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Oscar 2018 grapples with inclusivity, misogyny

The age of #MeToo and #TimesUp finds a close up at Hollywood and Highland

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The message, in case you missed it, came through loud and clear in host Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue.  Referring to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the subsequent impact of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, he said, “What happened with Harvey and what’s happening all over is way overdue. We can’t let bad behavior slide anymore. The world is watching us. We need to set an example.”

He also addressed positive steps towards inclusion in the movie industry over the past year, and pointed out how these were reflected in this year’s crop of nominations – singling out Greta Gerwig (the first female nominated for Best Director in 8 years, for “Lady Bird”) and Rachel Morrison (the first female nominated for Best Cinematography, ever, for “Mudbound”).

It’s worth pointing out that, later in the evening, both these women lost the award in their respective categories.

Throughout the evening, it was clear that the Academy had taken pains to ensure the #OscarSoWhite hashtag would not be a thing this year.  From “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman to Asian-American “Last Jedi” actress Kelly Marie Tran to Native American actor Wes Studi, the show was all about representation; it became so obvious that, late in the proceedings, presenters Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph joked about “Oscar So Black” before reassuring the audience that there were still plenty of white people backstage (the pair’s appearance was one of the evening’s highlights, with many online commentators calling for them to co-host a show or be teamed for a movie).

Mary J. Blige – the first person to be nominated for both her acting and songwriting – performed “Mighty River” (from “Mudbound” which she co-wrote with Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson), and accompanying Keala Settle in her rendition of “This Is Me” (the inclusive, self-empowering anthem from “The Greatest Showman”) was an emphatically diverse back-up choir and dance corps that helped drive the performance toward an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd.

Both would later lose the award. It was a running theme throughout the show.

The biggest disappointment of the evening – certainly for LGBT audiences, but also for many others who were rightly electrified by his astonishing performance – was Timothée Chalamet’s loss in the Best Actor category for his performance in “Call Me By Your Name.”  Though Chalamet is straight, he played a young gay (or, at least, fluid) man experiencing first love during a summer fling with his father’s handsome assistant; his portrayal has been widely hailed as one of the best screen performances in years, but the award went to longtime Hollywood favorite Gary Oldman, for his turn as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.”  Oldman, who has taken the prize in most of the major awards ceremonies leading up to the Oscars, and was considered the front runner – but there was hope of an upset (particularly after Chalamet’s recent win in the same category at the Independent Spirit Awards, and while it was not unexpected, the loss was still a let-down.

James Ivory wore a Tuxedo shirt emblazoned with the image of Timothee Chalamet who played Elio in Ivory’s Best Screenplay adaptation winning film “Call Me By Your Name.” (Image by Troy Masters)

Still, there were triumphs, too.  “Call Me By Your Name” did take home one of the prizes for which it was nominated, when out screenwriter James Ivory (a revered cinema veteran and four-time nominee) was given the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.  He thanked André Aciman, author of the novel on which the film is based, for the story, which he claimed drew him because of its “personal relevance” to his own life (“Whether straight or gay or somewhere in between, we’ve all gone through first love and come out the other side intact”), and his former collaborators – including his producing (and life) partner, Ismael Merchant, who passed away in 2005.

The other writing award, for Best Original Screenplay, was also a celebration of diversity. Only the third filmmaker to be nominated for the writing, directing, and picture prizes, Jordan Peele became the first black winner of the prize for “Get Out,” his brilliant, double-edged horror movie that served up biting social satire alongside its hair-raising thrills. In his speech, he said, “I want to dedicate this to all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie.”  Before the ceremony, during his red carpet interview, when asked what message he was trying to convey in his film, he said it was “that we’re never done with the conversation about race in America.”

Daniela Vega celebrate Una Mujera Fantastica’s Oscar. (Image by Troy Masters)

The most resounding victory for inclusiveness came with the award for Best Foreign Language Film, which went to “A Fantastic Woman,” Sebastian Lelio’s Chilean movie featuring a trans protagonist whose life is turned upside down when her lover and protector unexpectedly passes away.  

The film’s star, Daniela Vega, took the stage with Lelio and the film’s other producers to accept the award, and later became the first trans person to present on the Oscar stage when she introduced Sufjan Stevens’ performance of “Mystery of Love,” his nominated song from “Call Me By Your Name.” The movie’s win marks a major moment for trans awareness in the film community. It’s telling that it originated in a foreign country – but that also brings recognition for the Latino community.

Latino fans got more love with the predicted win by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro in the Best Director category (for “The Shape of Water”), and with “Coco,” the popular and critically acclaimed Disney/Pixar film about a Mexican boy’s journey to the City of the Dead during Dia de los Muertos, which took home the awards for Best Original Song and Best Animated Feature.  Initially criticized for cultural appropriation, the film’s creators overcame the protests by drawing heavily on Latino involvement in its development and production, resulting in a movie that has been hailed on all sides for promoting multi-cultural awareness. During the acceptance speech for Best Animated Feature, director Lee Unkrich drew cheers by saying “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong.  Representation matters.” The film also scored some recognition for the LGBT community when producer Darla K. Anderson and writer Adrian Molina each thanked their same-sex spouses – an act which, not so long ago, might have been a death blow to their careers.

Most of the rest of the evening’s wins were predictable, safe choices. Straight ally and fan favorite Allison Janney won Best Supporting Actress for her memorable work as Margot Robbie’s cold-hearted mother in “I, Tonya,” and Sam Rockwell claimed the Supporting Actor prize for his effective (if somewhat controversial) performance as a racist cop beginning to feel empathy in “Three Billboards.”

The last award of the evening provided the biggest surprise, albeit a mild one, when “Billboards” – considered the favorite candidate, despite criticisms over its middle-of-the-road approach to such issues as racism and homophobia (not to mention quibbles about its contrived storytelling) – lost the Best Picture award to Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.”  Described by the director as “a fairy tale for troubled times,” this haunting fantasy about the romance between a mute woman and an amphibious creature being held in a government lab crossed genres to tell a story about finding empathy for “the other,” with characters representing multiple marginalized populations sharing the spotlight. While not delivering an outright political message, it speaks truth to power through parable, and presents a lingering fable of empowerment.  Though not as forceful a victory for women as “Lady Bird” might have been, nor as profound a message of change as “Call Me By Your Name” could have sent, its win was nevertheless a satisfying conclusion to the ceremony – even if it did feel, a little, like a consolation prize.

For all its effort to showcase the Academy’s evolving attitudes, the evening’s winners still seemed to reflect a certain resistance to change.  While time was given to the #TimesUp movement – represented by Weinstein accusers Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek – to make an inspiring video presentation designed to encourage “equality, inclusion, and intersectionality,” it was hard to ignore the fact that less than thirty minutes earlier the award for Best Animated Short had been handed to Glen Keane and his co-producer Kobe Bryant who was charged with raping a 19-year-old hotel clerk in 2003 (she refused to testify and the case was dropped).

Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek. (Photo by Troy Masters)

Likewise, though Kimmel in his opening monologue encouraged recipients to use their time in the spotlight as a platform to speak their minds about important issues, scarcely a single controversial word was spoken during the entire proceedings.  Indeed, Kimmel himself was the only one who veered into the realm of non-Hollywood politics, promoting the Parkland students protest march on March 24 and joking that “we don’t make movies like ‘Call Me By Your Name’ to make money, we make them to upset Mike Pence.”

The low-key tone of the night may have been partly due to the #TimesUp movement’s decision to hold off on protests this time around, in favor of taking a leadership role in promoting awareness and inclusivity moving forward – which they did, and effectively so. Though probably not officially coordinated by any organization, the display of solidarity incited by Frances McDormand (Best Actress, as expected, for her work in “Three Billboards”), who in her acceptance speech invited every female nominee in every category to stand up, was a stirring climax to the current of feminism that flowed through the show.  Even so, one couldn’t help but wonder at the number of opportunities missed for political barnstorming – particularly at an event held in the heart, both literally and figuratively, of “liberal Hollywood.”

Even so, there was plenty of encouragement to be found at the Academy Awards this year.  Let’s hope that all the good intentions haven’t been long forgotten by the time the get around to rewarding the films of 2018.

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Welsh Olympic distance swimmer Dan Jervis comes Out

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming at the Olympics in Tokyo said he was inspired by Blackpool FC soccer player Jake Daniels

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Dan Jervis (Screenshot via British Swimming Livestream-archive)

NEATH, Talbot County Borough, Wales – In a recent interview with BBC Radio Cornwall, 26-year-old British Olympian distance swimmer Dan Jervis revealed that he had given considerable thought before announcing to the world that he is gay.

Jervis told the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast; “I was adjusting to everything else, just trying to fit in — until I thought, Just be you.”

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming for the British team at the Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan, told the BBC he was inspired by 17-year-old Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels, the professional soccer player who made history as only the second person in the past 30 years to acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly in that sport in the United Kingdom.

The swimmer also told the BBC it was important to be seen as a role model as he readies to compete in the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Jervis has previously competed winning a 1500m freestyle silver and bronze at the 2014 and 2018 Games in Glasgow, Scotland and Australia’s Gold Coast respectively.

“It took me 24 years to be who I am,” he said and added, “You know, we’re just before the Commonwealth Games and there are going to be kids and adults watching who will know that I’m like them, and that I’m proud of who I am.”

The Olympian reflected on his decision to announce he was gay: “For so long, I hated who I was – and you see it all the time, people who are dying over this. They hate themselves so much that they’re ending their lives.

“So if I can just be that someone people can look at and say, ‘yeah, they’re like me,’ then that’s good.”

Jervis then said he revealed his sexuality to a close friend when he was 24: “At that point, I’d never said the words out loud to myself.”

“I said to her: ‘I think I’m gay.’ I couldn’t even say: ‘I’m gay.’ I was basically punching the words out.

“She was quite shocked but great, and it was exactly the reaction I wanted. I’ve had all good reactions, and the way I’ve described it is I’m not going to change as a person.

“Everyone’s journey is different, but I think I’ve always known.

“It was something in the back of my mind, bugging me. I thought I was bisexual and had girlfriends that I loved – but it came to about three years ago where I knew I had to deal with this.

“It wasn’t affecting my swimming, but me as a human being. It sounds quite drastic, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. Yeah, I was smiling, but there was something missing to make me properly happy.

“I’m still the Dan you’ve always known. You just know something else about me now.”

The Commonwealth Games open in Birmingham, UK on July 28.

Listen: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0chqfhn

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Online Culture

FCC asks Apple & Google to remove TikTok app from their stores

Its pattern of surreptitious data practices that are documented show TikTok is non-compliant with app store policies and practises

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Graphic by Molly Butler for Media Matters

WASHINGTON – In a series of tweets Tuesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr disclosed a letter sent to both Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet asking the two tech giants to remove TikTok from their app stores over his concerns that user data from the wildly popular social media platform is disclosed and used by bad actors in China.

In his letter dated June 24 to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Carr noted that because of its pattern of surreptitious data practices documented in reports and other sources, TikTok is non-compliant with the two companies’ app store policies and practises.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or meme. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” he said in the letter. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

Carr stated that if the companiest do not remove TikTok from their app stores, they should provide statements to him by July 8.

The statements should explain “the basis for your company’s conclusion that the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct, does not run afoul of any of your app store policies,” he said.

Carr was appointed by former President Trump in 2018 to a five-year term with the FCC.

In March of this year, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a nationwide investigation into TikTok for promoting its social media platform to children and young adults while its use is associated with physical and mental health harms to youth.

The investigation will look into the harms using TikTok can cause to young users and what TikTok knew about those harms. The investigation focuses, among other things, on the techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including strategies or efforts to increase the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform.

TikTok’s computer algorithms pushing video content to users can promote eating disorders and even self-harm and suicide to young viewers. Texas opened an investigation into TikTok’s alleged violations of children’s privacy and facilitation of human trafficking last month.

TikTok has said it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger users. The company says it has tools in place, such as screen-time management, to help young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what they see, the Associated Press reported.

“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users,” the company said. “We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

TikTok has also had a problematic relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. Recently The Washington Post confirmed that the ‘Libs of TikTok,’ an influential anti-LGBTQ account regularly targets LGBTQ individuals and their allies for harassment from its more than 640,000 Twitter followers while serving as a veritable wire service for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media to push anti-LGBTQ smears.

Libs of TikTok regularly targets individual teachers and their workplaces – releasing their personal information that includes school and individual names as well as social media accounts, and leading its audience to harass the schools on social media.

A year ago, an investigation by Media Matters found that TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign. 

Numerous LGBTQ+ content creators have shared stories with the Blade about TikTok’s seemingly arbitrary algorithms that target otherwise benign content that is not listed outside of the platform’s polices and removed the content. In many cases restoring the posts after appeals or in the worst case scenarios banning the users.

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Online Culture

Facebook banning users who post that abortion pills can be mailed

When Facebook started removing these posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday

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Facebook/Meta Headquarters Menlo Park, Calif. (Blade photo by Brody Levesque)

MENLO PARK, Ca. – Social media giant corporation Meta’s Facebook platform has removed posts and has banned some users who wrote posts detailing that abortion pills can be mailed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Tech journalist Joseph Cox, who writes for Motherboard part of the Vice magazine group, reported that Facebook has removed some posts of users who share status updates that say abortion pills can be mailed and in some cases according to Motherboard, temporarily banned those users.

When exactly Facebook started removing these and similar posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday.

Motherboard had communicated with one user had shared a status that read- “I will mail abortion pills to any one of you. Just message me,” who then told the publication in an email:

“I posted it at 11 a.m. and was notified within a minute that it was removed. I was not notified until I tried to post later that I was banned for it.”

Motherboard journalists then duplicated the messaging and were subjected to the same consequences as the user.

The post was flagged within seconds as violating the site’s community standards, specifically the rules against buying, selling, or exchanging medical or non-medical drugs. The reporter was given the option to “disagree” with the decision or “agree” with it. After they chose “disagree,” the post was removed. 

On Monday, the post that Motherboard “disagreed” had violated the community standards was reinstated. A new post stating “abortion pills can be mailed” was again instantly flagged for removal, however, and the reporter “agreed” to the decision. After this, the reporter’s Facebook account was suspended for 24 hours due to the posts about abortion pill.

The platform’s policy clearly states “To encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions, we prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to purchase, sell or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana.”

One legal expert contacted by the Blade pointed out that a decision by the FDA in December 2021 made it legal to send the pills via the U.S. Postal Service.

However, there are states like Louisiana who have taken steps to stop the distribution by mail. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) into law a bill that will prohibit pregnant people from getting abortion pills via mail.

Axios reported that Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Friday, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, that states cannot ban mifepristone, a medication that is used to bring about an abortion, based on disagreement with the federal government on its safety and efficacy.

“In particular, the FDA has approved the use of the medication Mifepristone. States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” the Attorney General said.

As part of efforts to limit abortion access, some states have taken action to block the use of telehealth for abortion. Six states, ArizonaArkansasMissouriLouisianaTexas, and West Virginia, have passed laws specifically banning telehealth for abortion provision. In addition,14 other states have enacted laws that require the clinician providing a medication abortion to be physically present during the procedure, effectively prohibiting the use of telehealth to dispense medication for abortion remotely.

The question for social media platforms is what can be ‘policed’ especially in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision and the FDA deciding that patients to have a telemedicine appointment with a provider who can prescribe abortion pills and send them to the patient by mail.

Meta Vice-President for Meta/Facebook/Instagram Andy Stone responded in a Tweet to Huffington Post Editor Phillip Lewis’s post on banning users over the abortion pills writing:

“Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed. Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”

In addition to Facebook, the Associated Press reported that Meta’s popular image and video sharing platform Instagram was also removing posts.

The AP obtained a screenshot on Friday of one Instagram post from a woman who offered to purchase or forward abortion pills through the mail, minutes after the court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion. “DM me if you want to order abortion pills, but want them sent to my address instead of yours,” the post on Instagram read. Instagram took it down within moments.

An AP reporter tested how the company would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.”  The post was removed within one minute. The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.” Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched.

The Los Angeles Blade has reached out to Meta/Facebook for a comment.

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