The Walt Disney Company Cheats Scarlett Johansson

Walt Disney is one of my heroes. The current Walt Disney Company is not.

(p. B1) The fight between actress Scarlett Johansson and Walt Disney Co. over her contract for the movie “Black Widow” has a new participant: the powerful Creative Artists Agency, which represents Ms. Johansson and many of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

On Thursday, Ms. Johansson filed a lawsuit against Disney alleging her contract was breached when the company decided to put “Black Widow” on its Disney+ streaming service at the same time it was released in movie theaters.

. . .

“They have shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being insensitive to the global Covid pandemic,” CAA Co-Chairman Bryan Lourd said in a statement.

Mr. Lourd blasted Disney for releasing details of Ms. Johansson’s salary and for attempting to tie (p. B2) her lawsuit to the pandemic. Disney “included her salary in their press statement in an attempt to weaponize her success as an artist and businesswoman, as if that were something she should be ashamed of,” he added.

Mr. Lourd said Disney’s response to Ms. Johansson is an attack on her character that is “beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with successfully for decades.”

. . .

“They have very deliberately moved the revenue stream and profits to the Disney+ side of the company, leaving artistic and financial partners out of their new equation. That’s it, pure and simple,” Mr. Lourd said.

For the full story, see:

Joe Flint. “Johansson’s Agent Rips Disney Over Film Flap.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 31, 2021): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2021, and has the title “Scarlett Johansson’s Agent Rips Disney Over ‘Black Widow’ Dispute.”)

California Regulators Banned Angela Marsden’s Customers from Eating Outside, but Allowed Next Door “Essential” TV Comedy Workers to Eat Outside


The news report above was posted to YouTube by ABC channel 7 in Los Angeles on Dec. 5, 2020.

(p. 4) For more than a week, tensions have flared between Los Angeles restaurant owners and politicians over the county’s ban on outdoor dining, which health officials say is necessary to slow the surging pandemic — and restaurateurs say is destroying their livelihoods.

The controversy came to a head on Saturday when a restaurant owner shared a video on social media showing tents, tables and chairs set up as a catering station for a film crew — just feet away from her eatery’s similar outdoor dining space, which has sat empty since the restriction went into effect late last month.

“Tell me that this is dangerous, but right next to me — as a slap in my face — that’s safe?” Angela Marsden, who owns the restaurant, Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill, said as the video panned from her outdoor dining space to the film crew’s catering site.

Ms. Marsden had already organized a protest against the outdoor dining ban before discovering the film tents. On Saturday, she and others gathered outside County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s house, saying the government’s uneven application of the rules was crushing small businesses.

. . .

The catering site was for a crew filming “Good Girls,” a comedy television show that airs on NBC, according to Philip Sokoloski, a spokesman for FilmLA, which helps Los Angeles manage film permits. Mr. Sokoloski said the catering site and the film location nearby were both authorized under a permit issued by the city.

. . .

California has declared entertainment industry workers essential, and in Los Angeles County they must follow strict guidelines such as eating in staggered shifts or in an area large enough to stay six feet apart.

Ms. Marsden said in an interview that she saw two people eating without masks at the tables when she went to her restaurant on Friday to pick up paychecks for her employees and supplies for the protest.

. . .

She said she had worked hard to make her outdoor patio compliant with the previous guidelines for outdoor dining before it, too, was banned.

“You name it, we did it,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs. “Restaurant Owners See Cruel Disparity in Los Angeles’s Outdoor Dining Ban.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 6, 2020): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 4, 2021 [sic], and has the title “She Couldn’t Open for Outdoor Dining. The Film Crew Next Door Could.”)

David Ellison Took Flak for Hiring Cancelled Animation Innovator

(p. 1) Mr. Ellison, the son of Larry Ellison, a co-founder of Oracle, sure looked like “dumb money.” That is the Hollywood term for a gullible, affluent outsider bitten by the movie bug, the type of investor that studios have long counted on to keep their assembly lines running, despite it almost always ending poorly (for the newcomer). The young Mr. Ellison couldn’t stop talking about his love of cinema, in particular big-budget spectacles. He had just dropped out of the University of Southern California to act in a $60 million movie called “Flyboys,” a World War I aerial combat tale.

Partly financed with Ellison money, “Flyboys” arrived to a disastrous $6 million in ticket sales. But no matter: The scion was on Hollywood’s radar.

Along with his wallet.

Soon enough Mr. Ellison had given up acting and by 2010 had become a financier and producer for Paramount Pictures, pouring $350 million of equity and debt into movies like “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.” But Hollywood snickered at his effort to be taken seriously as a creative force, as did the news media.

. . .

(p. 10) Mr. Ellison . . . enraged half of Hollywood by abruptly announcing in January 2019 that John Lasseter, co-founder of Pixar, would join Skydance as animation chief. Mr. Lasseter (“Toy Story,” “Cars”) was radioactive at the time, having resigned seven months earlier as Disney’s chief creative officer amid #MeToo complaints about unwanted workplace hugging and imperious behavior. (Mr. Lasseter had apologized for “missteps” that made some Disney-Pixar staff members feel “disrespected or uncomfortable.”)

People like Mr. Ellison typically sulk off to some luxury hideaway at this point in the script to nurse their wounds. (Lanai, the Hawaiian island owned by his father, would do nicely.) Accustomed to floating through life, they seem unable to cope with anything less, especially if it means admitting missteps.

Instead, Mr. Ellison served up a major plot twist.

He raised $275 million by selling 10 percent of Skydance to investors like RedBird Capital, a private investment firm, and CJ Entertainment, the Korean company behind the Oscar-winning “Parasite.” He lined up $1 billion in revolving credit through JPMorgan Chase. And Skydance made a sharp turn toward streaming, selling attention-getting content to whichever service wanted to pay the most.

So far, the result has been nothing short of remarkable, in part because Mr. Ellison’s timing was fortuitous. The pandemic supercharged home entertainment.

For the full story, see:

Brooks Barnes. “Not Such ‘Dumb Money’ After All.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, June 20, 2021): 1 & 10-11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 16, 2021, and has the title “Dumb Money No More: How David Ellison Became a Hollywood High Flier.”)

British Entrepreneur Shattered French Wine Pretension

(p. A23) The world was paying little attention on May 24, 1976, when a small wine tasting was held in Paris at the Intercontinental Hotel. But the echoes of that tasting, later called the Judgment of Paris, have resounded for decades.

The instigator, Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who owned a wine shop and wine school in Paris, had set up a blind tasting of 20 wines — 10 white and 10 red — for nine French judges, including some of the top names in the French wine and food establishment.

. . .

It was hardly thought to be a fair fight. As has been recounted countless times, the judges were thoroughly convinced that California wines were inferior.

“Ah, back to France,” one judge sighed after tasting a Napa Valley chardonnay. Another, sniffing a Bâtard-Montrachet, declared: “This is definitely California. It has no nose.”

When all was done, a shocking consensus revealed the favorite wines to be a 1973 chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and a 1973 cabernet sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Cellars, both in Napa Valley.

The Americans celebrated, the French shrank in consternation, and everlasting fame awaited Mr. Spurrier, who went on to a long career as a wine entrepreneur.

. . .

The Paris tasting might have swiftly been forgotten had not a single reporter, George M. Taber of Time magazine, been on hand to witness the events. His article, “Judgment of Paris,” gave the California wine industry a much-needed boost, lending its vintners international credibility at a time when they were searching for critical approval and public acceptance.

. . .

Mr. Taber, the reporter, in 2005 published a book, “Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine.” A 2008 film, “Bottle Shock,” with Alan Rickman playing Mr. Spurrier, depicted the tasting as the climax of a triumph-of-the-underdog story.

. . .

As for Mr. Spurrier, he leveraged the tasting into different careers in wine, with both triumphs and failures.

. . .

In 1987, the Spurriers bought a farm in Dorset near the south coast of England, and he decided that the chalk soil, similar to what can be found in Champagne and Chablis, was a perfect place for vines.

They did not start planting until 2009, by which time a burgeoning sparkling wine industry had taken root in southern England. Their sparkling wine, Bride Valley, had its first release in 2014.

For the full obituary, see:

Eric Asimov. “Steven Spurrier, 79, a Merchant Who Upended the Wine World With a Taste Test.” The New York Times (Thursday, March 18, 2021): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated March 18, 2021, and has the title “Steven Spurrier, Who Upended Wine World With a Tasting, Dies at 79.”)

The Tabar book mentioned above is:

Taber, George M. Judgment of Paris: California Vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine. New York: Scribner, 2005.

Early Animation “Followed Only One Rule”: “Anything Goes”

(p. C5) The story of Disney Studios is a central strand in Mitenbuler’s narrative; Disney became the formidable force that the other animation studios would look toward, compete with and rail against. Max Fleischer, whose studio was responsible for the likes of Popeye and Betty Boop, groused that Disney’s “Snow White,” released in 1937, was “too arty.”  . . .  The wife of one of the Fleischer brothers, though, said they had better watch out: “Disney is doing art, and you guys are still slapping characters on the butt with sticks!”

But what if those slapped butts were part of what had made animation so revolutionary in the first place? Mitenbuler suggests as much, beginning “Wild Minds” with the early days of animation, in the first decades of the 20th century, when the technology of moving pictures was still in its infancy. Like the movie business in general, the field of animation contained few barriers to entry, and a number of Jewish immigrants shut out from other careers found they could make a decent living working for a studio or opening up their own. Even Disney, who grew up in the Midwest, was an outsider without any connections.

The work created in those early decades was often gleefully contemptuous of anything that aspired to good taste. Until the movie studios started self-censoring in the early ’30s, in a bid to avoid government regulation, animators typically followed only one rule to the letter: Anything goes.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Ehh, What’s Animation, Doc?” The New York Times (Thursday, December 17, 2020): C5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 16, 2020, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: ‘Fantasia,’ ‘Snow White,’ Betty Boop, Popeye and the First Golden Age of Animation.”)

The book under review is:

Mitenbuler, Reid. Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.

“Hillbilly Elegy” Book (but Not the Movie) Suggests a “Culture of Poverty”

(p. C3) “Hillbilly Elegy,” published in June of 2016, attracted an extra measure of attention (and controversy) after Donald Trump’s election. It seemed to offer a firsthand report, both personal and analytical, on the condition of the white American working class.

And while the book didn’t really explain the election — Vance is reticent about his family’s voting habits and ideological tendencies — it did venture a hypothesis about how that family and others like it encountered such persistent household dysfunction and economic distress. His answer wasn’t political or economic, but cultural.

He suggests that the same traits that make his people distinctive — suspicion of outsiders, resistance to authority, devotion to kin, eagerness to fight — make it hard for them to thrive in modern American society. Essentially, “Hillbilly Elegy” updates the old “culture of poverty” thesis associated with the anthropologist Oscar Lewis’s research on Mexican peasants (and later with Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s ideas about Black Americans) and applies it to disadvantaged white communities.

Howard and Taylor mostly sidestep this argument, which has been widely criticized. They focus on the characters and their predicaments, and on themes that are likely to be familiar and accessible to a broad range of viewers. The film is a chronicle of addiction entwined with a bootstrapper’s tale — Bev’s story and J.D.’s, with Mamaw as the link between them.

But it sacrifices the intimacy, and the specificity, of those stories by pretending to link them to something bigger without providing a coherent sense of what that something might be. The Vances are presented as a representative family, but what exactly do they represent? A class? A culture? A place? A history? The louder they yell, the less you understand — about them or the world they inhabit.

For the full movie review, see:

A.O. Scott. “I Remember Bev and Mamaw.” The New York Times (Friday, November 27, 2020): C3.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 23, 2020, and has the title “‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Review: I Remember Mamaw.”)

J.D. Vance’s book is:

Vance, J. D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016.

Chris Rock on Covid-19, Blackface, and Cancel Culture

(p. 7) [Rock:] Part of the reason we’re in the predicament we’re in is, the president’s a landlord. No one has less compassion for humans than a landlord. [Laughs.] And we’re shocked he’s not engaged.

Did you ever see that movie “The Last Emperor,” where like a 5-year-old is the emperor of China? There’s a kid and he’s the king. So I’m like, it’s all the Democrats’ fault. Because you knew that the emperor was 5 years old. And when the emperor’s 5 years old, they only lead in theory. There’s usually an adult who’s like, “OK, this is what we’re really going to do.” And it was totally up to Pelosi and the Democrats. Their thing was, “We’re going to get him impeached,” which was never going to happen. You let the pandemic come in. Yes, we can blame Trump, but he’s really the 5-year-old.

Put it this way: Republicans tell outright lies. Democrats leave out key pieces of the truth that would lead to a more nuanced argument. In a sense, it’s all fake news.

. . .

[Itzkoff:] Jimmy Fallon drew significant criticism this past spring for a 20-year-old clip of himself playing you in blackface on “Saturday Night Live.” How did you feel about that segment?

[Rock:] Hey, man, I’m friends with Jimmy. Jimmy’s a great guy. And he didn’t mean anything. A lot of people want to say intention doesn’t matter, but it does. And I don’t think Jimmy Fallon intended to hurt me. And he didn’t.

. . .

[Itzkoff:] There’s been a wider push to expunge blackface from any movies or TV shows where it previously appeared. Have people taken it too far?

[Rock:] If I say they are, then I’m the worst guy in the world. There’s literally one answer that ends my whole career. Blackface ain’t cool, OK? That’s my quote. Blackface is bad.

For the full interview, see:

Dave Itzkoff, interviewer. “Chris Rock’s New Universe.” The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sunday, September 20, 2020): 6-7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed names, added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview was updated Sept. 24, 2020, and has the title “Chris Rock Tried to Warn Us.”)

Home Viewing Allows Movies to Bloom Late

(p. C9) It’s no overstatement to say that “Rudy’s” reputation was revived thanks to Blockbuster Video. Audiences saw the film on home video, a technology also responsible for the late success of another notable box-office underperformer, “The Shawshank Redemption,” which came out a year later. “Maybe this was the opening wedge of what’s become a very modern phenomenon, which was films that do not work well in theaters working well at home,” Mr. Turan said.

Perhaps the naked sentimentality of “Rudy” was better experienced at home rather than among rowdy multiplex-goers. “When it’s something you bring home…you don’t have to answer to anything,” Mr. Thomson said. “You’re just in direct conversation with your own heart as to what you want.”

For the full review, see:

Peter Tonguette. “For a Football-Deprived Fall, the Inspiration of ‘Rudy’.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 5, 2020): C9.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the same date and title as the print version.)

Disney’s Mulan Movie Credits Chinese Communists Who Force Uighur Muslims Into Prison Camps

(p. A10) Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” has drawn a fresh wave of criticism for being filmed partly in Xinjiang, the region in China where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps.

The outcry, which has spread to include U.S. lawmakers, was the latest example of how the new film, released on Disney+ over the weekend, has become a magnet for anger over the Chinese Communist Party’s policies promoting nationalism and ethnic Han chauvinism.

. . .

The film was already coming under fire months ago, facing calls for a boycott by supporters of the Hong Kong antigovernment protests after the movie’s star, Liu Yifei, said she backed the city’s police, who have been criticized for their use of force against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Last month, as Disney ramped up promotion for the new film, supporters of the Hong Kong protests anointed Agnes Chow, a prominent democracy activist who was recently arrested under the territory’s new national security law, as their own, “real” Mulan.

Rayhan Asat, an ethnic Uighur lawyer in Washington whose younger brother, Ekpar Asat, has been imprisoned in Xinjiang, said in an interview that Disney giving credit to Xinjiang government agencies “runs counter to the ideals of those in the artistic, business and entertainment communities.”

“Devastatingly, Disney’s support amounts to collaboration and enables repression,” she added. “Those who claim to champion freedom in the world cannot afford to ignore such complicity.”

. . .

Last year, Mr. Pence criticized American companies for trying to silence speech in order to maintain access to the Chinese market. He accused Nike of checking its “conscience at the door” and owners and players in the N.B.A. of “siding with the Chinese Communist Party” by suppressing support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

In July [2020], an ESPN investigation described reports of abuse of young players at the National Basketball Association’s player-development training camps in China, including in Xinjiang. After the investigation was published, the N.B.A. acknowledged for the first time that it had ended its relationship with the Xinjiang academy more than a year earlier, but declined to say whether human rights had been a factor.

On Monday, calls to boycott “Mulan” began growing on social media. Among the critics was Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, who accused Disney of bowing to pressure from Beijing. Supporters in Thailand and Taiwan had also urged a boycott of the movie, citing concerns about China’s growing influence in the region.

For the full story, see:

Amy Qin and Edward Wong. “Calls Grow to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over China’s Treatment of Uighur Muslims.” The New York Times (Wednesday, September 9, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 8, 2020, and has the title “Why Calls to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over Concerns About China Are Growing.” Where the online and print versions differ, the passages above follow the print version.)

Chinese Communist Response to Covid-19 “Shows an Increasingly Nervous, Fragile Country”

(p. A7) LONDON — In January [2020], the Chinese city of Wuhan became the first in the world to undergo a lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic. In many ways this crucial period remains a mystery, with few images escaping the censors’ grasp.

A new film by the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei helps fill in some of that missing history. Although now living in Europe, Ai remotely directed dozens of volunteers across China to create “Coronation,” a portrait of Wuhan’s draconian lockdown — and of a country able to mobilize huge resources, if at great human cost.

. . .

The overall impression, especially in the film’s first half-hour, is one of awesome efficiency. Crews quickly bolt prefabricated rooms together, I.C.U. machines beep and purr. The new party members are sworn in with their right fists raised up and the crematory laborers work so hard that they complain that their hands ache.

As the film progresses, the human costs become more apparent. A volunteer worker whose job is finished is not allowed to leave the quarantine zone, so he sleeps in his car in a parking garage. Mourners wail inconsolably at a crematory, and a man fights to be allowed to collect his father’s urn without government officials present — something authorities do not permit because they are afraid the mourning will turn to anger at the government for having allowed the virus to spin out of control.

. . .

The film is available in the United States on Alamo on Demand and in other parts of the world on Vimeo on Demand. Ai said he had hoped to show it first at a film festival, but festivals in New York, Toronto and Venice, after first expressing interest, turned him down. He said that Amazon and Netflix also rejected the movie.

He says his impression is that this was because many of these festivals and companies want to do business in China and so avoid topics that might anger Beijing, something other Chinese directors say is common.

. . .

Rather than providing the world with a model for how to govern, China’s response to the virus shows an increasingly nervous, fragile country, he said. In the scenes where mourners collect ashes, for example, Ai said viewers should note that all the people in white suits and full personal protective gear lurking in the background are members of state organizations trying to make sure that a lid is kept on the grief.

For the full story, see:

Ian Johnson. “‘This Is About China’: Artist Shines a Light on What Wuhan Went Through.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, August 23, 2020): A7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 21, 2020, and has the title “From Ai Weiwei, a Portrait of Wuhan’s Draconian Covid Lockdown.”)

“There’s No Wolf Warrior Coming to” Rescue the “Little Pinks”

(p. B1) When China came under attack online, Mr. Liu was one of the legions of Chinese students studying abroad who posted in its defense. He condemned the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which he saw as an effort to split a uniting China. After President Trump called the coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” Mr. Liu turned to Twitter to correct those who used the term.

“I was a real little pink,” he said, using a somewhat derogatory term for the young, Communist-red Chinese nationalists who use the internet as a patriotic battleground to fight those who disparage China.

Then Mr. Liu, 21, discovered that the country he had long defended didn’t want him back.

. . .

Mr. Liu and many other countless Chinese people stranded overseas are, for the first time, running afoul of one of their country’s bedrock political prin-(p. B5)ciples: National interests come before an individual’s needs.

. . .

“Can you imagine what it was like when one day someone told you what you believed firmly wasn’t actually true?” Mr. Liu said.

. . .

“In the real world, there’s no wolf warrior coming to my rescue,” a Chinese student in Japan posted on Weibo.

. . .

While the students were outspoken in their anonymous social media comments, they were more reserved in interviews. Mr. Liu, for example, focused his frustration on China’s aviation regulator, which recently backed down after U.S. officials challenged its limits on foreign airlines. Ms. Leng, of Troy University, said she understood the regulator’s motivations.

But some admitted to what might be a new feeling: fear. The student from Japan who invoked “Wolf Warrior 2” said she feared retribution by the Chinese government if she spoke to me.

Then she invited me into a WeChat group of nearly 500 Chinese students exchanging information about flights, visas, schools and frustrations. They told one another not to give news interviews, not even to the Chinese media, for fear of government punishment.

When they sometimes couldn’t help curse the government or the policy, someone would quickly warn that they had better shut up or risk losing their WeChat accounts or even being invited for a chat once they’re back in China.

One student, after being warned, posted an emoticon of the 12 core socialist values that every Chinese citizen is supposed to live by, posting it five times in a row, as if pledging his loyalty to the surveillance state.

“I grew up under the red flag and received the red education,” Mr. Liu said to me. “But what can I say now?”

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “THE NEW NEW WORLD; Little Pinks’ Rethink China After Being Trapped Abroad.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 30, 2020): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 24, 2020, and has the title “THE NEW NEW WORLD; Trapped Abroad, China’s ‘Little Pinks’ Rethink Their Country.”)