Diverse Casts Deliver Higher Ratings, Bigger Box Office: Study (Exclusive)

This story first appeared in the March 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

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.

 

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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).

FILM

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.

 

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TELEVISION

Viewers like diversity, with broadcast scripted shows 41 percent to 50 percent diversely cast scoring the highest ratings in black and white households alike in 2012-13, while on cable, white and Latino viewers preferred casts with 31 percent to 40 percent diversity. Black households preferred cable shows with more than 50 percent diversity, a figure buoyed by BET programs including The Game and Kevin Hart‘s Real Husbands of Hollywood.

But TV remained white-heavy onscreen and behind the camera, with minorities underrepresented nearly 6-to-1 in lead roles on scripted broadcast shows and nearly 2-to-1 as leads on cable (relative to their share of the U.S. population), more than 3-to-1 as cable series creators and more than 6-to-1 as broadcast creators. Women were underrepresented about 2-to-1 as broadcast and cable creators, and their frequency as leads on broadcast dipped below 50 percent; they also remained outnumbered on cable. Both groups were underrepresented in reality programming.

 

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Hunt is hopeful, though. “Film has always been a step or two behind television in terms of its willingness and ability to open up and diversify,” he says. He feels the medium is becoming more inclusive with the bevy of new distributors and producers, particularly such digital platforms as Netflix and Amazon. “It’s creating a chance for people to get in who had no shot before,” says Hunt. “But they’re still not getting in at the rate the tried-and-true names are.”

He is “very optimistic” regarding this pilot season’s push for diversity — with numerous minority-led projects ordered, several through overall deals with diverse talent including Eva Longoria and producer Will Packer — as well as the recent success of EmpireBlack-ishHow to Get Away With MurderFresh Off the Boat and other diverse programs.

EXECUTIVES

This year, for the first time, the study surveyed diversity in 2013 in the executive ranks of TV networks and studios (96 percent white and 71 percent male) and major and mini-major film studios (94 percent white and 100 percent male). The past year’s executive moves, such as Stacey Snider‘s jump to 20th Century Fox and Amy Pascal stepping down as co-chair at Sony Pictures, aren’t reflected in this snapshot.

 

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The report was backed financially by a half-dozen major studios and networks including the Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner. In addition to publishing the study online, Hunt and Ramon will present it to executives from each sponsor, as they did the first report in 2014. That study helped some executives make changes at their companies, including the creation of HBOAccess, a mentorship program for diverse writers and filmmakers, which Time Warner executive director of diversity and corporate social responsibility Jonathan Beane says was inspired largely by the report. “I want to make sure that what I’m preaching, I have data to support it. [The report] does that,” he says.

He agrees with the researchers that the problem stems from executive attitudes during the hiring process, which perpetuates the lack of diversity in executive suites — even if unintentionally. “I don’t believe it’s malicious,” says Beane. “It’s just that people have a better eye for talent when it looks like them and has the same background as them.”

 

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Says Hunt: “It’s a high-risk industry. People want to surround themselves with collaborators they’re comfortable with, which tends to mean people they’ve networked with — and nine times out of 10, they’ll look similar. It reproduces the same opportunities for the same kind of people: You’re surrounding yourself with a bunch of white men to feel comfortable.”

He adds that the industry won’t change until that does. “It’s not like there’s this general trend upward, this wave everything is riding. It’s very precarious,” says Hunt. “It’s getting better, but it’s not getting better fast enough. And it’s still a big problem.”

Funkmaster Flex Has Lost Some Weight (But He Still Enjoys a Good Beef)

BY BILL BRADLEY
funkmaster-flex-gq-fitness-03.jpgPhoto: Jace Lumley

Funkmaster Flex has been eating a lot of shrimp. Since November, the legendary New York DJ has dropped more than 45 pounds. And when he rolls into the Yonkers Tennis Center—an hour late, he had business to attend to with his ex-wife—Flex flashes a smile that says, I know I look good. Slim and trim in white shorts, a snapback Yankees cap, and a gold chain with a pendant that says SHAKE THE BLOCK, Flex is ready to play tennis.

“Normally I don’t wear the chain to hit, but I had to for GQ,” he says. “The chain makes it so gangster and gully, you don’t even understand.”

A fixture at the preeminent New York hip-hop station Hot 97 since 1992, Flex got on his diet, The 40 Day Reset, at the urging of Cipha Sounds, a fellow Hot 97 veteran who recently left the station. The idea behind the diet, if you believe the marketing department, is to speed up your metabolism and rewire your brain and body to overcome hormonal imbalances that cause weight gain. For the 47-year-old Flex, that meant no breakfast, loading up on lean proteins and vegetables, and eating portioned meals at three-hour intervals. That’s how he rediscovered his love for shrimp.

“I didn’t know there were so many different ways to eat shrimp,” he says. “We go hard on the garlic.”

But we came to play tennis. And Flex, who has a fierce backhand, is rallying with his instructor because I can’t keep pace. When I do get on the court, he drops signature Flex Bombs, shouting “BOMB!” every time I sail a forehand over the backstop. After our court time is up, we hop in his 2008 Funkmaster Flex Ford Expedition—because of course Flex has an eponymous limited edition Ford Expedition—to grab lunch at a nearby diner where the staff crows his name when he walks through the door.

Before we can sit down over soup and salad to talk about dropping weight, roller skating, and mid-life crises—and before we tackle his now famous Jay Z rant—Flex needs to take care of one thing: the nasty effect this brutal winter has had on his truck. “Got to get this ride looking clean,” he says, as we head to his local carwash.

funkmaster-flex-gq-fitness-02.jpgPhoto: Jace Lumley

GQ: Why the sudden urge to take care of yourself?
My mom passed away. I was eating a lot. I was depressed. My weight was up to 256. I was going through a slump. Part of my weight loss was because I missed my mom. I didn’t want to go through the holidays in a bad place.

How quickly did you take to the 40-Day Reset?
I loved it. I’ve been a fat bastard for like 20 years. The old me would have had home fries and a burger. Now, I’ll do vegetables. I do onions. I do greens.

The 40-Day Reset is a diet program that focuses on food, not fitness. But you still exercised, despite what the program called for?
Yeah, I roller skate. I play tennis. I walk. I go on the treadmill. I was too heavy, man. I was out of breath.

Does roller skating bring you back to your early days growing up in the Bronx?
Am I having a mid-life crisis? Absolutely. I want to revisit my youth, to be honest. I understand what a mid-life crisis is—it’s having emotional and physical feelings like you did when you were young. In the beginning, roller skating rinks were the only places doing hip-hop parties. Roller skating was more how you could hear the music. I saw Grandmaster Flash. I saw Red Alert. I saw so many celebrities back then, man. Two weeks ago, Alicia Keys and Swiss Beatz came in. So I love it. Skating’s tough. I go two hours without coming off the rink.

When you showed up at the studio and the rink after you started dropping weight, what did people say?
Girls love me. Guys ask me about the diet. But you know when I realized I was in a better place? I woke up one morning and realized that I normally needed my hands to sit up out of bed. For some reason, I woke up and got up off the bed without using my arms for leverage. I used to use my arms to get up until I was like, I was so fat.

funkmaster-flex-gq-fitness-01.jpgPhoto: Jace Lumley

I’ve sold gold and platinum albums. I’ve got a number one radio show. Weight was always my Achilles heel. But you know what? I’m just big on doing things people say I can’t. It was almost like, man, I don’t want this to beat me.

People doubted you could lose weight?
I think nobody believed me because a lot of people did it, but didn’t stay on it . I was able to stay on it, which was really exciting.

But now that the 40-Day Reset is over, you’re just applying what you learned to your everyday life?
Yeah. You know what it really did, though—it weans you off of that sugar and pasta. The potato and the bread isn’t the main part of the meal for me anymore. Believe it or not, I’ll still do Chipotle. I’ll get the chicken and salad, with no onions and no toppings—no nothing. We still go to Ruth’s Chris. My girlfriend will go. We’ll just get a steak and share it. And we’ll get vegetables—some spinach, carrots, broccoli. When you cannot feel you have to have a potato, pasta, rice, or bread at every meal, you stay slim.

You caused a bit of a stir last month with your Jay Z rant. Have you heard from Jay since you went at him?
[Laughs.] You mean past the time that he hit me with the capital letters in a text? I love Jay Z. And I respect him. This is the first time I’ve talked about this, by the way. You know how when some things happen you go, eh, water under the bridge? But when I got that email [from Jay Z's website Life + Times], for some reason I felt like a lot of the other things that had happened were not water under the bridge. And maybe you think I’m stupid or you think I’m a bitch. Either one I don’t like.

So have we sat down? No. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I care about his opinion and what he feels in this situation. I will play his records to the grave. ‘Cause I’m a fan. It doesn’t affect anything I do professionally. Just don’t capitalize and talk to me in a text.

So he texted you like you were some sort of lackey?
Absolutely. And I enjoy getting in the ring with everyone and anyone. I think sometimes people forget I have a rule if you’re an on-air personality or a rapper. You’re allowed to come at me three times. And I count them. One, all good. There’s two, all good. You ever notice, people never call me a bully? But I bait you, cause the first and second time, they go, “This dude’s soft. Flex is soft.” And the third time they go, “Oh my God, this guy is lashing out on me.”

What you’re saying is, there won’t be a come-to-Jesus meeting with Jay anytime soon?
You know what? I’m past it if he’s past it. But—and you can go to print with this—should he say anything about me in an interview, I’m going to fire off that night. The choice is really his. I’m going to come 150. He only felt 100. He’ll feel 150. Any slick punch line, any slick interviews—we’re gonna do what we do. We’re gonna spar.

A New Edition Biopic Might Be Coming to a Theater Near You If This Fan-Made Trailer Goes Viral

THIS LOOKS GOOD AND I LOVE THE CASTING

- “NE Heartbreak The Movement” is creative team that comprises of New Edition fans, who hope to eventually produce a feature film that tells the groups story. To help raise awareness for the project, The Movement has put together what they’re calling a “sneak peek” trailer, asking that, if you’re as much of a New Edition fan as they are, you should help spread the word about the collective’s efforts to bring the R&B group’s story to the big screen.

- The film will be directed by Bobby Huntley, an independent filmmaker from Atlanta, and produced by Nikki Wade. The rest of the production team includes cinematographer Calisha Prince; lighting designer Mark Alston; sound technician Brandon Cordy & hair professional Jameelah Crump. All of them are part of a team of New Edition fans who spent 6 weeks auditioning for the cast, and another 6-week period of rehearsals, to shoot the fan-made trailer embedded below, which they say was created with no budget.

‘Blurred Lines’ Trial: Robin Thicke Performs Piano Medley in Court

The artist testified — including musically — on the second day of the trial, with Pharrell & several members of Marvin Gaye’s family present in court.

The “Blurred Lines” trial on Wednesday (Feb. 25) included a bit of unusual testimony: a short piano medley performed by Robin Thicke.

The singer, on the witness stand in the second day of the Los Angeles federal trial, played and sang a medley of U2‘s “With Or Without You,” The Beatles‘ “Let It Be,” Alphaville‘s “Forever Young,” Bob Marley‘s “No Woman No Cry” and Michael Jackson‘s “Man in the Mirror.”

‘Blurred Lines’ Trial Opens as Jurors Hear Dueling Arguments About What’s at Stake

Why? It’s part of his legal team’s effort to demonstrate that Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I.‘s huge hit “Blurred Lines” isn’t improperly derived from Marvin Gaye‘s “Got to Give It Up.”

The musicians sued Gaye’s family to get a declaration that their multiplatinum hit doesn’t infringe on Gaye’s song. In counterclaims, the singer’s children Frankie and Nona Gaye fired back that it does. What’s more, they claim Thicke copied Gaye’s “After the Dance” on his track “Love After War.”

In recent motions, Thicke and Williams’ attorney introduced a complication to the case. They argued that, according to copyright law prior to 1978, the Gaye children only hold the copyrights to the sheet music for their late father’s soul hits, not the recordings themselves. Judge John Kronstadt agreed in a ruling last month (which the Gaye family fought in an unsuccessful appeal) that only the music as written was at issue, and only stripped-down versions of Gaye’s compositions could be heard in court.

Marvin Gaye & Pharrell Lose First Fight Against Marvin Gaye’s Family

That’s why Thicke’s testimony on Wednesday included singing and playing the keyboard. To demonstrate the differences of “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up,” Thicke’s attorney Howard King had the singer compare phrases of the songs — jurors were treated to Thicke’s “I’m gonna take a good girl” refrain and the line “I used to go out to parties” from Gaye’s song — and compare the chord structures of the songs. (Thicke claimed “Blurred Lines” uses only an E-major and an A-major chord, while “Got to Give It Up” uses eight chords). The medley was meant to show that many songs share similar chords and melodies without copying one another.

The trial is expected to run for eight days and include testimony from Williams, T.I. (a.k.a. Clifford Harris Jr., who is a plaintiff) and Thicke’s ex-wife Paula Patton, who co-wrote “Love After War.” Following Tuesday’s opening statements, Thicke was one of the first witnesses to take the stand.

The Gayes’ attorney Richard Busch asked the singer, who seemed to be in a cheerful mood again Wednesday, whether there are structural similarities in “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up.” For instance, T.I.’s rap verse and the spoken “parlando” section start and end on the same measure in both songs. That’s coincidental, said Thicke. “It’s a standard format” that’s used in “just about every song on the radio,” he said. When pressed for examples, Thicke, grinning, would only name two of his own other songs.

Busch asked about how the sales of the “Blurred Lines” single compared to sales for Thicke’s other work. This line of questioning had an eye to potential damages — if the Gaye family prevails, the more they can claim Thicke made from “Blurred Lines,” the more they could demand in compensation. Busch asked Thicke to confirm the “Blurred Lines” single had sold more than 15 million copies worldwide, and Thicke brightened. “I didn’t know that!” he replied. Busch compared the figure to the Blurred Lines record’s 3.3 million sales worldwide and the notoriously poor sales of Thicke’s follow-up record, 2014′s Paula. He asked if Thicke agreed Paulawas unsuccessful due to its sales. “I wouldn’t say that’s the only way for an album to be successful,” Thicke said.

Robin Thicke Admits Drug Use, Lying to the Media in Wild ‘Blurred Lines’ Deposition

The attorneys on both sides spent time going over Thicke’s deposition, in which the singer addressed media interviews he’d done where he claimed Marvin Gaye and “Got to Give It Up” specifically inspired “Blurred Lines.” In the extraordinary deposition, Thicke claimed he lied in the interviews — and was drunk and high on Vicodin during every one. “The state of my personal life, I was recently separated and having the toughest time of my life when I was doing the deposition,” he testified.

King had the singer describe the songwriting and recording process for both tracks to demonstrate the non-influence of Gaye’s songs. In the case of “Blurred Lines,” the song came out of three days Thicke and Williams spent in the studio. But they spent the first two days on other songs — “I remember bouncing ideas back and forth with him, but we didn’t keep any of mine. His were better,” Thicke testified. On the third day, Thicke left in the afternoon, according to his testimony, and Williams had completed the instrumentals for “Blurred Lines” when he returned at night. Thicke said he recorded the vocals in an hour.

He said he took credit despite his relatively minimal role in the songwriting because he was jealous of Williams’ work. “I felt it was a little white lie that didn’t hurt his career but boosted mine.” He said he changed his story when he heard Williams’ account. “A lightbulb went off in my head and I realized I was not present when he created the song. I was living in revisionist history,” he said.

He testified that “Love After War,” which has barely been addressed in the trial so far, came from an argument Thicke had with Patton. Afterward, he went to his piano and wrote the song in “ten minutes,” and a year later Patton had helped him write new verses. At King’s prompting, he clarified that he meant he’d just thought of the melody, not written it down. He can’t read music, he testified.

Earlier in the day, Janis Gaye — the mother of Frankie and Nona and wife of Marvin from 1977-81 — testified that she was surprised Williams, Thicke and Harris didn’t license the “Got To Give It Up” composition from Gaye’s music publisher, the Sony-owned EMI. When she and her children first heard “Blurred Lines,” they were happy. “We thought ‘Blurred Lines’ was breathing new life into ‘Got To Give It Up,’” she said. She testified that the latter was one of her and her late husband’s favorite of his tracks, and she sang on it.

Under cross-examination by King, she said her family didn’t dislike “Blurred Lines” (which has courted controversy). “We enjoyed the song, I won’t say we didn’t,” she testified. “We felt like ‘Got To Give It Up’ is the blueprint for ‘Blurred Lines,’ but not in a bad way.”

But she refused to separate the composition from the recorded version of “Got To Give It Up” to which she compared Thicke’s song. “To my understanding, the composition is part of the recording and there’s nothing out there to compare to,” she said. “That would be the only way we could have heard the composition. You can’t hear a piece of paper. The ears tell the story.”

The trial will continue on Thursday at 11:20 a.m. with testimony from musicologist Judith Finell and Harry Wenger, a Universal Music executive who handles Motown recordings.

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.

Big Sean Set for First No. 1 Album on Billboard 200 Chart

Big Sean is heading for his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart. Industry sources project his new album Dark Sky Paradise to debut with 140,000 album equivalent units earned in the week ending March 1. That should be enough to enable the set, which was released on Feb. 24 through G.O.O.D./Def Jam Records, to bow atop the Billboard 200 chart.

Big Sean’s ‘Dark Sky Paradise’: Track-by-Track Review

The Billboard 200 chart ranks the most popular albums of the week based on multi-metric consumption, which includes traditional album sales, track equivalent albums (TEA) and streaming equivalent albums (SEA). The new Billboard 200′s top 10 will be revealed on Wednesday, March 4.

Dark Sky Paradise could sell over 110,000 in traditional album sales, which would easily mark the artist’s biggest sales week yet. 2011′s Finally Famous debuted and peaked at No. 3 with 87,000 copies sold in its first week, while 2013′s Hall Of Fame launched with 72,000 (also debuting and peaking at No. 3).

Big Sean on ‘Dark Sky Paradise,’ Recording With Ariana Grand & More

After Big Sean, look for Kid Rock‘s First Kiss to start in the top five, while Chris Brown and Tyga‘s collaborative album Fan of a Fan should debut in the top 10 as well. The former could shift over 120,000 units, while the latter might move 60,000 or more.

Interview For The OTSM Magazine

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