The ‘Female Stuff’ of Hollywood Creative Meetings

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Change rarely happens organically, and gender equality, in both Hollywood and the world at large, is the sort of issue that requires a forceful push by those who see the need for change. But the fact of the matter is, when it comes to the womaning-up of Hollywood, the people doing the pushing behind the scenes are mostly male. The Lego Movie sequel will have lady stuff as imagined by two dudes. Lady Ghostbusters was greenlit because it’s the brainchild of a man. I don’t have gender breakdowns of studio executives, but I’d bet my left ovary the decisions coming out of Warner, Marvel, and Sony originated in male-dominated meetings. And while the execs’ hearts may be in the right place, their minds are on getting people talking about their movies, and eventually getting butts in seats. If that means adding in some “female stuff,” hey, everybody wins, right?

Well, do they? While Hollywood is finding ways to slot women into its preconceived projects, female creators with their own ideas toil in the trenches to get their smaller, personal projects made. Two of this year’s best movies written and directed by women, Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s new Beyond The Lights, took years of finagling and compromising on the part of their creators, and were eventually released on a relatively small scale. Meanwhile, of the 39 major studio releases originally slated for summer 2014, only one was directed by a woman, and even that comes with a big fat asterisk: That one film, Jupiter Ascending, which Lana Wachowski wrote and directed with her brother Andy, was pushed to 2015, thereby decreasing this past summer’s number of female-directed major releases to exactly zero.

-Genevieve Koski, at the Dissolve, on Hollywood’s “female stuff” problem.

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The Moment Firestone Teamed Up with a Warlord

Below is an excerpt from ProPublica and Frontline’s investigation into how the U.S. tire and rubber company Firestone ended up partnering with warlord Charles Taylor, who was taking over Liberia during the civil war in the early 1990s. In 1992 the company agreed to pay taxes to Taylor’s rebel government, and “over the next year, the company doled out more than $2.3 million in cash, checks and food to Taylor”: Read more…

30,000 Words, 700 Jobs, One Year

Photo: Kathryn Decker

A few months ago, a friend considering a freelance writing career asked me how much money I make as a writer. I wanted to say, “You mean, what’s the going rate for a human soul?” But I wasn’t close enough to this friend to be certain she’d realize I was mostly kidding. Instead I said, “This month, I made between $25 and $2,000 for individual stories that were about the same length,” to indicate how unpredictable rates are in an industry that is hemorrhaging money while flooded with qualified candidates.

I’ve produced more than 30,000 words of original and highly job-specific material without pay in an effort to prove myself a capable and good sport to the handful of companies that have reached back out to me from the black hole of resume inboxes to give me a chance.

- Prospective employers demand full-time freelancers to produce inordinate amounts of writing as part of their applications, in addition to the usual cover letter and resumé. From sample tweets to an entire magazine, Alana Massey experienced this firsthand. Read more about her experience and the ethics of freelancing at Pacific Standard. 

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Why One ‘Big Idea’ Won’t Save the World

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In the late ’90s, an MIT economics professor named Michael Kremer wanted to find out if school kids in Kenya were better served by being given free textbooks or medicine that would eradicate stomach worms. Reports Michael Hobbes in The New Republic:

The deworming pills made the kids noticeably better off. Absence rates fell by 25 percent, the kids got taller, even their friends and families got healthier. By interrupting the chain of infection, the treatments had reduced worm infections in entire villages. Even more striking, when they tested the same kids nearly a decade later, they had more education and earned higher salaries. The female participants were less likely to be employed in domestic services.

And compared with Kremer’s first trial, deworming was a bargain. Textbooks cost $2 to $3 each. Deworming pills were as little as 49 cents. When Kremer calculated the kids’ bump in lifetime wages compared with the cost of treatment, it was a 60-to-1 ratio.

These findings led to the founding of an NGO called “Deworm the World” which went on to help 40 million children in 27 countries. But there has been little evidence that giving school children deworming pills in other countries have had similar effects. Hobbes writes:

In the 1980s and early ’90s, a series of meta-analyses found that textbooks were actually effective at improving school performance in places where the language issues weren’t as complex. In his own paper reporting the Kenya results, Kremer noted that, in Nicaragua and the Philippines, giving kids textbooks did improve their test scores.

But the point of all this is not to talk shit on Kremer—who has bettered the world more with his career than I ever have with mine—or to dismantle his deworming charity, or to advocate that we should all go back to giving out free textbooks. What I want to talk shit on is the paradigm of the Big Idea—that once we identify the correct one, we can simply unfurl it on the entire developing world like a picnic blanket.

There are villages where deworming will be the most meaningful education project possible. There are others where free textbooks will. In other places, it will be new school buildings, more teachers, lower fees, better transport, tutors, uniforms. There’s probably a village out there where a PlayPump would beat all these approaches combined. The point is, we don’t know what works, where, or why. The only way to find out is to test these models—not just before their initial success but afterward, and constantly.

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Related: Michael Hobbes talks about writing the story on his blog.

Photo: Susana Secretariat

‘The Most Difficult Essay I’ve Ever Written’: Meghan Daum on Her Mother

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If you asked me what my central grievance with my mother was, I would tell you that I had a hard time not seeing her as a fraud. I would tell you that her transformation, at around the age of 45, from a slightly frumpy, slightly depressed, slightly angry but mostly unassuming wife, mother, and occasional private piano teacher into a flashy, imperious, hyperbolic theatre person had ignited in her a phoniness that I was allergic to on every level. I might try to explain how the theatre in question was the one at my very high school, a place she’d essentially followed me to from the day I matriculated and then proceeded to use as the training ground and later backdrop for her new self. I might throw in the fact that she was deeply concerned with what kind of person I was in high school because it would surely be a direct reflection of the kind of person she was […]

It was September. Autumn, New York’s most flattering season, was preparing to make its entrance. I had just got engaged to my longtime boyfriend, which had made my mother very happy.

“Our recommendation would be to transfer to another level of care,” the oncologist said.

Hearing this, I moved my chair closer and grabbed my mother’s hand under the blanket. I did this because I felt that if we were in a play this would surely be part of the stage directions. I was also afraid the doctor would judge me if I didn’t. If I just sat there with my arms crossed against my chest, as I was inclined to, the doctor would make a note in the file suggesting that I might not be capable of offering sufficient support to the patient.

I retrieved her hand from under the blanket and squeezed it in my own. She did not reciprocate. She didn’t pull away, but there was enough awkwardness and ambivalence coming from both sides that it was not unlike being on a date at the movies and trying to hold hands with someone who’d rather not. I think we were both relieved when I let go.

- In the Guardian, Meghan Daum explores how to live and love in the wake of her mother’s dramatic, calculated persona and imminent death. “All About My Mother” is excerpted from Daum’s new essay collection, The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, released November 18.

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Photo: Via Twitter

Profiling the Difficult Subject: Our College Pick

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Journalists select profile subjects for any number of reasons. The person could be famous or newsworthy or simply serve as the face of a big, complex issue. Other times, they are just characters the community at large should know about. Those are the hardest ones to write because the writer has to hang the story on the individual instead of a news event or issue. And if the subject is not immediately likable, the writer has to work even harder to find the reader a way into the story. In his profile of a nontraditional student at George Mason University, writer Hau Chu does not try to make his subject, Ray Niederhausen, sound like anything other than he is: a 37-year-old undergraduate working to overcome a lifetime of addiction and bad choices.

A Second Chance at Life

Hau Chu | Fourth Estate | 13 minutes (3,184 words)

Mike Nichols: 1931-2014

Photo via Wikipedia
Photo via Wikipedia

Mike Nichols, the beloved director of stage and screen—from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate, to Barefoot in the Park and Working Girldied Wednesday at the age of 83. Here are four pieces on the life of the artist. Read more…