Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

June 22 2017 2:16 PM

A Coal Baron Is Suing John Oliver for “Character Assassination” Over Last Week Tonight’s Talking Squirrel Segment

On Sunday, John Oliver predicted that his Last Week Tonight segment on the coal industry would probably result in a lawsuit, and voilà: His Last Week Tonight segment on the coal industry has resulted in a lawsuit. Robert Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, is suing Oliver and others after Oliver used Murray as an example of “the divide that can exist between a coal company’s interests and those of its workers” during Sunday night’s show.

During the segment, which was critical of the coal industry and Donald Trump’s promises to revive it, Oliver explained that Last Week Tonight had contacted Murray Energy for comment—and received the show’s first ever cease-and-desist letter in reply. In response, Oliver doubled down on criticism of Murray and his company, even seizing on a satirical article in the United Mine Workers of America journal, which attributed Murray’s inspiration to a conversation he held with a squirrel—yes, a squirrel. (Murray Energy denies this.) At the very end of the segment, Oliver brought out a giant talking squirrel of his own. “Hey, Bob! Just wanted to say, if you plan on suing, I do not have a billion dollars,” said the aptly named Mr. Nutterbutter. “But I do have a check for three acorns and eighteen cents.” The check was then revealed to be made out to “Eat Shit, Bob!”

June 22 2017 1:35 PM

The First Trailer for Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later Is Here, and It Looks Insane

Netflix has announced a premiere date and released the first trailer for its upcoming series, Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later, featuring Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, Michael Ian Black, and many, many other returning cast members from the original movie and 2015’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. The eight-episode series takes place in 1991, ten years after Wet Hot American Summer—which, as Slate’s Forrest Wickman has previously noted, somehow makes a lot more sense as a premise than Netflix’s very funny prequel ever did. Newcomers to Camp Firewood this time around include Dax Shepard, Alyssa Milano, and Adam Scott.

June 22 2017 11:28 AM

Samantha Bee Takes the Catholic Church and New York State Senate to Task for Failing to Help Child Abuse Victims

New York has the shortest statute of limitations for child abuse victims in the country, and as of Wednesday night, that’s not going to change. Samantha Bee dedicated a segment of Full Frontal to shaming the New York state senate after they wrapped up their 2017 legislative session without voting on the Child Victims Act, which would allow adult victims of child abuse to seek justice up to the age of 28 in criminal cases, and age 50 in civil cases.

June 22 2017 11:12 AM

Ron Howard Is Officially Taking Over the New Han Solo Movie

Following the surprising news that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller had been fired from the upcoming Han Solo movie spin-off mid-production, Disney has officially announced that Ron Howard will step in to finish the job. The Lego Movie team had seemed like an odd but exciting choice to helm a Star Wars franchise film—and based on reports this week, it turns out they were a little too odd. The Hollywood Reporter described a mismatch of sensibilities between Lord and Miller’s comedic, improvisational style and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan’s “strict adherence to the written word,” among many other problems. (Kasdan also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, and it appears Lucasfilm’s president Kathleen Kennedy sided with her longtime collaborator.)

June 22 2017 8:03 AM

Why So Many TV Shows Are Talking About the N-Word Right Now

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

On tonight’s episode of NBC’s The Carmichael Show, the Carmichael family goes to an upscale restaurant owned by a white friend of Jerrod’s to celebrate his mother, Cynthia’s, birthday. When they arrive, Jerrod (Jerrod Carmichael, the co-creator and star of the series) thanks his friend, who responds, “Anything for you my nigga, you know that.” Jerrod doesn’t skip a beat, but his entire family views it as a racial slur.

A more heated exchange takes place between friends in the fifth episode of Netflix’s Dear White People. The star of the episode, Reggie (Marque Richardson) responds very differently when his white friend, Addison, raps along to Future’s “Trap Niggas” at a party and says the N-word in the lyrics. Calmly, Reggie asks his friend not to repeat it, but Addison becomes defensive and doesn’t respect Reggie’s point of view: that a white person should never utter the word.

June 22 2017 7:33 AM

The Author of Satirical Trump Novel Pussy on Why We Live in “Obscene Times”

“Donald Trump is a carrot-face without feelings.” I wish I could claim ownership of this blunt depiction of our 45th president, but that honor belongs to Booker Prize-winning author and essayist Howard Jacobson. He recently shared that opinion, along with many others, while we talked about Pussy, his stinging new satire about the current leader of the free world.

Pussy describes the ascent to power of the vain, short-tempered Prince Fracassus within the walled Republic of Urbs-Ludus. The second son of the country’s leader, the Grand Duke of Origen, Fracassus becomes the heir presumptive due to his father’s dismissal of his older brother, Jago. Over the course of the novel, Fracassus evolves from a “pugnacious, self- involved and boastful child, not much attentive to the world around him and used to getting his own way” to an older, testier version of the same narcissistic child. All the while, he lives inside the Palace of the Golden Gates, with the family name towering over the entrance of the ziggurat, a dozen floors higher than its nearest competitor.

Jacobson started writing Pussy the morning after the presidential election. He finished it in a matter of weeks. “I felt this ire rising within me,” he recalls. “I needed to get it out of my system.” The title came first—a reference to the Access Hollywood recording of Trump and Billy Bush trading “locker room talk” on a bus. When Jacobson first heard the tape, he thought it the sad ramblings of an inept, desperate and lonely man. But as he wrote the book, the title took on a dual meaning, defining Fracassus as a weak and insecure figure. How he came to be that way says less about him and more about the new-money class and the reckless capitalism in which people build casinos and high rises for play.

Borrowing a page from one of his heroes, Jonathan Swift, Jacobson’s twisted fairy tale turns to the make-believe to create a more universal story. “A fairy tale makes it nowhere in particular, everywhere in general,” Jacobson explained—not that you’ll have any trouble recognizing the caricatures of Putin, Hillary Clinton, and Trump’s cronies that fill his pages. It’s clearly Trump on the book’s cover and throughout the book—an animated man-baby, running in a diaper while holding a scantily-clad female doll.

June 22 2017 1:50 AM

“It Broke Me”: Trevor Noah Looks at the Philando Castile Dashcam Footage

The Daily Show took a break from comedy on Wednesday for a segment in which Trevor Noah talked frankly about the newly released dashcam footage of the killing of Philando Castile. Noah had already addressed the verdict in a similarly joke-free bit on Monday night, but that was before he saw the horrifying footage of police officer Jeronimo Yanez unloading seven shots into Castile’s car. “It broke me,” Noah says bluntly. He was particularly moved by the final moments of the film, in which the 4-year-old daughter of Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, is hustled out of the car after witnessing Castile’s shooting.

But Noah’s keenest, saddest insight comes not from the new dashcam footage but from the video Reynolds broadcast immediately after the shooting. He zeroes in on the language she used, even in the chaos of a police shooting:

“You shot four bullets into him, sir.” It’s fucking mindblowing that Diamond Reynolds has just seen her boyfriend shot in front of her—she still has the presence of mind to be deferential to the policeman. In that moment, the cop has panicked, but clearly black people never forget their training. Still in that moment the black person is saying sir. “I respect you, sir. I understand what I need to do, sir.” The same thing Philando Castile did.

As Slate’s Austin Elias-de Jesus pointed out when Noah talked about the verdict earlier in the week, the host consistently uses this somber, measured tone when discussing police violence against black people. Take a step back and think about that for a minute: The host of a topical comedy show has had to develop a consistent editorial voice for stories about black people being killed by their own government. There’s nothing funny about it.

June 22 2017 12:40 AM

Chadwick Boseman Plays a Badass Supreme Court Justice in the Trailer for Marshall

The first trailer for Marshall was released Wednesday, and it looks like the most badass cinematic portrayal of a Supreme Court justice since that Steven Segal movie where Linda Thorson gets taken hostage. As Thurgood Marshall, Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman drinks, smokes, punches, and struts his way through the trailer like he’s playing a private eye, not the man who won Brown v. Board of Education and went on to become the first black Supreme Court justice. The trick is that the film focuses on a case early in Marshall’s career, before he’d been weighted down with the gravitas of a civil rights icon.

The case in question was the defense of Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a butler and chauffer who was accused in 1940 of kidnapping and raping his employer, Bridgeport, Connecticut socialite Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson). The details were a lot tawdrier than school desegregation, and so the tone looks more like a legal thriller than the kind of sepia-toned hagiography giants like Marshall usually get. That’s all to the good, as long as no one’s trying to set up a Supreme Court Cinematic Universe. The film was directed by Reginald Hudlin, the writer and director behind House Party, and father and son screenwriting team Michael and Jacob Koskoff. Marshall will be kicking ass, taking names, and establishing binding legal precedents on Oct. 13.

June 21 2017 5:03 PM

No, Gal Gadot Was Not Ridiculously Underpaid for Wonder Woman

The internet was outraged on Tuesday (as it so often is) over reports that Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot had earned just a tiny fraction of what her male counterparts earned for their own breakout superhero roles. A story on compared Gadot’s base salary of $300,000 for her first superhero standalone with an alleged $14 million earned by Henry Cavill in 2013 for Man of Steel. Had the comparison been accurate, it would certainly have been worthy of outrage, another egregious example of gender imbalance in Hollywood—but the story was incredibly misleading, as actual reporting quickly showed.

Here’s what we can reasonably assume to be true: Gadot did sign a three-picture deal with Warner Bros. for Batman v. Superman, Wonder Woman, and the upcoming Justice League movie, with a $300,000 base salary per film. As Kyle Buchanan over at Vulture points out, that’s pretty consistent with the salaries of other superheroes just starting out, including Chris Evans, who made a similar amount for the first Captain America movie.


Gadot’s reported $300,000 paycheck alone probably wouldn’t have caused such a stir, except that the Elle post used it as an example of the gender pay gap in Hollywood by comparing Gadot’s salary to the $14 million Henry Cavill earned for Man of Steel. (Never mind for a moment that that $14 million figure is already incredibly dubious, since it seems to originate from a Forbes article that uses some pretty unreliable sourcing.) Even assuming that number does correctly reflect how much Cavill received for the film overall, there’s no way it refers to Cavill’s base salary alone. Vulture asserts that Cavill, like Gadot, earned a six-figure paycheck for his superhero debut, and a source “with knowledge of studio negotiations on franchise films” told Vanity Fair something similar, adding that it would be “insane” for the studio have paid Cavill that much for a single movie up front.

So where did that mythical $14 million come from? As Vanity Fair’s source explains, “Entry-level actors in franchise films are paid an initial rate. As a franchise takes off, they stand to make more money.” Actors starting out in major franchises stand to make most of their money based on the film’s box office success—which means that Gadot is also likely to be on the receiving end of some substantial bonus checks, considering the film is close to grossing $600 million worldwide at the box office.

While the pay gap in Hollywood is a very real problem, it’s not the villain in this particular story. The real test will come when Gadot negotiates her contract for the Wonder Woman sequel, which is already underway, but she already has quite a foundation to demand that she be paid what she deserves—and an internet ready to be prematurely outraged if she doesn’t.

June 21 2017 4:59 PM

A New Study Finds—Surprise!—That Hollywood Diversity Pays Off

As it turns out, movie audiences like it when movies have diverse casts and tell diverse stories. Who would've thunk it?

According to a Los Angeles Times report, a study conducted by Creative Artists Agency (CAA) found that movies with diverse casts consistently earn more money than movies whose casts aren’t as diverse.

CAA examined 413 theatrical films released from January 2014 through December 2016, detailing cast ethnicity for the top 10 billed actors per movie, a total of 2,800 people. They found that for the top 10 grossing movies in 2016, 47% of the opening weekend audience (and 45% in 2015) were people of color. Moreover, seven of the 10 highest-grossing movies from 2016 (and four from 2015’s top 10) delivered opening weekend audiences that were more than 50% non-white.
From there, the study notes that at every budget level, a film with a cast that is at least 30% non-white — CAA’s definition of a “truly diverse” film — outperforms a release that is not truly diverse in opening weekend box office. And on the audience side of things, the average opening weekend for a film that has a “truly diverse” audience, pegged at 38% to 70% non-white, is $31 million versus $12 million for films with non-diverse audiences.
The numbers suggest a more diverse cast brings a more diverse audience, which brings in more money.

Another interesting tidbit from the study is that, casting-wise, horror films and fantasy films are the least diverse, while comedies and thrillers are the most diverse. White audiences, according the study, prefer drama and romance; black audiences, lean towards biopics and thrillers; Hispanics towards horror and animation; and Asians toward animation and fantasy.

It's nice to have some numbers to back up what many peopl have known all along: Diverse audiences like it when diversity is reflected on-screen. If this study has done anything, it's to put the importance of diversity in terms—i.e. those involving dollar signs—that Hollywood is more willing to listen to.

CAA's study is a nice piece of supportive evidence to justify why diverse casting should be an imperative for the movie industry. But economic studies shouldn't be the only argument for Hollywood to start giving us more diverse casts and more diverse stories. “Diversity pays” shouldn't be the argument for why historically marginalized communities should be represented in film. “Diversity matters” should.

If Hollywood can let Matt Damon maintain his star wattage and industry leverage after so graciously saving the Chinese people in this year’s flop The Great Wall, then surely Hollywood can afford John Cho to be in a box office bomb or two and have those films not serve as referendums for his and other Asian movie stars’ box-office worth.

It's great that diversity pays, but even if it didn't, it would still be consequential. And for the love of God, let’s please get John Cho in more summer blockbusters.