Its Friday, and Elton Johns triumphant turn at Cannes has us certain that this is precisely the right weekend to break out the heart-shaped rhinestone glasses for that almost-summer BBQ.
Greetings from Los Angeles, where we are unpacking Ava DuVernays ambitious new Netflix miniseries, When They See Us; wrestling over Hollywoods muted response to Georgias restrictive abortion bill; contemplating the girl power on Game of Thrones; and watching the rise of a new star in Rocketman's lead, Taron Egerton.
Filmmakers who set out to tell real-life narratives have to grapple with the responsibility of adapting living, breathing humans for the screen. Those already high stakes soared for Ava DuVernay when she stepped in to direct a four-part Netflix miniseries that examined the lives of the five men wrongfully accused and incarcerated on charges stemming from the brutal beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park in 1989. Duvernays decision to start production immediately following the release of her 2018 Disney C.G. spectacle, A Wrinkle in Time, added to the degree of difficulty. Plus, the case has been written about exhaustively in the 30 years since the attack and ensuing media morass, and was the subject of the much-lauded 2012 documentary The Central Park Five, directed by Ken Burns, along with his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband, David McMahon. So whyd DuVernay do it? It was simple: Those men, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson, asked her to.
“Its the hardest thing Ive ever done,” DuVernay told me in a recent interview ahead of the shows May 31 release. “By far.”
DuVernay faced both technical and emotional challenges shooting on location in New York over just 66 days. In order to paint a fuller picture of the boys, who were so often reduced to stereotype as the case unfolded, the series features 117 speaking parts, a narrative that unfolds over 25 years, and multiple actors playing the same character. Its subject matter was so dark that DuVernay provided a crisis counselor on set, and she spent a lot of her own time counseling others, too.
“It wasnt a very healthy thing to do,” says DuVernay of the decision to co-write and direct all four episodes. “But they asked me to do it, and I wanted to tell their story. Their story wasnt told when they were boys. It was told for them and it was twisted and it was lies. There was so much more to it, and I wanted to tell it for them.”
For my full report on When They See Us, click here.
Georgia on Our Minds
After Georgia lawmakers passed some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the country last week, many in film and TV circles expected a hearty Hollywood pushback. The industry invests some $3 billion in the state annually, which in return grants productions a generous 30 percent tax incentive. In recent years, Georgia even surpassed California as the shooting site for the top-grossing films at the box office. (Hello, Marvel!) Three years ago, when the state attempted to pass an anti-L.G.B.T.Q. bill, both Disney and Netflix threatened to pull their projects out of the state, and many other studios denounced the bill.
Yet the rollback on womens reproductive rights has prompted a much more muted response from Hollywood. While individual producers and production companies such as Killer Films, the Duplass Brothers, and Color Force, the company behind the Hunger Games franchise and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies, said they would not shoot in the state unless the bill is revoked, no studio has come out against the “fetal heartbeat bill,” as it has been named. The issue, it turns out, is far more complicated than initially thought. Most studios have chosen to heed the call from former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who asked Hollywood to stay in the state. She tweeted: “I respect the call for a boycott on Georgia, but I do not believe it is the most effective, strategic choice for change.”
Her argument that leaving the state would cause more damage to the people who are already threatened by the bill, which is set to go into effect in 2020, seems to have gained some sway in Los Angeles. Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams issued a statement last week that they would stay the course in Georgia for their upcoming HBO show Lovecraft Country, and would donate their own episodic fees for the season to two charities fighting the anti-abortion law. Imagine Entertainment also reaffirmed its support for the state and the upcoming production of Ron Howards adaptation of Hillbilly Elegy.
Former News Corp. president Peter Chernin, whose company is currently in the Peach State filming the movie trilogy Fear Street with director Leigh Janiak and the women-centric TV show P-Valley about strip-club dancers working in the “Dirty Delta,” will also remain in Georgia, and will make a “significant donation” to the A.C.L.U.
“I gave thought to the boycott, but I ultimately came to the conclusion that it wasnt the smartest thing,” Chernin told me in an interview Thursday. “We probably have 800 people working on the two things we are shooting now, and I couldnt get myself to understand why we should be penalizing people who certainly have nothing to do with passing this law, and probably 80 percent of them oppose the law.”
He added that he thought isolating areas that dont align with his beliefs just creates more closed societies, which often perform even more poorly when it comes to civil rights. “We as an industry, and every single studio, have benefited enormously from the tax breaks. And I think we have a moral obligation to not just take the money from the taxpayers of those states, and leave the people there,” he said. “We need to stay involved, contribute time, money, and energy to fight for the rights of the people in those states. Its an important moral issue, and people whove benefited from those states shouldnt just walk away.”
Yet the studios need to also contend with the safety issues that could arise, should this bill become a law. As my colleague Joy Press outlines in her story here, “The rights and safety of their female employees may be at stake if they work in states with these new laws.”
She spoke with a veteran producer who indicated that contracts may need to change to protect studio employees: “Theyre going to need to put language in the union contract about a crew member who needs to return home to deal with reproductive issues or gets arrested for having a miscarriage within the state line of Georgia.”
Whether you were a fan of Daenerys Targaryens turn into a vengeful queen or miffed by her transformation from kindhearted savior to a ruthless monster in the penultimate episode, you must agree that the impact of Game of Thrones on our culture is profound. As we will inevitably debate Sundays series finale for days, months, and years to come, its safe to say that one of the biggest lures of the show is those indelible women. Our critic Sonia Saraiya takes a closer look at the shows treatment of its female protagonists. Saraiya analyzes the fierce responses to the seriess most recent episode, concluding: “There is no uniform female take on Game of Thrones; on one hand, the shows clear-eyed acknowledgement of how women—especially sex workers and women of color—can be victimized and discarded is a relief, of sorts. (See also: Law & Order: S.V.U.) On the other, its an approach that requires a strong authorial perspective to maintain a balance between exploration and exploitation—a balance that hopefully would help connect the drama from a fantasy world to the viewers at home.”
Take a look at Saraiyas full commentary on the shows treatment of female characters here, as we gear up for one final trip to Kings Landing.
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