Once regularly under fire for their lack of diversity, the Academy Awards have gained a reprieve in recent years as people of various ethnic backgrounds have received nominations and scored wins. This year, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o both earned acting nominations for 12 Years a Slave, while the film's director Steve McQueen was nominated as both a director and producer. Gravity's director Alfonso Cuaron was nominated in the same categories as McQueen, and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) notched a nom for Best Supporting Actor. In recent years, there have been wins in supporting categories for Octavia Spencer and Mo'Nique, and in directing for Asian filmmaker Ang Lee.
Compared to the the majority of the Academy Awards history, where wins for actors like Sidney Poitier, Rita Moreno, and Jose Ferrer were very much the exception and not the rule, the Oscars are far more diverse. Of course, that's like saying that there have been strides made to curb global warming... any progress is great, but that doesn't mean that there isn't more work to do.
Publisher Lee & Low recently analyzed the first 85 years of Oscars to spotlight issues such as there being only one minority winner (Halle Berry) in the Best Actress Category, that only one woman (Kathryn Bigelow) has ever won for directing and that only six minority performers have won for Best Actor... and that's including Ben Kingsley, who is of Indian descent. The Los Angeles Times originally published a look at the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in 2012 and updated it in 2013 to show that 93-percent of those casting votes were white and about three quarters are male. Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is a black female, helped spearhead a movement to add new members to the voting pool, but the Times found that the changes have had only a minimal impact on the percentages.
The makeup of the Academy's voting blocks are only partially to blame, however. While there are some women and minorities in top decision-making roles at studios, like Sony Picture's Amy Pascal and Warner Bros CEO Kevin Tsujihara, the majority of studio executives are still white males. The movies made by Hollywood, while perhaps more diverse than in the past, still feature casts and crews that are predominantly white and, particularly behind the camera, largely male. Adding to the problem, UCLA's 2014 Diversity Report showed that only a small group of talent agencies represent an overwhelming majority of the actors, directors and writers making movies for studios, but that their rosters were less diverse compared to all other agencies combined.
While there has been progress in films featuring black actors, there is still a gap when it comes to representing other minority groups like Asians and Hispanics. The last Asian actor to be nominated for a leading role was Kingsley in 2003. Not counting European-born actors like Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, or Joaquin Phoenix, who was born while his parents were living in Puerto Rico, only one Latino actor (Demian Bichir for A Better Life in 2011) has been nominated for a lead role in the last 10 years.
Until Hollywood starts telling stories that are as diverse as the nation as a whole, and employing casts and crews that represent that diversity, there will continue to be only minimal gains realized at the Academy Awards. After all, the prerequisite for earning an Oscar nomination is having the opportunity to do the work in the first place.
There might come an award season where an actual mix of nominees in all categories adequately represents women and minority groups, but it hasn't happened yet. Just being better isn't good enough.
In full defiance of the old maxim, the third time is not always the charm. Cinematically speaking, the third installment of any property has the greatest potential to be a disaster. That’s not to say that every part three is a dud, and in fact several second sequels have managed to excel. However, more often than not, these films fall victim to recurring pitfalls. As Marvel gets set to release Iron Man 3, we thought we’d examine those elements that tend to derail part-three’s in the hopes that Tony Stark’s latest adventure stays on track.
Iron Man 3 is in the supremely unfavorable position of not only being a second sequel, but indeed the second sequel of a superhero movie. Obvious facts? Perhaps, but if the overall track record for third installments is lackluster, the batting average for those within the superhero genre is utterly abysmal. The Caped Crusader took a decided turn for the worst with Batman Forever and Superman III was such a departure from the quality of the first two films in the franchise that it was downright farcical. Spider-Man 3, while boasting a few defenders, would also qualify as a mark against its series.
The principal issue with each of these less-than-super superhero movies has to do with their villains. Batman Forever cast Jim Carrey as The Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, turning both into characters more cartoonish than they were in even Batman: The Animated Series. Superman III decided to follow up an iconic conflict with General Zod by having The Man of Steel take on…Richard Prior. Iron Man 3, in casting Sir Ben Kingsley and taking him in the direction the trailers would suggest, seems to be actively avoiding dumbing down of its chief baddie. Let us hope this turns out to be true; that Marvel continues to trust its audience.
Spider-Man 3 tried to pack far too many antagonists into a single story, with seemingly no concern for balancing their significance to the plot. Iron Man 3 will be adding more villains than any Iron Man film we’ve seen thus far. The trick for Drew Pence and Shane Black’s script is not to mathematically divvy out equilateral screentime to each of its bad guys, but instead to adequately construct a hierarchy of foes and use them as much or as little as the narrative demands. Say what you will about The Dark Knight Rises, but the third chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga utilized Bane, Talia al Ghul, and The Scarecrow in optimal measures.
Though the history of superhero thirds does Iron Man 3 no favors, the perils Shane Black is hoping to avoid are those that plague tertiary films of all genres. The problem often starts en route to part three; whenever the initial sequel ventures none-too-far from the formula that made the first film such a success. These second chapters feel less like their own movies and more like a second viewing of the first movie again. The Hangover II is a prime example of this; hitting every single beat of the first film in an absurdly calculated rehash. Scream 2 is also guilty of this crime, maybe even moreso as it revisited all the significant plot devices of a film that was already an amalgam of previously-existing horror films.
What this does in turn is place pressure on the third installment to stretch beyond its conceptual means. This swinging for the fences isn’t inherently ill advised, and can even inspire noble creativity, but it can also provide the perfect catalyst for some truly idiotic forced twists on franchise convention. Returning to the Scream series for a moment, the addition of a revelatory familial connection between Sidney and the killer was about as dopey a conceit as they come. Even variations that yield interesting horror cinema can cause fan friction. Halloween IIIput Michael Myers on the backburner and, though it turned out to be a fantastic corporate pagan cult mystery, the shift didn’t sit well with viewers.
Luckily for Iron Man 3, the franchise flexed its storytelling muscles in the second movie; exploring Tony Stark’s drinking problem and debilitating personal issues arguably at the expense of the overall enjoyment factor. Still, it would be in Iron Man 3’s best interest to stay centered even as it expands. The trailers have already revealed that there will be armies of armored suits mobilized against The Mandarin, one of which looks as though it will be piloted by Pepper Potts. Also, there will be the increased presence of James Rhodes. While this promises to be a thrill for the viewers, it’s also a gamble considering the character specifics.
Tony Stark has always been a lone wolf, which actually provided ample opportunity for engaging conflict in The Avengers. But now he’s back in his own world and, more to the point, supposedly dealing with how his experience with The Avengers affected him as an individual hero. Hopefully Iron Man 3 uses the armored suit army to further explore his uneasiness with team dynamics without seeming a repeat of The Avengers or fundamentally altering who Stark is at his core. After all, we don’t want a Smokey and the Bandit 3 situation on our hands. Well, we actually don’t want that to happen for more reasons than just Smokey becoming The Bandit.
Finally, Iron Man 3 has the potential to fall prey to the pressures of wrapping up a trilogy. Speculating without seeing the film, it is admittedly a possible non-issue, but in a recent interview, Gwyneth Paltrow did say, “I don’t think there’s going to be [an Iron Man 4]. I think we’re done with Iron Man.” For the moment, and for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that Iron Man 3 will be the last Iron Man film for the foreseeable future. What must be a concern for Shane Black is ensuring, should he have to put a bow on this trilogy, that he doesn’t introduce a host of new questions that he then does not answer. We’re looking at you, The Matrix Revolutions.
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There isn't much of a twist to The Woman in Black's haunted house tale: man goes to a creepy old house runs into an angry ghost and mayhem ensues. That standard horror plot would be fine if the execution were thrilling every scare sending a chill down the spine. But star Daniel Radcliffe's first post-Potter outing has less life than its spectral inhabitants with impressive early 20th century production design sharp cinematography and solid performances barely keeping it breathing. Much like the film's titular spirit The Woman in Black hangs in limbo haunting the quality divide.
Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is barely holding on in life having lost his wife during the birth of their child and struggling to stay employed as a lawyer. To stay afloat Kipps reluctantly takes on the job of settling the legal affairs of a recently deceased widow. Living in her home the you-should-have-known-this-house-was-haunted-by-the-name Eel Marsh House Kipps quickly realizes there's more to the woman's life than he realized unraveling her mysterious connections to a string of child deaths and a ghostly presence in the home. Even with pressure from the townspeople Kipps continues his investigation hoping to right any wrongs he's accidentally caused by putting the violent Woman in Black to rest.
Radcliffe bounces back and forth between the dusty mansion made even more forbidding by the high tides that routinely cut it off from civilization and a town full of wide-eyed psychos who live in fear of the kid-killing Woman in Black. Even after losing his own son Kipps' neighbor Daily (Ciarán Hinds) is convinced the "ghost" is a fairy tales while Daily's wife (Oscar nominee Janet McTeer) finds herself occasionally possessed by her dead son scribbling forbidding message to Arthur about future murders. Arthur wrestles with the two extreme points of view but Woman in Black doesn't spend much time exploring the hardships of a skeptic quickly slipping back into standard horror mode at every opportunity. When they have time to play around with the twisted scenario all three actors are top-notch but rarely are they asked to do anything but gasp and react in a terrified manner.
Director James Watkins (Eden Lake) conjures up some legitimately spooky imagery leaving the space behind Arthur empty or cutting to an object in the room that could potentially come back to haunt our befuddled hero all in an effort to tickle our imaginations. But like so many "jump scare" horror flicks Woman in Black relies heavily on the "Bah-BAAAAAAH" music cues obtrusively orchestrated by composer Marco Beltrami. A rocking chair a swinging door and the reveal of a decomposing zombie ghost lady could work on their own especially in such a well-designed environment as Eel Marsh House but Woman in Black insists on zapping a charge of musical electricity straight into our brain forcing us to shiver in the least graceful way possible.
The script by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass X-Men: First Class) tries to throw back to the slow burn character-first horror films of classic cinema while injecting the sensibilities modern filmmaking. The combination turns Woman in Black into visually appealing dramatically bland ghost story. Radcliffe still has a long career ahead of him as Woman in Black does suggest but this isn't the movie that get people thinking there's life after Potter.