This column from CNN Senior Entertainment Writer Lisa Respers France will become a weekly newsletter later this month. You can subscribe here. Tell us what you’d like to see more of in the newsletter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The push for more diversity in Hollywood is both opening doors for creators of color and raising the visibility of those who were already in the room.
The overwhelming whiteness of Hollywood is not a new issue.
For years, discussion about the need for more diversity, both in front of and behind the camera, has been ongoing within the industry, sparking movements like #OscarsSoWhite and inclusion riders in which stars require increased diversity on sets as part of their contracts.
But as the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police led to protests and a global conversation about race, racism and privilege, there appears to be some serious self-reflection happening in Tinseltown.
Civil rights-based projects, horror films and sci-fi are just a few of the genres in which there is a rush to put forth fresh narratives by and about people of color.
Ava DuVernay: The famed director told the New York Times last month that the phone has been ringing off the hook for “me and every other Black person that’s ever picked up a camera.”
DuVernay has worked with the streaming giant with her documentary on mass incarceration, “13th,” and her limited series on the Central Park Five, “When They See Us.” Next up is her scripted series on the early life of former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Blumhouse Television: Amazon Prime Video has announced “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” a partnership between Amazon Studios and Jason Blum’s TV studio, which specializes in horror films. Two of those films include “The Lie,” written and directed by Canadian-born Indian American Veena Sud, and “Black Box,” directed by Houston-born Ghanaian Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.
With a script by Osei-Kuffour Jr. and Stephen Herman, “Black Box” stars Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine and Tosin Morohunfola. The project’s executive producers include “Insecure” star Jay Ellis.
Ellis is not the only television actor of color getting in on the Blumhouse deal.
“Quantico” star Priyanka Chopra Jonas is one of the executive producers of “Evil Eye,” starring Sarita Choudhury and Sunita Mani.
Horror is actually a genre perfectly aligned with diverse characters and story lines.
Jordan Peele: I interviewed the quintuple threat in 2017 about his then newly minted writing and directorial debut, “Get Out.”
We discussed how there was nothing scarier than racism.
“I look at racism as a monster,” Peele said at the time. “It’s an American monster, but it’s also an innately human demon – and it’s not a one-sided thing. Everyone has to deal with their own innate feelings of racism and outsmart the racism within ourselves.”
Peele has teamed with “Insecure” creator and star Issa Rae for the forthcoming mysterious drama “Sinkhole.”
He is also one of the executive producers of HBO’s new horror series “Lovecraft Country,” which melds horror, issues of race and history. (HBO is owned by CNN’s parent company.)
The series feels especially of the moment and a harbinger of more to come.
Sujata Day: This multihyphenate believes Hollywood is indeed moving toward telling more diverse stories in multiple genres.
The actress, best known for playing Sarah on “Insecure,” has embarked on her directorial debut with a film she wrote titled “Definition Please.”
Day also stars in an upcoming South Asian family dramedy that follows the life of a National Spelling Bee champ who grows up to become less than successful.
She told CNN that – in terms of the industry – “across the board, something has been happening that has been lingering the past few years.”
The recent racial reckoning has highlighted a lack of diverse decision makers positioned to green light TV shows and movies, she said, and helped push for accelerated change.
Day welcomes the turning tide toward accountability and transparency into the inner workings of the Hollywood establishment.
“Right now is the moment when people are learning and listening and these decision makers are listening and they are aware that it is a huge problem,” Day said. “So it’s really exciting for people like us who have these amazing, authentic, unique stories to tell that have never been told before and to have previously closed doors now being opened.”
“It’s almost like, well, it’s about time and we’re ready to give you the project and the story,” she added. “We have all these new voices and we’re up to the task. “
For your weekend
Three things to watch:
‘DeMarcus Family Rules’
We can never get too many reality shows as far as I am concerned.
Netflix has a new one in which Jay DeMarcus, the bassist for the legendary country group Rascal Flatts (who announced their farewell tour in January) and his former beauty queen wife, Allison, star along with their family.
They are definitely a Nashville power couple living large. And who doesn’t love getting a peek into the lives of famous folks?
But what hurts the most is that things aren’t always so harmonious at home.
There seems to be a reality-show curse of marriages crashing and burning, but we’ll bet on them being the exception.
“DeMarcus Family Rules” is currently streaming.
‘Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies’
This one is not for the kids.
Director Danny Wolf offers up a documentary about nudity in film which our critic Brian Lowry pointed out “serves a significant purpose, exposing (literally) hypocrisy in the movie industry’s past to better understand the challenges of presenting sexuality on screen in the present and future.”
I remember being a little girl in the car with my parents when we went by a drive-in movie on Route 40 in Catonsville, Maryland, and on-screen was an enormous pair of bare breasts.
Of course, I was tickled by it, my mom less so, but these days nudity is as easy for children to access as picking up their mobile devices (unless the adults in the house) remember to put on the parental filter).
What Wolf gives us is a look at the way nakedness on film unfolded from the early 20th century right up to #MeToo.
It might appeal to cinephiles, as well as those who like a bit of sexier anthropology.
The doc is currently available on demand.
‘Love in the Time of Corona’
Freeform is giving us some for real quarantine viewing.
“Love in the Time of Corona” is billed as a four-part, limited series that “follows four interwoven stories about the hopeful search for love and connection during this time of quarantine, from the early days of the stay-at-home order through the events that ignited the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests.”
It was filmed remotely in the actual homes of cast members who include Leslie Odom Jr., Nicolette Robinson, and Gil Bellows and airs August 22 and 23.
Two things to listen to:
‘Here on Earth’ from Tim McGraw
Sure, Tim McGraw’s got a new album out this week, but can we first talk about him and Faith Hill?
Country music’s superstar couple have been married for, like, ever and she’s still doing stuff like staging a private listening party for her husband and their daughters that she managed to make romantic as hell.
Don’t take my word for it, look at the video she posted on Instagram.
Oh, and about the music, Hill wrote in the video caption: “An unforgettable evening for what in my humble opinion is one of the greatest albums Tim has ever recorded. We listened to the double vinyl records blaring from the speakers!!!!!! A night we will never forget.”
We don’t have to ask what’s inspiring McGraw’s love songs.
‘Good to Know’ by JoJo
JoJo is no longer the 13-year-old belting out her hit, “Leave (Get Out).”
Now 29, the deluxe edition of her “Good to Know” album drops this week.
It’s her first album since 2016, and like most artists she’s hampered by the pandemic when it comes to promoting it.
JoJo told NPR in May she’s grateful for technology allowing her to stay connected to her fans.
“My connection with my fans has been central to my survival, not only as an artist in this game, but as a person. It really has fueled me and given me confidence and courage,” she said. “So to not be able to get out and energetically exchange with them in the same way is just different. But everybody is going through that adjustment, and our industry is having to adapt.”
One thing to talk about:
You can literally drink to this one.
Ryan Reynolds has joined a growing list of celebs whose liquor company has made him some sweet cash.
The “Deadpool” star sold his Aviation American Gin to alcohol titan Diageo in a deal worth up to $610 million, CNN’s Alicia Wallace reported.
Reynolds talked to Fast Company about his business, which he has been deeply involved in and not just as a pretty face for the company.
He came up with the idea to hire the actress from the viral Peloton ad to reprise her role in a commercial for Aviation American Gin that helped to put the company on the map.
“I just felt strongly that it would be a bit of digital judo, that she’d be taking this power back and repurposing it in a different way,” he said.
Something to sip on
The drama surrounding “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” has been tumultuous on so many levels.
My colleague, Chloe Melas, reported this week about staff changes being implemented on what has been up until now a wildly popular daytime talk show. Three of the show’s top producers are departing.
Allegations of a toxic work environment have kept some viewers riveted because it seemed so antithetical to Ellen’s joyful, “be kind to everyone” brand.
That’s part of what has made watching it all play out difficult for many.
No, celebrities are not perfect, and DeGeneres has said just that, with a source telling CNN she told more than 200 employees during a Zoom call “I’m a multi-layered person, and I try to be the best person I can be and I try to learn from my mistakes.”
Part of the issue with celebrities is that it’s easy to build them up, forgetting that they are human and subject to failings just like the rest of us.
And it can hurt to watch those who have brought us happiness and broken cultural barriers be embroiled in scandal.
But everyone is entitled to a healthy and safe workplace.
Ellen’s popularity was built in large part on her humanity and the offering of grace. Falling down and getting back up again strengthens that real-life humanness for those who care to display a bit of their own.
Pop back here next Thursday for all the latest happenings that matter in Hollywood.