present than others: Latinos, who make up 19% of America’s population, were cast in 5.7% of all acting roles last year (see right-hand chart).

The report also found that films with the most diverse casts tended to do better at the box office. Among the ten most successful films released in cinemas in 2020, eight had casts of which at least 30% were non-white. By a similar measure, the dozen poorest-performing films last year also had the least diverse casts. Although the covid-19 pandemic disrupted theatrical releases last year a similar pattern emerges among movies released through streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+. Six of the top ten rated films released online had casts that were at least 40% non-white.

Although audiences appear to be favouring a handful of blockbusters with more diversity, the most diverse films tend to have smaller budgets, on average. Nearly three-quarters of films with a minority leading actor had a budget of less than $20m, compared with 58% of films with white leading actors. A similar disparity exists between female- and male-led films. This may be because these films are also more likely to be directed by minorities or women, who are given smaller budgets and, in turn, cast actors who are female or from minority races.

The study also finds that films with the best chance of winning an Oscar in recent years have had the least diverse cast of actors. Since 2016 the social-media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite has brought attention to the lack of diversity among Academy Award nominees. Efforts have since been made to grapple with the problem. At the Academy Awards in April, half of the nominees for leading roles were racial minorities. Daniel Kaluuya, a British actor born to Ugandan parents, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Judas and the Black Messiah”—the first film with an all-black production team to be nominated for Best Picture. Youn Yuh-jung, of South Korea, won Best Supporting Actress, and Chloé Zhao, a film-maker born in China, won Best Director. More change is under way. From 2024 the Academy Awards will screen out films that do not meet strict diversity thresholds. What McDaniel started may at last be bearing fruit.


This group is working behind the scenes to change the stories you see on TV

Of interest and importance:

ICE agents raid a big-box store, racing down the aisles to apprehend an employee. A DACA recipient who’s a doctor frets over her future. And a family separated by deportation struggles to connect on the phone.

These scenes on TV shows aren’t just quick plot twists ripped from the headlines in the age-old tradition of primetime television. They’re part of a deeper effort behind the scenes to shape new immigrant characters and storylines.
And an advocacy group known as Define American is leading the charge.
Their hope: That changing the conversations in Hollywood’s writers’ rooms will pave the way for immigration policy changes in Washington, too.
“This is long-term work,” says Jose Antonio Vargas, Define American’s founder. “This is not like, ‘How do we pass a bill next month?’ This is, ‘How do we create a culture in which we see immigrants as people deserving of dignity?’ These policies don’t make sense if we don’t see immigrants as people.”
Vargas knows the power of TV to shape stories and change minds. After revealing he was an undocumented immigrant in a 2011 New York Times magazine piece, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist became a high-profile advocate and filmmaker whose documentaries appeared on MTV and CNN.
When he first arrived in the United States from the Philippines in the 1990s, Vargas says that he — like many immigrants — got to know his new home by watching TV.
“When we get to this country, our most effective teacher is the television screen. … The way that I talk is because of all the TV and all the popular culture that I consumed,” he says. “For me, the most effective way of becoming American was being exposed to the media.”
Now the organization he founded is flipping that idea on its head.
So far, Vargas says, Define American has consulted on 75 film and TV projects across 22 networks.
The organization says stories it’s shaped have appeared on NBC’s “Superstore,” ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” OWN’s “Queen Sugar” and CW’s “Roswell, New Mexico.” And they hope the list will grow.
Just as “Frasier,” “The Golden Girls” and “Will ​& Grace” helped him learn about American slang and society, Vargas says a new generation of TV shows can be a bridge, too — this time helping Americans better understand immigrants’ stories.

The view from inside the writers’ room

The first time she spoke with writers from “Superstore,” Elizabeth Grizzle Voorhees felt like she had to break some difficult news.
A season into the NBC sitcom, which portrays life for workers inside a big-box store, the writers had taken the plot ​arc of one prominent character in a direction they hadn’t anticipated when the show began: Mateo, who’s gay, fiercely competitive and proud of his Filipino heritage, discovered he was undocumented.
And the show’s writers were trying to sort out what to do next.
“They had a ton of questions,” says Voorhees, a former reality TV showrunner who’s now Define American’s ​chief strategy officer. Their top concern: “How do we get him citizenship?”
That day, she says, Define American’s team explained that the writers’ top question may be impossible to answer for Mateo, just as it is for millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States.
“That it might not be possible to resolve that storyline within a season, within a few episodes, or even within multiple seasons,” Voorhees says.
“I wouldn’t want to tell a story where say, Mateo does find this funny way that totally works and makes him a citizen. And none of that is true. I don’t think it’s good for society that we’re spreading a wrong message,” says Spitzer, now an executive producer of the show.
“I think as a viewer, if I’m watching something and even one time, I see them say something is possible that I know is impossible, that show has largely lost me.”
Instead, he says, Define American’s guidance — along with insights from immigration lawyers and even someone who worked at ICE — helped the writers shape stories rooted in reality.
Define American would bring panels of undocumented immigrants into the writers’ room, he says, sparking ideas for entire episodes with each conversation.
“It became this amazing resource for us. … Organizations like this are great. They can answer questions, but by just sitting around and talking, we can come up with stories we never even dreamed of before,” he says.
One example: an episode in the show’s second season when Mateo, desperate for a solution to his immigration woes, tries to get people in the store to assault him so he can be eligible for a visa for crime victims.
​The sixth season of “Superstore” is set to premiere on NBC later this month. Mateo still isn’t a citizen.

Awareness is growing

Today’s TV landscape is dotted with immigrant storylines.
“The Transplant” on NBC features a Syrian doctor who flees his war-torn country and starts over as a medical resident. Shows streaming on Netflix like “Never Have I Ever” and “Kim’s Convenience” portray immigrant parents with comedy and heart. “One Day at a Time,” scheduled to start airing this month on CBS, features Rita Moreno as the immigrant matriarch of a Cuban-American family. On Cinemax, “Warrior” tells tales of Chinese immigrant life in 19th-century San Francisco.
Popular shows that recently ended their run, like “Orange is the New Black” or “Jane the Virgin,” were lauded for the immigrant storylines they incorporated into their final seasons.
And these days, conversations about race and representation once relegated to obscurity are playing a far more prominent role. Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee recently grilled experts about diversity in Hollywood.
“There is greater awareness than we’ve probably ever seen before. … People are interested in telling diverse stories. They’re interested in telling stories that haven’t been told before that really can hit home,” Voorhees says.
But shows with more nuanced portrayals of immigrants like “Superstore,” “One Day at a Time” or “Warrior” still aren’t the norm, says Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist and author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.”
“We’re not telling good immigrant stories. … There’s groups that we are just not talking about because of our stereotypes of who the undocumented immigrants are,” she says.

How immigrants on TV differ from reality

That’s something Define American’s leaders say they’ve found in their research as well.
In a study released last month with the Norman Lear Center’s ​Media Impact Project at the University of Southern California, researchers found notable gaps between reality and the ways immigrant stories are portrayed in TV shows.
Their analysis of 129 immigrant characters in 59 scripted shows from the 2018-2019 TV season found that half the immigrant characters on TV were Latinx, a figure roughly in line with reality. But they also found that proportionally, Middle Eastern immigrants were over-represented on television, making up around 10% of the immigrant characters on TV while comprising just 4% of the US immigrant population. About 12% of immigrants on TV are Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants, but that group is estimated to make up about 26% of the US immigrant population.
And that season, the study found there were no undocumented Black immigrants on television, even though it’s estimated there are around 600,000 living in the United States.
“The storyline right now, in the last couple years, in the minds of Hollywood — and I think the larger United States — is that undocumented immigrants equals Latinx,” Yuen says. “The reality is there are also Asian and African undocumented migrants who are also vulnerable and need advocacy.”
Correcting imbalances like these, Vargas says, is something Define American tries to do in its work.
“We need different stories,” Vargas says, “so that we can get to a point where the narrative has been created that this is an issue that impacts all races and ethnicities.”
And that, he says, could have an impact far beyond the screen where any show is streaming.

Why the shows we see matter

Do the shows we watch on TV influence what we do in real life?
For Vargas and others at Define American, that’s a key question.
And they say a recent survey they conducted as part of their study revealed promising findings.
“What about people who have no contact with immigrants whatsoever?” Sarah Lowe, Define American’s head of research asked at a recent event presenting the study to writers in Hollywood. “Our findings show that your work can actually make a difference to those people, too.
“Just like the impact that ‘Will & Grace’ had with the LGBT movement, for regular viewers of ‘Superstore,’ Mateo feels like their friend. They feel like they know him, even if they don’t know any other immigrants in their daily life.”
And the study found that the “Superstore” viewers who felt that sense of friendship with Mateo, but had little or no real-life contact with immigrants, were more likely to support an increase in immigrants coming to the U.S.
For Vargas, Define American’s recent analysis of the “Superstore” character’s impact sends an important message.
“The images we see in media are often immigrants crying, immigrants sad, immigrants tragic, as if we have this veil of tragedy all around us, when in reality, the study showed, when you actually present an immigrant in a three-dimensional way as a person, people are moved to action, to tell another friend, to post something on social media,” he says.
And that’s a big reason Define American will keep pushing behind the scenes.

Source: This group is working behind the scenes to change the stories you see on TV

Multicultural Film Fund AUM Group Is Here to Empower Creatives of Color and Save Hollywood From Itself

Of note:

For creators of color, one of the biggest challenges is securing the funding needed to bring our dreams to life. That’s why producer Nina Yang Bongiovi (Fruitvale Station, Dope, Sorry to Bother You) has assembled a super team of film and tech heavyweights to launch the multicultural film fund AUM Group.

Comprised of Bongiovi, Gold House Chairman Bing Che, Twitch Co-Founder Kevin Lin, XRM Media’s Michael Y. Chow, MNM Creative’s Michael K. Shen, and Silicon Valley vets Jason A. Lin and Maggie Hsu, AUM Group will develop and acquire creative IP, finance multicultural motion pictures, and invest in the next generation of storytellers.

“Forest Whitaker and I have been backed by my Asian-American partners in leading the financing on every Significant Productions’ project since Fruitvale Station through Sorry to Bother You when no one else in the marketplace was willing to take the initial risk,” Bongiovi told The Root. “Partnering with an all-star team of business leaders in AUM Group is the next natural evolution in continuing to shift culture, amplify important dialogue, and elevate commercial opportunities.”

AUM Group led the financing of the upcoming suspense-thriller Passing, which stars fan-favorite Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga and Andre Holland and navigates the complicated intersection of race, class and culture. It’s an adaptation based on the Nella Larsen novel published during the Harlem Renaissance.

For an industry in dire need of more people of color in positions of power in order to exert more control over the content being created, AUM Group is a welcome breath of fresh air. Just last month I wrote about UCLA’s latest Hollywood Diversity Report and…its findings were a bit concerning, to say the least.

But with its producer-led approach and Bongivoi’s track record of launching the careers of several noteworthy filmmakers, AUM Group could create a much-needed paradigm shift in entertainment.

Creatives, get your pitches ready.

Source: Multicultural Film Fund AUM Group Is Here to Empower Creatives of Color and Save Hollywood From Itself

And a related article:

With Asian and Asian American actors and filmmakers gaining prominence in Hollywood — the latest example: Parasite and The Farewell winning top honors at the Oscars and Spirit Awards — their counterparts in the executive suites are stepping up as well.

Nina Yang Bongiovi, who runs Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions, revealed Feb. 24 that she has teamed with a coalition of film and tech veterans including Bing Chen, chairman of the Asian American nonprofit Gold House, and Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin to launch the film fund AUM Group. Although founded by Asian Americans, the fund will back an array of multicultural film projects, starting with Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, Passing. Now shooting, the drama is an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel about the evolving relationship between light-skinned black women (played by Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga).

AUM Group’s announcement came four days after Mary Lee, most recently head of film at Justin Lin’s Perfect Storm Entertainment, unveiled her own banner, A-Major Media, which will focus on producing Asian American film and TV content. The company is backed by a non-exclusive majority investment from The Hollywood Reporter parent Valence Media, meaning that Lee is free to shop her projects to various production partners. Financial terms for A-Major and AUM Group were not disclosed.

Yang Bongiovi will continue to run Significant (Sorry to Bother You, Dope, Fruitvale Station), whose future projects will be supported by AUM Group, as could films from other companies — such as A-Major’s. “I’m excited about the fact that Mary could have support from AUM Group,” Yang Bongiovi tells THR. “We’re here to complement each other on our growth and presence in the business.”

A-Major already has a handful of projects on its slate, including an untitled film set up at New Line produced by John Cho and a TV series produced by Gemma Chan and Franklin Leonard. The company also is developing an adaptation of the 2015 YA novel I Believe in a Thing Called Love, about a teenage girl using K-drama techniques to woo her crush; an autobiographical film from Fresh Off the Boat co-executive producer Kourtney Kang about her high school experiences; and We Stan, a comedy about K-pop fans and friends from Atypical scribe Lauren Moon.

Yang Bongiovi and Lee cited 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians as a watershed moment that sparked faith to start their ventures. There have been Asian American studio toppers (including current DC Films chief Walter Hamada) and artists with their own shingles (Daniel Dae Kim’s 3AD), but few producer-driven companies like Dan Lin’s Rideback. That’s changing, Lee says: “[The presence of Asian Americans] has been good on the talent side, but it’s very important to be on the executive side as well. There have to be people in positions of power to champion these stories.”

Source: Asian American Producers Gain New Backing In Hollywood


How afrofuturism gives Black people the confidence to survive doubt and anti-Blackness

New term to me. Not sure whether fantasy or escapism is more effective than real people and role models although greater diversity in all forms of entertainment and culture important:

In 2018, Black people globally got a signal of hope when director Ryan Coogler and Marvel Studios released the critically acclaimed movie, Black Panther. While few knew of the Black Panther as a superhero despite the comic being released in the 1960s, millions now know of him because of the film’s overwhelming success.

Its success can be due, in part, because of what it tells us about Black people’s futures. Many Black people — seeking belonging and better outcomes for their lives — have turned to afrofuturism as the source of optimism. According to afrofuturist expert and author Ytasha Womack, afrofuturism refers to “an intersection of imagination, technology, the future and liberation … Afrofuturists redefine culture and notions of Blackness for today and the future by combining elements of science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, afrocentricity and magic realism with non-western beliefs.”

Black Panther had Black people chanting “Wakanda Forever,” while many imagined that they too could put on the Black Panther suit to gain a sense of belonging. Black people, including Canadians, believed that Wakanda, the utopian city where the Black Panther resides, is a real place. For Black Canadians, Wakanda offers a place that exists outside the harsh reality of an anti-Black white settler narrative that is anti-Black.

Black legal scholar Lolita Buckner Inniss says anti-Black racism is deeply enmeshed in the Canadian social fabric. Anti-Black racism cuts deep enough so that many, if not all, Black Canadians feel there is no hope for a better future.

Afrofuturism in cinema is but one source. Writer Nnedi Okorafor’s 2015 science fiction novella, Binti, features a Black woman protagonist named Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka. Binti is an intelligent woman leader of the Himba tribe whose genius gets her into to the prestigious Oomza University, which floats about the galaxy. Binti is the first member of the Himba ethnic people to attend the school. Her decision to attend is met with ridicule, laughter and threats to her life due to the fear and insecurities of her people.

Her people have never been allowed to imagine futures beyond their traditional way of life and identification with the land. Binti states:

We Himba don’t travel. We stay put. Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish. We even cover our bodies with it. Otjize is red land. Here in the launch port, most were Khoush and a few other non-Himba. Here, I was an outsider; I was outside.

She echoes the social challenges that Black people face when embarking upon new ways of living after leaving traditional family and cultural contexts. Often, their families and cultures pressure them to remain entrenched within the known confines of family, culture and community, rather than explore the new and unknown.

One of us, Anthony, was the first member of his immediate family to attend post-secondary education and graduate school. He wanted to apply to graduate school but had to fight internalized feelings of low self-worth that insisted he did not belong in academia. Indeed, a lack of self-confidence influenced the choice to avoid applying to programs that required a high grade-point average with a full scholarship because he did not believe he would be accepted.

Blazing a trail to a Black future

In her village, Binti had been one of the few who used knowledge to create peace in her tribe, so she had to overcome pressure to remain in the village in order to embrace new learning. On a spaceship, travelling from her village to the Oomza University, Binti as the only Himba at the university encounters another obstacle: the false assumption that people from her land are evil, dirty and primitive.

In one moment, one of the Khoush (a different lighter-skinned tribe) students touches Binti’s braids out of curiosity and without consent. Her hair is mixed with sweet smelling red clay and perfume called Otijze, which is connected to her cultural heritage. One of the Khoush students responds that it has a horrible smell, suggesting a passive discriminatory logic of sanitation.

One can observe strong echoes of the attitudes of privileged whites towards high-priority Black neighbourhoods whose inhabitants are stereotyped as criminal, irrational, impoverished and unintelligent. The book suggests that there is no such thing as neutral space and that structural inequities and racial inequalities make space and place difficult to navigate, especially in elitist environments.

But Binti is gripped by the challenge of the new. Her journey of self-discovery begins when she decides to leave village life, defying her ancestors’ dedication to their land and cultural identity. Binti explains that tribal knowledge was handed down orally as her father had taught her 300 years of oral lessons “about astrolabes including how they worked, the art of them, the true negotiation of them, the lineage … circuits, wire, metals, oils, heat, electricity, math current and sand bar.” Her mother had also transmitted mathematical insights and gifts, but never in formal educational settings. Family unity and protection were paramount.

Binti symbolizes the trailblazer who encounters politics, racism, stereotypes, ignorance, systemic inequalities, gender inequities, classism and so on. Additionally, she faces the strong pull of past traditions since she is the first member of her family and tribe to attend a formal educational institute.

Afrofuturism offers a way for Black people to envision their futures, as Missy Elliot’s futuristic music videos exemplify.

Some Black individuals living such stories will inevitably encounter feelings of isolation, lack of belonging and self-doubt. Their internal battles will pit self-trust and the drive towards the new against the safety and security of the past. They will have to develop a secure sense of self and an understanding that it does not matter how far they travel among the galaxies because everyone has unique gifts they can contribute to the universe.

Against the pull of anxieties and insecurities, Anthony graduated with a master’s degree and a PhD; he currently has a post-doctoral fellowship — yet is in another galaxy of his own among the stars.

Afro-Caribbean Black people living in white settler, colonized nations such as Canada face discrimination and negative stereotypes. Afrofuturism can enable Black communities to reimagine new possibilities, especially when the future trajectory for Black Canadians is at times uncertain.

Source: How afrofuturism gives Black people the confidence to survive doubt and anti-Blackness

How John Legend’s Get Lifted Became a Major Production House for Multicultural Storytelling

Given the overall lack of diversity in the industry as exemplified in the various awards, worth noting:

In the eight years since Get Lifted Film Co.’s start, the partnership launched by John Legend, Mike Jackson and Ty Stiklorius has grown to become an industry player. Launched in 2012, Get Lifted has delivered one thunderclap after another, from WGN America’s record-setting sensation “Underground,” to the Oscar winning “La La Land,” for which the company served as executive producer. On the stage, Get Lifted produced a 2017 Broadway production of August Wilson’s “Jitney,” for which its founders won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.

The trio has built a successful and influential independent production house without much fanfare, and have largely avoided any vanity press. They have more recently started to discuss the company, and all three founders sat with IndieWire last month for a lengthy and candid conversation about the origins of the company and its vision for the future.

“Hollywood has changed over the years, for women and people of color, because it was hard when we started,” Jackson said. “’12 Years a Slave’ hadn’t won an Oscar. And so we would pitch projects like a black historic biopic for example, and executives would scoff. So it’s been revealing to have been there before, and then to now see so much more openness and interest in the kind of stories we wanted to tell, but couldn’t.”

For many, Get Lifted is principally known as Legend’s company, but the company’s aspirations go far beyond his own musical and acting ambitions. (Its catchphrase: “Smart, Elevated, Commercial.”) The company’s most groundbreaking project to date is “Underground.” A critical success that also broke viewership records for WGN America in its first season in 2016, the series was a bold, refreshing take on the slave narrative, unfolding more like a fast-paced action-drama, than anything TV audiences had seen before it. And it caught on quickly: Slave narratives weren’t quite the same again after that, with last year’s Harriet Tubman biopic, “Harriet,” taking a similar approach.

“That really represented who we are and the types of chance-taking stories we wanted to be at the forefront of,” said Jackson. The project was a real breakthrough for the company. “It was something that came to us already pretty much baked, but we ensured that our DNA was in the show.”

They also tout the critical success of their new sketch series “Sherman’s Showcase,” which premiered on IFC last fall to raves. Created by Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle, the series is hosted by Sherman McDaniel (Salahuddin) as he takes viewers through time via music and comedy drawn from the 40-year library of a legendary (but fictitious) musical variety show.

“It’s very smart, probably the best-reviewed thing I’ve ever been part of in my life,” said Legend. “There’s been this assumption that there isn’t an audience for intelligent black content, but we’re proving that it’s obviously not true.” The series will return with a one-hour “Black History Month Spectacular,” this summer, not in February.

Get Lifted’s latest offering, the Netflix hip-hop competition series “Rhythm + Flow,” was released in October 2019, also to raves.  In the series, which the company developed internally, hip hop artists Cardi B, Chance The Rapper, and Tip “T.I.” Harris critique and judge unsigned rappers, who are competing to win a $250,000 prize.

As usual, Netflix hasn’t released viewership data on the series, but its contestants have become stars virtually overnight, with the winner, a 34-year-old rapper named D Smoke, seeing his Instagram follower count skyrocket from around 7,000 to over 1.3 million in a matter weeks.

“Rhythm + Flow” is the first original music competition program for Netflix, which was the most sensible home for it, Legend said. “It was hard to try to make it at a regular network because of the language,” he said. “And there’s so many things that would sand off the edge of the show if it were sanitized, and hip hop needs edge. And we’re so happy to partner with Netflix because they allowed us to do exactly what we wanted to do.”

It’s a long way from when they first launched Get Lifted, and had to prove themselves. Some didn’t take them seriously: Legend’s celebrity was seen as a handicap, and they were treated like a vanity company. However, the founders that only made them more inclined to take risks.

“We had almost nothing to lose at that point,” Stiklorius said. “And so, looking back on those years when a lot of people were saying things like, ‘You’ll never make it in this town,’ it’s great that we’ve built a strong reputation for having great taste and great work ethic.”

As the company has grown, they haven’t lost that nerve — whether it’s with a wholly original program like an IFC sketch variety show that’s unlike anything before it, or NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” which Legend starred in.

A lot of people balked at that last one. “The three of us talked and decided, John being the black Jesus? We’ve got to do this,” Stiklorius said. “We exec produced it, and then we won the Emmy for it. But everything about how we live our lives, and what we’ve done to get to this point, is about going against the norm, doing the work and believing in ourselves.”

The three founders have been friends for many years. Stiklorius and Jackson grew up together in Philadelphia. Legend met Stiklorius in college, at the University of Pennsylvania, in the mid-1990s, where they sang in an a capella group. She would eventually introduce Legend to Jackson, who became the singer’s first manager, after graduating from Penn in 1999.

Legend’s music career took off when his debut studio album, “Get Lifted,” was released in 2004 by Columbia Records. Music eventually brought him into the world of film and television, and he never looked back, becoming increasingly more influential as his celebrity grew. Get Lifted Film Co. was born not long after that. They sold over two dozen shows almost immediately, but quickly realized that getting those projects on the air was a whole separate challenge.

“We would pitch and they would buy it in the room, and we were thinking, ‘This is easy’,” Stiklorius said. “The frustrating part was getting all the way to the finish line with any project. But we knew that we had really great ideas, because they were at least buying into them.”

Get Lifted landed its first overall deal from Universal about nine months after it launched, which kept the company afloat as its ambitions grew. It took another three to four years before its first TV show actually made it to series — “Underground,” in 2016 — and it was a big year for the company, which had a hit TV series and two feature film releases: the young Obama romance, “Southside with You,” and “La La Land.” Following its Sundance premiere, “Southside With You” was praised by critics, and was a mild box office hit; and “La La Land” received a record-tying 14 nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, winning in six categories.

More deals would come, including a multi-year overall production pact signed in early 2017 with independent studio Critical Content to create unscripted television and digital media content. A few months later, the company inked a first-look deal with Sony Pictures Television, and in 2019, signed a three-year overall deal with ABC Studios after a multiple-studio bidding war.

Now, Get Lifted is benefited from changes to the industry climate, from the rise of streamers to increased pressure to diversify. The founders said they have more outlets for their projects, but like anyone else, faced more competition than ever before. One advantage: Legend’s starpower and social media reach, which includes over 13 million followers on Twitter, and close to 12 million on Instagram.

The company has a lot in the pipeline, but the project they expressed particular enthusiasm for upcoming Netflix musical “Jingle Jangle,” written and directed by David E. Talbert. Get Lifted’s biggest and most expensive project to date, it stars Forest Whitaker and Madalen Mills in the story of a toymaker and his granddaughter who construct a magical invention which, if they can get it to work in time for the holidays, could change their lives forever. Jackson called it “black ‘Willy Wonka.’”

Talbert had been trying to get off the ground for nearly two decades when Netflix bought the pitch in 2017, and Get Lifted came onboard as producers the following year. “It’s amazing to be part of something that’s really this huge, with this budget, for original content by a black writer and director, with an all black cast, and black producers,” said Legend. (Netflix is targeting a fall release.)

So what does Get Lifted envision for the future? “World domination,” Jackson joked, but noted the company has developed an international footprint with unscripted shows like “Rhythm + Flow.” The team is are also having broader conversations about how to expand the brand, and the potential of owning their own distribution channels so they can operate on multiple platforms.

“We’re pretty ambitious and have smartly taken our time and built our business slowly and systematically,” Legend said. “Now we’re at that point where we can expand it globally, and really make a dent, without ever losing our identity and without compromise.”

Source: How John Legend’s Get Lifted Became a Major Production House for Multicultural Storytelling

Joaquin Phoenix Slammed BAFTAs For Lack Of Diversity During His Acceptance And Left The Award On The Stage

As the Golden Globes and the Oscars:

The Super Bowl isn’t the only big thing going on in the world on Sunday. The 2020 British Academy Film and Television Awards wrapped up a few hours ago and Joaquin Phoenix easily stole the show during his speech for winning the BAFTA Leading Actor prize.

After accepting the award, Phoenix expressed his appreciation for the recognition, but called out the show for not having any actor of color receiving a nomination.

“I have to say that I also feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege,” he began. “I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here. I think that’s the message that we’re sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry and in ways that we benefit from.”

He continued, “I don’t think anybody wants a hand out or preferential treatment, although that’s what we give ourselves every year. I think people just want to be appreciated and respected for their work. This is not a self-righteous condemnation, because I’m ashamed that I’m part of the problem. I’ve not done everything in my power to ensure that the sets I work on are inclusive.”

Phoenix then opened his focus from racism in the film industry to systemic racism in all facets of life.

“It’s more than having sets that are multicultural, I think that we have to really do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism,” he explained. “I think that it is the obligation of the people that have created and perpetuate and benefit from a system of oppression to be the ones that dismantle it, so that’s on us.”

The BAFTAs were criticized for their lack of representation when the nominees were announced in early January. BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry called the nominations “hugely disappointing.”

“It’s clear there is much more to be done and we plan to double down on our efforts to affect real change and to continue to support,” she said, “And encourage the industry on the urgency of doing so much more.”

Source: Joaquin Phoenix Slammed BAFTAs For Lack Of Diversity During His Acceptance And Left The Award On The Stage