• republicanlogo

    Playing the Trump Card: Donald Trump and the Movie Theater Industry

    News Reel Blog   

    This article originally appeared in Boxoffice magazine. 

    The nomination of Donald J. Trump as the 2016 Republican presidential candidate was one of the most surprising primary outcomes in modern political history.  His unexpected surge to the top of the Republican ticket stunned many seasoned political observers, forcing them to come to terms with changing tides in the Republican party and the down-ticket effect of a relative outsider.

    To the entertainment industry, however, Donald Trump is certainly no stranger.  A member of the Screen Actors Guild, he has spent several decades in showbiz—cameo appearances on TV shows, host of NBC’s The Apprentice, beauty pageant ownership, involvement in World Wrestling Entertainment, and model management.  Trump’s reach extends to the video game universe as well.  “Donald Trump’s Real Estate Tycoon,” released in 2002, is a business simulation game pitting players against Trump.  A video game version of Trump’s show “The Apprentice” was released in 2006.  Trump’s name recognition as an entertainment personality was undoubtedly a key asset as he campaigned his way through the United States and assumed the mantle of the Republican party.

    And even though many of the party establishment regard him as a political interloper, this election is not Trump’s first involvement in politics.  Trump has been active as a campaign contributor for many years, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic and Republican political campaigns and organizations.  Trump has also used his social media accounts as a platform for political expression.  In 2012, he was a vocal proponent of Mitt Romney, tweeting frequently in support of Romney’s candidacy.  Many of his statements were critiques of President Barack Obama’s handling of the national debt, Obamacare, and jobs.

    Now that he represents a major political party, Trump has had to articulate positions on many diverse issues.  Unpredictable and untested, Trump’s candidacy has left pundits and analysts scrambling to understand his policy orientation.  While he does maintain consistent attitudes toward some issues, Trump’s frequent backtracking makes pinning down the presidential nominee’s opinions a challenging exercise.  This article will explore Trump’s positions on several issues pertinent to the movie theater industry.  (Previous coverage of candidates in this magazine included articles on Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz in the June 2015 and January 2016 issues of boxoffice, respectively.  See Baruh, Esther, “Rated ‘A’ For Aggressive: Hillary Clinton, the Entertainment Industry, and First Amendment Rights,” BoxOffice Pro, June 2015 and Baruh, Esther, “Ted Talk:  Movie Theaters and Ted Cruz,” Boxoffice, January 2016.)

    Violence in the Media and Ratings Systems

    The few comments on media violence that Trump has offered may shed light on his attitudes toward depictions of violence in video games and movies.  Trump is endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and he criticized gun control laws as ineffective following shooting incidents in the U.S. and abroad.  He has also decried the concept of gun-free zones.  However, some of his comments on violence in entertainment would suggest that he does regard depictions of violence in video games and movies to be troubling.  After the mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, Trump tweeted that “Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it is creating monsters!”  (The video games associated with Trump are both are rated “E” for everyone by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.)  Trump has also suggested that Hollywood personalities who support gun control but make movies with violent scenes are acting hypocritically.  “Movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who lost his company to Colony Capital, is against guns but makes movies w/ [sic] major gun violence–really!” Trump tweeted in 2014.

    Other than these comments on violence in entertainment, Trump has remained largely silent on the ratings systems governing movies and video games.  In March of this year, Trump wrote the following in response to questions on the entertainment industry posed by the Washington Post:   “Parents should make the determination about what their children should watch or not watch.  If they do not have enough information upon which to base those decisions, they should insist that their elected representatives act on those needs.”  Trump’s answer would seem to indicate that he favors a form of government regulation of movie and video game ratings, if the ratings systems fail to advise parents adequately about the content of their products.

    Soda Tax

    Trump has not articulated a position specifically against soda taxes, although he has generally pledged to eliminate some taxes and reduce income tax rates.  After the Philadelphia city council passed legislation mandating a tax on sweetened beverages in June, the RNC published a blog post decrying the tax as regressive and highlighting Hillary Clinton’s support for the tax.  Trump shared the RNC’s blog post on Facebook, but did not state his own opposition to the tax; instead, he echoed the RNC’s points and focused on Clinton’s support for the tax.  “Crooked Hillary Clinton has endorsed Philly’s soda tax, which violates her pledge to not support taxes on the poor and middle class,” he wrote on Facebook.

    Minimum Wage

    Trump’s position on minimum wage increases has shifted over the course of the election cycle.  Initially, Trump seemed to be against any minimum wage increases.  During a GOP debate in November 2015, Trump stated that he “would not” raise minimum wage.  “We have to leave it the way it is,” Trump said of minimum wage.  “People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum.”

    In May 2016, however, in an appearance on CNN, Trump seemed to indicate that he supported an increased minimum wage, with the caveat that the federal government should not be the entity raising the wage floor.  “I think people have to get more,” he told host George Stephanopoulos.  That same day, Trump clarified his position further on a “Meet the Press” appearance, saying that wage increases should occur but should be dictated by state governments.  “I don’t know how people make it on $7.25 an hour. Now, with that being said, I would like to see an increase of some magnitude.  But I’d rather leave it to the states.  Let the states decide,” he said.  When host Chuck Todd asked if the federal government should set a base wage and then have states make further increases, Trump said he would “rather have the states go out and do what they have to do,” implying that he did not support a federal wage increase, but does support individual state action.

    Trump further expanded his views on minimum wage in July during a press interview and follow-up questions.  When asked by Bill O’Reilly if he supported a wage increase, Trump said “the minimum wage has to go up,” citing $10 as an appropriate wage floor.  “I think that states should really call the shot,” he added, reiterating his previously stated position that states should determine minimum wages.  But in follow-up questions, a reporter asked Trump if his comment about a $10 wage floor was referring to federal minimum wage.  “Federal,” Trump confirmed.

    Whatever the outcome of this election cycle, the individual elected to the White House in November is sure to set a legislative and regulatory agenda that impacts the many matters affecting exhibition.  From the issues explored in this article, to accessibility regulation, to changes in the labor landscape, theater owners can anticipate new challenges ahead.

  • democratlogo

    Rated “A” for Aggressive: Hillary Clinton, the Entertainment Industry, and First Amendment Rights

    News Reel Blog   

    This article originally appeared in Boxoffice magazine. 

    The movie theater industry takes its ratings compliance and enforcement seriously – and the Democratic nominee for president does too.

    From the time she moved into the White House as First Lady through her tenure as Senator from New York and her first presidential campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton consistently made childhood and family issues a focal point – including the impact of entertainment content on children.  Of late, she has positioned herself as an arbiter on family issues, using the hashtag #GrandmothersKnowBest to hearken to her own experience as a mother and grandmother.  Now that her second presidential campaign is in full swing, her past focus on children and media could resurface.  This article takes a deep dive into Clinton’s history on the issue.

    The mid-nineties were a hotbed of executive activism and industry change toward entertainment ratings systems.  Congress enacted – with the support of President Bill Clinton – legislation mandating television chips that would screen programs for violent content.  Summoning television executives to the White House in early 1996, the Clinton administration put the heat on television studios to produce a voluntary, industry-wide ratings system that would help parents screen out inappropriate material.  The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), established only a couple years earlier, was in the nascent stage of applying and enforcing its tiered ratings.

    Encouraging these efforts was a figure who would continue to push an aggressive agenda on media ratings and content throughout her own time in office:  First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    Devoted to children’s issues during her time in the East Wing, Clinton made clear her opposition to childhood exposure to sexual imagery and violence in entertainment.  In the early years of her husband’s first term, Clinton decried the oversaturation of violence in media.  “We are fed, through the media, a daily diet of sex and violence and social dysfunction and unrealizable fantasies,” she said at a 1995 appearance at Brooklyn College.  Clinton participated in the president’s 1996 meeting with television executives – both she and Tipper Gore sat in on the proceedings – and continued to raise objections to media violence and sexuality into her husband’s second term.  In a 1998 speech on school safety, Clinton linked viewed violence to real-life behavior.  “The violence children see every day on their TV and video screens – all lead to more violent and aggressive behavior, particularly among our teenagers,” she warned.

    Clinton’s speech came just months before the most seismic, tragic event in teen violence in modern American history.  The entertainment industry would soon be rocked by the repercussions of the Columbine massacre.  Video games, movies, television programs, and music were soon to be subjected to intense national scrutiny over their effect on youth mental health and morality.

    The mass murders of their fellow students by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris ignited national debates over gun access, bullying, and equally famously, the effect of violence depicted in movies and video games.  Psychiatrists, pundits, and armchair psychologists alike posited that Klebold and Harris had been negatively influenced by the contents of the movie “Natural Born Killers” and the video game “Doom.”  Marilyn Manson, eviscerated in the press for possible linkage between his music and the actions of the two teens, was compelled to issue a statement calling the entertainment industry “unfairly scapegoated.”

    Scrambling to address this issue, President Clinton immediately convened an entertainment industry summit and ordered senior aides to brief him on the various ratings systems employed by the different entertainment sectors.  In June of 1999, the president invited NATO’s president and board chairwoman to the Oval Office to discuss a public push on stronger enforcement of “R” rated movies.

    But the president wasn’t alone in linking the Columbine tragedy with entertainment media.  The first lady, on the cusp of declaring her Senate candidacy, continued to publicly correlate youth violence with media violence.  At a roundtable event with parents in New York, she urged attendees not to purchase violent video games, “no matter how much your child begs.”  She also pressed the parents to think about boycotting sponsors of violent TV shows.  “There is just no doubt that our children are exposed to an overwhelming amount of violence and mayhem – not only violent acts, but violent language – from the moment they are put in front of a television set,” she warned.

    In late 1999, she called for a uniform ratings standard – a stance she endorsed in the speech officially declaring her Senate campaign.  An “alphabet soup” of ratings was too confusing for parents, she said, and should be replaced by one system used across all entertainment sectors.  Industry leaders were quick to push back against Clinton’s proposal, stating that a new system would cause even more confusion in the marketplace.  The idea had support in Congress, but legislation never gained traction.

    Entertainment ratings systems and how parents could differentiate between age-appropriate content remained a prime issue for Clinton once she took office.  While in the Senate, Clinton co-sponsored no less than five bills addressing the impact of media on children and the marketing of violent or sexual content to minors, crossing the aisle to join with conservative Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) on these efforts.

    But her most prominent attempt to upend ratings systems came in 2005, when she introduced the Family Entertainment Protect Act (FEPA), a bill levying civil penalties on business that sold or rented video games rated Mature, Adults-Only, or Ratings Pending to anyone under the age of 17.  The legislation was Clinton’s horrified reaction to the revelation that the video game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” contained a hidden mini-game with graphic sexual content.  The game was originally rated “M” for Mature, which Clinton and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) considered an egregious mischaracterization of the game’s content.  (The FTC eventually entered into a consent agreement with the game’s makers, who agreed to re-rate the game and include more information about ratings on promotional packaging.)  Clinton’s strong feelings on childhood exposure to violent and sexual media were evident in her floor speech introducing the bill:

    “I rise today to introduce a bill to help parents protect their children against violent and sexual media.  I stand with the parents and children of the Nation, all of whom are being victimized by a culture of violence.  As parents, we monitor the kind of people who interact with our children. If somebody is exposing our children to material we find inappropriate, we remove our children from that person.  Yet our children spend more time consuming media than doing anything else but sleeping and attending school.  Media culture is like having a stranger in your house, and it exerts a major influence over your children.”

    Her strong public stance on the issue notwithstanding, Clinton’s bill died without seeing Senate floor action.  However, it is unlikely that the bill would have withstood judicial scrutiny if it had passed Congress:  Similar laws in California, Louisiana, Michigan, and Oklahoma were found unconstitutional.  The case against the California bill made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld previous rulings that the bill violated the Constitution.

    In 2005, the California state legislature passed a bill banning the sale of violent video games to anyone under age 18.  Video game software makers and merchants obtained an injunction to block the law’s enforcement, and the bill was consistently struck down by federal courts on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment.  Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appealed these decisions, ultimately convincing the Supreme Court to consider the case.  NATO submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of the game-makers’ right to produce such content.

    In 2011, the Court ruled 7-2 that the bill violated both the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  The decision affirmed the right of game-makers and merchants to create and market violent video games, which the Court held to be no different than fairy tales with gory content.

    Just as crucial to the collective entertainment industry was the fact that the justices took into account the accomplishments of the ESRB’s voluntary ratings system.  The Federal Trade Commission’s 2009 report on the success of the ESRB ratings system in restricting the sale of mature products to minors was influential to the court.  In delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the ratings system “does much to ensure that minors cannot purchase seriously violent games on their own, and that parents who care about the matter can readily evaluate the games their children bring home.  Filling the remaining modest gap in concerned-parents’ control can hardly be a compelling state interest.”  The message to the entertainment industry was clear:  High rates of compliance with voluntary ratings systems help keep the government out of your business.

    The entertainment ratings issue remained relevant in Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.  In a 2007 interview with Common Sense Media, Clinton said she still supported legislation like FEPA and pledged to “work to protect children from inappropriate video game content” if she became president.  (Clinton’s daughter Chelsea currently serves on the Board of Advisors for Common Sense Media.  The organization opposed the court’s decision on the California legislation.)

    Fast forward eight years to the present day and Clinton’s second presidential campaign.  While her official campaign announcement focused on the economy, Clinton has given no indication that her positions on media content and entertainment ratings have changed.  Indeed, her long history of work on childhood issues and robust past backing of executive and legislative proposals on these matters – the strong support Clinton enjoys from Hollywood moguls notwithstanding – may foreshadow her continued activism.

  • YMClogo

    NATO Launches Young Members Committee

    News Reel Blog   

    Millennial isn’t a word. It’s a sentence.

    That’s meant as a reference to “Family isn’t a word. It’s a sentence,” the brilliant tagline for writer/director Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, a classic dramedy about family dysfunction. The point is simple: the word family comes with a loaded meaning that’s different for everyone.

    When people say the word millennial these days, it doesn’t feel like just a word.

    Clichés abound when it comes to the way millennials are viewed. We can’t ditch our mobile devices. We are entitled. We don’t take criticism well. The list goes on and on. It’s not all bad, of course. We are viewed as being highly tech-savvy, and we’re a very racially diverse generation. Still, there seems to be an overwhelming emphasis on the negatives. As a proud member of this generation, I don’t feel like I’m different than anybody else who was just starting out in life and wanted to carve out their niche in the world.

    We are certainly guilty of stereotyping as well. I’d bet good money that if you asked 10 millennials whether or not boomers were directly responsible for global warming 9 out of 10 would answer with an emphatic “Yes!”

    In a recent New York Times article titled “Corporate America Chases the Mythical Millennial,” Google’s Laszlo Bock—the tech giant’s head of human resources—states a simple fact that generational divides are nothing new and should not be viewed as an alarming problem to address.

    “What we’ve seen is that every single generation enters the work force and feels like they’re a unique generation, and the generation that’s one or two ahead of them looks back and says, ‘Who are these weird, strange kids coming into the work force with their attitudes of entitlement and not wanting to fit in?’” Mr. Bock said. “It’s a cycle that’s been repeated every 10 to 15 years for the last 50 years.”

    I think Bock limits his statement by saying “…for the last 50 years.” Has there ever been a time in human history when you couldn’t point to some kind of generational divide? I doubt it.

    So what does this mean for our industry? Well, hopefully with an open line of communication the generational divide can become more of a positive than a negative.

    Enter NATO’s launch of the Young Members Committee.

    The goal of the Young Members Committee (YMC) is to encourage young employees—defined for these purposes as being 35 years old & under—in our industry to feel more connected through education initiatives, social events, and surveys. The YMC is open to any employee at our member theatres no matter what position they hold. We want to nurture talented young people who may want to pursue a long-term career in this industry. This openness in membership will help promote the exhibition industry’s diversity within various job titles. Regional chapters can opt to assemble their own individual committees.

    For organizational purposes, we will have a Leadership Board in order to help develop useful initiatives. Dan Harkins has volunteered to serve as the Executive Board liaison to the YMC.

    When it comes to education initiatives, the goal is to have webinars and in-person gatherings at regional and national conventions. With the webinars, we will look to invite industry experts to speak on topics such as box office grosses and technological innovation. There will also be outreach to industry professionals outside of exhibition in order to investigate topics that are becoming increasingly relevant to this business such as the explosion of eSports and the growing power of Snapchat.

    From a research perspective, the YMC will aim to provide valuable insight into what millennials expect from the theatre experience and how their views will impact what our industry will become over the next couple of decades. Once there is a wide enough base of members, surveys would be a very beneficial way to allow members to make their voices heard. Surveys could also lead to official reports released to the membership from the YMC.

    Millennials live and work in a very different industry than the one previous generations started in. I can barely remember using a phone book in the same way that I can barely remember seeing a new movie projected on film in an auditorium that didn’t have stadium seating. I’ve been working in this business for about nine years now, and I would like to continue doing so until I retire. If China’s box office passes North America’s box office in 2017 and doesn’t look back, then 30 years or so of my career will be in a world in which China is the #1 market and only nine with North America being #1. New developments in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality could entirely change the way movies are projected in theatres. I took it to heart when George Lucas said at CinemaCon 2011 that movie theatres would never go away and cinemas would eventually be filled with holograms. (Even if he was a bit ambitious in thinking that Episode VII would be shot that way.)

    It’s a very exciting time to be in the world of exhibition, and yet the media and various Silicon Valley “disruptors”—I apologize on behalf of my entire generation for the word disrupter being used to the point of causing nausea—are obsessed with saying the industry sticks its head in the sand. It’s my hope that the Young Members Committee will do what it can to fight against this misconception.

    Click here to sign up for the YMC. I welcome any questions, suggestions, and other feedback: [email protected].

  • marriotmarina

    NATO to Merge Annual Meetings and Fall Summit in Los Angeles

    News Reel Blog   

    This article originally appeared in Boxoffice magazine. 

    NATO is combining its annual Fall Meetings, traditionally held in late September/early October each year, with the NATO Fall Summit, introduced in 2013, and held in November the past three years. This change was made in response to member feedback, as the new format will allow members to combine their NATO fall travel into just one trip to Los Angeles, and thereby save on travel expenses. In recent years, NATO’s Annual Meetings met every other year in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. This schedule allowed members to lobby Congress while they were in session on Capitol Hill, and meet with studios in Hollywood on the off year. The association has switched its strategy to lobby Congress when the need arises rather than wait every two years. That opened the opportunity to keep the Annual Meetings in Los Angeles where studio relations are always a key priority.

    The schedule for NATO’s Annual Meetings will be packed over the two day event. These NATO committees, task forces and other groups will meet on Tuesday, 27 September: NATO’s Past Chairmen; the Membership Committee; Government Relations Committee; Technology Committee; Conventions Committee; International Committee; and the Independent Theatre Owners Committee. That evening, all attendees will gather for a cocktail party and dinner, generously sponsored again this year by The Coca-Cola Company. A dessert buffet and cordial bar will be provided after dinner to enable members to socialize with their industry colleagues and friends. (Sorry, no dance floor. We’ve seen our members dance, and it’s just better to leave it to the professionals.)

    NATO Technology Committee

    The NATO Technology Committee will meet on Tuesday, 27 September at noon. The committee monitors and analyzes the latest cinema technology to ensure that they achieve the highest standards set by the exhibition industry. Long-time NATO members remember that the Technology Committee addressed such issues as digital sound systems, cyan dye tracks, automated kiosk ticket selling, film reel lengths and split reels, TASA sound level limits, many other topics. The reinvigorated Technology Committee moves the conversation into the modern auditorium. Led by AMC’s John McDonald and NATO Consultant Jerry Pierce, the new challenges brought by digital technology take a high priority for the association. New issues such as higher frame rates and DCP formats join ongoing issues such as piracy detection technology and captioning equipment for the deaf.

     NATO International Committee

    During CinemaCon, the NATO International Committee voted to meet this fall during the NATO Annual Meetings and Fall Summit. There will not be a meeting in conjunction with the ShowEast convention. The meeting will take place on Tuesday 27 September at 4:00 PM PST. The combination of NATO’s governance meetings and Fall Summit provides a better venue for more members to attend. Chair Jan Bernhardsson of Nordic Cinema Group (Sweden) and Vice Chair Valmir Fernandes of Cinemark Int’l will welcome exhibitors from territories around the world, as well as some international association leaders.

    The International Committee will continue its discussions on release windows, movie theft, and cinema technology, and include issues such as marketing, regulatory policies, and import issues. Many of the same challenges confronting NATO’s domestic members occur in our international territories as well, so the dialogue generated through the International Committee continues to benefit all NATO members. We encourage all NATO members operating in territories outside the United States to attend.

    Independent Theatre Owners Committee

    NATO’s Independent Theater Owners Committee (ITOC) provides a forum for discussion and information exchange between smaller theater owners and operators with 75 screens or less. Chairman Joe Paletta (Spotlight Theatres, Inc.), along with Vice Chairman John Vincent (Wellfleet Cinemas) presides over the ITOC. In addition to the committee leadership, four elected volunteer members serve on NATO’s Executive Board of Directors, the top decision-making body within the association. The current elected volunteer members are Byron Berkley (Foothills Entertainment, Inc.), Gina DiSanto (Schuykill Mall Theatres), Jeff Logan (Logan Luxury Theatres Corp.), and Mark O’Meara (University Mall Theatres). In tandem with Bill Campbell, the Managing Director of NATO’s Cinema Buying Group, these seven individuals spearhead dialogue and advocacy for independent owners and operators within the exhibition industry.

    The meeting of the ITOC takes place on Tuesday, September 27 at 2:00 PM PST. It serves as an open discussion of key issues affecting independent cinemas.

     Advisory Board Eligibility

    NATO’s General Membership and Advisory Board Meetings will be held on Wednesday, 28 September, and will cover governance matters as well as an overview of key issues and opportunities affecting exhibition. Audience response technology will be used, so the perspectives of all attendees can be expressed and considered. Following the Advisory Board Meeting, NATO’s Executive Board will meet in private session.

    The NATO Advisory Board is comprised of member company personnel most interested in the issues confronting the industry. They provide a key role in the discussions of association policy and future activity. Advisory Board membership is bestowed upon those members who participate in these discussions. Any management personnel from a NATO member company can join the Advisory Board, and any member can attend the meeting. The current threshold to achieve Advisory Board eligibility is attendance at two consecutive Annual Meetings. Once on the Advisory Board, those members can seek election onto the NATO Executive Board. It remains the most direct platform for NATO members to engage in association issues.

    NATO’s Fall Summit

    Initially conceived as a small gathering of marketing executives in Los Angeles, NATO’s Fall Summit has become a valuable member benefit for over 200 attendees. The Fourth Annual Fall Summit will kick off on Wednesday evening with a film event at the Cinemark Playa Vista Theatre, and continue with a full day of educational programming on Thursday, 30 September. NATO’s Fall Summit is a “members only” program designed for cinema owners, CEOs, and senior marketing and operations executives to stay up-to-date on issues and innovations that affect their business.

    The program remains is development, but one key aspect of the schedule is to bring in marketing executives from other industries that face similar challenges as the exhibition industry. Potential guest industries for this year’s Fall Summit are theme parks and sports franchises, both engaged in providing a unique experience for their patrons.

    Another major theme for this year will be reaching millennials. The team at CinemaCon are working closely with NCM, which has new research on this demographic. They will also follow-up the success of the past two years by ending the educational sessions with a live focus group of millennials.

    Social media continues to be a constant topic of conversation amongst marketing personnel, and the Fall Summit plans to do a deeper dive on the role and importance of understanding and utilizing Snapchat to reach younger audiences. The CinemaCon team hopes to bring in an executive from Snapchat, along with a studio executive, to present data and analysis.

    Another potential panel involves the emerging trend of eSports in cinemas. Several exhibition companies have embraced WorldGaming, and the goal is to have a group of cinema executives alongside an eSports executive to discuss the evolution and potential of the business.

    Other potential panels and programs include mobile ticketing services, a filmmaker/studio for a private breakfast and/or lunch program, and NATO will soon be announcing a studio to host the opening evening’s presentation/screening at the Cinemark Playa Vista Theatre.

    NATO is pleased to provide all of these governance meetings, educational events, and social events to NATO-member owners and executives at no charge. Please plan to join us for these important gatherings of NATO leaders. Registration materials have already been sent by email in May, but please contact the NATO offices for more information.


  • bfflogo

    A Journey Toward Diversity and Inclusion

    News Reel Blog   

    I attended the second annual Bentonville Film Festival (BFF), Championing Women and Diverse Voices in Media, held in Arkansas the first week in May. It featured an impressive line-up of films, panel discussions, celebrity involvement, and community events. Founders Geena Davis and Trevor Drinkwater created the festival on the premise that media has the ability to change the future, by proving that women’s and diverse voices are not only valuable, but they lead to commercial success as well.

    That the inclusion of women and diverse voices is a smart business imperative, and not just “the right thing to do,” is a message that NATO has embraced, and one that was underscored at a BFF “Reel vs. Real Diversity” panel presentation. Jo Handelsman from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, talked about the importance of diversity and science to President Obama. She explained that there are currently 500,000 tech jobs open in the U.S., and not nearly enough qualified people to fill them, in part because of how STEM careers have been presented in film and television. Young women and minorities simply have not seen themselves in these roles. As Geena Davis frequently comments, “If they can see it; they can be it.” Regrettably, the inverse is also true.

    Research suggests that gender balance and diversity are directly related to good decision making. Diverse inputs from individuals with different backgrounds result in better outcomes. Inclusiveness is not only the right thing to do; it truly is the smart thing to do.

    The BFF aims to bring together industry leaders and content creators, to inspire action with the goal of ensuring that media represents the world in which we live, which is 51% women and very diverse. It is a commercially-focused and research-based festival. From the outset, rather than cast blame on a male-dominated industry, Geena Davis’ approach at her Institute on Gender in Media has been to gather and present data to her peers and decision makers, and to have fact-based discussions on why it’s important to have accurate portrayals of girls and women in media. This data-driven approach was evident in the programming at the Festival.

    Let’s take a look at some recent data:

      • In 2015, women comprised 22% of the leading roles in the top 110 grossing films and 9% of directors on the top 250 most popular films, according to research by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, even though women bought half of all movie tickets.
      • The Center examined 23 prominent U.S. film festivals in 2015 and 2016, and found that women are much more likely to work on documentaries than on narrative features. For example, women comprised 35% of directors working on documentaries versus 19% of directors on narrative features. Women remain far from achieving parity with men at festivals. The festivals in the study screened an average of five narrative features directed by at least one woman versus an average of 18 narrative features directed exclusively by men. The 23 festivals screened an average of eight documentaries directed by at least one woman compared with an average of 16 directed exclusively by men. Overall, women accounted for 25% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers. These numbers represent little change in for women’s employment in the industry since 2008-09 when women accounted for 24% of individuals in these roles.
      • According to the Geena Davis Institute’s global research, there is a direct association between having a female director or a female writer and seeing more girls and women on screen. When there is a female writer attached, the percentage of girls and women on screen jumps 7.5 %. When there is a female director attached, the number of girls and women on screen jumps 6.8 %.

    Important steps are underway to attempt to address the imbalance. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is conducting an investigation into the industry’s hiring practices, and reportedly began interviewing female directors to investigate discriminatory hiring practices. The move came following a push by the American Civil Liberties Union to examine the disparity between male and female filmmakers.

    In an industry that offers few opportunities for women and minorities, a BFF panel presentation, “In Control of Her Destiny,” noted that increasing numbers of talented individuals are taking control of their own interests rather than depending on the commercial studios. The festival showcased women who have started their own production companies and/or made their own films, including Meg Ryan, whose drama, Ithaca, was screened at BFF.

    My time in Bentonville contributed significantly to my continuing education in gender equality and diversity in film. I attended five industry panels and viewed six great films. Thanks to Event Sponsor AMC Independent, the top winning films receive guaranteed theatrical distribution at AMC theaters, and festival organizers work to secure distribution for all of its competition films.  Following last year’s inaugural BFF, the festival was able to help 87 percent of its competition films obtain distribution.

    While I was inspired and encouraged as I participated as one of the 63,000 attendees at this year’s BFF, the discouraging reality is that women and diverse voices remain seriously underrepresented on screen. This past year, though, female voices have captured the public’s attention as they shed new light on the inequity. Jennifer Lawrence called out Hollywood for its gender pay gap in her essay, “Why Do I Make Less than My Co-Stars?” Tina Fey and Amy Poehler entertained the Golden Globes audience with humor infused with feminist perspective. And numerous female-forward and diverse films were recognized during the 2016 awards season including Brooklyn, Carol, The Danish Girl, Joy, Mad Max: Fury Road, Room, Spy and Trainwreck.

    However, as several panellists at BFF pointed out, just when it appears that we’re at a turning point, the momentum fails to take hold. Twenty-five years ago, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis’ Thelma & Louise was a box office success and received much media attention. There was widespread belief, at that time, that the film represented a watershed moment for women in film and that, going forward, there’d be many more movies made with women in leading roles. It just didn’t happen with any consistency. Similarly, the success of A League of Their Own in 1992, prompted the media to predict, “NOW we’ll see lots of women’s sports movies.” But ten years would pass until the release of Bend it Like Beckham. Since that time, there have been numerous box office successes for films with women in the lead – Mamma Mia!, The Hunger Games, Brave, Gravity, Fifty Shades of Grey – that belie the myth that audiences won’t support women in starring roles. But somehow, lamented several of the Festival presenters, the momentum still has not taken hold.

    Rather than get discouraged, I’d prefer to think about what exhibition can do to positively affect change. It’s not only content creators who have influence. Leaders in all segments of the industry can be advocates for gender equality. Exhibitors can create and maintain inclusive workplaces. There are very few female film buyers in the U.S. Maybe that can change. Celebrate the women in your organizations and industry. Don’t believe the narrative that women don’t help women. Engage your executives and managers in mentorship programs, especially for women and minorities.

    As Julie Ann Crommett of Google stated during the BFF “Reel vs. Real Diversity” panel, “Know your data. Be intentional about everything you do.” Thanks to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and other leading organizations (see sidebar), there is a wealth of data available. Study the research findings. Think about the data and incorporate it in your decision-making. Consider gender balance and diversity as factors in your booking decisions. Does the film pass the Bechdel test? (Does it have at least two named women in it, who talk to each other about something other than a man?) Choose to show gender-balanced and diverse films on your screens. If more exhibitors do these things, together we can advance on the journey to a bright and inclusive future.

    Resources for Information on Gender and Diversity in Media:

    The Bechdel Test

    Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, San Diego State University

    Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media

    HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality