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Record number of female film leads, US study suggests

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Brie Larsson, Angelina Jolie and Renee Zellweger have all starred in box office successes

Female characters had their biggest-ever representation in box office films last year, according to research.

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film said a record 40% of 2019’s highest-grossing US movies had women in a lead role – up 9%.

But black and ethnic minority (BAME) women are being left behind, the annual report also suggests.

Films on the list include Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, Joker and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.

Compiled from information from Box Office Mojo, the study said that 43% of the biggest movies had a male lead, while titles with equal male/female leads or ensemble casts accounted for the remaining 17%.

Film critic Dr Rebecca Harrison told the BBC the increase of representation in leading women on screen is “great” for megastar white actresses like Brie Larsson, Angelina Jolie, Renee Zellweger, Scarlett Johansson and Margot Robbie – who received two Bafta nominations in the same category this week. But “for women of colour” she added, “representation is still appalling”.

The main female characters in question proved to be white 68% of the time, compared to their black colleagues (20%). Asian women made up 7% of the roles and Latina women 5%.

“The intersectional oppressions are alive and well,” said Dr Harrison.

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Awkwafina won a Golden Globe for The Farewell, but Cynthia Erivo (r) who played slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman missed out on a Bafta nomination

The survey – which began in 2002, when big female lead roles were at a lowly 16% – arrives after a week of criticism around the unfair treatment of women and BAME people, either side of the camera.

It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World, which is the name of the study, suggested that in films with at least one female writer and/or director, 58% of the main characters were female. That figure dropped to 30% in films made by men.

‘Very disappointed’

Last week the Golden Globes again did not recognise any women in their five-strong all-male pool for best director – won by Sam Mendes for his war epic, 1917. And this week no women were nominated in the same category for a seventh year in a row at the Baftas.

Bafta boss Amanda Berry admitted she was “very disappointed” by the lack of diversity.

Deputy chairman Krishnendu Majumdar said the lack of female directors nominated was an “industry-wide problem” and they were “fiercely doing something about it” with schemes like Elevate, which supports talent from underrepresented groups.

Dr Harrison believes that while it’s fine for the institutions to say they’re disappointed, they now have to “actively work hard to change the rules” of how the industry operates “otherwise, it’s just meaningless headlines”.

“I think after Michelle Williams was talking the other day at the Golden Globes, and she gives a big empowered speech about how women need to vote for themselves and lots of white women applauded, while lots of women of colour were immediately speaking to the fact that white women have always voted in their own interest and always acted in their own interest. I think that you can see that in the film industry.

“One of the arguments in this is that representation on screen improves when diversity behind the camera improves as well. So if there are more white women getting access to the director’s chair and to production roles, that’s great. But that’s not going to translate into improved representation for women of colour and men of colour, who have also lost out here.”

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Joker leads this year’s Bafta film nominations with 11

She added: “The one thing that did surprise me slightly was the news that it’s actually studio films where the most positive increases have happened and indie films have gone backwards.”

The academic and author believes studios often get “a lot of justified criticism” about the fact that they’re “only doing representation in a kind of a corporatised way”, by using the same safe familiar and sellable white faces.

Female-speaking characters overall, according to the research conducted out of San Diego State University, fell by 1% to 34%.

“If they think that it will improve box office, they will do it. Otherwise they just don’t bother.”

Despite the upward trend at the top, Dr Harrison believes it’s the role of film critics to continue also to hold producers of independent films – “the spaces where women have historically had better access” – to account with regards to diversity in order to keep “affecting positive change”.

‘Did they die at the end?’

The new statistics, she said, also only analyse female performances in a quantitative, rather than qualitative way, and should therefore be approached with caution.

Female characters were far less likely to have leadership roles or identifiable jobs than their male counterparts, the study said, with 26% of women in leadership roles, compared with 74% of men.

The Bechdel test is often used as a measure of the actual representation of women in fiction. Quentin Tarantino shut down one journalist’s attempts to ask him about the fact Margot Robbie had relatively few lines in his Golden Globe-winning Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood.

“It’s all well and good saying, ‘OK women were protagonists in 40% of the films’, but we don’t really know what their role was in those films without looking at the kind of qualitative textual analysis that goes on, beyond just the numbers,” said Dr Harrison.

“So were these women protagonists in films being represented in a positive way? Did they die at the end? Were they the survivors of some kind of horrific sexual abuse on screen? Were they given lots of dialogue?”

She concluded: “I think all of these conversations are always about trying to find a balance between celebrating the positive, but also making sure that we’re constantly paying attention to areas for improvement.”

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Edinburgh festivals cancelled due to coronavirus

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The Edinburgh Fringe and four other major cultural festivals in the city have been cancelled this year due to concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic.

Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival, will not take place for the first time in more than 70 years.

The Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Art Festival and Edinburgh International Book Festival have also been cancelled.

The five events attract audiences of about 4.4 million people each August.

More than 25,000 artists, writers and performers from 70 countries take part in 5,000 events in the Scottish capital each year.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the cancellation was “heartbreaking, but the right decision”.

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Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said the festivals would be “missed greatly”.

“But in taking this difficult decision now, everyone involved in the festivals, from staff to spectators, will be able to fully focus on their health and wellbeing which is critical during this time of great uncertainty,” she said.

“I am committed to looking into support for seasonal staff who will suffer some of the greatest impact.

“The Scottish government will work with the festivals and all partners to ensure they can build on their previous success and return to the stage in 2021.”

What are the five Edinburgh festivals?

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Edinburgh International Festival was founded in 1947, in the aftermath of World War Two, in an attempt to reconcile and reunite people and nations through art. Its programme features theatre, dance and music.

The Fringe began that same year when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited to perform on the fringes of the festival. Since then it has grown to become the world’s biggest arts festival.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo dates back to 1950. It attracts 220,000 visitors each August, and television coverage is watched by millions around the world.

Edinburgh International Book Festival has grown since its launch in 1983 and now brings writers from across the world to exchange ideas on major issues.

Edinburgh Art Festival is the newest of the events, being founded in 2004 to bring together galleries, museums and artist-run spaces to present work by international and UK artists.

An unprecedented but inevitable decision

Like so many decisions in the current climate, it’s unprecedented.

Since they first began in 1947, a resilient celebration of culture in the aftermath of war, the Edinburgh festivals have flourished and grown.

They’ve seen off competition from other festivals, and events like the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. They’ve adapted around health scares and terrorism – but this is different.

The sheer scale of the combined might of Edinburgh’s August festivals is what makes it special, but it’s also what made today’s joint decision inevitable.

Even if we are out of lockdown in August, it will take some time for Scotland to return to whatever is the new normal. It will happen gradually, with many creative organisations continuing to work online. Emergency services may still be overstretched, or still recovering.

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As the director of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Brigadier David Allfrey, says it is “impractical and undesirable” to stage a tattoo in anything like its normal form in August.

They, like so many of the other organisations, have recorded performances (which are broadcast to millions more than the 9,500 who sit on the castle esplanade each night).

All five festivals will be exploring new ways to link performers with audiences so that they can maintain some kind of presence in Edinburgh in 2020, even if it’s a virtual one.

The last word goes to Fergus Linehan, director of the Edinburgh International Festival, who said: “This festival was born out of adversity – an urgent need to reconnect and rebuild. The current crisis presents all at the festival with a similar sense of urgency.”

For the thousands involved, as performers or audience members, stand up comics or orchestras, it will be a blow, but the Edinburgh festivals will return in 2021. That, at least, is not in doubt.

What has the other reaction been to the cancellation?

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Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said the “heartbreaking” decision had been “the only appropriate response”.

“Our thoughts today are with the doctors, nurses, health and social care professionals on the front line, as well as all those affected by this dreadful pandemic.

“Our sympathies too are with the thousands of artists and participants directly affected by today’s decision – we will do everything we can to support you over the coming months.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said he was “hugely disappointed”, but added: “We are facing a unique challenge, and for the festivals this is the right thing to do.”

City of Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey and his depute, Cammy Day, said the decision was the right one – but would leave “a massive gap”.

They added: “We’ll do everything we can to assist our world-renowned cultural sector to remain at the centre of the city’s identity going forward.”



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K-Pop star sorry for coronavirus April fool’s joke

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The singer is best known as a member of the Korean pop groups JYJ and TVXQ

K-pop star Kim Jaejoong has apologised for posting on Instagram that he was in hospital having contracted Covid-19, admitting it was an April fool’s joke.

The singer told fans he had caught the virus after “ignoring” government warnings and “living carelessly”.

In a subsequent post, he claimed he had simply wanted to raise awareness of the virus.

But the now-deleted joke appears to have backfired with many of his 1.9m followers voicing their disapproval.

“How can you pull a prank like this when the situation right now is so serious?” one fan responded. “It’s really disappointing.”

South Korea was one of the first countries hit by coronavirus, and it is believed to have killed 165 people there so far.

According to some experts the government’s “rapid, intrusive measures,” including strict quarantine and testing have helped to curb the spread.

  • Coronavirus: South Korea seeing a ‘stabilising trend’
  • Coronavirus: What can the world learn from South Korea?

‘So scared’

Jaejoong, who is best known as a member of the Korean pop groups JYJ and TVXQ, wrote he wanted to “sincerely apologise” for his offensive post, saying he was simply scared that another wave of the virus could yet hit his country.

“It was not right – I know that,” wrote Jaejoong.

“I just wanted to deliver a message that we should all be aware of the risk to minimise the number of victims.

“I’m so scared that there might come the second, the third corona-panics caused by outdoor activities and contact in closed spaces.”

He added: “So, I think we all need to be alert. I just wanted to tell the people who don’t care about the virus: ‘Please listen up, people. Don’t get sick’.”

The 34-year-old, whose real name is Kim Jae-joong, has a long history of pranking fans.

His previous April fool’s jokes have included pretending to faint during a concert and announcing false marriage plans.

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How Matt Lucas’ Baked Potato Song will help feed NHS workers

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“The only creative thing I’ve done in the last two and a half weeks is rewrite the lyrics.”

When Matt Lucas updated a 20-year-old comedy song with lyrics giving advice about avoiding coronavirus, he expected about 500 people to watch it.

“That’s probably as many people as would normally look at my Twitter,” the Little Britain star says.

But the video for his revised Baked Potato Song has now had three million views, and he is about to release it to raise funds for his FeedNHS campaign.

“When the idea was put to me, it was a no brainer,” he tells BBC News.

Lucas first duetted with a baked potato on madcap comedy quiz Shooting Stars, where the singing vegetable delivered some sensible life lessons – from “Do be early, don’t be late” to “Always eat what’s on your plate”.

“Sometimes people write to me about that song because it appeared on Shooting Stars about 20 years ago, and it’s something that people still remember,” Lucas says.

He was inspired to revisit it after seeing footage of people socialising last Tuesday, when he was already in isolation.

“I was just trying to think of a way of helping to spread the message rather than the virus, and I thought, if I can connect with kids, then maybe the kids can tell their parents,” he says.

“I was sat at my piano and I just remembered the baked potato song.”

In its new incarnation, the baked potato instructs people to wash their hands, stay indoors and not touch their faces.

“I watched over the next 48 hours as it went viral, and three million people have viewed it on Twitter,” says Lucas.

“And then people started doing their own versions and their own animations. And kids were filming themselves singing it and sending it to me, and it sort of took on a life of its own.”

Feeding doctors and nurses

As that was happening, Lucas was speaking to actors Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory, as well as the boss of food chain Leon, to set up a campaign that would provide hot meals to NHS workers.

FeedNHS is aiming to take food from the thousands of cafes, restaurants and canteens that have been forced to shut down and send it to hospitals. A fundraising page has already raised almost £600,000.

“I have an aunt who’s in hospital at the moment with the virus. I know two people who’ve passed away from it,” Lucas explains.

“People message me on social media to say they work in the NHS and they’re completely oversubscribed. So it was pretty plain and simple to all of us that we should try and get them at least one hot meal a day, and it’s good quality food as well.”

So a singing baked potato will be helping to feed doctors and nurses.

Lucas is about to become the new co-host of The Great British Bake Off and is rumoured to be working on new Little Britain material with David Walliams. But he says he’s not using the time afforded by isolation to work on comedy scripts.

“The only creative thing I’ve done in the last two and a half weeks is rewrite the lyrics to this song,” he says.

“I’ve only been focused on this charity, my family and my friends.

“I want to be able to look back and think that I tried to do something to help some people during this particular crisis. I have asthma so I have to isolate. But many people are literally risking their lives to help people.”

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