#TonysSoWhite, Iranian Filmmaker Calls for Oscar Recognition for Directors in Exile, ViacomCBS And Pluto TV Fined $3.5 Million by FCC for Violating Closed-Caption Rules

#TonysSoWhite, Iranian Filmmaker Calls for Oscar Recognition for Directors in Exile

#OscarsSoWhite, #EmmysSowhite, and now #TonysSoWhite. There were a number of nominees of color for this year’s Tonys, but the trophies went to almost as many white winners as those of the Emmys. Jeremy O. Harris’ groundbreaking Slave Play earned a dozen nominations, making it the most nominated play in Tony history. But it won nothing.

This week, Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi gave us a point to ponder with his open letter to the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) that suggests a new initiative under which directors in exile would be given a chance to submit their films to the best international film category.

Finally, ViacomCBS-owned Pluto TV is in trouble for violating closed-caption rules and will pay $3.5 million to settle an FCC investigation.

These and other news stories of the week.

TONY AWARDS: The Takeaways

The curtain is down on the 74th annual Tony Awards, bringing an official close to the 2019-2020 Broadway season 15 months later than originally planned. Here are some key takeaways from the ceremony.

TAKEAWAY: #TonysSoWhite

Last week it was #EmmysSoWhite, this week it’s #TonysSoWhite -- Variety pointed out. There were a number of nominees of color for this year’s Tonys, but the trophies went to winners almost as white as those of the Emmys. All talk but no action.

SNUB: Jeremy O. Harris’ groundbreaking Slave Play-- a play about race, sex, power, trauma, and interracial relationships-- earned a dozen nominations, making it the most nominated play in Tony history. But it won nothing.

CONTROVERSY: Lauren Patten’s Tony Win For ‘Jagged Little Pill’ Slammed Amid Controversy

Jagged Little Pill's Lauren Patten thanked her transgender and non-binary colleagues when accepting her Tony Award Sunday amid backlash regarding her character and the show

Jagged Little Pill's Lauren Patten thanked her transgender and non-binary colleagues when accepting her Tony Award Sunday amid backlash regarding her character and the show.

Patten won the award for best-featured actress in a musical for her role as Jo Taylor in Jagged Little Pill, which uses songs from Alanis Morissette's 1995 album of the same name.

According to HuffPost, the musical has faced controversy over the character, who was originally written and played as non-binary during a run in Boston. However, when the show went to Broadway, the role was depicted as a gay, cisgender female.

Patten acknowledged this in her acceptance speech, sharing, "It is such a joy to finally be able to celebrate all of these phenomenal artists in this room after this long, long pause. It is also a strange time for awards. We are in the middle of a reckoning in our industry."

"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.

"I believe that the future for the change we need to see on Broadway comes from these kinds of conversations that are full of honesty and empathy and respect for our shared humanity," Patten said. "And I am so excited to see the action that comes from them, and to see where that leads our future as theatre artists in this country."

Patten’s acceptance speech received backlash on social media, Broadway fans saying she should have rejected the honor outright. Before Tony’s ceremony, the Actors’ Equity Association announced it was launching an investigation after two of the show’s cast members, Nora Schell and Celia Rose Gooding, claimed that the production workplace was harmful to transgender and nonbinary people.

Schell, a nonbinary actor who uses they/them pronouns, claimed on Twitter that members of the show’s creative team forced them to delay “critical and necessary surgery to remove growths from my vagina that were making me anemic” early in the musical’s run. That same day, Gooding announced that she would not return to the show after the cast’s Tony Awards performance, citing “the harm Jagged has done to the trans and nonbinary community.”

On Sunday, actor Antonio Cipriano also announced he was leaving the musical. “As a member of the [Broadway] community, I recognize my privilege and take responsibility for being part of the harm caused,” he tweeted.

The lead producers issued a social media statement ensuring a "comprehensive investigation" on Saturday.

"We are deeply troubled by the recent claims that have been made by a former cast member. We met with our cast and members of our core creative team today to let them know we take this matter very seriously, and to share with them the actions we are taking in response," the statement read in part. "Broadway shows are by their very nature collaborative human efforts, so there is nothing more important to us than our people. We are committed to continuing to nurture a work environment where everyone feels valued and respected."

WINNERS:

Moulin Rouge! The Musical took home 10 Tony Awards. The new stage adaptation won best musical, best actor, and best actor in a featured role, as well as many technical prizes.

Christmas came early. A total of eight plays were recognized across the four design categories (Lighting, Sound, Scenic, and Costume), but ultimately, the trophies all went to just one: A Christmas Carol. The play also won Best Original Score, becoming the first play to do so.

You can find the full list of winners here.

Point to Ponder: Iran’s Bahman Ghobadi Calls for Oscar Recognition for Directors in Exile

Iran’s Bahman Ghobadi Calls for Oscar Recognition for Directors in Exile

Have you ever thought about the life of directors in exile? Neither have I. But Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi recently brought that to light.

Screen Daily reported Ghobadi has written an open letter to the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) suggesting a new initiative under which directors in exile would be given a chance to submit their films to the best international film category.

His idea takes inspiration from the Refugee Olympic Team (EOR) which participated at the Tokyo games this summer with 29 athletes hailing from 11 different territories, including Iran, Syria, and South Sudan but living in 13 host countries.

“I would like to address the concern of many filmmakers around the world, including me. We are filmmakers away from our home countries while we are still identified based on the countries we come from,” wrote the filmmaker, who has been a member of AMPAS since 2017.

“I as an Iranian cannot live in my own country because of the Islamic regime of Iran. I have to live in exile just because I demanded my rights and freedom of speech. This is the case for many filmmakers around the world; these people cannot return to their home countries for different reasons and they have no other choice but to live in foreign countries. Despite being a member of Oscar Academy, due to my current condition, countries such as Iran and Turkey will not introduce me as their representatives.”

Ghobadi was born in the Iranian-Kurdish town of Baneh and moved to the Iranian capital Tehran after high school, where he pursued a career in film. He broke onto the international film festival circuit in 2000 with A Time For Drunken Horses, which shared the Cannes Caméra d’Or for the best first film after world premiering in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.

It was Iran’s Oscar submission in 2000 and his 2004 Turtles Can Fly was also put forward to represent the country in 2004. Neither film was nominated.

The Iranian authorities have accused Ghobadi of advocating for the separation of Iran’s Kurdish region from the country with his focus on Kurdish history -- a charge he has denied. He left Iran in 2009 to live in Iraq and then Turkey.

His new film The Four Walls, which is listed as being Turkish and Kurdish, will compete in the Tokyo International Film Festival in October.

Ghobadi’s letter also mentioned dissident filmmakers – such as his Iranian compatriots Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof – who continue to live in their countries but “have been deprived of their rights and are suffering in silence.”

“These brave filmmakers’ works are not only censored and banned by the regimes, but also they never get an opportunity to enter the Oscar academy. Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof are good examples alongside a group of Russian and Chinese filmmakers who have to work under a lot of pressure and censorship,” he wrote.

Ghobadi said it was complicated putting forward his work for consideration.

”I don’t know what language I should use for making my movie so that it can be screened in other countries. The only thing I can do is to hope that a government will appreciate my art and introduce it to the academy,” he explained.

“I am sure that there are other filmmakers who have to suffer like me. Therefore, it would be great if we could have one representative from exiled artists. This happened at the Tokyo Olympics where a team of refugee athletes was also allowed to join the competition. There could be a refugee team of filmmakers; they can have their works viewed by a jury and eventually, one movie can be chosen from the refugee team.”

The director suggested that being able to be part of the Oscar race would help exiled and suppressed filmmakers to raise awareness around their work and their struggle.

“Such artists can gain a lot of publicity, which will provide them with more opportunities and financial support. I am making this request on behalf of other artists living in exile; artists who have the same condition as me. I hope you can give this issue your immediate attention,” he concluded.

CHANGEMAKER: Warner Bros. Exec Channing Dungey On Giving Back

For the 2021 Power of Women issue, Variety spoke with several women in the entertainment industry who are using their voices to benefit worthy causes.

For the 2021 Power of Women issue, Variety spoke with several women in the entertainment industry who are using their voices to benefit worthy causes.

Channing Dungey became the first Black woman to serve as entertainment president of a Big Three network — at ABC from 2016 to 2018. Dungey’s return to Warner Bros. in January of this year (after two years as a VP at Netflix) is a milestone in more ways than one.

A decade ago, the ABC drama series Scandal was going to be canceled after it struggled through a little-watched seven-episode first season. Dungey, then head of drama programming for ABC Entertainment, had already fought for executive producer Shonda Rhimes to cast a Black actor in the lead. In the spring of 2012, Dungey made a fervent case for renewal to a roomful of Disney’s top executives, including then-CEO Bob Iger and then-Disney/ABC TV Group chief Anne Sweeney.

“I went into that room and said, ‘As a Black woman, I am speaking out in favor of this show, written and created by a Black woman and starring a Black woman. It deserves a second season,” Dungey recalls.

Scandal went on to run six more years as a hit that made Kerry Washington a star. During the resurgence of social justice movements, Dungey remembers the moment she fought for the show to continue.

“You’re not going to have storytelling that is meaningfully inclusive and diverse if you don’t have those people who are in the position of making these decisions,” Dungey tells Variety. “It’s more than just checking the box. It’s my job as a senior leader to make sure our writers’ rooms are populated the right way and that our director slate looks the way we want it to look — and to have those hard conversations when it isn’t that way.”

In the spirit of giving back, Dungey is continuing her earnest work at Los Angeles-based Children’s Institute, where she is a board member. The nonprofit specializes in helping children and families get the services they need.

Children’s Institute’s work to break the cycle of poverty for underprivileged families has been eye-opening for Dungey, who is also a founding board member of the girls’ empowerment organization Step Up.

“When I meet young people who say, ‘You inspire me. I want to be you when I grow up’ — it’s humbling and flattering,” she says. “I’m grateful to be that person for the generation of women and girls behind me.”

BUSINESS: ViacomCBS And Pluto TV Fined $3.5 Million by FCC for Violating Closed-Caption Rules

Deadline reported ViacomCBS-owned Pluto TV will pay $3.5 million to settle an FCC investigation that found the free, ad-supported video streaming service violated the commission’s accessibility rules.

According to the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, in addition to paying the civil penalty, Pluto TV agreed to enter into a compliance plan to ensure that non-exempt video programming that Pluto streams over the internet includes closed captioning in compliance with the agency’s rules.

In a statement, a Pluto TV spokesperson said, “We recognize the importance of closed captioning and have been working in close collaboration with the FCC on the consent decree. Pluto TV’s mission, since its onset, has been to entertain the planet. We are committed to ensuring that our audiences can freely enjoy the programming streaming on our platform with ease of use and accessibility.”

The FCC said the action against Pluto TV marks the first time a streaming company was fined for violating closed-captioning rules that apply to internet-based services since their adoption in 2012.

“Given the growth of streaming services, this action reinforces the FCC’s commitment that people with disabilities should be able to access and enjoy streaming services,” the bureau said in a statement.

Starting in January 2018, the FCC received several complaints from consumers who said they couldn’t get the closed captioning feature to work on Pluto TV, according to the consent decree (available at this link).

“The investigation confirmed that Pluto had failed to comply with the IP Closed Captioning Rules when disseminating Video Programming on some Platforms,” the FCC said. “Even after being reminded of its closed captioning obligations, after filing the Petition for Waiver, after receiving the LOI and throughout the Investigation, Pluto continued to offer Pluto TV on existing Platforms and initiated Pluto TV on several new Platforms without being in compliance with the IP Closed Captioning Rules. As a result of Pluto’s actions, individuals with hearing disabilities were unable to access closed captioning when viewing Pluto TV over some Platforms.”

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In Memoriam: Tommy Kirk, the actor known for playing Travis Coates in Old Yeller and several other Disney films has passed away. He was 79. Rest in Peace.

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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.