Since 2004, Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis The Accidental Tourist, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Thelma and Louise, GLOW has been at the forefront of the conversation about representation on film. That’s when she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a research-based organization which aims to educate content creators, marketers, and audiences about the importance of eliminating unconscious bias in entertainment.
She and her team have developed a new digital tool which uses artificial intelligence to check scripts for gender bias, and The W Disney Company has agreed to use that tool to assess all of its upcoming film and TV projects. Read more about the new tool below.
The Hollywood Reporter has a solid explanation of this tool and what it does:
Named “GD-IQ: Spellcheck for Bias,” the new tool leverages patented machine learning technology developed at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering to rapidly analyze the text of a script to determine its number of male and female characters and whether they are representative of the real population at large. The technology also can discern the numbers of characters who are people of color, LGBTQI, possess disabilities or belong to other groups typically underrepresented and failed by Hollywood storytelling.
It’s important to note that Davis doesn’t view this as a tactic to “shame and blame” screenwriters and filmmakers, but instead to shine a light on the unconscious bias that may slip into scripts unintentionally and provide opportunities to correct those instances and ultimately improve representation on screen.
For me, there’s one major talking point here: this tool sounds like a great idea and a massive studio like Disney deciding to use it should absolutely be considered a step in the right direction, but even though I wholeheartedly support the notion of equal representation on screen, I don’t think this tool should be the final arbiter of what does or doesn’t make it into a script. Representation is hugely important and is clearly an area where Hollywood needs to improve, but at the same time, the types of characters who appear on screen should be dependent on what type of story is being told. If half the cast of The Shawshank Redemption were women, that would be an example of parity on screen, but it wouldn’t make any damn sense for a story set almost entirely at a men’s prison facility.
So yes, while it’s very cool to see Disney acknowledge that there’s room for improvement and actually take a step toward making a change, it’s clear that the GD-IQ: Spellcheck for Bias tool should be thought of as a powerful guideline and not the end-all, be-all solution to a long-established problem.
“Nearly every sector of our society has a huge gender disparity, particularly in leadership positions,” Davis said in New Zealand during a keynote speech again via THR. “So how long is it going to take to correct that, to reach parity? No matter how hard we work, we can’t snap our fingers and suddenly half the corporate boards are women. It’s going to take a long time to make some of these changes.”
“But here’s my theory of change,” she continued. “There’s one category of gross gender inequality where the underrepresentation of women can be fixed absolutely overnight — and it’s onscreen. The very next project somebody makes — the next movie, TV show — can be gender-balanced. We can make this change happen very fast. In the time it takes to create a new show or a new film, we can present a whole new vision of the future. Yes, there are woefully few female CEOs in the world, but half of them can be female onscreen immediately. How are we possibly going to get the number of women and girls interested in STEM careers that we need for science, technology, engineering and math? There can be droves of women in STEM careers now on TV and in movies, and then it will happen in real life.”
Actor Will McFadden directs himself in the story of a white man whose white wife gives birth to a black baby.
If discussions of race in America often hit brick walls when the points turn personal " I'm not a racist, it's all those cops/landlords/Trump voters...", fiction can sometimes find cracks in the mortar, showing how a decent, relatable character can be part of the problem. That's the case with Will McFadden's Doubting Thomas, which starts with a dicey-sounding premise — a white couple has a black child, and the wife swears it's not the result of an affair — but handles it with more grace than one expects in microbudget cinema. Imperfect but admirable for a serious approach that doesn't stumble over into off-putting earnestness, it's a debut with more on its mind than giving its writer/director a plum job as an actor as well.
McFadden plays Tom, a successful lawyer who's expecting his first child with wife Jen Sarah Butler. So serious about his responsibility that sometimes he's the one who finds himself alone at Lamaze class, he nevertheless misses his wife's delivery — he's off chasing a hoodlum who stole her purse, and dealing with the cops afterward.
So when he arrives at the hospital, where his best friend Ron Jamie Hector has given Jen a ride, Ron knows something he doesn't: Jen's baby is unmistakably an African-American. Ron is black as well, but the two men are such close friends that the obvious hypothesis isn't the first one addressed: Well before anyone suggests Jen might've slept with Ron, husband and wife have settled uneasily on the idea of some recessive gene in their DNA. Maybe somebody way back in the family tree was black, and this is nature's way of informing them.
Neither new parent is quite satisfied with that explanation predictably, Tom finds it harder to accept than Jen, but that doesn't keep them from being indignant when friends and strangers leap to natural conclusions: that, for instance, the couple adopted a child from Africa, or used a sperm donor. In a variation of that revolting ritual in which young parents assume other people's reproductive choices are their business, curious women assail Jen at a party, amplifying her unease. But soon enough, Tom has segued from obsessive web searches about genetics and childbirth stats to terms like "signs that my wife is cheating on me." And Ron, a bachelor who has always made himself at home in his married friend's house, is the prime suspect.
Rather than push hard into the narrative questions it raises, the film's midsection focuses largely on attitudes and acceptance. Does it change a white person's self-concept to give birth to a non-white child? How far back in your genealogy would you have to go for an ancestor of another race not to impact your identity? Why does it even matter?
Wisely, McFadden avoids nailing things down too tightly here, being content to show the shaky ground his characters stand on. As it unfolds, the drama's scripting is uneven, with some motivations more convincingly drawn than others and perhaps a few too many mentions of the big "Albright case" that Tom's supposed to be focused on at work. But the film is open-ended enough to acknowledge that the remedies for unacknowledged prejudice are neither easy nor clearly identified. And if one obviously well-intentioned man has this much trouble, heaven help the country that produced him.
Production company: Long Way Home Cast: Will McFadden, Sarah Butler, Jamie Hector, Melora Walters, James Morrison Director: Will McFadden Screenwriters: Will McFadden, Joseph Campbell Producers: Casey Morris, Laura Jane Salvato, Mark Sayre Director of photography: Phil Parmet Production designer: Stephanie Spiegel Costume designer: Cate Adams Editor: Mark Sayre Composer: David Majzlin Casting directors: Liz Lewis, Angela Mickey
If you’ve ever thrust your wrist forward while pretending to shoot a web from it, Disney’s upcoming Spider-Man ride is going to try to give riders that sensation courtesy of some new technology. We’ve known for a long time that a new ride was in the works, but thanks to a recent panel at New York Comic Con, a couple of Imagineering executives revealed that it will give each guest the feeling of having Spider-Man’s web-shooters on their wrists as they try to wrangle some Spider-bots that have gotten out of control.
Marvel.com posted a video of the recent NYCC panel, where Scot Drake, a creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering, explained what we can expect from the new ride:
“When the mischief that Peter Parker gets in, where Spider-bots are released all over the [Avengers] campus, he needs all of our help. That’s where we step up, we get in these vehicles, and we go on this crazy adventure through all different parts of the campus cleaning up and slinging webs right next to Spider-Man.”
The accompanying write-up clarifies that “guests on the attraction will be able to shoot their own webs out of their wrists via immersive technology.” Exactly what that technology is or how it works remains unclear. We’d previously assumed that the new ride might feature individual mounted web-shooters for each rider to shoot digital targets as the ride progresses, similar to Toy Story Mania. But when we saw the first concept art of the ride vehicle, there weren’t any mounted shooters present.
So, is each person going to be outfitted with their own web-shooters as they get on the ride, or will the tech somehow be able to react to everyone’s bare wrists as they’re being flung around the ride vehicle during the experience? Either option seems logistically difficult. Everyone’s wrists are different sizes, so creating a one-size-fits-all physical web-shooter may be tough to accomplish. But if there’s no sensor on guests’ wrists, will the ride be able to properly compute all of the necessary angles of webbing being fired throughout the ride? The concept art at the very top of this page doesn’t seem to include any devices on the riders’ wrists, but since it’s just concept art, I wouldn’t take that as hard proof that there won’t be a physical component just yet. But I look forward to finding out more about how this whole thing works.
We know Disney is looking to create an interconnected experience between these Marvel attractions in its theme parks similar to the way they’ve established a connected cinematic universe. The global Avengers Initiative across the park features narrative links between attractions like the Iron Man Experience, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Nano Battle!, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission – BREAKOUT!, and more. You can read more about the Avengers Campus here.
The untitled Spider-Man ride is set to open at Disney California Adventure sometime in 2020 and at Disneyland Paris sometime in 2021.
An elderly Indian woman decides to live for herself in director Kislay’s debut feature.
Oppressive obligations and societal expectations are at the heart of debuting director Kislay's Just Like That, an indictment of the dismissiveness with which India treats elderly women after their duties as wives and mothers have been discharged.
Premiering in Busan's New Currents competition section, Just Like That has a clear-eyed, singular focus that ties its various, seemingly unrelated threads together for a larger comment on a woman's lack of agency in a society that still undervalues them. Beautifully shot and acted, with only a few novice filmmaker missteps we don't really need the family history inserts, Just Like That will slot in nicely in festival line-ups, and could garner some arthouse attention in Asia-Pacific as well as urban markets overseas.
After 52 years of marriage, the newly widowed Mrs. Sharma Mohini Sharma has decided to start living for herself and not, as is expected, act the good widow and move in with her son, Virendra Harish Khanna and his wife Sonia Sadhna Singh. She starts going out for ice cream, getting beauty treatments, learning the craft of doll-making with help from a local tailor and, most shockingly, controlling her own money: She opens her first bank account.
Despite pressure from Virendra to “shift” downstairs so that the financially strapped family can rent out the upper floor, she stubbornly resists falling in line. To make matters worse, she strikes up a friendship with a young woman who works in the salon she starts frequenting, Sugandhi Trimala Adhikari, and the Muslim man, Ali Mohammed Iqbal, who's teaching her to sew. Before long, Mrs. Sharma is the gossip of small Allahabad and she still winds up forced to sacrifice her independence.
Director Kislay has a light touch, and illustrates Mrs. Sharma's position with a clever combination of alienating images vividly and colorfully shot by Saumyananda Sahi that put her outside the crowd and a layered soundscape by Gautam Nair that insinuates the world into her new life. Crowded compositions often see Mrs. Sharma physically pushed to the edge of the frame, as if she's an insignificant afterthought, and ambient city noises become louder and clearer as she goes about her business of re-experiencing the world. It's a subtle effect — it gets duller and quieter when she's forced to give up her new life — but one that drives home Kislay's point.
Ahead of a disheartening, but not entirely pessimistic, ending, Kislay laces Just Like That with grace notes that highlight how unbending the rules can be — Mrs. Sharma's grandson Vicky Shiram Sharma starts exerting entitled male control over his sister Vinny Saumya Jhakmola when he finds out she might have a boyfriend — and how rocking the boat can have dire consequences; Ali's livelihood and life are all threatened at one point for simply befriending a curious, friendly Hindu widow.
This is an intimate film that relies on understanding how Mrs. Sharma goes from feeling utterly liberated to feeling trapped all over again. In the lead, Sharma shoulders the burden of making those feelings real with grace, nimbly jumping between satisfied curiosity and resignation.
The ReelAbilities Film Festival has unveiled its full lineup of films and events for the second annual fest in Los Angeles the New York edition launched in 2007. ReelAbilities Los Angeles runs October 25-27 at Universal Cinema AMC at CityWalk Hollywood.
The three-day festival will showcase new and classic films, conversations, and artistic programs, with ten shorts and five features celebrating more than 10 different physical and intellectual disabilities and hailing from five different countries.
“Just as Los Angeles has doubled down on its commitment to accessibility and inclusion, the ReelAbilities Film Festival LA continues to build,” said Stephen David Simon, Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department on Disability. “In just its second year in LA it has evolved into a milestone for meaningful change in Hollywood and beyond.”
The fest will kick off with Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz's critically acclaimed and box office breakout The Peanut Butter Falcon. The film, which made its premiere at SXSW, tells the story of Zak Zack Gottsagen, a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from a residential nursing home to follow his dream of attending the professional wrestling school of his idol, The Salt Water Redneck Thomas Haden Church. As a nursing home employee Eleanor Dakota Johnson sets out to find him, Zak meets Tyler Shia LaBeouf, a small-time outlaw on the run who becomes Zak's unlikely coach and ally during his journey. The film has become an indie hit, on track to making over $20 million at the box office. It has also surpassed The Farewellto become the #1 indie platform release of 2019.
The fest will close with the Los Angeles premiere of Aaron Schimberg's Chained for Life. Critically acclaimed, the film is about the on and off-screen relationship between a beautiful actress Jess Weixler and her leading man Adam Pearson, an actor living with a severe facial difference. ReelAbilities will also host arare, special screening of Todd Browning's 1932 groundbreaking cult classic Freaks. Based on the true-life experiences of circus sideshow performers of the 1930s, Browning's once-banned tale of murder and madness under the big top has gone from being critically reviled and misnderstoood — much like its subjects.
Read the full lineup and watch the trailer for the fest below.
OPENING NIGHT FILM
THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCONUSA/2019/93 mins/English Directors: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
A modern Mark Twain style adventure story, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON tells the story of Zak Zack Gottsagen, a young man with Down syndrome, who runs away from a residential nursing home to follow his dream of attending the professional wrestling school of his idol, The Salt Water Redneck Thomas Haden Church. A strange turn of events pairs him on the road with Tyler Shia LaBeouf, a small time outlaw on the run, who becomes Zak's unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whisky, find God, catch fish, and convince Eleanor Dakota Johnson, a kind nursing home employee charged with Zak's return, to join them on their journey. Down syndrome
CLOSING NIGHT FILM
CHAINED FOR LIFEUSA/2019/91 min/English Directed by Aaron Schimberg
Concerning the on- and off-screen relationship between a beautiful actress Jess Weixler and her leading man Adam Pearson, an actor living with a severe facial difference, CHAINED FOR LIFE is a spiritual cousin to the likes of Tod Browning, Werner Herzog, and David Lynch, weaving a hypnotic and surreal depiction of art and identity that challenges our preconceived notions of appearances and how film images influence the way we think and feel about those who are “other”. Facial difference.
In this strange, unforgettable masterpiece of early American cinema, a circus' beautiful trapeze artist plots with her strongman lover to steal the fortune of a fellow sideshow performer, a good-natured little person, by agreeing to marry him. Things take a turn for the genuinely horrific when their nefarious plot is discovered by the other “freaks” and they take violent revenge. Based on the true-life experiences of circus sideshow performers of the 1930s, Tod Browning's once-banned tale of murder and madness under the big top has gone from being critically reviled and misnderstoood — much like its subjects — to taking its rightful and raging place as a seminal pop culture provocation, influencing everything from seventies punks on the Bowery to “American Horror Story” in the living room. Multiple disabilities
IANArgentina/2017/10 min/Spanish Director: Abel Goldfarb
Ian uses a wheelchair. All he wants is to make friends, but discrimination keeps him away from the playground. Wheelchair user
SHAKESPEARE IN TOKYOAustralia/2018/21 min/English Directed by Genevieve Clay-Smith
A Shakespeare fan with Down syndrome sets off on a solo adventure to discover Tokyo and to prove his independence. Down syndrome
MAPPING THE DISABILITY TRAPUSA/2018/14 min/English Directed by Jason Dasilva
Filmmaker Jason DaSilva presents a healthcare crisis as he tries to be closer to his son who lives 2,000 miles away. multiple disabilities
ON THE SPECTRUMIsrael/2018/25 min/Hebrew Directed by Yuval Shafferman
Three roommates in their twenties, all on the autism spectrum, share an apartment while learning to contend with the world around them.autism
CODAUSA/2019/22 min/English Directed by Erika Davis-Marsh
A young dancer struggles with her identity and growing up hearing in a deaf family. deafness
PARENTS, INCUSA/2019/5 min/English Directed by Harald Zwart
A teenage girl living in a post-apocalyptic world struggles with the new reality she lives in, along with unreasonable parents. Amputee
I/OUSA/2019/5:34/English Directed by Carl Hansen A man struggles to reveal to his girlfriend that he's been dating her through his robot. Multiple disabilities
THE VANISHEDUSA/2019/5 min/English Directed by Catriona Rubenis-Stevens andRachel Handler
Inception meets Groundhog Day as Alice's friends begin to disappear and she must choose between constantly reliving the same nightmare or vanishing into the unknown. Amputee
HUMAN HELPERUSA/2019/5 min/English Directed by Shaina Kaur Ghuraia
In the near future, artificially intelligent robots, otherwise known as human helpers, are a regular part of life. However, they're not very inclusive. Dr. Rachel Hubbert and her assistant Tony have made it their mission to make them not ableist. Wheelchair user
SUICIDE: THE RIPPLE EFFECTUSA/2017/93 min/English Directed by Kevin Hines and Greg Dicharry
At age 19, Kevin Hines attempted to take his own life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Seventeen years later, he still struggles with many of the same symptoms that led him to attempt suicide, but he is on a mission to use his story to help others stay alive. Mental health
THE DRUMMER & THE KEEPERIreland/2017/92 min/English Directed by Nick Kelly
Gabriel is a drummer in a promising band, desperate to hide his bipolar diagnosis from his exasperated band mates. At a therapeutic mixed-ability soccer game he's obliged to attend, Gabriel meets Christopher, a teenager with Asperger's Syndrome, and the two are forced to “make friends.” Asperger's syndrome, bipolar disorder
THE R-WORDUSA/2019/66min/English Directed by Amanda Lukoff
A purposeful look into the long-reaching history and lasting implications of the word “retarded” and current attitudes and perceptions about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Through the personal narrative of four sibling stories and first-person accounts of self-advocates, we get an intimate and nuanced perspective of the challenges and triumphs of people living with an intellectual disability. The R-Word is an unflinching, heartwarming, humorous, and hopeful journey through our shared human experience.
I'll Go On: Mental Health, Disability & ResiliencyMental health illnesses are common in the United States, yet many people are not receiving services. This panel will examine why so many people are affected by mental health illnesses, why there is so much stigma and the connection between mental health and resiliency. It will also shed light on the connection between the mental health community and the disability community.
The Revolution Will Be Posted: Disability in the Age of Social MediaIn a digital age, social media has a significant impact on the way issues are framed. This panel will examine the footprint of the disability community in social media. It will examine how social media can be used to highlight issues, create awareness, and foster more inclusion.
Disability Authenticity on Screen: Why People with Disabilities Should be Seen in Authentic and Non-descript Roles Panel sponsored by the Ruderman Family Foundation Should a person with a disability play a person with a disability or should someone without a disability play someone with a disability? Is it all just acting?
This provocative discussion will focus on why authentic representation of people with disabilities in film and television is socially and financially significant. It will also look at the importance of non-descript roles on screen both big and small and why actors with disabilities should have the opportunities afforded to those in the non-disabled community.
Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the political timeliness of the Statue of Liberty documentary.
Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the duo behind shows like RuPauls Drag Race and Million Dollar Listing, have produced documentaries on Carrie Fisher, a group of commercial beekeepers, and infamous '90s club promoter Michael Alig. But for the last few years, they've turned their focus to New York's Statue of Liberty.
At the premiere of Liberty: Mother of Exiles on Monday night, the two explained that they actually started working on the documentary before Donald Trump because president.
"Little did we know that everything that would happen in the next three years only make what Lady Liberty stands for even more important than ever," Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter. "I think it made the film ultra relevant."
Since 2016, the statue has not only become an epicenter for immigration protests, but also a talking point for Trump administration officials. For example, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, suggested the poem inscribed on the statue's pedestal — The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus — be rewritten as "Give me your tired and your poor — who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."
White House advisor Stephen Miller also took a dig at the poem, dismissing its importance because, in his opinion, it's "not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty."
Barbato called Miller's comments "inaccurate," which Bailey said was "very generous."
"I think it's a deliberate lie. Because the poem was actually written to raise money to build the pedestal, without which you couldn't put the statue up," Bailey added. "So, the poem is integral to the statue."
He noted the particular line, "From her beacon-hand / Glows world-wide welcome," as being "the exact opposite of building a wall to keep people out."
In spite of all of this, Liberty isn't a politically charged film. As Bailey put it, the documentary is "a journey of discovery," exploring the statue's history and cultural significance. Before embarking on the journey, the film opens with the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Statue of Liberty Museum, which took place earlier this year.
Diane von Furstenberg, who serves as an executive producer for the documentary, played a large role in the museum's relocation from the statue's pedestal. At the premiere, she attributed her involvement to years of being asked to join the board of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation by its president and CEO Stephen Briganti.
"I got more and more interested," she said, explaining that she made up her mind after writing her 2014 memoir, The Woman I Wanted to Be. "In the book, I put a little note about my mother. My mother was a Holocaust survivor. She was actually in Auschwitz for 13 months before I was born. And she wrote me a little note that said, 'God saved me so that I can give you life. By giving you life, you gave me my life back. You are my torch of freedom.' "
Von Furstenberg said Briganti then sent her this excerpt, underlining "torch of freedom." So she joined the board — with the condition that she be named the "godmother" of Lady Liberty — and ultimately led the museum's fundraising campaign. The designer not only raised $100 million, but also commissioned an augmented reality app from Apple's Tim Cook, which allows users to transport to the top of the statue, see how New York's skyline has transformed over the years and more.
Both Jason Blum and Sheila Nevins, who are also executive producers for Liberty, told THR that they joined the film at the request of von Furstenberg.
"It was in her heart and in her soul," Nevins said. "She was very invested in this."
While introducing the film, von Furstenberg said "The Statue of Liberty is like the sun. She warms everybody and doesn't ask for anything in exchange."
Liberty: Mother of Exiles premieres on HBO October 17.