Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

REPORT: No Growth In Film Jobs For Women

Nothing that we all don't already know, but it's always good to see the hard numbers. Would be good to see a similar report on blacks in the biz.

Posted yesterday, Friday, On Reuters...

No growth in film jobs for women: Report

Women working in the entertainment industry have yet to break through the "celluloid ceiling," making up just 15 percent of those in powerful behind-the-scenes roles, according to a study released Thursday by San Diego State University.

The annual study by Martha Lauzen, of the university's School of Theatre, Television and Film, surveyed the top 250 domestic-grossing films in 2007 and found no growth in the number of women employed in the positions of director, producer, writer, cinematographer and editor.

Lauzen also concluded that there was a 4 percent decrease in the role of women in Hollywood since 2001.

"Unfortunately, 21 percent of the films released in 2007 employed no women directors, producers, writers, cinematographers or editors," Lauzen said. "Of course, no films failed to employ a man in at least one of these roles."

In a breakdown, women accounted for 6 percent of directors, which is almost half of the women directors that worked in 2000 (11 percent). Lauzen also concluded that women accounted for 10 percent of writers, 22 percent of producers, 17 percent of editors and 2 percent of cinematographers in 2007.

The study analyzed behind-the-scenes employment of 2,883 people working on the top 250 domestic-grossing films last year, which included "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third" and "Transformers."

Lauzen also did a historical comparison of those top films from 2007 and 1998, finding that the percentage of women in every role had declined.

The study also concluded that women were most likely to work on romantic comedies, romantic dramas and documentaries and least likely to work in horror, action-adventure or sci-fi features.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

Things That Made Me Go Hmm #2 - Dear Black Filmmakers...

Ya know... I can't help but be a little frustrated when I read stories like this. Yes, I fully realize that I have absolutely no authority to tell others what career decisions/choices they should make. But, I would be kidding myself and you all as well, if I say that I wasn't even slightly annoyed when I read this.

My beef? Well, here's the deal.... With so few roles available for black performers in this business, and thus a diminutive number of films with blacks in starring performances, supporting, or even in thankless roles, or as extras, I would expect (or maybe hope) that any black filmmaker, especially those who are lucky enough to be in positions to attract the financial and human resources necessary to produce films, to almost always want to make films that showcase the varied lives of black people... at least initially.

As a black filmmaker, I absolutely cannot fathom sitting at my computer, writing a story that has no prominent black characters in it. In fact, I can't imagine writing anything that didn't have a majority black cast, much like the films that Hollywood produces and distributes today that almost always tell stories about whites, with a few "colorful" faces sprinkled in every now and then.

I want to tell stories about people who look like me, not only because they look like me, but also because people who look like me are invisible in cinema. We've been invisible since the invention of celluloid. I want to make films about us, and frankly, only us... at least until the scales of power and influence are closer to equilibrium. Does that mean that I would never make a film that tells the story of a non-black person, or non-black people? Of course I would! But not until after I've already made a few about "us," or, at least, the majority of films I intend to make will be about "us." And if I was in a position to routinely attract financing for my efforts, given the current cinematic climate in this country, in which people of color are mostly invisible, I would be even more vehement about my specific agenda.

There are enough films about "them" for God's sake! Whenever there's an opportunity to make one about "us," and that opportunity is squandered, I get incredibly frustrated, especially when "we" are involved.

I read the following story a couple of days ago on, which is what prompted the above diatribe.

"Lightning Entertainment has acquired the international sales rights to Jada Pinkett Smith's directorial debut, "The Human Contract." The Santa Monica-based company will debut footage of the pic at Berlin's European Film Market in February. "Contract," which stars Jason Clarke and Paz Vega, tells the story of a relationship between a repressed advertising exec and a reckless woman. A successful corporate type harboring a deep, dark secret befriends a free-spirited stranger who encourages him to ditch his stuffy lifestyle and live life in reckless abandon. Jada Pinkett Smith and Ted Danson have supporting roles in the pic, which is now in post production."

Jada also wrote the script, by the way.

The first thing I thought was, this would have been even more thrilling news to me if the stars of the film were black! Jason Clarke is Caucasian; Paz Vega is Spanish (not Latino; not Hispanic; she's from Spain, and could "pass," as they used to say during the days of Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne). The film does feature Jada and Idris Alba in supporting roles... but they are just that - supporting roles. Why couldn't Jada have instead had herself and Idris in the starring roles, with Jason Clarke and Paz Vega in the supporting roles? It doesn't seem like there's anything about the story that makes race relevant for any of the roles... but I suppose I'll learn more as more is revealed about the film.

As I started off saying, I can't help but be a little frustrated when I read stories like this. And, yes, I fully realize that I have absolutely no authority to tell others what career decisions/choices they should make. It's still frustrating. This isn't a "slam" against Jada Pinkett, or anyone else who has taken a similar path. Rather, it's a plea, you could say, to remember "us" more often. Don't forget about the rest of "us." We've seen more than enough about "them," and we'll continue to see plenty about "them," from this moment on, and we've been incredibly influenced by what we have seen and continue to see of "them."

So, to the likes of Jada Pinkett and others, you are in the fortunate position to attract the financial and human resources needed to produce films today. Use that power and influence you possess to ensure that there are more complex stories and images of "us" on screen. When you have an opportunity to produce work, an opportunity that escapes most of us, I implore you to use those opportunities to fill the screen as much as possible with rich, robust portrayals of people who look like you and I, because we are truly invisible, and are in desperate need of some light, and I certainly hope that you all do realize that!

Regardless, kudos to Jada Pinkett on her writing/directorial debut, and I look forward to seeing more of her work behind the camera.

It's About Freaking Time! Ruby Dee Noms and Wins

I was shocked to learn that Ruby Dee's SAG and Oscar nominations this year are both firsts for her! It's really surprising to me that a phenomenal acting talent like Ruby Dee, in her 60+ years as a working actress, has NEVER been nominated for a SAG or Academy Award - until this year. Un-freaking-believable! And I'm talking strictly about nominations here, not necessarily wins.

I haven't see American Gangster (the film for which her performance is nominated in both categories), but I'm now inclined to do so, thanks in large part to her nominations. But I can't help but wonder if these nominations are more about the fact that both organizations (SAG and Academy) have ignored her performances for decades, and these nominations are likely more akin to lifetime achievement awards, than they are for her performance in American Gangster. The politics of show-business humor me. Regardless, a thunderous applause for both nominations for Ruby Dee!

Her late husband, the great Ossie Davis, was never nominated for an Oscar, but he was given a lifetime achievement award by SAG, in 2001.

By the way, Ruby Dee did win the SAG for best supporting actress, for her performance in American Gangster. I didn't watch the ceremony on television, but I heard that her acceptance speech and presence were immaculate. So I've been mining the web for a video clip of the moment. The only one I found follows below, on YouTube; but the video and sound quality aren't very good, as you will see...

Ruby Dee will be 84 years old this year, by the way!!

"Crash" And Maybe Burn On TV!

Hmmm... with the original writer/director of the film involved (Paul Haggis), I'm not terribly excited about this. I despised the movie and was dumbfounded when it won the Oscar for best picture in 2005. But I'll hold judgment until I've seen a few episodes. I'm hoping that it's not replica of the film, and more of a realistic, gritty exposé/deconstruction of race relations in America, borrowing from shows like The Wire. Don Cheadle is said to be assuming producing duties and will also star in the TV version.

From E-Online:

Two years ago, Crash won the Best Picture Oscar in a major upset. Now the film is headed for a small-screen collision.

Paul Haggis, who cowrote and made his directorial debut on the tale of racial tension in Los Angeles, has agreed to executive produce a 13-episode TV series based on Crash to premiere on Starz in August.

Several of the movie's brain trust is on board, including cowriter-coproducer Bobby Moresco, producers Bob Yari, Mark Harris and Tom Nunan and producer-actor Don Cheadle, who may also reprise his role for the tube version.

Crash's TV story will pick up where the original ensemble flick left off. But with the possible exception of Cheadle, none of Crash's original stars is expected back. The film's cast included Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Terence Howard, Ryan Phillippe, Thandie Newton, Ludacris and Matt Dillon, who earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role as a racist cop.

Instead, the show is poised to introduce all new characters and engage in more than race and class issues in the hour-long segments.

"This series will present an opportunity to delve into many subjects, not just race relations in L.A.," said Cheadle. "I don't think you can do 13 episodes on that subject and keep people interested. The challenge will be to craft the series characters in such a way as to get beneath the skin that supposedly differentiates them and create entertaining storylines that show the hurdles and obstacles we all struggle to overcome day to day."

Tyler Perry Wants Us To "Meet The Browns," But I'm Not Sure I Want To

Tyler Perry strikes again! Next to Woody Allen, he's probably the most prolific filmmaker working today, pumping out 3 movies in the last 18 months.

His next, Meet The Browns, is scheduled for a March release, this year - a film about a single mother who takes her family to Georgia for the funeral of her father (a man she never met), and while there is introduced to her father's fun-loving, crass family, the Browns. The story is an adaptation of Perry's stage play "Meet the Browns."

It stars Angela Bassett in her first true starring role since 2002's TV production, The Rosa Parks Story, in which she plays the titular character. Tyler Perry (of course) will portray Madea in the film.

From the trailer, it looks just like any previous Tyler Perry effort - which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you ask. I've seen two of his films (Diary of a Mad Black Woman and last year's Why Did I Get Married?, which I reviewed on my podcast several months ago), and I certainly wouldn't call myself a fan of his work, but I also won't knock the guy for his efforts either. He's got a loyal audience, and one could argue that his films have done more for black talent today (notably black actresses) than any other African American member of the Hollywood elite. He keeps them employed, without necessary having to peddle their dignity. Will I see Meet The Browns? Probably not! It's just not my cup of tea.

Here's the trailer:

Will Smith - From Bobby Seale To MILFs

Will Smith will be working with Steven Spielberg for the first time in either of their careers, for a period piece on the trial of the infamous Chicago Seven. Mr Smith will play Black Panther leader, Bobby Seale, who was one of the original eight defendants, indicted by a grand jury, in 1969, for their involvement in violent protests that took place in Chicago, Illinois, during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Early in the trial, Bobby Seale hurled attacks at the Judge, in court, for refusing his requests to postpone the trial, so that his own attorney could represent him. When Seale refused to be silenced, the judge ordered Seale bound and gagged in the courtroom, ultimately severing Seale from the case. He was later sentenced to four years in prison for contempt.

The Chicago Eight then became the Chicago Seven.

If you’ve seen/heard Bobby Seale give one of his many inspiring speeches, you have to wonder if this is something Mr Smith can pull off convincingly. The last time he played a real-life, boisterous, vociferous, A-Type, his performance left me wishing someone else had played the role... but I'm hopeful. With Spielberg at the helm, I expect mostly good things, as he'll be surrounded by a fairly strong cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, and Jeff Daniels.

And along with that bit of good news, I'll share some not-so good news. Will Smith will be flexing his behind-the-camera skills as producer (along with his wife) of an upcoming 2008 television show on the CW network called M.I.L.F. And Cookies! Yes, that's right, M.I.L.F. And Cookies - a 30-minute sitcom about young, sexy single moms living in a luxury apartment community, who "realize that they need each other in order to raise their kids and have social lives." I'm sure we all know what the acronym stands for by now :o)

Also, check out the ongoing discussion on Mr Smith in THIS previous posting below.

Pop Quiz #2 - The Precedent Has Been Set!

Pop quiz hotshots: what do these 3 gentlemen have in common, that could be of some specific interest to a man like Barack Obama?

This is one situation in which Monsieur Obama can certainly hope that life will eventually imitate art :o)

It's Hard Out There For Indies - Dude, Where's My Distribution?

I'm working on a piece on the nature of film distribution, specifically in consideration of black cinema. Below is a very recent article from The Hollywood Reporter that I think makes for a telling companion piece. As you will see in the article, times are indeed tough for independent film distribution overall; and, as I'm sure we all know, when things are difficult for the "majority," they tend to be exponentially worse for those in the "minority."

January 2007

In a congested market, indies struggled to rise above the crowd.

These are sobering times for the independent film industry. Boxoffice revenue for films from indie distributors and specialty divisions dropped 11.9% from $1.32 billion in 2006 to $1.16 billion in 2007, while the number of indies in theaters increased from 501 to 530.

Even more disturbing, only 16 of the films grossed more than $20 million (nearly half of them by a slim margin), down from 20 in 2006.

The biggest story of 2007 might be that 350 indie films -- two-thirds of the list -- failed to reach even $250,000 in ticket sales, an increase from 313 in 2006. All this at a time when overall 2007 domestic boxoffice hit a record high of $9.62 billion, a 5% increase from 2006, according to Nielsen EDI.

"Films with big stars and great directors and reviews once could've been counted on to reach the low-seven figures," ThinkFilm head of U.S. theatrical Mark Urman said. "Today, they're routinely not making their opening advertising budgets."

"In the past, when there was a downturn in the marketplace, people would say 'It's cyclical,' " said IFC Entertainment chairman Jonathan Sehring, who heads the day-and-date First Take program, which offers films as Video On Demand offerings on cable. "But now I don't see it changing. The public is barraged by so many new entertainment options, and there are so many films in theaters, they can't help but cannibalize each other."

Read the rest of it HERE.

WTF? #1 - Africans For Sale! Asking Price? Livestock!

Not a film-related topic, but it's about art and the Diaspora; It's also quite unbelievable and numbing! I was rendered speechless after reading it. There are so many dense layers at work (or at play) here, and I could write volumes... The ignorance (or is it arrogance) is certainly palpable.


Kristian von Hornsleth Buys Ugandans for Livestock

Danish Artist buys Africans

This morning I received an email from an artist from Uganda called, Eria Sane Nsubuga, who seemed fascinated by an artistic project, which took place last summer, 2007, in a small rural village in Uganda, by a Danish artist, Kristian von Hornsleth.

Here is the press release and website details:

How many Africans would change their name in return for 242 pig and 65 goats? The answer is 307. At least if they live in a small village in one of the worlds poorest countries.

This summer, the Danish artist Kristian von Hornsleth visited a poor village in Uganda and gave the local population a fantastic offer they could not refuse: He wanted all of them to take his name! In return, the 307 villagers would receive a large number of pigs and goats.

This has lead to a controversial artwork titled "We want to help you, but we want to own you."

This is the experience of artist Kristian von Hornsleth based on his visits to the village of Buteyongera in the Mukono district in Uganda. Kristian von Hornsleth has made visits to the village a couple of times to build up good relations and gain trust. Together with a team of photographers and film crew, he travelled to Uganda in June and convinced the local population to change their names to Hornsleth. As payment, the Africans received a large amount of creatures for making their choice. So far 100 of the villagers have taken the new name with the remaining 207 currently being processed. A further 365 are on waiting lists.

Following a lot of bureaucratic trouble and headshaking from the local authorities, the official name changing was fulfilled and the project was transformed into art. From October on it is possible to see 100 photographic super portraits in 1x1 meter as well as 20 pieces of 2x2 meter large portrait paintings of Africans holding their new ID cards in front of them. On the ID card you can clearly read their new beautiful surname: HORN$LETH.

The artworks will be shown in Copenhagen from 17th November and at the established gallery DDM in Shanghai in March 2007. Furthermore, a colour illustrated book with text of international philosophers and art experts is planned to be published in October – at the same time as a documentary, produced by the Danish TV-channel DR2.

The good artist

Kristian von Hornsleth is convinced that he has done a good deed for Africa.

"Basically I believe in free trade. You sell something to me, and I buy something from you. In this case the Africans are fond of the animals that I offer them – and I am happy to be able to give them a beautiful name and to make some art. The result is that both parts are happy. Nothing else matters", says Kristian von Hornsleth.

Apart from the villagers' initial problems with pronouncing the name Hornsleth, the Danish artist experienced only positive response from the local population. Of course they were a little surprised of the Danes' fine offer for them, but they ended up accepting it. Kristian von Hornsleth is now known in the village as "Birunji", which means "the good one".

The new "Hornsleths" want to be famous

The many new "Hornsleths" are now looking forward to their portraits being shown all over the world. Some of them hope to get famous and maybe someday come to Europe. Kristian von Hornsleth himself is enjoying the interest generated in his photographic artwork.

The next step is for the whole village itself to change its name to "Hornsleth". The artist is also working on creating a tree sculpture production and a smaller agricultural production in the area, which will produce African meat and vegetables to the West.

The name of the products will of course be Hornsleth.

Notes to Editors:

§ Each person will have a national ID card issued to show their new 'Hornsleth' name.

§ In five years 5,000 people will have received an animal from this project if it runs to plan.

§ 'Hornsleths' art project is set to premiere at the Hornsleth & Friends Contemporary Art Gallery in Copenhagen from the 17th of November and will be displayed in Shanghai at the DDM Warehouse gallery from March 2007 and later on in 2007 at more places in Europe.

§ You can follow the project on, which is often being updated with pictures and text concerning the project.

For images of the project or for further information, please contact Susie Dullard on 020 7067 0692 or Sophie Smith on 020 7067 0415.

Did You Know #2 & #3 - Norbit And Morgan Freeman Stats

A double dose of Did You Know today.

Did you know #2

... that Norbit apparently is the only film to be nominated for both an Oscar (best makeup) and a Razzie (well, several Razzies - Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Supporting Actress, Worst Actor, Worst Screenplay)? Did anyone actually see Norbit? I know it made almost $100 million, but I don't know anyone who saw it. I certainly haven't. But I'd like to know what those who did see it, thought of it.

Did you know #3

... that Morgan Freeman has had only ONE onscreen kiss in his entire 30+ year career? I wonder if Mr Freeman is aware of this. Someone give this man a love scene, will ya? He's way overdue! Even some tongue play would work. Something! Anything!

Will Smith - A Washed-Up Super Hero With A Crush In "Hancock"

Thanks to CINE21 who nabbed some early shots of Will Smith in his super-hero suit for his upcoming 2008 release, Hancock, about a "hard-living superhero (Smith) who has fallen out of favor with the public and enters into a questionable relationship with the wife (Charlize Theron) of the public relations professional (Jason Bateman) who's trying to repair his image."

You can see the rest of the images HERE. Nothing terribly special, but I thought some of you movie geeks might appreciate the early showcase.

Can't say that I'm looking forward to seeing this film. I was rather underwhelmed with what I saw in the only teaser trailer that's been circulating online thus far. It's scheduled to be released on the July 4th holiday weekend, a usually important weekend for studios and their summer blockbusters, so, obviously, Sony, the distributor of the film, has extremely high hopes for it. Will I see it? Probably. It's what I do... I see movies... it's in my job description.

Will Smith has certainly taken his whacks over the years, especially from black critics (myself included, although I've certainly taken my foot of the gas pedal, and recognized Mr Smith for the Hollywood star that he is. In doing so, he's become an easier pill for me to swallow, and I pretty much know what to expect from him, and will stop hoping for more. Although, I'm still waiting for that glorious day when he'll surprise me). But he's held up quite well, and has managed to silence much of the critical noise.

That said, I've already begun to hear chants from voices within the black community (specifically black women) chiding Mr Smith for his apparent lack of interest in playing opposite black actresses in leading roles - most recently citing Hancock as an example, in which Charlize Theron plays his love interest. So, it'll be interesting to see how the film is received when it's released later this year. I'm sure it will make tons of money, which is what really counts to those behind the film... but, given what I've already heard (most recently a brief discussion on NPR's News & Notes program), what could the ramifications be for Mr. Smith and his fan base, if there are any at all?

And also, in connection to my ongoing poll on the right, should we expect more from black stars like Will Smith? Should they be held to some higher standard and looked upon as potential leaders in this ongoing fight for equality and diversity in cinema?

Sundance Dispatch #4 - A Good Day To Be Black And Sexy

I've mentioned this film in brief on my podcast, at least once. As of today, the end of the Sundance Film Festival, I don't believe it's been picked up for distribution by any company. But I'm keeping my eyes and ears open for anything new. I'm also hoping to have the filmmaker, Dennis Dortch, as a guest on my podcast sometime in the next month, to talk about the film and his experiences at Sundance. An extended synopsis of the film follows below; and just beneath that are links to a brief video interview with Dennis Dortch on YouTube, and an audio interview with 2 of the stars of the film, hosted by

From Sundance - Indeed, it is a very good day. Dennis Dortch’s daring directorial debut ambitiously charts black sexuality through a set of six deliciously amusing, interconnected vignettes that unfold in a single day in Los Angeles. A hot-button, “don’t-let-them-know-you’re-watching” constellation of intimate moments, A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy seduces us with obsessively watchable performances that make it at once familiar, provocative, and fresh. Women unapologetically figure it out for themselves, reclaiming license to be selfish, rude, and raunchy in a playfully enduring tug-of-war between the sexes. Explicitly exploring the texture of sex, Dortch packs the film full of viscerally seductive tones and sultry grittiness as he allows us sneak-peak access to a multitude of motives of desire—a woman in bed with her boyfriend jockeys for position to get hers first; a teenager explores the limits of her sexuality in questionable situations; a boy and his ball are held hostage by interracial taboos. Bringing overdone stereotypes about black sexuality to their knees, Dortch explodes a constellation of sexy little secrets that we would otherwise keep quiet. Packing a strong voice and innovative style, Dortch’s kaleidoscopic sketches are juicy and surprising with every step, stroke, and...ahem. Yes, he did just go there!

Here's the link to the video interview of Dennis Dortch: YouTube.

Here's the link to the audio interview: Spout.

SIDE NOTE ABOUT THE YOUTUBE VIDEO INTERVIEW: Towards the end of the interview, the interviewer states that people are saying that Dennis and his film are redefining black cinema. I always get uncomfortable when grandiose statements like that are bestowed upon one person or film. They completely negate every previous effort by filmmakers who challenged the status quo, and in essence sought to redefine black cinema - from Melvin Van Peebles, to William Greaves, to Charles Burnett, to Julie Dash, to Spike Lee, and many others. Obviously, it's not the filmmaker's fault in this case, but I would have liked his response to the interviewer's statement to echo what I just said above.