American Icon Betty White Dies at 99, ABC’s ‘Women of the Movement’ Takes on the Emmett Till Case, Chris Noth Cameo in ‘And Just Like That’ Finale Scrapped, How Unions Saved Hollywood During The Pandemic, And U.S. Box Office Ends Turbulent 2021 With $4.45 Billion Total

By Demi Vitkute

January 12, 2022

The trailblazing actress Betty White died on the last day of 2021. She was 99 and about to celebrate her 100th birthday on Jan. 17.

ABC’s six-episode series Women of the Movement highlights Emmett Till’s story.

And just like that…Chris Noth was cut from the Sex and the City follow-up’s last episode after accusations of sexual assault.

A review of how unions saved Hollywood during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, since reopening at the end of March, movie theaters have been performing at roughly 50% of pre-pandemic levels.

These are the stories of the week.

Betty White, Beloved Star of ‘The Golden Girls,’ Dies at 99

Betty White

The trailblazing actress Betty White, known for her roles on The Golden Girls and Hot in Cleveland, died the morning of the last day of 2021. She was 99 and about to celebrate her 100th birthday on Jan. 17.

“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever, said her agent Jeff Witjas in a statement. “I will miss her terribly and so will the animal world that she loved so much. I don’t think Betty ever feared passing because she always wanted to be with her most beloved husband Allen Ludden. She believed she would be with him again.”

White was excited about her birthday centennial, telling People just a few days ago, “I’m so lucky to be in such good health and feel so good at this age. It’s amazing.”

White’s legacy goes far beyond the screen. In addition to her lifelong work for animal welfare, she also became a visible supporter of LGBTQ+ rights and HIV/AIDS awareness and research.

At the 2013 GLAAD Media Awards, two years before same-sex marriage became legal in the US, White took the stage with a message: "I just want to say to all the judgmental people out there: If two people in love want to get married, let them get married," she told a cheering audience. "Just mind your own business and don't worry about it."

She also supported the Trevor Project, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. White also helped counter the dominant narrative at the time that only gay men were at risk of contracting HIV, shifting the focus to how the epidemic could affect everyone.

Read more about Betty White’s legacy on CNN

Shortly after White’s death, a rumor circulated online that the star’s death was related to a COVID-19 booster shot - The Hollywood Reporter wrote. Her agent Witjas told the Associated Press the claim was false.

“People are saying her death was related to getting a booster shot three days earlier, but that is not true,” he continued in his new statement. “She died of natural causes. Her death should not be politicized — that is not the life she lived.”

Celebrities, comedians, and politicians took to social media to pay tribute to the star.

Rest in peace Betty White, America’s national treasure 🙏🏻.

ABC’s ‘Women of the Movement’ Takes on the Emmett Till Case

Women of the Movement

Before Trayvon Martin, before Breonna Taylor, before Ahmaud Arbery, and before George Floyd, there was Emmett Till.

The six-episode series Women of the Movement, premiering Jan 6. and airing over three consecutive weeks, highlights a different piece of American history every season. The first season puts a sharp focus on 14-year-old Emmet Till, who in 1955 was kidnapped and killed in the Jim Crow South after he was accused of whistling at a white woman in a grocery store.

Emmet Till

The story follows his mom Mamie Till-Mobley, who after the boy’s death became a prominent civil rights figure. While many major events in the history of the Civil Rights Movement have been portrayed in film and TV, Till’s murder has not been a key focal point in these efforts. Women of the Movement is trying to change that by depicting Till and his mother in the most humane way.

“The image of a grieving Black mother put a powerful face to a type of crime that had gone unremarked upon for decades — and yet, it’s impossible to watch “Women of the Movement” and not think of the Black mothers who continue to be in this position, over and over again to no avail, to this day and inevitably beyond,” writes Caroline Framke in her Variety review.

The series is written by Marissa Jo Cerar, and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, Tina Mabry, Julie Dash, and Kasi Lemmons. Emmett Till is played by Cedric Joe and Mamie Till-Mobley by Tony Award-winner Adrienne Warren.

In a recent Zoom interview with the Los Angeles Times, creator and executive producer Marissa Jo Cerar, whose writing credits include The Handmaid’s Tale, became emotional when asked about the relevance of the series with current news and racism.

“These stories keep happening,” she said, wiping away tears. “Our people keep getting murdered. It’s so horrifying to look at social media and to see a certain group of people immediately criminalizing victims. It’s devastating. They just see a dead body. They don’t see the light that was extinguished. I want people to see Emmett before he was a victim or martyr, just as I hope they could see Trayvon or George Floyd or — there’s too many names to list.”

She added, “They were babies, they were people, they were members of their communities. I just want people to see their humanity.”

Adrienne Warren, who plays Till-Mobley, told the Los Angeles Times that the time is right for Women of the Movement, which reflects Hollywood’s growing awareness of, and support for, the Black Lives Matter movement.

“This shows that our industry is making a shift,” said Warren, who won a Tony Award for her portrayal of rock icon Tina Turner in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. “When has something like this ever been on network TV? Our industry was not ready for this before. We were not allowed to tell these stories in a nuanced way until very recently. The gatekeepers are opening doors to allow our stories to be told in a way where we are shown as human beings.“

Coincidentally, the Emmett Till case is back in the news. The U.S. Justice Department announced last month that it was closing its investigation into Till’s case, with no charges filed against Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman whose alleged encounter with Till led to his murder. The department had reopened the investigation after a 2017 book quoted Donham as saying she had lied about the incident.

The announcement hit Cerar hard: “It was kind of devastating, coming so close to the premiere. It makes you wonder — what if we had waited another month? Could the show have made a difference or created a different result? I try to block it out. The more people who learn about Emmett, Mamie and all the other heroes we showcase, the better. I hope this opens hearts and minds despite all of this.”

Added Warren: “I believe in divine timing. If justice was not served in this way, this now gives us even more of a platform to make sure this story is told right and that people know about it.”

Chris Noth Cameo in ‘And Just Like That’ Finale Scrapped

Chris Noth

And just like that… Chris Noth was cut from the Sex and the City follow-up’s last episode after accusations of sexual assault - The Hollywood Reporter announced.

Noth’s character, Mr. Big, the husband to Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), died in And Just Like That‘s opening episode. The show’s writers had planned for Mr. Big to reappear in the finale.

Shortly after the premiere of And Just Like That, two women told The Hollywood Reporter that Noth had sexually assaulted them. One said he assaulted her in 2004 in Los Angeles, and the second woman said Noth attacked her at his New York apartment in 2015. Noth said in a statement to THR that the allegations are “categorically false” and that the two incidents were consensual.

A third woman, singer-songwriter Lisa Gentile, later said Noth assaulted her in 2002 and is advocating for changes to New York’s statute of limitations in sexual assault cases.

Following the allegations, Noth was dropped by his agents at A3 Artists Agency and from his series regular role on CBS The Equalizer. Exercise company Peloton also quickly pulled an ad featuring Noth released in the wake of his character’s death.

Noth’s co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis issued a statement saying “We are deeply saddened to hear the allegations against Chris Noth. We support the women who have come forward and shared their painful experiences. We know it must be a very difficult thing to do and we commend them for it.”

How Unions Saved Hollywood During The Pandemic

“Hollywood’s guilds and unions saved the film and TV business in 2021,” states David Robb in Deadline. They adopted COVID-10 protocols that got production booming and their members safely back to work while averting strikes that would have crushed recovery efforts. Hollywood’s unions were also among the first in the country to allow employers to mandate vaccinations as a condition of employment.

Here are the key points from the Deadline article:

Addressing the impact of the pandemic. “A major concern we’re hearing most right now is about when we’ll be returning to work, and how we can be certain that it’s safe to do so,” DGA president Thomas Schlamme and national executive director Russell Hollander told their members April 16, 2020. “Rest assured, this is something we’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about as well. While we don’t have an answer as to when production will resume, we are taking steps to address how we can be safe when it does happen.” A DGA National Return To Work Committee had already been appointed to “do a thorough examination of the issues at hand, and to make recommendations to the board,” the DGA leaders said. “The committee is consulting with top epidemiologists in the field, and we will collaborate with our sister guilds and unions and the employers as we put together a comprehensive guide to help us all return safely to work.” Collaboration between the companies and the unions would be the key to reopening.

Working safely. On June 1, 2020, Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force produced its 22-page Industry White Paper, Hollywood’s first guidelines for the COVID era. On June 11, SAG-AFTRA reached an agreement with the AMPTP for a new contract that the guild said would boost members’ incomes by $318 million over three years and generate more than $50 million in additional funding for its health plan. The next day, the unions released their own, more detailed protocols called The Safe Way Forward – a joint effort by the DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, the Teamsters, and the Basic Crafts.

Electing women. Earlier this year, women were elected presidents of SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, and the WGA West, marking the first time that women have held the guilds’ top elected posts all at the same time. “We are relevant. We are stars. And we mean business!” newly elected SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher wrote in the union’s magazine.

Mandating vaccines. On June 24, 2021, SAG-AFTRA adopted strict new guidelines that allowed employers to make vaccinations mandatory as a condition of employment. Less than a month later, the unions together reached an agreement with the AMPTP to allow for mandates on a restricted basis.

Read the full article on Deadline.

U.S. Box Office Ends Turbulent 2021 With $4.45 Billion Total

AMC

Since reopening at the end of March, movie theaters have been performing at roughly 50% of pre-pandemic levels - The Wrap reported.

A turbulent year for the box office filled with COVID-19 variants has closed with the industry estimates reporting a final annual domestic total of approximately $4.45 billion. While that figure is down roughly 61% from the $11.3 billion grossed in 2019, it’s worth noting that thousands of theaters were still closed for much of the first quarter of 2021. When the domestic grosses for April to December are compared, 2021’s total is down 53% compared to 2019.

Even if the pandemic slows down, the habits of some moviegoers might have changed for good, threatening the theatrical model. Gen Z audiences never even built the moviegoing habit, but what if Boomer and older Gen X audiences kick the moviegoing habit as well as they become comfortable with streaming? Who is going to attend the movies then?

Meanwhile, AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron vowed to try to refinance the company’s debt and strengthen its balance sheet in a New Year’s resolution shared on Twitter - Deadline reported.

He noted that in response to the pandemic, in 2020 and early 2021, AMC took on debt “at high-interest rates to survive.” Aron said he hopes to make progress on paying down or reorganizing those obligations this year.

Investors responded positively to the post, sending AMC’s shares up for the first half of the trading day, but they lost ground to close at $26.52, down 2.5%.

AMC’s stock has become a meme for individual investors organized on Reddit. It reached a high of $72.62 last spring, a dramatic rally from its $2 level in the dark final days of 2020 amid months-long COVID closures.

While Spider-Man: No Way Home has delivered a massive return to theaters, there are major existential questions looming over the future of the industry.

Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners, has had a negative rating on AMC, and a 12-month price target of $1 on its stock. Even if box office revenue returns to previous levels, he wrote in a December report, “getting back to peak results is not going to be anywhere near close enough for AMC to grow into a reasonable multiple.”

In Memoriam:

Sidney Poitier, Hollywood's first Black movie star and the first Black man to win the best actor Oscar, has died. He was 94. Rest in peace 🙏🏼

Read more about Poitier’s legacy on CNN.

Read about Poitier’s impact re-rewriting the script for Black actors in Hollywood in Smithsonian Magazine.

James Mtume, the jazz and funk musician who fronted the group Mtume and produced a number of U.S. chart hits for other artists, has died aged 75. Rest in peace 🙏🏼

Read more about Mtume’s career in this article he gave to NBC News in February, 2018.

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Demi Vitkute writes the weekly entertainment industry news blog for Productions.com. She’s a journalist who has covered entertainment, fashion, and culture. Demi is a founder of The Urban Watch Magazine and has written for The Washington Post, Inside Hook, and Promo Magazine, among others. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Emerson College.