Facebook Scandal, Inside the Grassroots IATSE Campaign to Pay $70,000 in Back Dues, How Black Creatives Are Shaking Up Broadway and Russia’s Film Crew First to Launch into Space

Russia’s Film Crew First to Launch into Space

October 12, 2021

Facebook has been dominating the news this week. Is this scandal the beginning of Facebook’s fall, a new chapter of its reforms, or a new government revamp of social media companies overall? Only time will tell.

Speaking of scandals with far reaching implications...let’s talk about the possible IATSE strike. Some IATSE members learned that they wouldn’t be able to participate in the strike if they had any outstanding dues. So they organized and raised $70,000 to pay outstanding dues.

Finally, Russia has become the first country to launch a film crew into space, beating Tom Cruise and Elon Musk’s upcoming $200 million action adventure with NASA and Space X. Hopefully, this adventure will be more successful than the time they sent a dog to space, making her the first animal to orbit the Earth.. but never return.

Can Facebook Be Saved From Itself?

Can Facebook Be Saved From Itself?

Last Monday was a dark day for everyone who is addicted to social media as Facebook and its owned Instagram and WhatsApp apps shut down for hours, sending everyone to Twitter in a frenzy. “Hello literally everyone” -- a message from Twitter greeted me when I logged into the app at 1:30 p.m. Instead of mindless scrolling on Instagram, now I was making memes about its blackout on Twitter.

The Great Facebook Blackout deprived 3.5 billion people of means of digital communication. The next day, Frances Haugen, Facebook’s whistle-blower testified before the Senate.

The scandal raises a question: is this the beginning of Facebook’s fall, of its reforms, or a new government revamp of social media companies overall? Only time will tell.

Facebook’s month from hell started when The Wall Street Journal began publishing a damning investigative series, “The Facebook Files,” based on the internal documents leaked by Frances Haugen.

“The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world,” Frances Haugen told CBS. “Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, they’ll make less money.”

The Facebook scandal has blown up in the news and many have offered their opinions on social media. Some have been wondering-- can Facebook be saved from itself? Haugen’s testimony provided some answers.

Out of all the articles I’ve read on the issue, I found this opinion piece “Facebook Was Down for a Few Hours. Should It Go Away Forever?” by Spencer Bokat-Lindell the most useful. It elegantly articulates the company’s pros, cons, and possible reforms.

“Other reforms might pose more radical challenges to Facebook’s business model, like using antitrust law to break it apart from WhatsApp and Instagram; making the company a publicly owned and democratically controlled utility; classifying data as a human right; or designing distribution around a different principle than virality.”

Haugen’s testimony also presented a possibility of a better Facebook. “Facebook wants you to believe that the problems we’re talking about are unsolvable,” she said. “I am here today to tell you that’s not true. These problems are solvable. A safer, free-speech-respecting, more enjoyable social media is possible.”

Inside the Grassroots IATSE Campaign to Pay $70,000 in Back Dues

More than 98% of members voted to authorize a strike in the union's negotiations with film and TV producers.

In the final days before the strike authorization vote, IATSE members learned they had to have paid all their outstanding dues to participate -- The Wrap reports.

Olga Lexell, a writer assistant and script coordinator who is a member of IATSE Local 871, realized that this could shut out members who are behind on dues, especially for 871 members who are already the lowest paid workers in Hollywood.

“A friend reached out asking if there was anything we could do to help with this,” Lexell tells The Wrap, “and it just started with … doing what we can to get them money.”

Lexell posted on social media asking IATSE members to reach out to her if they needed help with paying dues. But not only she received requests for help, but also found people wanting to contribute.

"And first and foremost I want to thank my trans and non-binary friends and colleagues who have engaged with me in difficult conversations, that have joined me in dialogue about my character Jo," she continued.

Lexell created a spreadsheet to connect members in need with donors, both within and outside IATSE, willing to pay their dues. She estimates 85 members received aid, with the total contributed reaching just over $70,000.

“I’m currently in Atlanta working on a show … so it was easy to spread the word with people I’ve met here, in my craft and other people willing to spread it on social media, especially the IAStories page which really reached people who are having a terrible time in the industry,” she said.

How Black Creatives Are Working to Shake Up Broadway and Implement Lasting Change

How Black Creatives Are Working to Shake Up Broadway and Implement Lasting Change

Many of Broadway’s most prominent Black producers, creatives, and executives are working to make theater more inclusive -- Variety reports.

Last month, the organization Black Theatre United ( BTU) released its New Deal for Broadway--a commitment to create more equitable practices in the theater from every facet of the industry. The effort was spearheaded by a coalition of Broadway’s best-known talent, including Audra McDonald, Billy Porter, LaChanze, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Vanessa Williams, and Kenny Leon.

The New Deal is just one of several initiatives that formed after the murder of George Floyd. As Broadway returns to life after a devastating shutdown, the organizations are working both separately and together to make sure the industry lives up to its vows to do better.

25 industry organizations and some 60 individuals have signed the New Deal, publicly available on the BTU website. The deal records the vow made by Broadway’s three biggest theater owners to each name at least one of their theaters after a Black artist; a pledge by directors and authors never again to assemble an all-white creative team; and a vow by casting directors to review audition notices in order to remove biased or stereotypical language.

Joint commitments across all groups include the abolishment of unpaid internships; support for an industrywide digital training program for equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging that theater owners will develop this fall; and the promise never to discriminate against anyone due to hair texture. The New Deal document has more than 10 pages of specific commitments and the group will have further meetings planned once every six months through 2024.

“We always think about: What do the next three years look like? It’s going to be actions that are going to do all the speaking. They’re not louder than words. They’re the only things that matter,” says BTU co-founder Schele Williams.

Gaming Industry’s Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Should Start With Kids, Experts Say

Panelists at the WrapPRO’s TheGrill 2021 -- a two day programming event with a focus on innovators across media, entertainment, ant tech-- discussed diversity and inclusion efforts in the gaming industry. Experts said diversity and inclusion efforts in the video game industry should start with kids.
The discussion was moderated by Take-Two’s DEI director, Chanel Ward.

The average age of gamers may be 33, but it’s future generations of storytellers — particularly young women, gender non-conforming individuals and people of color — will change the industry, the panelists said.

Laila Shabir, the founder of Girls Makes Games, runs gaming summer camps for kids, mostly girls, aged 8-18, is consistently impressed by their ideas.

“The stories that we need to tell are the stories that these kids are telling… the stories these kids are coming up with, we haven’t imagined since we haven’t lived those lives,” Shabir explained. “The only way that we can get to those stories is to empower the next generation with the right tools to build the games and express themselves in that way.”

“At the end of camp, we read the game summaries the kids come up with … and [we’re like] ‘How are the kids thinking of this?'” she continued. “When I was 10, I was eating sand. How are these kids thinking about climate change at this young age, or the world I want to live in, empathy I want to build, in the player? They’re thinking about such complex topics that we only realize as adults because we face them… Here are kids who haven’t even stepped out of their homes trying to imagine what it’s like to be a different person, and I think that’s really exciting about giving kids the ownership to build their own games.”

Jim Huntley, professor and head of marketing at USC Games works with a slightly older age group: college students. But he, too, recognizes the need to target underrepresented populations (particularly BIPOC) early and provide access and support for them.

“A lot of the inequities in grade school begin to kick in because [students say] ‘Hey, I don’t have access to a computer lab. I don’t have access to computer science instruction,'” he explained. “How do we fill that gap so that we can make sure that those students way back in grade school have the option to even think about going down this path and then have opportunities to take that path and get into STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics]?”

Susanna Pollack, president of Games for Change, echoed that need for education. Her organization works with Title I schools (those where students qualify for free lunch) to create similar opportunities.

“We’re focused on reaching those middle and high school students, trying to get them to understand that they can become creators and not just consumers” of video games, she said.

The panel also discussed how video games allow players to break various societal rules and norms, including gender expression.

“When I was coming up, games — be they video games or board games or even television — were around a set of shared rules that were externally created,” Gordon Bellamy, founder of Gay Gaming Professionals, said. “And we would all choose to jump into those worlds together for a certain amount of time and follow those rules. Today, the ownership of that rule set and those identities has been democratized to where I and you bring so much of yourself to a game, whether it be through the character you create, the device you play it on, to the stories you tell through your play. And so today, especially for young people coming into games, it is as much a form of expression as it is a form of shared experience of play.”

“The thing that excites me about this little part of this conversation is that all of us are so old,” filmmaker, actor and gaming consultant Janina Gavankar said with a smile. “We are talking in such binary language right now. In about two minutes, all these kids are going to be like, ‘What are these girl/boy bulls—? Who cares?”

“It’s changing so quickly and it’s really exciting because it’s just going to grow the industry and give us more experiences,” she added.

Russia - the First Country to Launch a Film Crew into Space

Russia has always prided itself on being first for a number of space exploration milestones, and now it has become the first country to launch a film crew into space -- Deadline reported.

On Tuesday, October 5, actor Yulia Peresild, director Klim Shipenko and veteran Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov blasted off to the International Space Station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft where Shipenko and Pereslid will be filming segments for The Challenge. Russia’s Channel One broadcasted the launch and offered livestreams in multiple languages across its platforms.

The project will be the first feature film shot in outer space, beating Tom Cruise and Elon Musk’s upcoming $200 million action adventure with NASA and Space X, which has director Doug Liman at the helm.

The Challenge is about a Russian doctor who is sent to the International Space Station to save the life of a cosmonaut.

The film crew will spend 12 days on the space station along with its current crew European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov.

Shipenko, the director behind hit Russian comedy Son Of A Rich, and actor Peresild, underwent rigorous training ahead of the journey, including centrifuge and vibration stand tests, training flights and parachute training, all of which were also covered by Channel One.

Speaking at video press conference on Monday in advance of Tuesday’s launch, Shipenko spoke of the fast-tracked training to prep for the epic journey.

“We underwent an accelerated course of many important elements that the cosmonauts study over many years,” the director said. “We tried to master them in four months. Of course, this is very fast. We had a lot of theory, practice, endurance, sports – everything imaginable. It seems to me, this is a rather feasible task – naturally not to become a cosmonaut at the level of Anton and other professionals but to prepare as a participant of a space flight.”

Pereslid added: “The entire time we worked very hard. Despite our cheerful disposition and smiles, we got very tired. Had I been told this once again, of course, I would come here understanding the matter. But I still would come.”

Noteworthy: Netflix has established a $5.4 million endowed scholarship at Howard University to honor actor and graduate Chadwick Boseman -- The Washington Post reported.

The Chadwick A. Boseman Memorial Scholarship will award full scholarships to students in the historically Black university’s College of Fine Arts, which was named after the late actor in May. The first gifts have already been doled out to Sarah Long, a freshman who studies musical theater; Shawn Smith, a sophomore in the acting program; Janee’ Ferguson, a junior in theater arts administration; and Deirdre Dunkin, a senior studying dance.

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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.