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#OscarSoWhite Forces Close Look at Diversification Efforts

Idris ElbaSo the #OscarSoWhite hashtag is back for the second year in a row, with no African American, Asian or Latino actors up for acting honors, and “Revenant” director Gonzalez Inarritu the only non-Caucasian nominee in the major behind-the-cameras categories.

Oscar-worthy films and performances by non-white talents were snubbed — Idris Elba (above) for “Beasts of No Nation,” to name one. And there were particularly nasty stings, such as Sylvester Stallone getting a nomination for “Creed” — while the young black director who made the film work, Ryan Coogler, was ignored, as was lead actor Michael B. Jordan.

And yet … the Academy Awards show has diversity aplenty, with Chris Rock back as host, Reginald Hudlin as one of its producers, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences led by an African American woman, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, its president.

Boone Isaacs has been working hard to diversify the Academy membership since being installed in her job in 2013. She put an end to the membership cap that had effectively kept the Academy old, white and male. She launched mentorship programs, and last year started an initiative called A2020 that included a five-year plan to focus on industry hiring practices.

It’s a shame none of this effort is showing up where it counts most: on the world stage with Oscar nominations.

You have to know that the nominations announcements stung. Boone Isaacs admitted to Deadline’s Pete Hammond that she is disappointed — although she was quick to acknowledge the quality of the films that did get nominated.

She also pointed out, “We have got to speed it up” when it comes to diversifying the Academy. Yup. Oscar voters as of 2013 were 94 percent white, 76 percent male — with an average age of 63. Since then, the Academy has reached out and invited 593 industry members to join in an effort to diversify its membership. Even if each and every invitee accepted and each one was a minority or female, the impact would be comparatively small within the 5,783 body.

Academy Members, it appears, want it both ways. They’d like to appear forward-thinking and desirous of diversity, so they elected a black woman president. But that spirit is obviously lacking when it comes to the nitty gritty of casting votes or making changes that go beneath the surface.

While it’s easy to point fingers at the Academy, the problem goes deeper. For all its professed liberalism, the film industry itself remains an old boys’ club — as study after study shows. White men directed 82.4 percent of the 347 feature films released in 2013 and 2014, according to one released by the Directors Guild of America. Non-white men directed 11.2 percent, white women directed 5.1 percent and non-white women directed 1.3 percent.

The DGA has also made moves to diversify under the leadership of its president, Paris Barclay, who is also African American.

How much difference has it made? How much difference have Academy efforts made? In the last two Oscar years, change appears to have stopped.

So the Academy parallels the mainstream film industry — while both become ever-more out of step with the culture around them.

Things are Getting Even More ‘Shameless’ for Steve Howey

howeyWith Season 6 of “Shameless” just launched, the wild Showtime show’s Steve Howey predicts that “fans are going to love it or hate it — which I think is great. There’s something about art — you either love it or hate it. When something is mediocre, People say, ‘Yeah, that’s fine,’” he says with a shrug.

Things are definitely not middle of the road when it comes to the storyline heating up between Steve’s bartender character, Kev, Kev’s wife Veronica (Shanola Hampton), and their Russian prostitute neighbor, Svetlana (Isadora Goresher).  (Brace yourselves for the Jan. 24 episode.) “We’ve been having a lot of fun with it. Isadora is a great actress,” notes Howey.

As for himself, “I really like this season.  I think it’s some of my best work. The stuff I have to play in the Alibi Room I really enjoy. We have this threesome going with my wife and Svetlana — she moves in and then we have to trick the immigration services guy.  We all start dating each other and you think that’s going to be great, but…” complications ensue.

There were complaints over last season’s “Shameless,” that the show, about an impoverished and criminally inclined South Side Chicago family led by William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum, had gotten darker and less funny, and lost its heart.

Howey is quick to say “I think the writers this year have done a really good job of getting back to the core, the roots of what makes ‘Shameless’ what it was. It was less character driven and more story driven. The humor is a lot more this year.”

Still, “We have huge fan bases for different characters, and fans of specific characters aren’t going to like to see what happens — like Mickey (Noel Fisher), who is only in the first episode.”

As for the future of “Shameless”?

“I think we have one more year for sure,” Howey says. “Beyond that we get into other actors’ contracts and contract negotiations, I don’t know what Warner Brothers [which produces the show] and Showtime want to do. I have a feeling there are some actors who want it to go longer and others who just want to be done, but I would love for it to go on. It is so much fun you have no idea.

“Being an actor now, doing television for 14 years, this is like lightning in a bottle. The writing is so good, it’s really next level. And these are amazing actors to work with. There are times we annoy the @#!$ out of each other just like any family does, but with the dynamics put into place by John Wells, no one is in direct competition with each other. We’re just working toward a common goal and it’s really sweet.”

Right now, Steve and wife Sarah Shahi are focused on enjoying time together as a family unit with their six-year-old son and 10 month old twins. For six months last year, while he was busy shooting “Shameless” in Los Angeles and Chicago, his wife was in New York filming “Person of Interest,” he reports.

“She had the babies with her and I had our oldest son with me. So now that we’re all in the same city, we’re just kind of laying low. We were not happy to be separated that long. It was really sad.”

The one-time “Reba” costar was also up in San Francisco to make the forthcoming indie comedy “Unleashed” in which Kate Micucci plays an app designer whose pet dog and cat are transformed into men who want to date her. Howey’s the dog and fellow “Shameless” actor Justin Chatwin is the kitty.

Steve recalls, “I was l talking to one of my friends and I said, ‘I’m shooting a movie. I bleached my hair, I’m wearing a dog collar, and I’m running around naked.’ And he goes, ‘Are you really shooting a movie or are you living out a fantasy up there?’”

A line worthy of “Shameless,” for sure.

Geena Davis Strives to Gain Ground for Femme Filmmakers in a Positive Way

geenaIt’s a hectic week for Geena Davis, who heads to New York in a couple of days to start filming “Marjorie Prime” with Jon Hamm. Before that, the Oscar-winning feminist actress is doing her utmost to bring attention to the Friday opening of “In My Father’s House.” This is the first winner out of Davis’ Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) to hit theaters — some 20 AMC movie houses across the land — accompanied by a symposium tour with filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg.

“It’s a great, fascinating story,” she says of the saga of hip-hop artist and songwriter Che “Rhymefest” Smith, who purchased his childhood home on Chicago’s South Side with the idea of raising his new family in the same house where he grew up — and soon found out that his estranged father was a homeless alcoholic living only blocks away.
Davis launched BFF to bring attention to films made by women and minorities, with a key proviso being that the top three winners would be guaranteed distribution. But BFF has done much better than that. She is thrilled to let us know that 87 percent of the films shown at the fest in May have been picked up by distributors.
This is the latest push in a long drive for Davis, who’s identified with such strong female roles as Dottie Hinson of “A League of their Own,” Thelma Dickinson of “Thelma & Louise” and the title character on TV’s “Commander in Chief.” She started her Institute on Gender in Media nearly a decade ago now, the impetus being her observation of a vast discrepancy in the number of male and female characters in the children’s programming her daughter was seeing.
“It made no sense to me that in the 21st century they not show kids equally,” Davis says.

“People kept telling me they were sure the problem was fixed” — but that was hardly the case.
In fact, research eventually showed that there had been virtually no change in the percentages of male-to-female characters in children’s media since 1946. A study supported by the Institute, led by Stacy L. Smith, PhD, at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism,

referenced 275 prime time programs in the Spring of 2012 and found that only 38.9 per cent of the characters seen were female — which was better than the female representation found in samplings of family films (28.3 per cent) and children’s shows (30.8) in the same study.
Davis says, “Right from the beginning my philosophy has been: ‘My approach is going to be positive. It’s not going to be public. It’s not going to be shaming. Quietly, in my friendly way, I will talk to my colleagues in the industry. I will talk behind the scenes to leaders and decision-makers, directly.’ It seemed more efficient that way,” adds Davis, who knows anyone who is anyone in film and TV.
Response has been good. Disney, for example, has asked her to come and talk to different divisions in the company on multiple occasions. “They’re very interested in making the change, so we’ll see.”
Speaking of the representation of females and males seen not only in children’s programming, but across media, she says, “I feel very confident that within a few years, for the first time, there will be parity. When the needle finally moves, it’s going to be historic. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be equal.”
The outlook for women filmmakers is a whole other matter. “The problem of female directors is just awful, it’s terrible. Awareness has not helped in that regard. Every year statistics come out that show it.” When Kathryn Bigelow became the first female to win a Best Director Oscar in 2012, “people said, ‘Now it will change.’ I said, ‘I certainly hope so, but I’m not sure. We’ll see. We’ll keep trying.'”
Meanwhile, there’s “Marjorie Prime,” which she’ll begin shooting Sunday. The sci-fi dramedy, based on the 2014 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play by Jordan Harrison, has Lois Smith as an octogenarian who, thanks to the wonders of technology, has a hologram of her late husband as he was in his 30s and 40s in her house. Hamm plays the hologram and Davis is Smith’s understandably anxious daughter.
“It’s an interesting premise without being too cute or too sci-fi,” she says. Will she be doing some green screen work? “You know, I think there will be no special effects,” answers Davis. “I’m almost sure there will be no special effects, which is exciting to me.”
What’s also exciting about the film? Its gender-balanced cast.