Watch This: Teaser for S3 of Blue

The WIGS series includes many wonderful films. One of the best is Blue starring Julia Stiles. Catch up on the first two seasons of Blue and the other WIGS series, if you haven’t seen them. You’ll be hooked quickly.

Season 3 of Blue will be released March 28. Some back story if this teaser is news to you: Julia Stiles plays a prostitute / office worker. She has a teen aged son played by Uriah Shelton. Blue is smart, guarded, and full of secrets. Secrets have a way of trying to come out, don’t they? That and trying to hide her secret life from her son make for a lot of tension in Blue’s life.

Julia Stiles is absolutely fantastic in this series.

Learn more about WIGS in this post.

Random Thoughts from a Teeming TV Filled Brain

The TV is brewing a brain full of random ideas in me this week. It’s a mish-mash.

  • The Americans season 2 started last night on FX and it’s extra good. Don’t ask me why I care so much about Russian spies, but Kari Russell and Matthew Rhys make me care. The stakes are so high in this show, the situations so tense, and the drama so tight. I can’t tell from the first episode if Margo Martindale will be back in season 2, but they were talking about her as if she won’t. She’s off on another show now, and I’ll miss her here.
  • With so many shows, I have to record a bunch of them. When I play them back I fast forward through the ads. I really appreciate the shows that have a second or two of something recognizable before each new segment starts. That brief cue lets me stop in time to get the beginning of the action. For example, Person of Interest often shows cityscapes and camera locations just before the action starts. Could all shows please do something like this? Thank you.
  • Why do actresses decide to have a baby while they are on a hit show? Jennifer Beals and Lauren Holloman both did it on The L Word. Anna Silk did it on Lost Girl. Kerry Washington is having a baby soon with Scandal in the middle of astronomical popularity. There has to be some logic to this, but what is it?
  • Wow! Did Naya Rivera ever knock “Don’t Rain on My Parade” out off the ballpark on Glee this week! The Barbara Streisand franchise on Glee up to now belonged to Lea Michelle – as well it should, she’s got it locked – but Naya can belt, too. Indeed.
  • Can you tell Lady Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) two suitors apart on Downton Abbey? Me either.

Image Credit: Still from The Americans by Craig Blankenhorn via IMDB

Looking for More Diversity? A Consumer Can Help. UPDATED

Let’s start with this infographic from Where’s the Diversity, Hollywood? 85 Years of the Academy Awards from Lee and Low Books. This information is from a study of 85 years of awards and reveals the lack of diversity in the Oscar Awards.

We, as consumers, can do something about this lack of diversity. I’ll get to how in a minute.

Diversity in The Academy Awards
Diversity in the Academy Awards infographic from Lee and Low Books. Click for full size.

The article containing this infographic talks how independent films and filmmakers can bring about change in what we see in movies. Four independent filmmakers are interviewed in the article. They talk about what they are doing and how they use crowd sourced fundraising tools like Kickstarter to get films made.

The filmmakers interviewed also talk about watching films from other countries in languages other than English. Several people talked about rejecting attempts from directors and writers to create stereotypes rather than more realistic characters.

IndieWire picked up the infographic, as I did, and wrote about it The Diversity Gap in the Academy Awards in Infographic Form. This article emphasized that the box office drives which films get made.

The situation right now is that when a film with a female lead such as The Hunger Games or Bridesmaids takes the box office the Hollywood power structure is as surprised as Fox News was when President Obama was reelected in 2012. It shouldn’t be a surprise, it should be expected.

How Consumers Can Help

We, as consumers, are the ones spending the dollars at the box office. We, as consumers, are the ones choosing the channel on the TV or setting the DVR to record. What can we do to increase diversity?

Here are a few ideas.

  • Pay attention to Kickstarter or other fund raising campaigns for indie films and support them with a few bucks. It costs you $10 to go out to a movie, $20 if you buy a drink and some popcorn. Why not give that amount to a filmmaker who is struggling to create a film with a more diverse outlook and cast than what you’ll see at the local multiplex? For a while now, I’ve been promoting a Paper.li publication about Women Directors. Perhaps you’ve noticed links to it in my Twitter stream. Many times you’ll find links to fund raising campaigns mentioned in this publication. Start reading it.
  • Support indie filmmakers by watching their work. Sometimes you have to work a bit to find it. It might be shown as a web series or on Vimeo or in only one theater in your town that isn’t the biggest multiplex. Find it and go.
  • Look for stereotypes and stop supporting films and TV shows that support stereotypes. Talk about why you’re doing it on your blog or Twitter. Demand diversity.
  • Make your viewership for movies and TV shows and web series count. Make your eyeballs register numbers and stats in the places where diversity is done right.
  • Use Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu to watch foreign films of quality. There are plenty of them. You can read. Use that skill to read subtitles and you’ll see some amazing stories.

Lee and Low Books have done similar studies of The Tony Awards, The Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, and US politics. Thanks to them for organizing this information and making accessible visuals to help us understand the stats.

UPDATE

The Representation Blog published The Representation Test on 2/28/2014. This is a downloadable test that,

. . . gives films points for representations of people which avoid harmful and limiting stereotypes, as well as for having diversity behind-the-camera. There are 27 possible points in the test, but any film scoring 11 or above receives an “A” for representation.

Downloading and using this test, and talking about your scores in public places such as your blog and Twitter is another good way that you as a consumer can help change the status quo. You may want to to check back for new versions of the test from time to time, because the creators say it will evolve over time.

Image credit: Diversity Quilt via Flickr.

Watch This: Teaser Trailer for Tammy

Melissa McCarthy is coming our way again in July in Tammy. The teaser trailer is here now. Not only is McCarthy the star, she’s the writer.

Also starring in this extravaganza of funny are Susan Sarandon, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Dan Aykroyd and Kathy Bates. What a cast!

Ben Falcone directs. He’s Melissa McCarthy’s husband.

What do you think? I think it looks fabulous!

Reflections on House of Cards, season 2

Season 2 of House of Cards appeared on Netflix on Valentine’s Day. If it was meant to be a little billet-doux from Netflix to sweeten up our weekend, it failed the sweetness test. It more than made up for it in the drama department, however.

I want to share my reactions to this series without revealing any spoilers about season 2 while doing it. Overall, season 2 is even better than season 1 – and season 1 is exceptionally good. Here are a few reasons that House of Cards continues to get better.

  • There are fascinating plot twists that keep you on your toes in this story. Not one of the politicians in this tale does a single thing for the good of the country or the people – it’s all about self-interest. It feels realistic and unpleasantly like modern politics. Yes, it feels realistic in the telling, but if you really examine the plot it seems unlikely to ever be reality.
  • The performances by the lead actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Claire Underwood are outstanding.
  • Supporting actors also do an outstanding job. It’s a big cast, because the story is involved.  Every character is important as a piece of the puzzle and every actor gives a credible performance.
  • The look, the mood, the writing, the pace: everything works, everything contributes.
  • A couple of episodes were directed by women, namely Jodie Foster and Robin Wright. A series always earns extra points with me when a woman directs.

The Master Manipulator

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood
Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood

Frank Underwood continues to be ruthlessly ambitious, a manipulator who will do anything to get what he wants. He shares some of his plans and goals with us by talking directly to the camera as he did in season 1. We see a measure of his true self thanks to this device. Other than his wife, most of the people around him have no idea what he’s doing. He’s very convincing.

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood
Robin Wright as Claire Underwood

In season 1, Claire Underwood was off doing her own thing, but in season 2, this power couple are working more closely together to achieve their joint quest for power. We see deeper into their relationship. House of Cards would still be fascinating if the only plot involved the complex and murky interactions between this couple.

Shared time in a complex marriage
Shared time in a complex marriage

They understand each other, they support each other, and they are committed to getting what they want. They tolerate each other’s foibles and needs and build on each other’s strengths. In some ways it’s a political marriage based on shared ambitions and convenience, but in other ways they love and care about each other.

House of Cards is about much more than a marriage, however. There are themes of good an evil, about power and whether power corrupts, about the end justifying the means, about progress, the common good, the rule of the moneyed class. Mixed in with the big thematic elements there are human stories about the desire for love, the need for sex, and appetites of all kinds.

A Few Supporting Characters

The majority of the supporting characters are ambitious politicians. There are a few journalists, sex workers, security staff, double agents, or others who somehow know too much and could be a danger to the politicians.

These are the supporting players that I found particularly impressive.

Molly Parker as Jackie Sharp
Molly Parker as Jackie Sharp

Molly Parker as House Whip Jackie Sharp is terrific. She’s strong, devoted to her own political ambitions and willing to work with Frank Underwood even though she knows he’s a snake. Her story gets fairly well developed for a supporting part. She gets involved with Remy Denton as part of that development, a choice that might end badly.

Mahershala Ali as Remy Denton
Mahershala Ali as Remy Denton

Mahershala Ali as Remy Denton is someone who is not a politician, but does what he can to influence politics in various ways. He’s an employee of billionaire Raymond Tusk and sometimes is sent to do things he doesn’t really want to do.

Gerald McRaney as Raymond Tusk
Gerald McRaney as Raymond Tusk

Raymond Tusk is played by Gerald McRaney. I have been watching Gerald McRaney on TV for over 40 years, since the early 1970s. I have to admit I’m fond of him. He’s usually a good guy, but here he’s a power junkie with billions at his disposal. He’s fantastic as a villain!

Stamper and Rachel Brosnahan as Rachel Posner
Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper and Rachel Brosnahan as Rachel Posner

Michael Kelly is chilling as Frank Underwood’s chief of staff, Doug Stamper. One of his chores in season 1 was to get the sex worker Rachel Posner out of the view of journalists and make sure no one ever heard from her again. He’s an alcoholic with 14 years of sobriety, but he goes on a crazy “dry drunk” binge over this woman (played by Rachel Brosnahan) and spends his time obsessing about her and following her every move. Her storyline grows more interesting and important with each episode of season 2 as well.

There are many characters I haven’t mentioned because I’m trying not to reveal anything that happens in season 2 that will shock or surprise you. There’s plenty in season 2 that will do that.

Heading into Season 3

Season 3 is a go. As I look at what transpired in season 2 and think about what may happen in season 3, I can’t help but think about a book I read recently called Give and Take by Adam Grant. I reviewed this book briefly in a post on my other blog, Web Teacher. The Machiavellian Frank Underwood is a taker of the highest magnitude. He thinks he’s invulnerable, he thinks everything is in his control, but he makes mistakes. He trusts the wrong people, he does the wrong things, and his empire could topple like a – it must be said – house of cards.

Adam Grant’s premise in Give and Take is that takers eventually fail and fall. Will Frank Underwood?

Watch This: Trailer for Frankie & Alice

Frankie & Alice stars Halle Berry, Phylicia Rashad, and Stellan Skarsgard. It’s been finished since 2011 and is just now being released in the U.S. It will appear in theaters on April 4.

The film is based on a true story. Halle Berry plays a woman with multiple personality disorder. One of her personalities is racist.

The performance we see in this brief preview looks masterful and worthy of award nominations. This film looks like an exciting showcase for Halle Berry to show once again what a powerful actress she is. I’m not sure why it took so long to be released in the U.S., but it’s coming soon and it looks good.

Image credit of Halle Berry in Frankie & Alice © 2010 – Freestyle Releasing

Why Representation on TV Matters

Laverne Cox and CeCe McDonald were the guests on Democracy Now on Feb. 19, 2014. This is how Amy Goodman introduced the program and the two women. As background for this post, I’m going to quote the entire introduction.

After serving 19 months in prison, the African-American transgender activist CeCe McDonald is free. She was arrested after using deadly force to protect herself from a group of people who attacked her on the streets of Minneapolis. Her case helped turn a national spotlight on the violence and discrimination faced by transgender women of color. In 2011, McDonald and two friends were walking past a Minneapolis bar when they were reportedly accosted with homophobic, transphobic and racist slurs. McDonald was hit with a bar glass that cut open her face, requiring 11 stitches. A brawl ensued, and one of the people who had confronted McDonald and her friends, 47-year-old Dean Schmitz, was killed. Facing up to 80 years in prison for his death, McDonald took a plea deal that sentenced her to 41 months. In the eyes of her supporters, CeCe McDonald was jailed for defending herself against the bigotry and violence that transgender people so often face and that is so rarely punished. At the time of the attack, the murder rate for gay and transgender people in this country was at an all-time high. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented 30 hate-related murders of LGBT people in 2011; 40 percent of the victims were transgender women of color. Transgender teens have higher rates of homelessness, and nearly half of all African-American transgender people — 47 percent — have been incarcerated at some point.

McDonald joins us on her first trip to New York City. We are also joined by one of her supporters, Laverne Cox, a transgender actress, producer and activist who stars in the popular Netflix show, “Orange is the New Black.” She plays Sophia Burset, a transgender woman in prison for using credit card fraud to finance her transition. She is producing a documentary about McDonald called “Free CeCe.” We also speak to Alisha Williams, staff attorney with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

“I very easily could have been CeCe,” Laverne Cox says. “Many times I’ve walked down the street of New York, and I’ve experienced harassment. I was kicked once on the street, and very easily that could have escalated into a situation that CeCe faced, and it’s a situation that too many transwomen of color face all over this country. The act of merely walking down the street is often a contested act, not only from the citizenry, but also from the police.”

Laverne Cox has been everywhere lately. She gave the keynote address to 2014 National Conference for LGBT Equality: Creating Change. Cox has also appeared on The Katie Couric Show. After the much criticized questions in the Katie Couric interview, Cox gave Salon this interview: The post-Katie Couric shift: Laverne Cox tells Salon why the media’s so clueless. (Related to bad interviews, this Democracy Now episode also talked about @JanetMock and her interview with Piers Morgan.)

Can a TV show change the world?

Laverne Cox has been an actress since 2000, but Orange is the New Black has given her an unexpected platform and visibility. OITNB has given transgender people in general an unexpected platform and visibility. Justice for transgender people, for trans women of color, is now a topic of conversation all across the country.

It isn’t so much about Laverne Cox, as that she’s suddenly been given this moment because of OITNB. She’s been given visibility, and she’s making good use of it.

Cox seized the opportunity to promote change, up the stakes in her activism, and be a voice to whom the media will listen. She’s wonderfully suited to be a leader and public voice for the trans community. She’s brainy, she’s articulate, and she’s charismatic.

You may say that change would come eventually, that demands for justice and equality from the transgender community would eventually be heard, but I think it would have been a longer time coming. It would have been a harder struggle.

A TV show about women in prison with a sympathetic and likeable transgender woman’s story as part of the ensemble has made change possible sooner. It has given activists like Laverne Cox an opportunity to be heard by a wide audience.

Giving representation to marginalized or minority parts of society on TV shows can change the world. What we see on TV matters. It matters to real people.

Watch This: Unbroken Olympics Preview

Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, is based on the true story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini. The movie isn’t due out until December, but this preview emphasizes Zamperini’s Olympic career and was released during the Olympics.

I read the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, on which the movie is based, and found it an inspiring and amazing story of courage, determination and survival. I’m looking forward to the movie.