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‘American Dirt’ Publisher Cancels Author’s Tour After Threats

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  • American Dirt, a novel about a mother and son migrating from Mexico to the United States, has received backlash because the author, Jeanine Cummins, is not Mexican or an immigrant and is mostly white.
  • Critics believe this was not Cummins’ story to write and called her depiction of immigration inaccurate, stereotypical, and irresponsible.
  • Oprah Winfrey was slammed after selecting the novel for her book club, with many urging her to rescind that choice. 
  • Meanwhile, Cummins’ publishers canceled her book tour over threats to her safety.

Book Tour Canceled

The publishers of the controversial new novel American Dirt have canceled the book tour over concerns for the author’s safety.

Since the book hit shelves on January 21, it has started a large debate. The story depicts a fictional mother fleeing Mexico with her son after her husband is killed by drug cartel violence, hoping for a new life in the United States. The author, Jeanine Cummins, is not Mexican, not an immigrant, and is mostly white. Because of that, many critics believed that this was not Cummins’ story to tell.

Flatiron Books, which published American Dirt, released a statement on Wednesday addressing the backlash.

“The discussion around this book has exposed deep inadequacies in how we at Flatiron Books address issues of representation, both in the books we publish and in the teams that work on them,” it wrote. 

In addition to backlash from critics, authors, and readers, Flatiron Books said there were also threats of violence made.

“While there are valid criticisms around our promotion of this book that is no excuse for the fact that in some cases there have been threats of physical violence,” the statement added.

“Unfortunately, our concerns about safety have led us to the difficult decision to cancel the book tour. Based on specific threats to booksellers and the author, we believe there exists real peril to their safety,” it continued. Now, instead of a full tour, the book publisher says it will host town hall meetings where Cummins can talk about criticism of her novel.

Controversies Surrounding American Dirt Author

The conversations around Cummin’s whiteness have contained nuance. In a story she wrote for The New York Times back in 2015, Cummins says that she is white. After noting that her grandmother is Puerto Rican, she continues to say that “in every practical way, my family is mostly white.”

In an interview promoting American Dirt, however, she said that she is Latinx. She also added that she felt unqualified to write the story because it is not her lived experience. In her author’s note, she also said that she “wished someone slightly browner than me would write it.”

That note also included a segment about her husband being an undocumented immigrant. While this is true, Cummins’ husband came to the U.S. from Ireland, which is a different migration experience than that of someone crossing the border between Mexico and the U.S.

In their statement, Flatiron Books admitted that it regretted the methods it used rolling the book out, including hailing it as a definitive migration story and calling Cummins’ husband undocumented without specifying where he came from. 

Oprah Receives Backlash for Book Club Selection

American Dirt entered 2020 as one of the most anticipated books of the year. Before it was even published, it was being optioned for film adaptations. On the day it was released, Oprah Winfrey announced it was the newest selection in her book club. Her recommendation of the book is what brought the controversial subject matter to light. 

“This story changed the way I see what it means to be a migrant in a whole new way,” Winfrey wrote in an Instagram post announcing American Dirt’s selection.

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Celebrities like Salma Hayek and Gina Rodriguez posted that they were excited that American Dirt was chosen for Winfrey’s book club. Internet users then quickly criticized Winfrey for choosing it, as well as Hayek and Rodriguez for promoting it. The two actresses later removed their social media posts touting the novel, and Hayek later apologized for promoting a book she had not read. 

After Winfrey put it on her book club’s list, several Latinx authors and writers shared their thoughts on American Dirt. Esmeralda Bermudez, an immigrant whose family came on foot to the U.S. from El Salvador, wrote about her take on the book in the Los Angeles Times.

“What made me cringe was immediately realizing that this book was not written for people like me, for immigrants,” she wrote. “It was written for everyone else — to enchant them, take them on a wild border-crossing ride, make them feel all fuzzy inside about the immigrant plight. All, unfortunately, with the worst stereotypes, fixations and inaccuracies about Latinos.”

Many also started sharing a review written by Myriam Gurba back in December, after she read an advance copy of American Dirt.  She said that in the novel, Cummins appropriated works by people of color, slapped a coat of mayonnaise on the story to make it more palatable to American tastebuds, and repackaged the story for colorblind consumption.

Others also believed some of the promotion of the novel was insensitive. Cummins shared a photo of her getting nail art of barbed wire modeled after the book’s cover, which many thought was in poor taste. 

Others felt similarly about a centerpiece used at a dinner party celebrating the book, where flowers were wrapped in barbed wire. 

Some, however, defended American Dirt. Sandra Cisneros the Mexican-American author of the acclaimed book The House on Mango Street spoke to NPR about the book and said it could reach an audience: “who maybe is undecided about issues at the border.”

“It’s going to be someone who wants to be entertained, and the story is going to enter like a Trojan horse and change minds,” she continued. “And it’s going to change the minds that, perhaps, I can’t change.”

Oprah Aims to Start an Open Dialogue

Still, since this book started such a strong debate, Winfrey took to Instagram to address the concerns on Monday. 

“I’ve spent the last few days listening to members of the Latinx community to get a greater understanding of their concerns,”  Winfrey said in a video posted to her book club’s account. “And I hear them, I do. So, what I want to do is bring people together from all sides to talk about this book and who gets to publish what stories.” 

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Redirecting the conversation of the book was not enough for everyone, though. 122 authors signed a letter posted to LitHub on Wednesday asking her to reconsider recommending it. 

“This letter is not written to attack Cummins, a fellow writer whose intentions we can’t know. But good intentions do not make good literature, particularly not when the execution is so faulty, and the outcome so harmful,” the letter said.

“In a time of widespread misinformation, fearmongering, and white-supremacist propaganda related to immigration and to our border, in a time when adults and children are dying in US immigration cages, we believe that a novel blundering so badly in its depiction of marginalized, oppressed people should not be lifted up,” it continued. 

The book is still linked in the bio of Oprah’s Book Club’s Instagram, with the reading schedule for it also posted.  

See what others are saying: (Vox) (Los Angeles Times) (NPR)

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Joe Rogan Says Grimes Did Not Give Dave Chappelle COVID-19

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  • Comedian Dave Chappelle is under quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. He is asymptomatic and his remaining shows in Austin, Texas have been canceled.
  • The news comes just days after Chappelle was photographed with Joe Rogan, Elon Musk, Grimes, and several others backstage at one of his Austin performances.
  • “Because people are asking, I was not exposed to the person who had covid and I have tested negative every day this week,” Rogan wrote on Instagram Friday. “Also, the person that gave covid to Dave was NOT Elon’s partner @grimes.”

Chappelle Tests Positive

Comedian Dave Chappelle has tested positive for coronavirus and is currently under quarantine, according to one of his representatives.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, that rep also confirmed that he is currently asymptomatic and has canceled all of his remaining shows at Stubbs Waller Creek Amphitheater in Austin, Texas.

“Chappelle has safely conducted socially-distanced shows in Ohio since June 2020 and he moved those shows to Austin during the winter,” the statement read.

“Chappelle implemented COVID-19 protocols which included rapid testing for the audience and daily testing for himself and his team. His diligent testing enabled him to immediately respond by quarantining, thus mitigating the spread of the virus,” it continued.

Joe Rogan Speaks Out After He Was Photographed With Chappelle

Two of the remaining Austin shows were supposed to include fellow comedian Joe Rogan. Rogan took to Instagram Friday morning to announce that they will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

Still, many fans had questions about Rogan’s current state of health. The news of Chappelle’s positive test comes just days after he was photographed maskless with Rogan, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, musician Grimes, and several others backstage at one of his Austin performances.

Since Grimes, who is also in a relationship with Musk, recently had COVID, many were concerned that she may have exposed the group. Others wondered if Chappelle may have spread it.

Rogan eventually updates his Instagram caption to dismiss the ideas.

“Because people are asking, I was not exposed to the person who had covid and I have tested negative every day this week,” he wrote.“Also, the person that gave covid to Dave was NOT Elon’s partner @grimes.”

See what others are saying: (The Hollywood Reporter) (CNN) (AP News)

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Netflix Passes 200M Subscribers as Other Streamers Struggle With Retention

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  • In a letter to shareholders, Netflix said it has hit over 200 million subscribers following a successful year of growth.
  • The pandemic gave Netflix a significant subscriber boost in March and April. The company continued to perform well even in its final quarter, gaining 8.5 million subscribers when it was only projected to add 6 million.
  • The data also highlights how relatively unaffected Netflix has been by new streaming services entering the market. While companies like Disney+, HBO Max, and Peacock continue to grow, they also struggle to retain the subscribers that sign up.

Netflix Passes 200 Million Subscribers

Netflix has topped 200 million subscribers following a year of strong growth in 2020.

In its Tuesday letter to shareholders, Netflix announced that it added 8.5 million subscribers in its fourth quarter. This exceeds projections, which estimated the streaming giant would only add around 6 million. In total, Netflix gained 37 million new memberships throughout 2020, bringing the company to 203.6 million subscribers.

Pandemic lockdowns gave Netflix a substantial boost in March in April. In the company’s first two quarters, it added a combined 25.7 million subscribers. According to data from the letter, Netflix had added over 10 million more subscribers by May of 2020 than it had by May of 2019.

When it comes to the success of their fourth quarter, Netflix pointed to shows like “Bridgerton” and “The Crown.” The fourth season of “The Crown” hit the platform in November, prompting many to return to older seasons of the show. Netflix claims the series has been viewed by 100 million households since it first aired in 2016.

Success Amid Growth of Competition

The year 2020 could have been a difficult one for Netflix as new streaming services entered the market. Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Peacock and more have all made waves with their original programming or by taking some of their brand’s content from Netflix to host on their own site. User-based content on YouTube and TikTok also became increasingly popular throughout the pandemic, further posing as a threat to Netflix. 

Still, it reached a massive milestone. 

“Our strategy is simple: if we can continue to improve Netflix every day to better delight our members, we can be their first choice for streaming entertainment,” Netflix said in the letter. “This past year is a testament to this approach.”

Netflix potentially sees Disney+ as the biggest competitor among new platforms. In its letter, the company noted that the streamer added 87 million subscribers in its first year. In a Q&A, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings seemed enthusiastic about this competition.

“It’s super impressive what Disney’s done,” he said. “It’s going to be great for the world that Disney and Netflix are competing show-by-show, movie-by-movie. We’re very fired up about catching them in family animation, maybe eventually passing them, we’ll see. It’s a long way to go just to catch them, and maintaining our lead in general entertainment that’s so stimulating like ‘Bridgerton,’ which I don’t think you’re going to see on Disney anytime soon.”

Streamers Struggle with Retaining Subscribers

Even as new streamers have had impressive years, there is one hurdle that many are still struggling to jump over: retaining the subscribers who sign up. The Los Angeles Times named Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, and Apple TV+ in particular, writing that people create accounts with these services, watch the TV shows or movies they are interested in, and cancel once they are done.

An October survey from Deloitte said that 46% of respondents canceled at least one streaming service in the last 6 months, which is up 20% from January of last year. Most who had canceled said they did so because they had finished watching whatever programming it was that brought them to that service. 

Places like Disney+ and HBO Max are really vulnerable to this because they have banked on drawing people in with exclusive marquis titles like “Hamilton” or “Wonder Woman 1984.” However, since they are newer, they are still building their original programming catalog, meaning that people can quickly burn through highlight titles. 

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (Wall Street Journal) (The Hollywood Reporter)

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Paramount+ To Launch March 4

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  • ViacomCBS is launching Paramount+ in the United States and Latin America on March 4 before rolling out to other markets internationally later this year. 
  • The streaming service will be a relaunch and expansion of CBS All Access. It will include content from Nickelodeon, MTV, and more on top of the CBS-focused selection. 

Paramount+ Gets Launch Date

ViacomCBS will be launching its streaming service Paramount+ in the U.S. and Latin America on March 4 before rolling out in more countries throughout the year. 

It will be an expansion and rebrand of CBS All Access, the service the company currently offers that is used by nearly 8 million subscribers. Paramount+ will go beyond the CBS-centric content promoted there, including works from brands like Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, and the Smithsonian Channel.

More details about their streaming strategy will be released during an investor event on February 24. Right now, ViacomCBS is boasting that the service will have over 30,000 episodes and movies in their catalog, which will also include live sports and breaking news. 

“The Paramount brand is known and loved all around the world, and is synonymous with great entertainment. It’s always brought people together, which makes it a perfect fit for a streaming service that’s uniquely positioned to do the same,” Josh Line the chief brand officer of ViacomCBS said during a brand announcement in September. “The Paramount+ streaming service will elevate ViacomCBS’ iconic family of brands.”

State of the Streaming Wars

Paramount+ has already announced a slew of original projects including a revival of “iCarly” and a series about the making of “The Godfather” titled “The Offer.”

The service is entering an already crowded battlefield as the streaming wars wages on. It will have plenty of uphill battles to fight since brand recognition for Paramount is not nearly as strong as it is for studios like Disney or NBCUniversal. It will also have to compete with Netflix, which leads the pack in subscribers and unveils new content regularly; HBO Max, which will be home to Warner Media’s new theatrical releases; and Hulu, which hosts original content as well as shows currently airing on cable and network television. 

ViacomCBS has not released information on pricing, but that will likely come during or before the February investor event.

See what others are saying: (Variety) (Deadline) (CNBC)

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