“Lee Daniels, Damon Lindelof, A-List Writers on Race, Ignoring Critics, an ‘Empire’ Axing”

Six hit show creators, from ‘House of Cards’ to ‘Good Wife,’ gather for a heated, candid talk that reveals the state of opinion on Hollywood’s touchiest subjects.

“Just because the television business has made notable inroads in the realm of diversity this year doesn’t mean the subject is any more comfortable to discuss. So when Lee Daniels, co-creator of Fox’s Empire, recently questioned a table full of drama writer-producers about the racial makeup of their writers rooms, the group grew tense. But doing so ultimately led to an important discussion about the industry’s shortcomings — as well as the challenges of collaboration, their frustration with critics and the day that Beau Willimon, showrunner of Netflix’s House of Cards, danced shirtless on set with Russian punk-rock group Pussy Riot. Daniels, 55, and Willimon, 37, were joined April 28 in Hollywood for a frank conversation about the pressures and rewards of running TV’s hottest dramas by Damon Lindelof, 42 (HBO’s The Leftovers), Alex Gansa, 54 (Showtime’s Homeland), Michelle King, 53 (CBS’ The Good Wife), andSarah Treem, 34 (Showtime’s The Affair).

Lee just wrapped his first season as a TV producer, during which his Empire hit the zeitgeist in a major way. It’s an experience that many at this table have had. What advice would you give Lee about how to sustain it?

ALEX GANSA Oh, I did a terrible job. Stop now, you’re ahead! There’s no advice to give; you just have to submit to the process.

DAMON LINDELOF At the time that it happened to us [on Lost], the zeitgeist itself became immensely distracting, and we took our eye off the ball at times to pay attention to the zeitgeist. Any time that you’re not writing the show is probably not time particularly well spent. And I said yes to everything. I mean, everything. If your mom wanted me to come over, it would be, “Yes. When does she want me there?” I just should have said, “No,” more. The other thing I’d say is, you should enjoy it. When I was on the ride, I was terrified. You look like you’re having fun, though.

LEE DANIELS A party. (Laughter.) But I get nervous, especially as we approach season two. You have to live up to season one.

How are the rest of you coping with those expectations?

SARAH TREEM I love season two [of The Affair]. I feel like season one was the rough draft. I like coming back and knowing the characters really intimately, and our world is much more complex.

MICHELLE KING We’re starting season seven, so the pressure’s a bit different in that it’s just trying to remember what we have done and trying not to repeat. We’ve lost some favorite characters, so it’s about trying to make sure we honor them and pay deference to how much the audience liked them and keep the world rich enough that the loss isn’t felt…”


“Diverse Casts Deliver Higher Ratings, Bigger Box Office: Study”

“Hollywood’s racial and gender diversity is increasing. But it’s not increasing quickly enough, says Darnell Hunt, lead author of the second annual Hollywood Diversity Report by UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, set for release Feb. 25. “Hollywood is not progressing at the same rate as America is diversifying,” says Hunt, the center’s director and a sociology professor. The U.S. population is about 40 percent minority and slightly more than half female, but, in news to no one, women and minorities are represented onscreen and behind the camera in drastically lesser proportions, the study indicates.

The problem isn’t audiences: During the years the study surveys — 2012 and 2013 — viewers preferred films and television shows with moderately diverse casts, according to Nielsen ratings and box-office reports. “Audiences, regardless of their race, are clamoring for more diverse content,” says co-author Ana-Christina Ramon.

The study blames the lack of diversity on agencies, guilds, studios and networks — “an industry culture that routinely devalues the talent of minorities and women,” reads the report.

The authors recognize the report’s time window limits its relevance, especially as racial diversity has shown big gains on TV during the 2014-15 season, but they predict their findings will encourage more progress. The study surveyed the top 200 films by global box office in 2012 and 2013, excluding foreign movies, and every broadcast, cable and digital TV series of the 2012-13 season (1,105 total).


In movies, minorities were underrepresented more than 2-to-1 (less than half as much as their share of the U.S. population) in lead roles and 2-to-1 as directors, and women lagged 2-to-1 as leads and 8-to-1 as directors (female-helmed films included 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty and The Guilt Trip and 2013’s Frozen and Carrie).

Meanwhile, films with casts about 30 percent diverse did best at the worldwide box office.

The diversity gaps mostly were smaller than in 2011. “There are pockets of promise,” says Hunt, citing best picture winner 12 Years a Slave for upping the share of Oscar wins to 25 percent for films with a minority lead; Gravity, with seven Oscars, evened out the wins for male- and female-fronted releases.

But after a 2014 Oscars race with all white acting nominees and only one best picture nominee with a black lead, “this year was a step backward from what might otherwise have been optimism from 2013,” admits Hunt…”


“How a Nickelodeon Cartoon Became One of the Most Powerful, Subversive Shows of 2014”

“Before they took major risks with their teenage characters on The Legend of Korra, Konietzko and DiMartino created a modern animated classic in Avatar: The Last Airbender. (Not to be confused with the M. Night Shyamalan film The Last Airbender, which, everyone agrees, did a fairly clumsy job of capturing the magic of the original series.) The show, which aired from 2005-2008 on Nickelodeon, was a bona fide hit pulling in huge ratings for the network.

The spiritual aspect of the show (mixed in with the adventure of its young characters and borrowing directly from Eastern influences) made it tremendously influential with its young (and old) audience. Not only that, but the success of the first series bought creators Konietzko and DiMartino a lot of leeway when it came to their spin-off, which premiered in 2010.

It turns out they would need every ounce of it.

Censorship: It’s always tempting to watch something you’re not supposed to, but this week in particular, with its Sony hacks and cinematic censorship, the notion of watching something forbidden feels like an especially political move.The Legend of Korra was never quite forbidden, never completely canceled, perhaps due to that lingering Avatargoodwill. However, during the show’s first season, it aired in a coveted Saturday-morning slot. After killing off a character on-screen in the Season 1 finale, Korra was considered too risqué and adult for the Saturday-morning crowd and was moved to Friday nights. But Korra continued to air dark material. That, coupled with less-than-stellar ratings, an ill-timed leak of episodes, and any number of mysterious behind-the-scenes factors, resulted in the surprising move to online-only Korra. In its final seasons, Korra became too dangerous, too risky for Nick to air. But that outsider status made it downright irresistible to certain viewers. Especially teens.

Racial Representation: The show doesn’t take place in our world, but, as I mentioned before, it has an undeniable Eastern influence. That’s why the mostly white casting in the Shyamalan movie was so controversial…”


“How Well Does ‘Daredevil’ Handle Disability Issues?”

“When the 13 episodes of season one of Daredevil went live on Netflix on April 10, Daredevil/Matthew Murdock, played by Charlie Cox, instantly became the most prominent disabled character in media.

The online community of disability activists was certainly excited. (I am a member. My son has Down syndrome and I often write about disability-related stories for mass media.) A friend of mine in England had watched ten episodes before I even got out of bed on the 10th. Alice Wong, founder of the Disability Visibility Project, organized a viewing and live-tweeted episode one under the hashtag #daredevilDVP.

But before people could even parse the quality of the episodes, the decision by Netflix not to provide audio commentary became a problem. Many blind people follow television through specially added audio descriptions of scenes and actions. The issue swept through social media. Many articles commented on the irony of a show entirely based around a blind main character being inaccessible for the blind.

An online petition was launched . After a few days, Netflix made the wise decision not only to add audio commentary to Daredevil (available as of last Tuesday), but the company also promised to add audio descriptions to lots more of its programming . Regardless of whether or not Daredevil will defeat Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio), he’s already won a victory for accessibility.

I went into the show interested in how the directors would handle scenes of what might be called “ordinary” blindness, scenes in which Murdock simply goes about his day as a regular non-superhero. Murdock is, of course, anything but ordinary.  Through his heightened senses, he’s able to perceive the world in ways that mitigate the disabling effect of his blindness. But he is still blind… ”


“Naomi Kyle: Video Games Will ‘Change the World’ for LGBTs”

“Excuse me for just a moment,” IGN host Naomi Kyle says minutes after we sit down at a table in the lounge of the Hilton Anaheim for our scheduled interview.  Just outside the hotel doors, WonderCon — the sister convention to geekdom’s high holy event Comic-Con International — is in full swing, and a small group of fans who have wandered into the lobby are excitedly miming their desire to take selfies with her. Among them is a young girl who appears to be no older than 10; a beaming smile is splashed across her face.

Kyle patiently interacts with each fan, taking extra care with the young girl, asking her many questions about her favorite video games and all the different characters she loves to play before posing for pictures. Minutes later, as we resume our interview, the 5-foot-6 blond who has become one of the most recognizable faces of the video game industry as one of its original gamer girls shares how playing a video game changed her life.

“I still remember the first time I played Lara Croft in Tomb Raider,” she begins, looking back over her shoulder at the young girl with whom she snapped selfies just seconds earlier. “I was 12 years old, and the fact that I could play as a kick-ass female who lived in a mansion, had a butler, and could do all these acrobatics — it really empowered me and made me feel like I could be that sort of action hero. That’s when I knew video games were going to be a big part of my life.”

Today, Kyle says she’s proud to be a pioneer in the heterosexual male–dominated realm of video games as a host and producer for IGN, one of the gaming industry’s biggest news and entertainment outlets…”


“How the Success of Marvel’s Female Superheroes Heralds a More Inclusive Age of Comics”

“Promoting women-led series might seem like a novel move for Marvel, but it’s not. What’s novel is that they’re succeeding. Over the years, Marvel writers and editors have tried their hands at a number of series with female leads, but they rarely panned out, and in each case, the books were quietly canceled. One starring Peter Parker’s daughter, May, Tom DeFalco’s Spider-Girl launched in October of 1998 and, despite the protests of its fanbase, was canceled in 2010. X-23, which starred a mutant named Laura Kinney, ran for only about a year and a half — from September 2010 to March 2012. Although there have been other woman-led superhero series in Marvel’s past, they’ve been few and far between.

But now the women of Marvel are taking off in their own right. With female readership hovering at about 47 percent and women as the fastest-growing comics-reading demographic, Marvel is finally succeeding with a more diverse lineup of superheroes.

Spider-Gwen — a story set in a universe where Gwen Stacy, not Peter Parker, is bitten by a radioactive spider — is one of Marvel’s top sellers, with more than 250,000 copies of its first issue sold. Ms. Marvel, which launched just last year, is already one of the most successful books in Marvel’s lineup as well. Captain Marvel has one of the most dedicated fanbases in comics history. The new Thor features a woman in place of the hunky Hemsworthian Thunder God, and she’s outselling dude Thor by 30 percent. Silk, Black Widow, Gamora, Angela, and Spider-Woman are all female-led titles that Marvel’s launched in the past few years, and A-Force is another big step forward.

So what changed? Why are these new Marvel series succeeding where other series from the company failed? There are a few factors at work: the rise of digital comics, the growing power of female-dominated online fandom, and an increase in women creating comics…”


“Cinemax Developing Bruce Lee-Inspired Crime Drama ‘Warrior’ From Justin Lin”

“А passion project for martial arts icon Bruce Lee and Fast & Furious director Justin Lin is headed to the small screen with a deal at Cinemax. The premium cable network has put in development drama series Warrior, inspired by writings of the Enter The Dragon actor. Lin is set to direct the potential pilot, written by Jonathan Tropper, co-creator of Banshee, Cinemax’s first homegrown hit from its current foray into primetime drama programming.

Warrior is described as a visceral crime drama that traces the path of a gifted but morally corrupt fighter thrown into crisis after corrupt quest for vengeance is undermined. It was the first project for the TV division of Perfect Storm Entertainment, Lin’s joint venture with Bruno Wu’s Seven Stars Studios.  A couple of months after the launch of PSE’s TV operation in 2013, the company partnered with Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, and Bruce Lee Enterprises to develop Lee’s material into TV series…”