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‘The voice of the voiceless’: how Viola Davis and Julius Tennon are changing the face of Hollywood

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The wife-and-husband team set up their own production company to tackle Hollywoods persistent diversity problem

The actor Julius Tennon is thrilled to be appearing alongside his Oscar-winning wife, Viola Davis, in the new season of her hit show, How to Get Away with Murder, later this month. It is rare they work together onscreen.

Offscreen, however, the power couple spend much of their time working together for they have a joint mission: to change the face of Hollywood by increasing diversity across the industry.

A recent study showed that despite the huge success of recent films such as Fences, starring Davis and Denzel Washington; Moonlight; and Hidden Figures, Hollywood remained as white and male dominated as ever. Representation of race, gender, LGBT people and disability had barely changed in the past 10 years, according to the research by academics at the University of Southern California (USC).

Tennon said: That study was important because its highlighting what the state of Hollywood really is.

He added: Obviously there are pipeline issues at the top with people of color. Some networks were doing a good job, he said, but slow she goes. Its a brick by brick situation.

When I go to meetings, its generally not African Americans that Im talking to about getting something greenlit. Folks at the top are going to have to make decisions about trying to make systemic change. Thats the only way its going to happen by creating a pipeline of opportunities for folk to get in there, go through it and get out and start being a part of it at the top.

He and Davis, who married 14 years ago and have a seven-year-old daughter, Genesis, set up their multimedia company, JuVee Productions, in 2011 to tackle the problem from the grassroots. They wanted to create more suitable roles for Daviss talent.

Tennon, 63, said: We started it out of a need for her career, for Viola to be more than this woman who turns a piece of baloney into a filet mignon. She was getting one or two scenes in a movie and some guest star TV work, but after Antwone Fisher [a 2002 film starring and directed by Denzel Washington], there were a lot of eyes on her.

They quickly decided to expand their goal and try to create opportunities for a diverse range of people on and off the screen.

While we had this elevation in the industry, we felt it was a chance to give opportunities to others, whether that be actors or below-the-line people, Tennon said. We consider ourselves the voice of the voiceless.

The USC study looked at the 100 top grossing films at the US box office in 2016. It found that 5.8% of directors were black and 3.3% Asian. Just 4.2% of directors, 20.7% of producers, 13.2% of writers and 1.7% of composers were female; while only 31% of the speaking roles went to women. LGBT characters filled 1.1% of all speaking parts and people with disabilities 2.7%.

No black women appeared in 47 of the films and there were no black female directors.

Viola Davis said via email: The reason diversity is still an issue is that everyone is not put to task.

She said it was a much bigger issue than casting and stories, agreeing with Tennon that it was a pipeline problem. If a writer, director, cinematographer, actor of color is out there, they have the talent but havent had the opportunities. So, when the studios start putting together their movies, they go for who they know, who theyve worked with the hottest, buzziest, the one with the rsum and most of them are white.

She added: No one says anything, because why would you? To change is to risk losing money, changing your vision, being exposed. Its a problem that needs to be tackled from the studio heads who give the green light vote to film-makers who simply can envision a role differently, to producers who can give a budding gifted cinematographer, grip, writer of color a chance, and finally to audiences to plop down money to see a film character differently. It requires being awoke.

These days, Tennon, who has appeared in more than 50 films and TV series, concentrates mostly on running JuVee and producing. The company takes on everything from virtual reality and digital content to television and film.

Their first film, Lila & Eve, with Davis and Jennifer Lopez, was released in 2015. Custody, featuring Davis, followed in 2016. Next spring, they start shooting the Personal History of Rachel Dupree, the story of an African American woman struggling to farm the Badlands in South Dakota in 1917. A biopic of Barbara Jordan, the first southern black woman to be elected to the House of Representatives, is in the development stage. Both will star 52-year-old Davis.

They are also working on the movie adaptation of Rachel Lloyds critically acclaimed book Girls Like Us, a true story about sex trafficking.

Tennon said Davis, who won an Oscar for Fences this year and was nominated for Oscars in 2012 for The Help and 2009 for Doubt, touches people across the globe. He added: Were using the platform to push things forward.

The first three seasons of How to Get Away with Murder are on Netflix. Its exploded her star. Shes sitting in all these different living rooms where a black woman wasnt sitting, and its powerful. As a company, we feel like we have to make sure that the content going out is above and beyond. When we create narratives, we want them to be whole and full and rich, and non-stereotypical.

He continued: Were in a market now thats accelerated by technology. Diversity is what were bringing to the digital space. We want content for everyone and content that people of color will consume.

Mentioning the global success of Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Fences, he said: Were in a space now where diversity is good business and people should see it like that.

Organizations should be hiring people of color in executive positions, he believes, and thinking how to include these people to help shape things so they have a complete slate, that has a little bit of everything. Those organizations that are thinking that way, big and expansive, will be the winners, he said.

Tennons first public performance was at 14, when he performed the I Have a Dream speech by Martin Luther King Jr in a school assembly. Encouraged by his English teacher, who thought he had a beautiful voice, he became the first African American in the drama department at the University of Tulsa which he attended on an American football scholarship and went on to pursue his dream of becoming an actor.

Now he, along with the woman he describes as one of a handful of great actresses of our time, hopes to give others the chance to achieve their dreams, too.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/sep/24/the-voice-of-the-voiceless-how-viola-davis-and-julius-tennon-are-changing-the-face-of-hollywood

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Robert Zemeckis Returns To Science Fiction With ‘Project Blue Book’ & ‘Bios’

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This story is by published in Deadline.

“Now this has a familiar ring to it: Robert Zemeckis is revisiting the 1950s to rewrite history with one new project and then he’s going back to the future to prove the power of love with a second project.

No, Zemeckis isn’t revving up the DeLorean for more Marty McFly sequels — however, the director of the Back to the Future trilogy (1985-1990) and Contact(1997) is making a relatively rare return to science fiction with the two projects. This time around, however, his foray into the genre is in a producing role. On Monday, Zemeckis talked about the two projects: Bios, the upcoming feature film; and Project Blue Book, a television series that premieres in January on History.

Bios, scheduled to start filming early next year, reunites Zemeckis with one of his most celebrated collaborators. “We’re producing a really magnificent science fiction project called Bios with Tom Hanks,” Zemeckis said. “It’s a really cool science-fiction story. It’s set in a post-apocalytptic world and Tom Hanks may or may not be the last human survivor on the planet.”

Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment picked Bios up in October. The script is by Craig Luck (Solo: A Star Wars Movie) and Ivor Powell (Blade Runner).

Spielberg described the movie in an October statement as “an original, emotionally stirring tale that at its core is very much an Amblin movie” and added that he could think of “no one more perfect to embody this story about the meaning of being human than Tom Hanks.”

Hanks will portray Finch, the last man on earth, who………………………………………”

Click here to read the rest of the article: https://deadline.com/2018/11/robert-zemeckis-returns-to-science-fiction-with-project-blue-book-bios-1202501178/

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James Cameron Says the ‘Avatar’ Sequels Have Wrapped Production

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This just in from Pandora: James Cameron says the Avatar sequels have reached a major milestone with the completion of all principal photography involving main cast members.

In a video message, the director of the two highest-grossing films of all time (Avatarand Titanic) praised the ensemble of actors who have been filming Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 since September 2017.

 

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Upcoming ‘Willy Wonka’ Movie Is a Prequel

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“The untold origin story behind one of the most iconic fictional characters in history is due to be revealed. We learned earlier this year that Warner Bros. was developing aWilly Wonka movie with Paddington and Paddington 2 director Paul King in talks to take the helm. At the time, plot details were unclear but we did know that Simon Rich (Man Seeking Woman) was writing the script and David Heyman (Harry Potterand Fantastic Beasts franchises) was producing.

A further curiosity arrived this summer when Collider broke the news that actors like Donald Glover and Ryan Gosling were on the studio’s shortlist to play Willy Wonka in……………………………………….”

Read More: http://collider.com/willy-wonka-movie-prequel/#images

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