What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:20 AM 2/23/2018

by Ray Rahman

Left, Jason LaVeris/Getty Images; Right, Photofest

What's news: Joss Whedon is exiting Batgirl after admitting he "didn't really have a story." Plus: Oprah responds to Trump, Harvey Weinstein apologizes for something and Jordan Peele, Barry Jenkins and more assemble for a frank discussion on race and filmmaking. — Ray Rahman

  • Candid Cameras

    Photographed By Austin Hargrave

    Lee Daniels, Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele and John Singleton gather for...

    Directors Roundtable: The only four Oscar-nominated African-American directing nominees in 90 years sit down with Lacey Rose to talk about the politics of who can tell what story, the doors that didn't open and the game-changing impact of Black Panther.

    Have studio executives caught up? You guys are still making many of these projects outside of the studio system ...

    Peele: The last piece of the excuse for this sort of systemic lack of inclusion that we’ve seen, with some exceptions, was the business part of it kicking in. For so long, you’d hear this notion that the international business is not there and that black people, we’ve always watched white movies, but white people don’t come to black movies. And there are other exceptions that have inched us forward, but when Straight Outta Compton came out, it was an international blockbuster.

    Singleton: 12 Years a Slave was an international blockbuster, too.

    Jenkins: Even Moonlight, not a blockbuster, but we made more money overseas than we did domestic.

    Daniels: As did The Butler.

    Peele: Right. And that’s why we’re in this renaissance right now, because you can’t make that excuse anymore. The genie is out of the bottle. And what I love about what Panther is doing is it almost feels like, “Are black people gonna go see white people’s movies now that we have our own?” (Laughs.Full roundtable

    Joss Whedon exits the Batgirl movie...

    He's out: Whedon is officially exiting the Warner Bros. feature project, which he was writing and was slated to direct.

    Whedon: “Batgirl is such an exciting project, and Warners/DC such collaborative and supportive partners, that it took me months to realize I really didn’t have a story,” the director said in a statement to THR. Referring to DC president Geoff Johns and Warners Picture Group president Toby Emmerich, Whedon added, “I’m grateful to Geoff and Toby and everyone who was so welcoming when I arrived, and so understanding when I…uh, is there a sexier word for ‘failed?'”

    Sources say: Whedon, after a year of trying, could not crack the code of what a Batgirl movie should be. They add that even as Whedon faced story issues, in today’s cultural entertainment environment, a male filmmaker may have faced greater public scrutiny if he were to have tackled a movie with such feminist importance. Full story.

    What's next for Batgirl: Warner Bros. could quietly shelve the project, but there are multiple reasons it shouldn't. Here's why.

    Weinstein has some regrets...

    Apology: Harvey Weinstein issued an apology to Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence yesterday for having used their names in an attempt to dismiss a sexual misconduct lawsuit.

    “Mr. Weinstein acknowledges the valuable input both Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence have contributed to this conversation and apologizes," the statement from his rep read. “Moving forward, Mr. Weinstein has advised his counsel to not include specific names of former associates; and to avoid whenever possible, even if they are in the public record."

    Elsewhere in film...

    The PETA Awards: The organization's first-ever honors for animal-friendly movies, dubbed the Oscats, went to the likes of The Last JediJumanji and Shape of Water's fish-man actor Doug Jones for capturing "the despair felt by those who are abused and kept chained."

    Oscar ads: Want to buy one? Too bad — ABC has sold all its ad inventory for the televised ceremony, with some 30-second spots fetching as much as $2.8 million, Adweek reports.

    Christopher Plummer talks salary controversy...

    All the Money: What does the Oscar-nominated actors think about that controversial Mark Wahlberg-Michelle Williams pay gap? "Oh Jesus, it never stops. The scandal goes on and on. I thought it was good that Mark ended up donating his salary. You’ve worked as an actor for decades." Full Q&A.

    Meet your next MTV Movie and TV Awards host...

    It's Tiffany Haddish: The woman will not be stopped. Fresh off announcing her starring role in a new Netflix animated series, the Girls Trip breakout has now been tapped to host MTV's annual non-music awards show, set to take place Monday, June 18. Previous hosts include Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer and Conan O'Brien.

    More film news...

    Yara Shahidi's next role: The Grown-ish star is in talks to topline the adaptation of the best-selling YA novel The Sun Is Also a Star from MGM and Warner Bros., with a script penned by Girls Trip writer Tracy Oliver.

    Sam Rockwell joins Angelina Jolie: He'll star in The One and Only Ivan, the Disney adaptation of the Newbery Medal-winning book that boasts a script by Mike White and Angelina Jolie as a producer and lead voice actor.

    Netflix picks up Maggie Gyllenhaal's The Kindergarten Teacher: The streamer has acquired U.S. and Canada rights to the Sundance award winner, which received raves for Gyllenhaal's turn as a Staten Island teacher who becomes obsessed with a gifted student and earned Sara Colangelo the festival's directing award.

    RIP, George Kaufman: The real-estate developer who helped rejuvenate film and television production in New York City as chairman of the venerable Kaufman Astoria Studios complex in Queens, died Tuesday at the age of 89.

  • Oprah's Trump Response

    Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images; Amanda Edwards/WireImage

    Oprah Winfrey responds to Trump...

    "Hate tweet": That's what Oprah called the president's recent Twitter missive against her 60 Minutes segment on Trump voters. Winfrey told Ellen DeGeneres: “I don’t like giving negativity power, so I just thought, 'What?' What I actually really did was I went back and looked at the tape to see if there was any place that that could be true. Did I feel like it was slanted or biased? I went back and looked at every tape...."

    The Florida students: "This is a moment. This is exactly what happened during the civil rights movement where people...they were 18, 19, 20 years old, young people who said, ‘We have had enough. Enough.’ These kids are right there."

    Also, she didn't recognize Leonardo DiCaprio at Ellen's birthday party: “Who is it? I know it’s somebody. Is it Justin Timberlake? I don’t think it’s Justin Timberlake. The Weeknd says to him, ‘Hey man, I really loved that film you did.’ And he says, ‘No, that wasn’t a good film for me, it wasn’t my favorite film.’ And I go, ‘So what was your favorite film?’ And he says, The Aviator. And I go, ‘Leonardo, you’re so funny!’"

    Oprah also visited Jimmy Kimmel: “You don’t win by meeting any sort of negativity head-on,” Winfrey said of the Trump tweet. Kimmel also gamely asked her, "Have you ever been ‘insecure’ anytime in the last 35 years?” Watch.

    Harassment allegations at Comcast...

    In bad company: Comcast responded Thursday to allegations that managers at the cable company, including at Comcast's call centers, were lax in dealing with allegations that male employees were sexually harassing their female counterparts.

    The accusations: They were first made public in a report by Jezebel, which cites six women who say men frequently spoke to them in sexually suggestive terms, used foul language and grabbed at them, and when they complained, they were often treated as "villains." Two of the women profiled by Jezebel are in the midst of legal action against Comcast.

    Face the Nation's new host...

    It's Margaret Brennan: CBS News announced that Brennan, a White House and foreign affairs correspondent will replace John Dickerson as the Sunday morning current-affairs show's new anchor. She begins this Sunday, becoming only the second woman ever to hold the role in the program's 60-year history (Lesley Stahl had the job from 1983 to 1991).

    The White House Correspondents' Dinner's new host...

    It's Michelle Wolf: The comedian and Daily Show vet, who was just given her own weekly late-night show on Netflix, will host the annual D.C. nerd prom April 28. But the big question is: Will Trump show up? She'll be the event's fifth-ever woman to host, following Cecily Strong, Wanda Sykes, Paula Poundstone and Elayne Boosler.

    The Daily Show streak: Wolf's fellow TDS contributor Hasan Minhaj hosted the shindig last year. So who's next, Roy Wood Jr. or Jordan Klepper?

    Report from CPAC...

    Sean Hannity's rowdy evening: The Fox news hosted a highly charged debate about gun control and threw footballs to the CPAC crowd, our man on the ground Jeremy Barr reports: "Before his show even began, Hannity began bashing 'fake news' CNN, generating healthy applause from the crowd. Throughout the taping, he repeatedly criticized the gun control town hall the network put on Wednesday night."

    Hannity: "CNN stacked the deck against Second Amendment supporters," Hannity told his receptive audience. "They're not interested in solutions. This is all about creating political theater. In fact, it did nothing to solve the problem."

    His guests: Geraldo Rivera, Dan Loesch and Kellyanne Conway. Read more.

    TV Academy's new code of conduct...

    Zero tolerance: In a letter signed by chairman and CEO Hayma Washington, the Television Academy pledges to have "zero tolerance for discrimination or harassment, as well as illegal, dishonest or unethical conduct,” and violations of the code would result in actions that could include "being refused admission or ejected from an event, being barred from future events, or the suspension or expulsion of membership.”

    Sinking Snapchat fortunes...

    How powerful is Kylie Jenner? On Wednesday, she tweeted: "sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me…ugh this is so sad." This seemed to have caused Snap's stock to fall sharply the next day, plunging as much as 8 percent and wiping $1.7 billion off its market cap.

    Elsewhere in TV...

    NBC finds its Judas: Hamilton star and two-time Tony nominee Brandon Victor Dixon will take on the role for the network's Jesus Christ Superstar live musical, joining John Legend's Jesus, Sara Bareilles' Mary Magdalene and Alice Cooper's King Herod.

    Parks and Rec reunion: Natalie Morales has been tapped to star in Abby's, Mike Schur's latest comedy pilot at NBC. She formerly played Tom's (Aziz Ansari) love interest on Parks and Rec.

    Kristin Chenoweth will star in Trial and Error season 2: She'll replace John Lithgow as the NBC comedy's new accused serial killer. 

    Bellamy Young nabs lead role at ABC: The Scandal star will topline the drama pilot False Profits, about a team of down-and-out women in suburban Arizona who fight their way to the top of the cutthroat multilevel marketing cosmetics business. 

    Taye Diggs teams with Greg Berlanti: He'll co-star in Berlanti's untitled football drama for a pilot at The CW.

    Sense 8 star heads to L.A. Confidential: Brian J. Smith will play the CBS reboot's leading man, portrayed by Guy Pearce in the movie.

    NBC's Good Girls, reviewed... 

    Daniel Fienberg: "Good Girls feels like a cable show squished into a network-shaped box, but it's still generally more than watchable thanks to a trio of leading ladies — Christina Hendricks, Retta and Mae Whitman — who appear to be having a tremendous time playing funny, badass characters who are the focus of the show and not just wives or girlfriends." The takeaway: The girls don't break bad enough. Full review.

    The Looming Tower Q&A...

    Interview: Those unfamiliar with the name Ali Soufan will soon be getting a lesson in his role in American history with the debut of Hulu's upcoming 9/11 drama The Looming Tower. He's the real-life FBI agent portrayed by Tahar Rahim in Hulu's new 9/11 drama, which also stars Jeff Daniels and Peter Sarsgaard. Read the Q&A.

  • Theater Games

    Illustration by Wren McDonald

    Letting people play games in a movie theater? As film attendance dips and Netflix, Hulu and Amazon dominate the zeitgeist, exhibitors and entrepreneurs are going with a try-anything approach to entice audiences. Paul Bond writes:

    Ahead of three VIP screenings of Black Panther the week of Feb. 15 in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, theater auditoriums were under attack from space aliens. About 500 media insiders in attendance used their smartphones to shoot down the flying marauders, racking up points along the way.

    The game, Cinevaders, comes from National CineMedia, best known for its "Noovie" show that unspools ahead of trailers in theaters nationwide, and it could be considered Exhibit A in the movie-exhibition industry's quest to stay relevant in the digital era as Netflix, YouTube, Facebook and others present more convenient and affordable forms of video entertainment. Read more.

    Studio profit report...

    Who's making what: Disney reigns. Viacom stems losses. Paramount in the black? Not yet, according to THR's annual film and TV analysis, which reveals a steep slide at Fox, plenty of hits (and misses) at Warners and growth for only half of Hollywood’s six (soon to be five) majors. See the breakdown.

    And now for our eighth edition of...

    ↱The Three-Question Interview: a series of short Q&As with interesting executives and personalities. Next up: Nick Quah, the podcast guru who runs the popular Hot Pod newsletter.

    So HBO seems to be leading in this podcast-to-TV adaptation category, with 2 Dope Queens and Pod Save America, etc. Does it understand something other networks don’t? I challenge that premise, because we’re only beginning to see the initial formalized wave of these adaptations. And this is putting aside what IFC has done over the years, with Comedy Bang Bang and Maron. But what HBO has done is distinctly different from the general trend, which is TV and films taking podcast as fiction IP. It fits perfectly in its strategic goals. They’re feeling intense competition from Netflix, so there’s this push to find more interesting places to pull IP from and develop programming that can compete with traditional stand-up specials.

    We’ve seen the #MeToo movement have a big effect in the public-radio space. Is it happening in the podcasting world as well? It’s useful to recall that the public-radio and podcasting communities overlap quite a bit, and likewise with the comedy community, which is also grappling with #MeToo. So I do feel like, based on my reporting, we’re seeing more conscientious and more thoughtful policy making in the building of these [podcasting] companies. I’m glad to see it — I don’t see how it can’t affect the podcasting industry.

    I feel like a lot of casual observers are award of Gimlet, which has been ramping up its output and even started a film-and-TV division. Who's the next Gimlet people should look out for? I'm perpetually impressed by Nightvale Presents. They do Welcome to Nightvale but also have developed this interesting semi-independent label that lets creators figure out collaborators they want to work with. They are so quirky, and they're working at creative levels that are just purely artistic. Who knows if the trajectory looks like Gimlet. They feel like Sub Pop — like a really interesting alt record label that's super strong for years.↲

    What else we're reading...

    — "In this #MeToo moment, Academy Awards want to spotlight the movies." Brooks Barnes writes: "Attempts to keep the Oscars on the sunnier side reflect ratings concern inside ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Most people watch award shows for the glamour." [The New York Times]

    — "What ever happened to Brendan Fraser?" Zach Baron's profile: "His eyes are pale and a bit watery these days — less wide than they used to be when he was new to the screen, playing guys who were often new to the world. Blue-gray stubble around the once mighty chin, gray long-sleeve shirt draped indifferently over the once mighty body." [GQ]

    — "Charlie Walk: Top music executive allegedly preyed on women for decades." Jason Newman writes: "Five women accuse Republic Group president of sexual misconduct including forced kisses, unsolicited penis images and rubbing against subordinates." [Rolling Stone]

    — "Inside the evolution of 2 Dope Queens With Phoebe Robinson." The comedian talks about her podcast's success. [Splitsider]

    — "How will publishing deal with Lemony Snicket amid #MeToo?" David M. Perry writes: "Numerous authors and librarians allege a pattern of sexually humiliating comments at public events from one of YA literature's biggest stars." [Pacific Standard]

    — "Hammer Museum receives $50 million in gifts for expansion." Thirty-million dollars from Lynda and Stewart Resnick, $20 million from board chairwoman Marcy Carsey. [L.A. Times]

    — "Celebrating the Game Boy Camera, one of Nintendo's weirdest, most ingenious inventions." Matt Gerardi writes: "Even by 1998 standards, the camera itself was a piece of junk." [AV Club]

    — "How the Breeders finally learned to get along." Melena Ryzik shadows the great '90s indie rock band: "There’s a reason the career-making lineup of the Breeders didn’t talk for over a decade. But no one quite remembers what it is." [The New York Times]

    What else we're seeing...

    + "Lupita Nyong'o describes how she came to produce, star in Trevor Noah memoir adaptation." [Daily Show]

    + "Christine Baranksi takes The Good Fight to Broadway." [Late Show]

    + "Heather Graham talks Harvey Weinstein, 'MeToo" and directorial debut." [THR]

    What else we're hearing...

    + "Katie Couric and the difficulties of dialogue in these times." The journalist discusses journalism, divisive politics and more. [Black on the Air/The Ringer]

    Today's Birthdays: Dakota Fanning, 24, Aziz Ansari, 35, Emily Blunt, 35, Josh Gad, 37, Kelly Macdonald, 42, Niecy Nash, 48, Kristin Davis, 53, Peter Fonda, 78.