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Hollywood Writers Sue Their Agents Over Pay and Competition Issues

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  • The Writer’s Guild of America is suing four major talent agencies alleging unfair competition practices and pay issues.
  • The WGA claims that the packaging fees that agents take as part of representing writers are illegal under California and federal law.
  • In some cases, the WGA says agents take 80 percent of packaging fees that are paid by the studios, rather than the standard 10 percent of a writers’ income.
  • The lawsuit was dropped after the agencies refused to sign the WGA’s code of conduct, which banned packaging fees.

Lawsuit Filed

The Writers Guild of America filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against four major talent agencies in a fight over writers’ wages and unfair competition practices.

The Guild and eight other writers, including The Wire creator David Simon, filed the complaint in a California superior court against William Morris Endeavor, Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency, and ICM Partners.

The main issue at hand focuses on “packing fees.” These are deals that allow agents to be paid directly by studios for bringing clients together on a project, instead of having agents receive a standard 10 percent of a writers’ income.

According to the WGA, the Big Four agencies currently receive about 80 percent of the packaging fees that are paid by studios.

One plaintiff, Meredith Stiehm, who created the CBS police drama Cold Case, said that after about six years with CAA, she learned that the agency made 94 cents for each dollar she made from the show.

That is indefensible,” she during a press conference. “An agency should make 10% of what their client makes—not 20, not 50, not like in my case, 94%. 10% is enough.”

The Claims

Along with issues about pay, the writers are also concerned about other ways the industry operates. For instance, they take issue with the trend of agents becoming producers themselves, which creates conflicts of interests.

In the lawsuit, WGA makes two legal claims: that packaging fees violate state fiduciary duty laws, and that those fees violate federal unfair competition laws.

First, under California state law, talent agents are considered fiduciaries. This means they are bound to represent writers, without conflicts of interest. Second, the Guild says that packaging fees constitute illegal “kickbacks” to agents, which would be a violation of both state and federal law.

The lawsuit cites the Taft-Hartley Act, a federal law passed in 1947. The anti-kickback section of the act prohibits “any employer or association of employers to pay, lend, or deliver, or agree to pay, lend, or deliver, any money or other thing of value … to any representative of any of his employees who are employed in an industry affecting commerce.”

Lawyers for the WGA argue that agency packaging fees fall under this ban.

“The plaintiffs will seek a judicial declaration that packaging fees are unlawful and an injunction prohibiting talent agencies from entering into future packaging deals,” Tony Segall, general counsel for the Writers Guild of America West, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

“The suit will also seek damages and repayment of illegal profits on behalf of writers who have been harmed by these unlawful practices in the past,” he added.

How We Got Here

The WGA has been trying to address this issue in recent days. The writers and agents have been without an agreement to govern their relationship with each other since one expired last weekend.

In fact, the WGA had even drafted a code of conduct for agencies that calls for the banning of packaging fees. Around 95 percent of the Guild’s members voted in favor of implementing it and the Guild then asked agencies to sign it. The Big Four agencies refused.

At one point during negotiations, Talent Agencies offered writers a 1 percent cut of their production fee money, but the Guild says that proposal was unacceptable.

On Saturday, the WGA told writers to fire agents who refuse to sign the union’s code of conduct. Some writers complied and have posted images of the letters they had sent to their agents. The letters say that under union rules, they can’t be represented by the agency until a negotiation is reached.

WGA West President David Goodman said the lawsuit shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. “We always had this as part of our strategy,” he said.

“The lawsuit is really at attempt to try and address the situation and make agencies realize this has to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of the negotiations falling apart and then there was a lawsuit. It’s all part of the same thing.”

Defense

The Association of Talent Agents stands by the packaging fees. In its FAQ sections, the ATA writes, “Packaging agencies help assemble a show’s creative elements before the show is pitched to potential buyers and continue to service the show during its lifecycle.”

If packaging fees were to be eliminated, the ATA says “those packaging fees likely would not be redistributed in any way to talent.

The ATA also noted that United Talent Agency’s analysis found that its writers earn more money on shows that the agency packed and less on shows that it didn’t.

They issued a response to the lawsuit late Wednesday saying, “This development is ironic given that the guild itself has agreed to the legitimacy of packaging for more than 43 years. Even more ironic is the fact that the statute the WGA is suing under prevents abuses of power and authority by labor union leaders, even as the guild has intimidated its own members and repeatedly misled them about their lack of good faith in the negotiating room.”

What now?

Neither side appears to be willing to budge on the issue. The WGA says negotiations can continue as the lawsuit moves forward, with Goodman saying the WGA is waiting for the ATA to make contact with his team.

Without a deal soon, Hollywood productions could be stuck in limbo, leaving thousands of writers without work and hundreds of studio projects on hold.

“The agencies are the ones who’ve made it clear that they’re not taking it seriously. If they’re ready to do that, we’re here,” Goodman said.

The WGA has released a list of agencies that have agreed to their code of conduct and can represent its members. However, the Big Four agencies dominate much of the industry.

The tension unfolding between both parties is unprecedented and a meaningful agreement could change the industry practices for years to come.

See what others are saying: (Deadline) (The Hollywood Reporter) (The Washington Post)

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2020 Oscar Nominations: Diversity Criticism, Snubs, and More

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  • This year’s Oscar nominations were announced, sparking new celebrations and criticisms over who was placed on and off the list. 
  • The academy is facing backlash for nominating just one Black actress, Cynthia Erivo, and not a single female in the Best Director category. 
  • Movie fans were also surprised to see no nominations for Jennifer Lopez, Awkwafina, and Lupita Noyong’o, among others. 

Joker Earns Most Noms 

The 92nd annual Oscar nominations were announced Monday with a wave of snubs and surprises that have movie lovers talking. 

Issa Rae and John Cho revealed the chosen nominees for all 24 categories, with the controversial drama “Joker” picking up 11 nods – more than any other film this year. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “The Irishman,” and “1917,” followed closely behind with 10 nominations. 

All four earned spots in the coveted Best Picture category along with “Little Women,” a tale of four sisters growing up in Massachusetts during the Civil War; “Marriage Story,” which focuses on a couple working through a tough divorce and custody battle; “Parasite,” a South Korean psychological thriller and dark comedy; “Jojo Rabbit,” the story of a young German boy who counts Hitler as an imaginary friend, and “Ford v Ferrari,” based on the true story of Ford working to make a faster car than Ferrari.  

The success of “Parasite” marked a particularly significant moment of recognition as it is the first South Korean film to receive nominations for Best International Film and Best Picture. The film has been widely supported by the Asian American community and earned six total Oscar nods, tying with “Jojo Rabbit,” “Little Women,” and “Marriage Story.”

Oscars Pass on J.Lo 

Perhaps the biggest snub this year was against Jennifer Lopez, who was favored as a Best Supporting Actress contender for her role as Ramona in “Hustlers.” After receiving nominations at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, it seemed like J.Lo was a sure bet for an Oscars slot as well. 

A surprise nomination in the category instead went to Kathy Bates, the sole nominee from “Richard Jewell.” 

No Female Director Noms 

Women were also completely absent in the Best Director category yet again, which was frustrating to many who felt “Little Women” director Greta Gerwig should have been an obvious contender 

Nominees for the category include Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Bong Joon-ho, Sam Mendes, and Todd Phillips. 

Both the Golden Globes and the Directors Guild of America awards shut out women directors in favor of male nominees, leading to widespread industry backlash. The Oscars’ decision has now, of course, added to that outrage. 

As Deadline points out, the lack of women in the Best Director category is a sad Oscars tradition. Only five women have ever earned a nomination in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (The Piano), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) and Gerwig (Lady Bird).

In 2010, Bigelow became the first and only female director to win in the category.

#OscarsSoWhite and Other Notable Snubs 

The academy is also once again being slammed with the hashtag “Oscars So White:” on social media after users pointed out that minorities were largely overlooked. British-Nigerian actress Cynthia Erivo, who appeared in “Harriet,” is the sole Black performer among the 20 actor nominees. 

Jennifer Lopez’s snub sparked huge conversations about Latinx representation. Had she been nominated, Lopez would have been the first American Latinx actress singled out by the academy since Rosie Perez, who earned a best-supporting actress nomination in 1994 for “Fearless.” 

Many were also surprised to see Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Noyong’o and Asian-American actress Awkwafina left out of this year’s Best Actress list, especially considering their success at precursor awards. 

Nyong’o, winner of the most lead actress awards from critics organizations this awards season, received widespread praise for her two-sided role in Jordan Peele’s “Us,” meanwhile Awkwafina made history as the first woman of Asian descent to win a lead actress Golden Globe. The star acted in Lulu Wang’s dramedy “The Farewell,” which critics hailed as one of the best films of the year. 

Eddie Murphy, who was just honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at Sunday night’s Critic’s Choice Awards, also did not earn a nod for “Dolemite Is My Name,” and music star Beyonce was not included in the Best Original Song category for “Spirit” from “The Lion King.”  

Since previous backlash over diversity issues, the academy has worked to double female and minority membership by inviting more film professionals from overseas. While it has made some strides, even after four years of efforts, according to the New York Times, the organization is 68% male and 84% white. 

No Host

The 92nd Academy Awards will be held Sunday, Feb. 9, airing on ABC as part of the network’s long-term agreement with the Academy. For the second year in a row, the Oscars will go on without a host, as it did last year after widespread backlash over Kevin Hart’s hiring and departure. 

Full Nominations

Best Picture

“Ford v Ferrari” (Fox)

“The Irishman” (Netflix)

“Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight)

“Joker” (Warner Bros.)

“Little Women” (Sony)

“Marriage Story” (Netflix)

“1917” (Universal)

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Sony)

“Parasite” (Neon)

Best Director

Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”)

Todd Phillips (“Joker”)

Sam Mendes (“1917”)

Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)

Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”)

Best Actor

Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”)

Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)

Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”)

Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”)

Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”)

Best Actress

Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”)

Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”)

Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women”)

Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”)

Renee Zellweger (“Judy”)

Supporting Actor

Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”)

Anthony Hopkins (“The Two Popes”)

Al Pacino (“The Irishman”)

Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”)

Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)

Supporting Actress

Kathy Bates, (“Richard Jewell”)

Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”)

Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”)

Florence Pugh (“Little Women”)

Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”)

Adapted Screenplay

Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”)

Steve Zaillian (“The Irishman”)

Anthony McCarten (“The Two Popes”)

Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”)

Todd Phillips and Scott Silver (“Joker”)

Best Original Screenplay

Rian Johnson (“Knives Out”)

Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”)

Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (“1917”)

Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)

Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won (“Parasite”)

Animated Feature

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”

“I Lost My Body”

“Klaus”

“Missing Link”

“Toy Story 4”

International Feature Film

“Corpus Christi” (Portland)

“Honeyland” (North Macedonia)

“Les Miserables”(France)

“Pain and Glory” (Spain)

“Parasite” (South Korea) 

Best Documentary

“American Factory”

“The Cave”

“Edge of Democracy”

“For Sama”

“Honeyland”

Best Cinematography

“The Irishman”

“Joker”

“The Lighthouse”

“1917”

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Best Costume Design

“The Irishman”

“Jojo Rabbit”

“Joker”

“Little Women”

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Film Editing

“Ford vs. Ferrari”

“The Irishman”

“Jojo Rabbit”

“Joker”

“Parasite”

Makeup and Hairstyling

“Bombshell”

“Joker”

“Judy”

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”

“1917”

Original Score

“Joker”

“Little Women”

“Marriage Story”

“1917”

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

Original Song

I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” “Toy Story 4”

“I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” “Rocketman”

“I’m Standing With You,” “Breakthrough”

“Into the Unknown,” “Frozen 2”

“Stand Up,” “Harriet”

Production Design

“The Irishman”

“Jojo Rabbit”

“1917”

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

“Parasite”

Sound Editing

“Ford v Ferrari”

“Joker”

“1917”

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

Sound Mixing

“Ad Astra”

“Ford vs. Ferrari”

“Joker”

“1917”

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Visual Effects

“Avengers: Endgame”

“The Irishman”

“The Lion King”

“1917”

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

Documentary (Short Subject)

“In the Absence”

“Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone If You’re a Girl”

“Life Overtakes Me”

“St. Louis Superman”

“Walk Run Cha-Cha”

Short Film (Animated)

“Daughter”

“Hair Love”

“Kitbull”

“Memorable”

“Sister”

Short Film (Live Action)

“Brotherhood”

“Nefta Football Club”

“The Neighbor’s Window”

“Saria”

“A Sister”

See what others are saying: (Deadline) (The New York Times) (Variety)

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Brazilian Judge Orders Netflix to Remove Special Featuring Gay Jesus

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  • A satirical Netflix Christmas special sparked outrage in Brazil for depicting Jesus as gay and Mary as a marijuana smoker, among another tongue in cheek storylines.
  • A judge ordered Netflix to remove the film after a complaint from a conservative Catholic group, saying that keeping it up could cause more damage than suspending it would. 
  • The decision came after 2 million people signed a petition asking for Netflix to remove the program and after the comedy studio behind the film was attacked with Molotov cocktails.

Court Ruling

A judge in Brazil ordered Netflix to remove a satirical Christmas special on Wednesday that has infuriated politicians and religious leaders across the country for its portrayal of a gay Jesus and weed-smoking Mary. 

“The consequences of the dissemination and exhibition of ‘artistic production’ … are more likely to cause more serious and irreparable damage than its suspension,” Rio de Janeiro judge Benedicto Abicair wrote in his court ruling. 

The appeal in favor of Don Bosco Center for Culture and Faith, a conservative Catholic institute, comes after weeks of escalating outrage over the project titled, “The First Temptation of Christ.” 

The complaint argues that the film, which also depicts Mary having an affair with God and one of the three wise men bringing a prostitute to a party, “attacked the protection of religious freedom.”

It adds that “the level of disrespect, aggression and contempt for faith and the values of Catholics displayed in the film is unspeakable,” according to BBC Brazil.

However, despite the backlash, the cast and filmmakers of the sketch-comedy group Porta dos Fundos have defended the project. Porta dos Fundos co-founder, Fábio Porchat, said last year that Netflix has a right to stream the film and that it supports free speech. He also explained that the film never incites violence or tells people not to believe in God.

In his ruling, the judge called the case a “clear conflict” between two constitutional principles: the right to artistic expression and freedom of speech, and religious freedom and the protection of church and liturgy.

However, he agreed to order the program’s withdrawal, saying  it is “more appropriate and beneficial, not only for the Christian community, but for the mostly Christian Brazilian society, until the merit of the offense is judged.”

The temporary order stands unless Netflix or the comedy group appeals and a higher court strikes it down.

Widespread Backlash 

The decision comes as a win for conservatives who have been fighting against the special for weeks. In December, over 2 million people signed a petition asking Netflix to remove it from the streaming platform.

On Christmas eve, a group of men attacked the Porta dos Fundos headquarters with Molotov cocktails. No one was injured during the incident and days later, a video circulated on social media featuring three men claiming responsibility. 

The men said they carried out the attack on behalf of Brazil’s “integralists,” a 1930s-era ultranationalist movement inspired by Italian fascism. The video’s narrator, who used a digitally altered voice, said the group wanted to defend “all Brazilians against the blasphemous, bourgeois and anti-patriotic attitude” of the filmmakers, labling them as “militant Marxists.”

The comedy group condemned the violence on Twitter, writing that “love will prevail along with freedom of expression.”

At this time, it is unclear when and if Netflix plans to comply with the order or fight against it. Porta dos Fundos said Wednesday that it has not received any direction to remove the project yet, however, Netflix has complied with other government requests to take down movies in the past. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC Brazil) (Time

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Camila Cabello Apologizes for Old Racist Tumblr Posts

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  • A Twitter user uncovered racist posts that singer Camila Cabello allegedly posted and reblogged on Tumblr in 2012 and 2013, when she would have been 15 or 16 years old. 
  • Some of these posts included the N-word, racist jokes made at the expense of Black, Asian, and Mexican people, as well as a joke about Rihanna being a victim of domestic violence.
  • She apologized for these posts, saying that she was “uneducated and ignorant” at the time and that she will regret them forever.

Racist Posts Surface on Twitter

Singer Camila Cabello has apologized after a Twitter user uncovered old racist posts she allegedly shared on Tumblr several years ago. 

The posts were made in 2012 and 2013 when Cabello was 15 and 16 years old. She posted and reblogged them onto a Tumblr account called “vous-etess-belle.” As the Twitter user who shared the posts pointed out, the profile picture appears to be of a young Cabello. On her confirmed Tumblr account, she also once said that “vous-etess-belle” belonged to her. 

The thread started by saying, “exposing camila cabello‘s racist and downright disturbing tumblr reblogs: a thread.” The first post included in the thread was an original text post using the N-word.

The other posts had been reblogged on the account. Several of those also included the n-word. 

There were several other posts that referenced and made light of racist stereotypes.

Others made jokes at the expense of Black, Mexican, and Asian people. 

Another controversial post was a meme making fun of the abuse Rihanna faced when dating Chris Brown. 

A post from her main Tumblr page was also included. In it, someone asked Cabello how to be a “strong independent” Black woman like her. 

“Its not easy i guess its just something u have to work at,” she responded.

Reactions to Posts

This thread went viral, causing a lot of backlash online. Many called these posts out for being racist. A number of people also used the hashtag #CamilaCabelloIsOverParty to condemn the singer. 

Some of her fans, however, came to her defense, arguing that she was young and has grown since this incident.

But many also thought her age was not an excuse, arguing that a teenager should know better than to use racial slurs. 

Others also said that many of the people forgiving Cabello were white. “How do you forgive words that weren’t directed at you…?” one user asked. 

The  “vous-etess-belle” account was taken down not long after the thread was posted. The URL now belongs to a fan of K-pop star Luna, who is using the page to promote the artist. 

Cabello Apologizes

On Wednesday afternoon, the “Havana” singer took to Twitter and Instagram to apologize. She did not explicitly mention the thread or posts, but did say she was sorry for the language she once used. 

“When I was younger, I used language that I’m deeply ashamed of and will regret forever,” she wrote. “I was uneducated and ignorant and once I became aware of the history and weight and the true meaning behind this hurtful language, I was deeply embarrassed I ever used it. I apologized then and I apologize now.”

“I’m 22 now, I’m an adult and I’ve grown and learned and am conscious and aware of the history and the pain it carries in a way I wasn’t before,” she added in the text post. “Those mistakes don’t represent the person I am or a person I’ve ever been. I only stand and have ever stood for love and inclusivity, and my heart has never, even then, had any ounce of hate or divisiveness.”

See what others are saying: (L.A. Times) (The Cut) (Cosmopolitan)

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