- 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.
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.”
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)
Disney Eviscerates Scarlett Johansson’s “Black Widow” Lawsuit as “Callous,” but Report Suggests Emma Stone and Emily Blunt May Follow Her Lead
“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” the company said in an uncharacteristically blunt statement that was heavily criticized online.
Johansson/Disney Lawsuit Gets Bitter
Disney has described a recent lawsuit from “Black Widow” actress Scarlett Johansson as “sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” but Johansson may have just unleashed what is to become an even bigger legal challenge for the House of Mouse.
At the center of this dispute, Johansson alleges she lost $50 million because Disney opted for a dual streaming/theater release of “Black Widow,” which debuted in theaters and for $30 on Disney+ with Premier Access earlier this month.
According to Johansson’s suit, her contract with Disney — which was negotiated prior to any hint of a pandemic — stipulated that “Black Widow” would see an exclusive theater release. Notably, the actress also said her contractual bonuses were tied to the movie’s box office performance, which is an extremely common practice with films featuring A-list celebrities.
Of course, when the pandemic hit — like many other industries — movies were upended. Pandemic-related changes meant that despite having an initial release date of May 2020, Marvel fans wouldn’t get a chance to see “Black Widow” for over a year.
Still, Johansson said she tried to contact Disney to renegotiate her contract prior to the film’s ultimate release, but she claims the company was unresponsive.
On Thursday, she then filed a complaint with the Los Angeles County Superior Court, with her attorney arguing that “Disney has enjoyed the benefits of having one of Hollywood’s top actresses promote its wholly owned subscription service at no additional cost to Disney, and with the intended effect of taking money out of that actress’ own pocket.”
Later Thursday, Disney claimed that it has “fully complied” with Johansson’s contract and that the streamed release of the film “has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.”
“There is no merit whatsoever to this filing,” the company said in its uncharacteristically blunt statement.
Are Emma Stone and Emily Blunt Next?
Speaking of blunt, it was reported Friday that both Emily Blunt and Emma Stone may also file lawsuits against Disney’s dual streaming release of their films.
In fact, according to an exclusive newsletter run by former Hollywood Reporter Editor Matt Belloni, Stone “is said to be weighing her options” over the dual release of “Cruella” in May. Meanwhile, he suggested Blunt could also take action or speak out following this weekend’s release of “Jungle Cruise.”
Belloni went on to describe Disney as “notoriously difficult to deal with” regarding such matters and claimed that many have simply been waiting for someone powerful enough to speak out.
Disney Criticized for Its Response
Much of the public perception of the situation has led to overwhelming support for Johansson’s camp. Online, a slew of people lambasted Disney’s response, with many calling it a deflection.
See what others are saying: (ScreenRant) (Newsweek) (Variety)
Candace Owens and Logan Paul in Talks to Debate
A spokesperson confirmed to Insider Wednesday that the two have had “productive” conversations about the prospect offline.
Candace Owens Challenges Logan Paul to a Debate
Right-wing commentator Candace Owens and controversial YouTuber Logan Paul are in talks to engage in a political debate. Yes, you read that sentence correctly.
Owens — best known for making false claims about the George Floyd protests, spreading COVID-19 misinformation, and seemingly saying that Adolf Hitler “just wanted to make Germany great” — first challenged Paul to a debate on Friday. It started with her sharing a year-old clip from Paul’s podcast where he spoke about the importance of fighting racism in the United States.
“It is not enough to be ‘not racist.’ You have to be anti-racist,” he said.
“If you’re white, if you look like me, use your privilege,” he added. “And for those who do not think white privilege exists, you are fucking blind.”
Because merely acknowledging the existence of racism appears to go against Owens’ core beliefs, she asked Paul to duke it out with her.
“Logan loves to challenge people in the boxing ring,” she wrote. “I’d like to publicly challenge him to go a few rounds with me in a political debate. @LoganPaul—how about you stop by my show and explain to me how you’re *checks notes* more privileged than me because you’re white and I’m not?”
Spokesperson Confirms The Two Are in Talks
Paul — best known for launching a boxing career and filming a YouTube video that showed a dead body in Japan’s “suicide forest” — said on Tuesday that he was “perplexed” by the offer, but was taking it seriously.
“I started to entertain this action, I ended up speaking with her, and there may be a future where we sit down and have a civil discourse because I think there’s some meat on this bone,” he said during the most recent episode of his “ImPaulsive” podcast.
The internet star acknowledged that Owens’ main arena is politics, while his main arena is being a “fucking idiot” online. Still, he said he does care about these issues and has a “semi-intelligent brain,” so he thinks he could “hold [his] own.”
“Candace Owens, whether you can admit it or not, is a smart person,” Paul continued. “And so I guess I’m just curious because I just fucking fundamentally disagree with her and again, I think there’s room for a conversation.”
A spokesperson for Owens confirmed to Insider on Wednesday that the two had a “productive” offline conversation and said a public political debate between the two is “very likely.”
“Although both of them disagree on a variety of topics, they are both much more interested in learning from one another and think people would benefit from hearing an honest discussion between two parties rather than a ‘gotcha’ moment that might play well for social media,” the spokesperson added.
See what others are saying: (Insider)
Finneas Slams Billie Eilish Troll Account for Attributing Fake Quotes to the Singer
Eilish’s big brother said the account is spreading “relentless lies” and asked that it at least label itself as a satire account.
Troll Account Shares Fake Billie Eilish Quotes
Billie Eilish’s brother and collaborator Finneas took to Twitter Tuesday to address an account that has been sharing fake quotes attributed to his sister.
The account uses the handle @BilliesUpdatess and goes by the name of “Billie Eilish Updates” in its profile. It was created in July of 2021 and as of Wednesday morning, it had amassed a following of 1,100 people. On a quick glance, it looks just like any other update account a fan might make to share news about their favorite celebrity.
@BilliesUpdatess, however, is far from the standard adoring fan page. Of the over 300 tweets it has posted, several include screenshots of forged articles that make it look like Eilish said something either offensive or totally outlandish. One post claims Eilish defended her boyfriend after he was accused of supporting former president Donald Trump.
“At the end of the day, I fucking love him you know?” the phony statement reads. “It doesn’t matter if he made some homophobic comments in the past, people change. If he [Matthew] supports Donald Trump then I don’t care if it makes him happy. I support EVERY decision Mathew has to make, even the ones some of my fans don’t agree with, like maybe some of his icky comments.”
In another sham passage, Eilish says she thinks queerbaiting “is a really good thing!” In several others, the person behind the account comes up with artificial quotes to make it looks like Eilish is feuding with “driver’s license” singer Olivia Rodrigo.
One post with a fake article ended up being retweeted 12,000 times. That tweet included Eilish claiming she longs to be poor.
“When I got rich, I started balling my eyes out,” the fake piece says. “I wanted to be poor so I can relate to most of my fans. I still want to be broke and poor, it looks really fun and cute.”
Finneas Slams Account
As the troll account started to gain traction, Finneas asked that people report and block it to minimize the spread of its “relentless lies.”
On Tuesday, he responded to a fan that tagged him in the @BilliesUpdatess tweet alleging his sister wanted to be poor.
“Fake obviously,” Finneas wrote. “Honestly I just wish they’d label this account satire like the onion or something. I have no problem with a joke as long as people know it’s a joke.”
The account made several jokes about the fact that Finneas was calling it out, but it seems Eilish’s big brother got what he asked for. @BilliesUpdatess added “parody account” to its bio and the account was deleted as of Wednesday afternoon.