Gender and Diversity in a Galaxy Far Far Away

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“Kathleen Kennedy” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Some presidents succeed, some presidents fail, but the true measure of a president is how they deal with troubling times. That is unless you are female. This does not only apply to the role of POTUS but any real position of power. Kathleen Kennedy is one of the most powerful and successful producers in all of Hollywood. As the president of LucasFilm she gets blamed for all the failings of the new Star Wars films, and gets little glory from their successes. This is in contrast to her colleague, Kevin Feige, who is seen to be the perfect producer who can do no wrong. 

Kevin Feige has been involved in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the first X-Men movies. He is currently producing 10 confirmed films as well as countless Marvel TV shows for Disney+. However, given that Star Wars is currently struggling with fans, Bob Iger is desperate and wants Feige to do Kathleen Kennedy’s job. 

Kennedy has produced dozens of classic sci-fi movies including E.T. (Spielberg, 1982) and Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1994), but also Best Picture nominees like Lincoln (Spielberg, 2012) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Fincher, 2008). She certainly has the credentials that prove that she can do the job, but why do so many fans blame her for the failure of Star Wars? 

Most fans blame her simply because of her gender. Their main argument is that as a woman she simply does not care about the source material as a man. Not only is this claim only based on sexism, it is simply untrue. Unlike Kevin Feige, Kathleen Kennedy’s films are not adaptations of previous work. The new Star Wars trilogy pays homage to the original films constantly and respectfully. Rogue One (Edwards, 2016) is entirely based on a plothole from A New Hope (Lucas, 1977). In fact, Feige should be getting less credit for his success. After all Stan Lee was the one who established all the characters and storylines Feige gets to use. 

Fans also feel that Kennedy is promoting a social agenda in the films. The most obvious evidence of this is the casting choices in the new trilogy. In this respect they are not completely wrong. Kennedy has definitely cast many diverse actors, yet the creative talent behind the camera remains white and mostly male. However, the solution to this was clearly not hiring 50 women at LucasFilm for no other reason than diversity. John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran, and Diego Luna are considered to serve only as diversity castings for the new franchise rather than serve a purpose for their character. But that is exactly the point! The cast is diverse for the sole purpose of proving that not every being in an entire galaxy far far away is white and heterosexual. Nobody seems to complain about the diversity of alien races in the films, but will run to Twitter to harass the actors because they aren’t white.

The worst part about this discussion is that Kennedy has only failed at the box office once with the release of Solo (Howard, 2018). Kevin Feige has had similar returns with the Ant-Man films at the box office, and creatively with Thor: the Dark World (Taylor, 2013) and The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008). Yet Kennedy is blamed for the poor decisions made by Rian Johnson in The Last Jedi (2017) that completely disregarded J.J. Abrams’ storylines in Episode 7. This happened because she gave the filmmakers complete freedom to fulfill their vision. It worked with Abrams and Gareth Edwards, but failed with Johnson. If anybody is to blame about failed diversity and misunderstanding the source material it should be on Abrams and Johnson, not on the producer who trusted and gave them the freedom to do so.

It has gotten to the point where fan reactions of Kathleen Kennedy and Star Wars are so toxic that Bob Iger has decided to intervene. There have been many course corrections behind the scenes at LucasFilm already such as the quiet cancellation of Rian Johnson’s spinoff trilogy, the firing of Colin Trevorrow, as well as greenlighting the highly demanded Obi-Wan TV series. But most significant to this discussion is Kevin Feige producing a Star Wars film himself. The hope seems to be that Feige will be able to work his magic on Star Wars and improve fan perception. It is easy to find Bob Iger’s lack of faith in Kennedy disturbing and it is incredibly damning to see Iger fail to trust her instincts simply due to fan reactions. George Lucas gave us a new hope at diversifying Hollywood when he appointed Kennedy as president. Let’s hope we see the return of the truly powerful Kathleen Kennedy in cinemas this winter. 

 

Blog Post 1: The $22 Billion Dollar Snap

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“Captain Marvel / End Title Sequence” by Nadia Tzuo, Takayuki Sato, Gabriel Perez, Carlo Sa

Marvel has become the undisputed champion of the modern box office. It holds 3 out of the 5 spots top spots for the highest grossing films of 2019. It has become so successful that if any of their films fail to join the once elite billion-dollar club it is considered a failure. As if that wasn’t enough, they were finally able to dethrone the self-proclaimed “King of the World”, James Cameron, when Avengers: Endgame became the top grossing film of all time.

So why has Marvel been able to keep smashing box office records, while other studios struggle to keep up? It is undeniable that Marvel has become the biggest brand in Hollywood history. Marvel churns out blockbusters as effortlessly as Meryl Streep gets Oscar nominations. To date it has grossed over $22 billion worldwide while the film rights only cost Disney $4.24 billion. The good news for producer Kevin Feige is that fan interest is the only limit on the size of his bank account. Although Kevin Feige has produced every Marvel film, he isn’t the reason Disney can lay claim to those riches. None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for the decision of an executive at another studio: Sony Pictures.

“Nobody gives a shit about any of the other Marvel characters…go back and do a deal for only Spider-Man.”

In one of the worst business decisions of all time, a Sony executive turned down the greatest movie deal in history. In 1998, Marvel offered Sony the film rights to all Marvel characters for $25 million. The executive who was negotiating with Marvel recalled his boss’ reaction to Marvel’s offer in a Wall Street Journal article. His boss responded by saying “nobody gives a shit about any of the other Marvel characters…go back and do a deal for only Spider-Man.” That Sony executive must wish he had Pym Particles to travel back in time to before he snapped the GDP of Belize out of his pocket with one rash decision.

It is still unclear whether Marvel’s box office successes can continue in the long run as even they have had struggles in the past. It may seem that success is almost guaranteed with the announcements of Phase 4, but this is not true. The 2018 film Ant-Man and the Wasp still failed in comparison to other Marvel films. It was still considered a critical and audience success but did not earn anywhere near films like Spiderman: Far From Home or Captain Marvel. Another challenge Disney faces once again involves Sony. Disney and Sony are currently fighting for the rights to Spiderman. Yet with the unprecedent success at the box office, it would be easier for Disney and Feige to buy out Sony Pictures than to negotiate with the executives that passed on Marvel in the first place.

Sketch 11: Assemblies

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While this is less of an architectural diagram, it certainly is a diagram. With this, I wanted to visualize the components of this class and categorize them. I had originally had the class flow into two main groups: work we read and work we created ourselves. Of course, all of the books we read would come from the first group, and everything else would go into the second group. However, this set up made the graph too wide, and it looked better without that addition. I think that the right hand side gives a good summary of all the things we did in this class. Flowing upstream in the diagram reveals how I have thought about the class components and their organization. Through this assignment in particular, but also through the course in general, I have found more and more that I really enjoy making data visualizations.


Link to Sketch 11: Assemblies Assignment

Website I Used to Create Diagram (SankeyMATIC)

 

Assemblies Sketch

Assembly

For my sketch assembly, I chose to represent the work I’ve completed this semester as a cup of coffee. Part of this is just because coffee is an easy drink to break up into parts, but I could also say that coffee is something that I hated and would never drink before the semester began, but I started to drink it much more frequently as the semester went on, and I actually don’t mind it now. This is similar to my relationship with English classes. I had never really enjoyed an English class before this year, but now that I have tried lots of different forms of writing, I have found some types that I actually quite like.

Within the coffee cup (which represents this English course as a whole), I have the instant coffee that you put in right at the bottom. The coffee granules are supposed to represent the readings that we completed over the semester. Not only does this include the main books that we read, but also our textbook readings from the beginning of the course. All of our readings formed the course foundations, as we based a lot of our other work off these. Next I put in honey, which is supposed to represent the sketches that we did in class, and every Sunday. The sketches were some of my favourite parts of this semester, and honey adds a nice sweet element to the cup of coffee. After this comes the hot water, or Tracing Maus. This was quite a big assignment and so makes up a large amount of the cup. It also brought together a lot of the other elements (it included drawing, reading, and written analysis), and so was a fundamental part of the course. I then added cold water which represents Mapping Spinning. Sometimes you need to add cold water so that you can drink the coffee straight away without it burning your mouth. In a similar way, Mapping Spinning was some light relief for me near the end of the semester as I could do a more mathsy based, rater than written based assignment, and enjoy it more. On top of the water, we have milk (and my Literacy Narrative). I would say that the Literacy Narrative was the second biggest project this semester, and it was also a really important part of the course for me, as I was able to discover a new, visual approach to writing, which I had never tried before. Just like milk is crucial to a cup of coffee, the literacy narrative was so important in my writing this semester. The last section in the cup is cream, which represents the final reflection. Cream is a nice last edition and really brings the whole cup together, just as the reflection will do. I have also included a stirrer in the cup, which represents my English website. Posting everything online was a huge part of this course, and is integrated into every project that we did. The last element of this diagram is the sugar cube outside the cup. This is supposed to represent the Palestine/Pyongyang Comparison essay. I don’t usually put sugar in my coffee, because I already have the honey to sweeten it, but some people really like sugar (just like some people really like writing essays – but not me). It is still a part of the English course, but it was my least favourite, so it is outside of the main cup.

I enjoyed this sketch assignment, and I think that approaching the final letter will be easier for me now that I have already completed this sketch and thought about all of my work this semester. I also really liked the combination of a mathematical and artistic sketch – these are two areas that I really enjoy working in.

Spinning Reflection

For this project I had to draft a “model” or a “map” that highlights spatial, temporal, thematic, or structural elements of Tillie Walden’s Spinning. I chose to assess just how much figure skating appears in Spinning and so I counted the number of panels in each chapter that were about figure skating, and then calculate what percentage this was of all of the panels in the chapters.

Although I think that my map is relatively accurate and clearly represented, I also think that it may be limited due to my subjective opinion on whether a panel is about figure skating or not. For example, in some panels, Tillie is with her figure skating friends at a competition, but they are talking about whether Jacob or Edward from Twilight are more attractive. In these instances, it is hard to decide whether that panel is about figure skating or not. Throughout the chapters, there are several panels that could be considered to be partly about figure skating and partly about something else. In these cases, I counted half panels. I also tried to keep the same categorizing system so that I was consistent throughout, but some people may get slightly different numbers and percentages than I did, due to its subjective nature.

I have never had to quantify a book in this way before, but it was a new and interesting way of analyzing a text, and I enjoy working with numbers, so I would definitely try something similar to this again.

Image credit: “Spinning” by Flikr user Robert Nunnally

Mapping Spinning

When I read Spinning, one of the most interesting things I found was how little Tillie’s parents were referenced in her book. They seemed to be completely out of her life and when they were present they were usually depicted negatively. This is why I decided to see in how many panels they were referenced in every chapter, and it is clear to see from the graph that they aren’t a very important part of the story throughout. Their impact fluctuates in an inconsistent manner, as they seem to play important roles at different points in her life.04b1f16b-3f4a-4034-8304-b04ddd14c86f

Some Assembly Required

Assemblies

(This Blog Posts alternatively titled “How to Pass English 101 with Professor Morgen”)

As per usual, I decided to test how I could possibly turn an assignment into a humorous and perhaps unrealistic approach to storytelling. With this particular assignment, I decided that I had to recreate my thought process for most my assignments this semester (and to be fair, it isn’t very far from the truth). Looking back at all of my work this semester as a whole was very interesting because I realized that I did some work that I actually really liked and had forgotten about, Horny the Elephant and my Red Highlights Found Poem being the standouts for me. If anyone really wanted a blueprint for how I created most of my work this semester, this is probably the best thing I could give them. As a matter of fact, I’m surprised as to how in depth I went with the steps in the assignment.

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I made this assignment while still hungry so of course this the direction that I went in. I tried to think about foods that could be broken down and reassembled. Naturally, the American classic cheeseburger came to mind. When assigning which parts of the burger correlated to which parts of the class I tried to think about what each aspect adds to the burger and see which parts of our class had a similar impact. For example I see Maus as the pivotal and majority of the class so naturally it would be the meat.

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