Shahid, its Dubai-based Arabic counterpart.

That has created a big market for Arabic-language content.

Netflix has produced Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian-Lebanese shows, with varying degrees of success, and just announced the release of its first Arabic-language feature film, “Perfect Strangers.”

Syrian and Lebanese studios that used to depend on gulf financiers — who, they complained, often forced them to water down their artistic ambitions by nixing political themes — are also turning to web series and Netflix for new funding and wider audiences.

a hip alternative to the somnolent broadcast television. Mohammad Makki recalled dodging the police, guerrilla style, to film the first season of his show “Takki,” about a group of Saudi friends navigating Saudi social constraints, a decade ago. Then, it was a low-budget YouTube series. Now, it is a Netflix hit.

“We grew up dying to go to the cinema,” he said, “and now it’s two blocks from my house.”

Saudi women in the industry faced even greater challenges.

When “Wadjda” (2012), the first Saudi feature directed by a woman, was filmed, Haifaa al-Mansour, the director, was barred from mixing in public with male crew members. She worked instead from the back of a van, communicating with the actors via walkie-talkie.

“I’m still in shock,” said Ahd Kamel, who played a conservative teacher in “Wadjda,” which portrays a rebellious young Saudi girl who desperately wants a bicycle, as she walked through the festival. “It’s surreal.”

As a young actress in New York, Ms. Kamel hid her career from her family, knowing they, and Saudi society, would not approve of a woman acting. Now, she said, her family pesters her for festival tickets, and she is preparing to direct a new film to be shot in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi political, religious and cultural sensitivities are still factors, of course.

Marvel’s big-budget “Eternals” was not released in Saudi Arabia — or in Qatar, Kuwait or Egypt — because of gay romantic scenes. Several of the non-Saudi films screened at the Jeddah festival, however, included gay scenes, nudity and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi comedian and actor, said officials had told him future films should avoid touching directly on God or politics.

Sumaya Rida, an actress in the festival movies “Junoon” and “Rupture,” said the films aimed to portray Saudi couples realistically while avoiding onscreen physical affection.

But the filmmakers said they were just happy to have support, accepting that it would come at the price of creative constraints.

“I don’t intend to provoke to provoke. The purpose of cinema is to tease. Cinema doesn’t have to be didactic,” said Fatima al-Banawi, a Saudi actress and director whose first feature film the festival is funding. “It comes naturally. We’ve been so good at working around things for so long.”

Vivian Yee reported from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Nada Rashwan from Cairo.

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Hollywood Turns Up Star Power in Search of Audiences

“Stars matter more than ever,” said Bryan Lourd, the Creative Artists superagent who orchestrated the “Knives Out” deal. “When stars meet material that is their fastball, it cuts through all the noise.”

There are other explanations for the barrage. In a severely disrupted marketplace, stars are seeking safety in numbers; no one person can be held responsible for failing to deliver an audience, as with “Nightmare Alley.” Movie marketing has also changed, becoming less about carpet-bombing prime-time TV with ads and more about tapping into social media fan bases. Ms. Grande has 284 million Instagram followers. (Pity Mr. DiCaprio and Mr. Holland, with only about 50 million apiece.)

Ms. Basinger, who founded Wesleyan University’s film studies department, noted that individual star power has faded. Studios have become fixated on intellectual property — pre-existing franchises and characters. As a result, there has been less of a need to manufacture new stars and keep the older ones burning hot; Iron Man, Dominic Toretto, Wonder Woman and Baby Yoda are the stars now.

“In the old days, movie stars were the brands,” she said. “They reached the whole audience. Not a slice of the audience. Everybody. But that all fell apart. Now, it’s about adding up niches.”

In other words, few stars remain bankable in and of themselves, requiring Hollywood to stack casts with an almost absurd number of celebrities. Flood the zone.

And don’t forget Hollywood’s favorite game: Follow the leader. “The Avengers: Endgame,” which packed its cast with Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Chadwick Boseman, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Olsen and a dozen other boldface names, became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time in 2019. On a much different scale, an all-star remake of “Murder on the Orient Express” in 2017 was also a box office winner.

“It’s trendy at the moment,” Tim Palen, a producer and former studio marketing chief, said of what he called an “all skate” approach to casting. “Not new but certainly symptomatic of the battle for attention that’s raging.”

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How the Kremlin Is Militarizing Russian Society

MOSCOW — Stepping onto a podium in heavy boots and military fatigues at a ceremony outside Moscow, six teenagers accepted awards for an increasingly important discipline in Russia: patriotism.

For days, students from around the country had competed in activities like map-reading, shooting and history quizzes. The contest was funded in part by the Kremlin, which has been making “military patriotic” education a priority.

“Parents and children understand that this aggressive shell around us, it is tightening, it is hardening,” said Svyatoslav Omelchenko, a special forces veteran of the K.G.B. who founded Vympel, the group running the event. “We are doing all we can to make sure that children are aware of that and to get them ready to go and serve.”

Over the past eight years, the Russian government has promoted the idea that the motherland is surrounded by enemies, filtering the concept through national institutions like schools, the military, the news media and the Orthodox Church. It has even raised the possibility that the country might again have to defend itself as it did against the Nazis in World War II.

Russia masses troops on the Ukrainian border, spurring Western fears of an impending invasion, the steady militarization of Russian society under President Vladimir V. Putin suddenly looms large, and appears to have inured many to the idea that a fight could be coming.

shared the Nobel Peace Prize this year, said in his acceptance speech in Oslo this month. “People are getting used to the thought of its permissibility.”

Speaking to Russian military leaders on Tuesday, Mr. Putin insisted that Russia did not want bloodshed, but was prepared to respond with “military-technical measures” to what he described as the West’s aggressive behavior in the region.

Youth Army. Adults get their inculcation from state television, where political shows — one is called “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.” — drive home the narrative of a fascist coup in Ukraine and a West bent on Russia’s destruction.

And all are united by the near-sacred memory of Soviet victory in World War II — one that the state has seized upon to shape an identity of a triumphal Russia that must be ready to take up arms once more.

Aleksei Levinson, the head of sociocultural research at the Levada Center, an independent Moscow pollster, calls the trend the “militarization of the consciousness” of Russians. In the center’s regular surveys, the army in 2018 became the country’s most trusted institution, surpassing even the president. This year, the share of Russians saying they feared a world war hit the highest level recorded in surveys dating to 1994 — 62 percent.

This does not mean, Mr. Levinson cautioned, that Russians would welcome a bloody territorial conquest of Ukraine. But it does mean, he said, that many have been conditioned to accept that Russia is locked in an existential rivalry with other powers in which the use of force is a possibility.

Celebration of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II — referred to as the Great Patriotic War in Russia — has played the most important role in that conditioning. Rather than promoting only a culture of remembrance of Soviet heroism and 27 million lives lost, the Kremlin applies the World War II narrative to the present day, positioning Russia as once again threatened by enemies bent on its destruction.

the grand Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces opened last year. Its exterior is army green and its floors are made from weapons and tanks seized from the German Wehrmacht. Arched stained glass windows feature insignia and medals.

On a recent Sunday, the church and its accompanying museum and park were full of visitors. A group of fifth graders from the Suvorov Military School in Tver, wearing their uniforms, filed out in two lines before marching to the museum. Their instructor said it was fundamentally important for the students, in their first year of military school, to learn about their predecessors.

“We’re doing a bit of propaganda, too,” the section leader quipped, declining to give his name.

Beyond the church grounds, visitors walked among snow-covered trenches in a simulated front line. Further afield, under the towering dome of the church, children could ride around a go-kart like track in a miniature replica of a battle tank.

“All children should come here and develop an interest in history from an early age,” said Alina Grengolm, as her 2-year-old son scrambled up an icy tank with his father’s assistance.

In Moscow recently, more than 600 people from across Russia gathered for a government-sponsored forum aimed at promoting patriotism among youth. Sergei Kiriyenko, Mr. Putin’s powerful deputy chief of staff, praised the attendees for doing “sacred work.”

a new phase of the conflict.

In a Levada poll published last week, 39 percent of Russians said war between Russia and Ukraine was either inevitable or very likely. Half said the United States and NATO were to blame for the recent rise in tensions, and no more than 4 percent — across all age groups — said Russia was at fault.

The conviction across society that Russia is not the aggressor reflects a core ideology dating to Soviet times: that the country only fights defensive wars. The government has even earmarked money for movies that explore that theme: In April, the Culture Ministry decreed that “Russia’s historical victories” and “Russia’s peacekeeping mission” were among the priority topics for film producers seeking government funding.

“Right now, the idea is being pushed that Russia is a peace-loving country permanently surrounded by enemies,” said Anton Dolin, a Russian film critic. “This is contradicted by some facts, but if you show it at the movies and translate that idea into the time of the Great Patriotic War, we all instantly get a scheme familiar to everyone from childhood.”

On Russian state television, the narrative of a Ukraine controlled by neo-Nazis and used as a staging ground for Western aggression has been a common trope since the pro-Western revolution in Kyiv in 2014. After the revolution, Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, fomented a war in Ukraine’s east and sharpened its messaging about Russia as a “besieged fortress.”

appears to have dissipated amid economic stagnation.

But the Kremlin is doubling down. Its drive to increase “patriotic education” includes funding for groups like Vympel. The “military patriotic” organization has some 100 chapters around the country, and it organized the recent skills competition in the city of Vladimir that ended on Thursday.

Veronika Osipova, 17, from the city of Rostov-on-Don near Ukraine’s border, won the award for best female student. For years, she played the harp, graduating with honors from an elite music school. But in 2015, she started learning how to shoot a machine gun and throw grenades. She resolved to join the Russian military to protect the country against its enemies.

“I follow the example of girls who, under bullets and grenades, went to fight during the Great Patriotic War,” Ms. Osipova said. “They had no choice, but we do have it, and I choose the army.”

Anton Troianovski reported from Moscow, Ivan Nechepurenko from Vladimir, Russia, and Valerie Hopkins from Kubinka, Russia. Alina Lobzina contributed reporting from Moscow.

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Without Box Office or Streaming Numbers, Hollywood Finds It Tough to Plan

“The Suicide Squad” should have been a big hit for Warner Bros. last month. It had superheroes, a marquee director (James Gunn), a huge production budget ($185 million) and received terrific reviews. But instead of delivering a box office ka-pow, it went ker-thud: Ticket sales total $156 million (split roughly 50-50 with theaters), compared with $747 million for the first “Suicide Squad” in 2016.

Of course, the latest one had to battle a pandemic. And it was also made available free on HBO Max in lock step with its theatrical debut. On that platform, it was a relative success — at least according to HBO Max, which heralded “The Suicide Squad” as the service’s second-most-viewed movie debut of the year.

But it offered no numbers.

“Paw Patrol: The Movie” (Paramount) was released simultaneously in theaters and on Paramount+ late last month. It took in $13 million over its first weekend, enough for second place behind “Free Guy,” a holdover. But the actual demand for “Paw Patrol” was shrouded. Regal Cinemas, the second-largest multiplex chain in the United States behind AMC Entertainment, refused to play the animated adventure because of its streaming availability. Paramount+ said on Aug. 25 that the movie “ranked as one of the service’s most-watched originals.”

But it offered no numbers.

In contrast, Disney-Marvel released “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” exclusively in theaters on Friday. Disney’s chief executive had called the old-fashioned release an “experiment.” Would the coronavirus keep people at home?

In surveys in late August of American moviegoers by the National Research Group, a film industry consultant, about 67 percent of respondents said they felt comfortable (“very or somewhat”) sitting in a theater. Disney has cited coronavirus concerns for making films like “Jungle Cruise,” “Cruella” and “Black Widow” available in homes on Disney+ at the same time as in theaters (even though Hollywood has suspected that the real reason — or at least an equally important one — has been helping Disney+).

The crystal-clear result: Audiences flocked to “Shang-Chi,” which was on pace to collect $83.5 million from 4,300 theaters in the United States and Canada from Friday through Monday, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data. Overseas, the well-reviewed movie, notable for being Marvel’s first Asian-led superhero spectacle, generated an additional $56.2 million. “Shang-Chi” cost roughly $200 million to make.

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The Cost of Being an ‘Interchangeable Asian’

On a recent Tuesday evening, Jully Lee and her boyfriend curled up on the couch and turned on the TV to watch the Ovation Awards, a ceremony honoring stage work in the Los Angeles area that was held virtually this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ms. Lee, an actor, had been nominated for her role in the play “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” which was in production before the pandemic.

Ms. Lee, 40, had submitted a prerecorded acceptance speech in case she won. During the ceremony, each nominee’s photo was shown as his or her name was announced. When Ms. Lee’s category arrived, her name was called, and a photo appeared on the screen. A photo of the wrong Asian: her colleague Monica Hong. The announcer also mispronounced Ms. Lee’s name.

“I was just stunned,” Ms. Lee said. She added that after a pause, she and her boyfriend started cracking up. “When things are awkward or uncomfortable or painful, it’s much safer to laugh than to express other emotions. It’s like a polite way of responding to things.”

The LA Stage Alliance, which hosted the ceremony, disbanded in the wake of outrage over the blunder.

The irony of a mix-up like this wasn’t lost on Ms. Lee. It was rare to even be performing with other Asian actors, rather than competing for the same part. “It’s so funny because when there’s so many Asians, then you can’t tell them apart, but in media there are so few Asians that you can’t tell us apart,” she said. “What is it?”

The invisibility of Asians in pop culture is part of what, scholars say, contributes to the “wrong Asian” experience: When people aren’t accustomed to seeing Asian faces onstage or onscreen, they may have more trouble telling them apart in real life. To put it another way: If all you really have to work with are John Cho, Steven Yeun, Aziz Ansari and Kal Penn, that’s not going to go a long way in training you to distinguish among men of Asian descent offscreen. In contrast, Hollywood has given everyone plenty of training on distinguishing white faces, Dr. Nadal said.

Out of Hollywood’s top 100 movies of 2018, only two lead roles went to Asian and Asian American actors (one male and one female), according to a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Donatella Galella, a professor of theater history and theory at the University of California, Riverside, said that popular culture has long reflected the Western world’s xenophobic views toward Asians, which resulted in placing them in diminished roles onstage and onscreen — the villain, the sidekick. That entrenched a kind of marginalization feedback loop.

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Astronauts on Set: Space Station May Host Wave of TV Shows and Films

“We’re finally able to open our doors to private citizens and allow others to experience the magic of living and working in space,” said Dana Weigel, deputy manager for the space station at NASA. “The dream is really to allow everyone access to space, and this is a pretty exciting starting point here.”

Producers of Discovery’s “Who Wants to Be an Astronaut” expect the winner to be on board for the second Axiom mission to the space station, which might take off six or seven months after the first one. For now, an agreement between the Discovery team and Axiom has not been finalized, and NASA has yet to choose Axiom to conduct the second private space tourism flight.

The NASA-led part of the station could accommodate two private astronaut missions a year, space agency officials have said, and other companies are also interested in participating.

“We are seeing a lot of interest in private astronaut missions, even outside of Axiom,” Ms. Weigel said. “At this point, the demand exceeds what we actually believe the opportunities on station will be.”

Still, on Tuesday, Axiom announced two people who would be in the seats for that second mission: Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who now works for Axiom, will be the commander, and John Shoffner, a paying passenger who made his fortune as head of a company that manufactures conduits for fiber optic cables, will serve as pilot for the mission.

Dr. Whitson, who holds the record for the most cumulative time in space by a NASA astronaut — 665 days — joined Axiom as a consultant a year ago, in hopes of getting to space again and adding to her record. “Yes, most definitely,” she said. “That was the carrot.”

Mr. Peterson said plans for the Discovery show grew out of discussions with Axiom early in 2020 and that it would be “a premium documentary” and less like “Survivor” or other ruthless reality television competitions.

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James Bond, Meet Jeff Bezos: Amazon Makes $8.45 Billion Deal for MGM

“The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of I.P. in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team,” Mike Hopkins, senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios, said in a statement.

Amazon’s appetite for movies became ravenous during the pandemic. It paid $125 million for the rights to “Coming 2 America,” $80 million for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” and $200 million for “The Tomorrow War,” a Chris Pratt adventure that will arrive on Prime on July 2. Amazon also has Oscar ambitions, buying the rights to “Sound of Metal,” which was nominated for best picture and other top awards at this year’s ceremony.

When it comes to making its own hit films, Amazon has long struggled. MGM managers could help: Michael De Luca, MGM’s movie chairman, has a track record that includes, at various companies, the “Rush Hour,” “Austin Powers” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchises.

MGM also has a 17,000-episode television library and a TV studio that makes “Vikings,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Fargo” and various “Real Housewives” shows. In 2014, MGM acquired Mark Burnett’s production company, One Three Media, which holds rights to competition series like “The Voice.” Mr. Burnett, a contentious figure in Hollywood because he helped shape Donald J. Trump’s image with “The Apprentice” and remained close to him during his divisive presidential term, serves as MGM’s television chairman.

Anchorage Capital, a New York investment firm, has been the majority owner of MGM for more than a decade. Before that, MGM was tossed between owners and, bitten by falling DVD revenue, eventually ending up in bankruptcy. It was worth about $2 billion in 2010, according to analysts.

Kevin Ulrich, Anchorage’s chief executive and MGM’s chairman, formally put the studio on the block late last year. Anchorage has been under pressure from various stakeholders to exit the investment, with some agitators complaining that Mr. Ulrich was overly enamored with Hollywood and should have sold years ago.

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John Cena Apologizes to China for Calling Taiwan a Country

John Cena, the professional wrestler and a star of “F9,” the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, apologized to fans in China on Tuesday after he referred to Taiwan as a country while giving a promotional interview.

Joining a long list of celebrities and companies that have profusely apologized after taking an errant step through China’s political minefields, Mr. Cena posted a video apology in Mandarin on Weibo, a Chinese social network.

Beijing considers Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island, to be a breakaway province and claims it as part of China. Referring to it as a country is often an offensive assertion in China, where matters of sovereignty and territory are passionate issues driven by a strong sense of nationalism.

Mr. Cena apologized for a statement he made in an interview with the Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS. In it, he told the reporter in Mandarin, “Taiwan is the first country that can watch” the film.

Xinjiang, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong or the status of Taiwan and Tibet.

a fierce backlash when Daryl Morey, then the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests in 2019. (LeBron James, one of basketball’s biggest stars, offered a China-friendly response, saying Mr. Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand” by supporting the protesters.)

Movie studios often preemptively ensure their content won’t run afoul of Chinese censors, a practice once mocked by “South Park.”

But quite often, the political problems arise in cases where a company appeared to have no idea it was accidentally crossing a line.

That list would include Gap, which in 2018 created a T-shirt that omitted Taiwan, parts of Tibet and islands in the South China Sea from a map of China on the shirt’s design. The luxury brands Versace, Givenchy and Coach said in 2019 they all made mistakes when they produced T-shirts that identified Hong Kong and Macau as countries.

“Versace reiterates that we love China deeply, and resolutely respect China’s territory and national sovereignty,” the company said in a statement at the time.

China ordered 36 airlines to remove references to Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong as separate countries on their websites in 2018, a step the Trump administration dismissed as “Orwellian nonsense.”

That year, Marriott clarified on its Weibo account that it “will absolutely not support any separatist organization that will undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” after a customer survey listed the territories as separate countries.

Mercedes-Benz Instagram account quoted the Dalai Lama, whom many in China view as a dangerous separatist advocating Tibetan independence.

The release of “F9” was delayed for a year during the coronavirus pandemic. It drew an estimated $162 million in tickets in eight international markets, including China and South Korea, over the weekend. As the newest film in a hugely successful series, “F9” is seen by Hollywood as the kind of blockbuster needed to draw people back to theaters.

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting from Taipei, and Claire Fu from Beijing.

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