WOMEN, MI­NORI­TIES BRING IN AU­DI­ENCES

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY CHRIS­TIAN TOTO

It looks like Hol­ly­wood might be putting its money where its mouth is with re­gard to di­ver­sity.

A spate of films fea­tur­ing women and mi­nori­ties in front of and be­hind the cam­era are set for re­lease in com­ing months af­ter the suc­cess of di­verse box of­fice hits such as “Won­der Woman,” “Black Pan­ther” and the cur­rent smash “Crazy Rich Asians.”

“Noth­ing grabs the at­ten­tion of Hol­ly­wood movers and shak­ers like fi­nan­cial suc­cess,” said Gitesh Pandya, edi­tor of BoxOf­ficeGuru.com. “I see [‘Crazy Rich Asians’] end­ing up in the $175 [mil­lion]-$200 mil­lion range at the U.S. box of­fice, about six times its bud­get.”

Of course, fea­tures sched­uled for re­lease this fall and early next year were in pro­duc­tion long be­fore the above-men­tioned films up­ended Hol­ly­wood’s con­ven­tional wis­dom that women- and mi­nor­ity-led films don’t sell. But the up­com­ing fea­tures re­flect the coun­ter­con­ven­tional drive of those films as they try to build on their suc­cess. Di­verse fea­tures this fall in­clude:

“Can You Ever For­give Me?”: Ac­tress/ di­rec­tor Marielle Heller di­rects Os­car-win­ning co­me­dian Melissa McCarthy (“Brides­maids”) in a dra­matic biopic about the late writer/forger Lee Is­rael, whose 2008 memoir gives the film its ti­tle.

“The Hate U Give”: Pro­ducer/di­rec­tor Ge­orge Till­man Jr. di­rects a pre­dom­i­nantly black-led cast in a dra­matic story about a fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing.

“If Beale Street Could Talk”: This adap­ta­tion of the James Bald­win novel is di­rected by Os­car win­ner Barry Jenk­ins (“Moon­light”) and stars KiKi Layne, Stephan James and Regina King. Next year’s of­fers in­clude:

“What Men Want”: This gen­der­re­ver­sal re­make of the 2000 Mel Gib­son rom-com “What Women Want” fea­tures Taraji P. Hen­son in the star­ring role.

“Cap­tain Mar­vel”: Os­car win­ner Brie Lar­son (“Room”) stars in Mar­vel Stu­dios’ first fe­male su­per­hero fea­ture, as well as “Avengers 4” later in the year.

“Aladdin”: The live-ac­tion ver­sion of the an­i­mated Dis­ney fa­vorite stars Will Smith as the Ge­nie, Mena Mas­soud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Princess Jas­mine and Mar­wan Ken­zari as Ja­far.

“Char­lie’s An­gels”: In this re­boot of the ac­tion com­edy, Naomi Scott and Kris­ten Ste­wart star with El­iz­a­beth Banks, who also di­rects and shares a screen­writ­ing credit.

“Shaft”: An ac­tion com­edy re­make of the 1971 crime drama fea­tures three gen­er­a­tions of Shafts, star­ring Richard Roundtree, Sa­muel L. Jack­son, Jessie Usher, Alexan­dra Shipp and Regina Hall.

“The Lion King”: A live-ac­tion/CGI ver­sion of an­i­mated Dis­ney mu­si­cal fea­tures the voices of Don­ald Glover, James Earl Jones, Bey­once, Al­fre Woodard, Chi­we­tel Ejio­for and Eric An­dre.

In ad­di­tion, se­quels to “Black Pan­ther,” “Won­der Woman” and “Crazy Rich Asians” are in the works.

Mr. Pandya said the suc­cess of di­verse fare — such as “Crazy Rich Asians,” Hol­ly­wood’s first fea­ture with a pre­dom­i­nantly Asian cast since 1993’s “Joy Luck Club” — doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean that in­dus­try lead­ers have shaken free of out­dated group­think.

“I don’t see ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ caus­ing a tec­tonic shift in Hol­ly­wood, but I do see it open­ing more eyes to the re­al­ity that movie­go­ers want to see them­selves on the big screen,” he said. “Many power peo­ple in the film in­dus­try don’t quite get that.”

Nonethe­less, “Crazy Rich Asians” in par­tic­u­lar could jump-start a num­ber of film ca­reers for Asian ac­tors, given the movie’s large cast, said Bi­ola Uni­ver­sity so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Nancy Yuen.

The Sin­ga­pore-set ro­man­tic com­edy had a three-week run as the top mon­ey­maker in the na­tion, each week hold­ing a mas­sive per­cent­age of its ini­tial au­di­ence.

“Asians” co-stars such as Gemma Chan, Awk­wa­fina and new­comer Henry Gold­ing have bet­ter chances of avoid­ing stereo­typ­i­cal Asian roles as a re­sult of the film’s nu­anced sto­ry­telling, Ms. Yuen said. The film’s fe­male stars may land more ro­man­tic or comedic parts and avoid be­ing “ex­oti­cized” or cast as the “dragon lady” vil­lain. Mr. Gold­ing al­ready is star­ring with Blake Lively and Anna Ken­drick in “A Sim­ple Fa­vor,” which opened Sept. 14.

Keri Put­nam, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Sun­dance In­sti­tute, noted that di­verse Hol­ly­wood prod­ucts of­fer more than en­ter­tain­ing block­busters.

“Fuller rep­re­sen­ta­tion en­riches cul­ture, and I’m thrilled to see such an un­de­ni­able busi­ness case made for in­ten­tion­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive sto­ries and their tell­ers,” Ms. Put­nam said.

But Kirsten Schaf­fer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Women In Film, Los An­ge­les, cau­tioned that the in­dus­try’s in­grained bi­ases to­ward men and white peo­ple run deep, so change isn’t guar­an­teed de­spite im­pres­sive box of­fice re­ceipts of di­verse-laden films. Hol­ly­wood’s rep­u­ta­tion for fear-based de­ci­sion­mak­ing is well-earned. It will take more than a few hits and hash­tag cam­paigns to im­pact Hol­ly­wood’s di­ver­sity prob­lem.

Ms. Yuen name-checks Hol­ly­wood’s con­ven­tional wis­dom that “black films” can’t do well over­seas. The Sony Pic­tures email hack im­broglio four years ago re­vealed how ex­ec­u­tives were wor­ried that Den­zel Wash­ing­ton, de­spite his tal­ent and state­side star power, wouldn’t com­mand enough for­eign ticket sales be­cause of his race, she said.

Ms. Yuen noted that this year’s “Black Pan­ther,” with a pri­mar­ily black cast, ended up mak­ing more money over­seas than other Mar­vel Stu­dios block­busters in­clud­ing “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant Man and the Wasp.”

“A lot of so­ci­eties abroad are very di­verse,” she said, not­ing that Chi­nese pop cul­ture wor­ships Amer­i­can NBA stars.

WARNER BROS. EN­TER­TAIN­MENT

“Crazy Rich Asians,” a ro­man­tic com­edy star­ring (from left) Michelle Yeoh, Henry Gold­ing and Con­stance Wu, had a three-week run as the na­tion’s top mon­ey­maker.

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