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- Why “Genocide” Has Become the Most Controversial Word in Hollywood; Plus, Best Supporting Actor Rankings
Why “Genocide” Has Become the Most Controversial Word in Hollywood; Plus, Best Supporting Actor Rankings
Cancel culture has come for Melissa Barrera, Susan Sarandon, and CAA's Maha Dakhil.
Well, I thought I was going to have a nice, breezy travel day on Tuesday, but it wasn’t to be. I never intended to get too political in this space, as I’m not a particularly political person, but it seems the time has come — and it’s only Week 2 of this newsletter! Read on for more…
Why “Genocide” Has Become the Most Controversial Word in Hollywood
For the record, I’m firmly against cancel culture, but each of these cases is different.
When I landed in Indianapolis for a two-hour layover on my way back to Boston for Thanksgiving, I saw the news that Melissa Barrera had been fired from Scream 7 due to some social media posts that apparently raised a few eyebrows at Spyglass.
As someone who has lost multiple jobs due to similarly “controversial” social media posts, my heart went out to Barrera for about five seconds — I didn’t tweet that part — but then the Scream fan in me kicked in and I publicly jumped for joy.
I’m not trying to be mean here, but it’s no secret that I think Melissa Barrera has been a terrible lead in the last two Scream movies. I am very much “on the record” with this opinion. I’ve been all but begging Spyglass not only to ditch directing duo Radio Silence but to kill off Samantha Carpenter and make her younger sister, Tara, played by Jenna Ortega (a much bigger star), the focal point of the franchise, which is near and dear to my heart — thus the big, performative reaction online to Barrera’s exit.
To be clear, the original Scream changed my life and made me want to be a writer. It is my Star Wars. My MCU. I don’t really care who stars in those franchises because I have no emotional investment in them. But I do care when it comes to Scream, which is why I’ve been so vocal about my distaste for the new films.
Of course, my Scream fandom was lost in the furor of social media, where the story became White Man Cheers Woman of Color Losing Her Job.
Since all nuance continues to be lost on Twitter, I might’ve been fired from my own job if I had one — and thank God I don’t, as I’m much happier having the creative freedom this newsletter offers.
The truth is that I don’t care about Barrera’s social media posts. If I did, I would follow her on social media… but I don’t follow her. In fact, I didn’t even see what she’d posted when I tweeted — because again, I didn’t care. Whether Spyglass’ decision was right or wrong was irrelevant to me at that moment because the bottom line was that Barrera was gone, and as a Scream fan, I was happy about that.
It sucks that she had to lose her job — but I also believe you should only hold onto a job if you’re actually good at it. Fans of these new Scream films will argue Barrera was good at it, given how her two films performed in line with other Scream sequels and resurrected the franchise following the disappointing Scream 4. And they’re entitled to that opinion.
But naturally, everyone had to project their own feelings onto my innocent opinion — ‘Jeff is happy Melissa is gone? He must be a racist misogynist!’
Listen, I haven’t seen Melissa Barrera in anything outside of the Scream fans, and I have no doubt that she’ll have other chances to impress me, including in Radio Silence’s upcoming kidnapping thriller about Dracula’s daughter (should Universal choose to finish that shoot). I will give her a fair shake each and every time I see a new movie of hers, but I’m also entitled to my opinion of her work in the Scream franchise.
I may be blunt about it, and that may come off as rude, but you know what? That’s how it works. I have enormous respect for actors and other artists who bravely put themselves out there to be critiqued, and I champion those I think are talented, but my job is to critique. That’s the deal. I praised a dozen actors in my last newsletter, but it’s not always going to be sunshine and rainbows, folks. My job cuts both ways and if I’m going to call out the good, I have to call out the bad as well.
And I’m fully aware that Barrera’s performance (and all performances) is dictated by the script and editing choices and decisions that her co-stars make, etc. But whether it was Barrera or the way her character was written, I couldn’t stand her and I’m quite confident that Scream 7 will be better off without her. Not better off without someone who’s pro-Palestine, mind you, but someone who simply didn’t work in these films.
The truth is that there are a lot of untalented actors out there these days coasting on their looks, their Instagram following, or their singing voice… but they can’t act their way out of a paper bag. That’s why my compliments actually matter, as opposed to the usual ass-kissing writers who blow smoke because they’re too afraid to be honest.
Of course, I realize that, right now, people are very sensitive about the Israel-Hamas War, and honesty can be upsetting. Antisemitism is noticeably on the rise throughout the country, and Jews across America are understandably afraid. Thus, there’s almost an overreaction when (nearly) anyone says anything vaguely anti-Israel.
CAA’s Maha Dakhil found this out the hard way last month. Dakhil used the word “genocide” in reference to Israel’s choice to defend itself and retaliate against Hamas in Gaza — home to millions of innocent Palestinians. Because everyone fancies themselves the Sheriff of Social Media these days, multiple sources sent Maha’s problematic post to Matt Belloni, as he noted in his Puck newsletter.
This is what happens when you’re a successful woman in Hollywood. The vultures sit there just waiting for you to screw up so they can kill you off and feast on your corpse.
Now, I don’t condone what Maha Dakhil wrote on Instagram, but I also know that Maha is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, so she has a very different perspective on Israel-Palestine relations, and frankly, I can’t fault her for that. We were raised very differently, so when it comes to Israel’s response, what may look like a proportionate act of self-defense to some may look like “genocide” to someone else.
That should be easy to understand. We don’t all have the same vantage point. I’m not saying that I personally believe that Israel is committing “genocide,” I’m simply saying I understand why some people are calling it that. If I’m not allowed to hold two conflicting thoughts in my head at the same time, please direct your complaints to the thought police.
When the CAA “scandal” first erupted, I immediately sent Maha a message of support. Again, it wasn’t because I agreed with what she wrote — I didn’t — but because I’ve been in the middle of social media shitstorms where it seems like everyone you know is out to get you.
Some of you may be able to relate, but the majority of you? I doubt it. So, as someone who has been through that nightmare before, I wanted Maha to know that she wasn’t alone, because that’s how it can feel in those dark moments — like you’re all alone. A social pariah with no hope of a future.
I had lunch with a CAA staffer days later, and while that lunch was very much off-the-record, I relayed my sympathy for Maha, who is a great agent. I can only imagine what it took to rise to her level in a male-dominated profession. I mean, is there no room for personal growth anymore? Are second chances a thing of the past?
I fully understand why CAA felt it had no choice but to “demote” Maha, who stepped down from the board and relinquished her role managing the talent department. She accepted the consequences, which amounted to a slap on the wrist. I wish I’d been so lucky at the jobs I lost, which could’ve chosen to suspend me, but instead chose to fire me because they were afraid of upsetting advertisers. I learned the hard way that you can’t bite the hand that feeds you, which is exactly the way Spyglass looked at the Barrera situation.
CAA, however, is CAA. They don’t need to be scared of anyone. They’re the alpha dog in every room. Yes, they lost Aaron Sorkin to WME, but he’d been contemplating a move for a while, so The Maha Incident merely served as the perfect excuse/cover. I’m sure that other CAA clients requested Maha to be removed from their team, and again, that’s entirely their right. After all, they’re the client and they call the shots.
But CAA was right to stand by Dakhil, who has gone on a listening tour the past few weeks. Kudos to the agency for trying to educate rather than simply cut ties. There’s no question that Maha would’ve been picked up by another major agency because she’s great at what she does and she has great relationships. Were those relationships tested this past month? Absolutely. But if a social media post can destroy your relationship, I’d argue your relationship was never that great to begin with.
Tom Cruise, who is one of CAA’s biggest clients, admirably stuck by Maha, likely because he, too, understands what she’s going through, having been at the center of a few regrettable “incidents” himself. And just the other night, Maha attended a screening of Poor Things where she stood by her client Yorgos Lanthimos’ side all night.
The message was clear to anyone paying attention — she’s not going anywhere.
Yeah, it sucks whenever someone loses their job, but if they were never good at it in the first place, it’s hard for me to be too upset when they lose it. If Barrera was undeniably great in those Scream movies, I’m willing to bet that Spyglass would’ve been more forgiving. I know I would’ve been. After all, star players get star treatment and play by different rules. This is true throughout Hollywood. Only the untalented among us want everyone to be treated equally.
Believe me, if Jenna Ortega had said what Barrera said, she wouldn’t be going anywhere. True stars can get away with saying stuff like that, which is why Maha is still employed by CAA. She’s a star and she’ll be forgiven — maybe not by every client, but by the bosses for whom she and her client list make a lot of money. Barrera, on the other hand, was entirely expendable.
I wrote on Twitter, and have said on my podcast, that I will defend a Nazi’s right to free speech. If you wouldn’t, I’d argue that you don’t really support free speech, which is a fundamental right that should be afforded to all Americans, even the most vile people whom you don’t agree with. When it comes to free speech, you don’t get to pick and choose.
Having said that, free speech isn’t really free now, is it? Freedom of speech laws protect us from our government, but not private employers. If they think their reputations will be harmed, they have every right to cut you loose. As I said, I learned that the hard way.
Melissa Barrera had to know that the Israel-Hamas War was a sensitive issue. She said what she said, and again, she had every right to say it. If you think what is happening in Gaza is “genocide,” you’re entitled to that belief. But as an actress working in a town full of Jews, I’m not sure that sharing that belief on social media is the best idea. Barrera made a choice to do just that, and Spyglass had every right to make the decision it did.
“Spyglass’ stance is unequivocally clear: We have zero tolerance for antisemitism or the incitement of hate in any form, including false references to genocide, ethnic cleansing, Holocaust distortion, or anything that flagrantly crosses the line into hate speech,” read a statement from the company.
Now, “false references to genocide” seems open to interpretation, as who decides what a “false reference” is, or determines what even qualifies as a “genocide.” Is there an impartial committee somewhere that decides what is and what is not an “official” genocide? Or… is it just a matter of opinion?
Maybe Spyglass was looking for an excuse to move on from Barrera, who, again, is just plain bad in those Scream movies, in my opinion. But to be clear, that’s why I was delighted by her exit… not because I disagreed with her social media post. I truly don’t care what she posts on social media.
Lending credence to that theory are more recent reports that Ortega notified Spyglass months ago that she didn’t intend to return for Scream 7, and the trades are now citing a scheduling conflict with Season 2 of her Netflix series Wednesday. Perhaps Spyglass thought, “If Tara Carpenter isn’t in the movie, then why do we need Barrera’s Sam?” After all, she’s pretty clearly the weak link of the so-called Core Four.
Frankly, I think director Christopher Landon should just come in and blow the whole thing up. Reboot from scratch. Either recast Sidney Prescott and run it back with a twist, or move on from the Woodsboro Massacre altogether and relaunch the franchise fresh, with no ties to past installments.
A heartbroken Landon, for his part, wrote on Twitter that “Everything sucks. Stop yelling. This was not my decision to make,” before deleting his post. This gig must be a dream come true for him, but after the events of the past 24 hours, I wouldn’t be surprised if he walked away given the circumstances.
As for Susan Sarandon‘s exit from UTA, it has been a long time coming. That wasn’t just about one awkward statement or social media post about Jews “getting a taste of how it feels to be Muslim in America,” it was about a pattern of obnoxious behavior from the Oscar-winning actress-turned-human Looney Tune.
At the end of the day, Sarandon will be just fine because talent lands, and another agency will step up and sign her. For that agency, she’ll be worth the trouble. But to UTA, which reportedly had multiple staffers complain about Sarandon’s comments, she was no longer worth the headache, and that’s why the agency chose to move on.
I know I’m playing both sides of the fence here, and that’s because I’m acknowledging that the Israel-Hamas conflict is a complicated issue, or at least, more complicated than most people make it out to be, and that includes my Jewish friends. I can’t blame them. They’re genuinely frightened right now, living through this scary moment in time. They witness some form of antisemitism every day and few people have the stones to call it out or do something about it.
Hamas is a terrorist organization, plain and simple. They murdered babies and deserve to be hunted to the ends of the earth.
But I do believe there are innocent Palestinian people, including women and children, who are being unjustly murdered every day. The same goes for Israelis. Does that rise to the level of “genocide?” I don’t know, and whether or not I personally believe Israel’s attacks on Palestine to be “genocide” is wholly irrelevant.
You don’t come to me for political opinions. That’s not why you subscribe to this newsletter or follow me on Twitter. You come to me for movie opinions, and in my opinion, the Scream franchise will be better off without Barrera. As far as the Middle East goes, all I know is that it’s a nightmare over there no matter what side of the street you live on these days.
I promise you, I’m not a political person. I’ve only voted twice in my life — both times against Trump. What I am is a movie person, and as a movie person, Melissa Barrera’s firing is a thing to be celebrated. I don’t necessarily agree with why she was let go, but I can absolutely live with the end result. If that’s too mean for you, then I apologize, but this is not your safe space.
It’s also pretty ironic how many people who think Israel is committing “genocide” either threatened to kill me last night or told me to kill myself. One lovely Twitter user sent me instructions for how to tie a noose. No wonder advertisers are fleeing the platform, which is teeming with antisemitism. But it’s nothing I can’t handle. Since I was a little boy, I was raised to understand that the world hates Jews. Losing 500 Twitter followers or a few dozen newsletter subscribers is nothing I can’t handle.
That’s because I accept the consequences of my tweets both past and present. Judging by her Instagram post, Barrera also seems to have accepted the consequences, and now, time will tell whether she gets a second chance. I think she deserves one. I just hope Cruise doesn’t throw her a lifeline with a role in the next Mission: Impossible movie, another franchise I have cared about since 1996.
As the Cast of Superman: Legacy Comes Together, James Gunn Needs to Go Big for Clark’s Parents
The new DCU will have to dig deep to top these two, as far as I’m concerned.
Skyler Gisondo and model-turned-actress Sara Sampaio are set to round out the younger cast of Superman: Legacy. While I love love love the Gisondo casting — I’ve been a fan ever since his turn as Dewdrop in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story — it’s time to take a step back and analyze this cast as a whole.
Right now, it’s shaping up to be pretty mid.
David Corenswet (Clark Kent). Rachel Brosnahan (Lois Lane). Nicholas Hoult (Lex Luthor). Gisondo as Jimmy Olsen. Nathan Fillion (Guy Gardner). Edi Gathegi (Mister Terrific). Anthony Carrigan (Metamorpho). Isabela Merced (Hawkgirl). Maria Gabriela de Faria (The Engineer). And Sampaio as Miss Teschmacher.
Is WB just counting on Superman being enough to draw people into theaters? Where is the star appeal? Don’t tell me it’s Nic Hoult and Mrs. Maisel…
Maybe Ma and Pa Kent will give this cast some cohesion, but I was expecting director James Gunn to take some big swings here, and for the most part, he has played it pretty safe.
Normally, you cast an unknown as Superman and surround him with big names. As the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn gravitated toward big names (outside of the five stars, the cast included Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, and Oscar winner Benicio del Toro), but those characters weren’t as well known. Then again, Gunn wasn’t running the studio back then, so perhaps he’s casting with a sense of fiscal responsibility, keeping the budget firmly in mind.
I also have to wonder if he’s struggling to find actors to commit on blind faith to Gunn’s ambitious vision for the DCU, which includes movies, TV shows, video games, and animation.
Gunn certainly has a knack for casting, I’ll grant him that, and he silenced the skeptics with Guardians, but I don’t know… for the most part, these castings have been a little underwhelming. Where’s the gravitas here? It better be coming soon. Get Tom Hanks in there as Pa Kent or something.
And now, here are my latest Oscars Power Rankings, which forecast who’s up and who’s down each week…
Oscars Power Rankings: Robert Downey Jr. Seems Poised to Coast to an Oscar Win for Oppenheimer
It’s time to reward this man for turning around both his life and his career.
Best Supporting Actor
Robert Downey Jr., Oppenheimer
Ryan Gosling, Barbie (+5)
Robert De Niro, Killers of the Flower Moon
Sterling K. Brown, American Fiction (NEW)
Mark Ruffalo, Poor Things (-3)
Dominic Sessa, The Holdovers (-2)
Peter Sarsgaard, Memory (-1)
Jeremy Allen White, The Iron Claw (NEW)
Matt Damon, Oppenheimer (+1)
Glenn Howerton, Blackberry (-2)
Analysis: Listen, Glenn Howerton gives the year’s single-best supporting performance in Blackberry, but I’m just not sensing that voters are taking that IFC Films title seriously. It’s already been spliced into a three-part TV series on AMC+, which didn’t help its chances of being seen as a serious movie, which it absolutely is. So while Howerton has my eternal respect, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave him off this chart entirely, I question whether he’s a major contender this awards season.
No, Best Supporting Actor feels like a two-horse race this year, with Robert Downey Jr. clearly in pole position over Ryan Gosling, who stole the show in Barbie and was absolutely hilarious… but is he really going to win the Oscar he has long deserved (hello, Half Nelson!) for playing Ken in the Barbie movie? I don’t think so.
No, I suspect that this award is Robert Downey Jr.’s to lose. All he has to do is… nothing. He has to stay out of his own way this season. Limited interviews. Limited tributes. He should pick a few events where he can work the room, shake hands, and press the flesh with voters, but he shouldn’t have a ubiquitous presence on the campaign trail this year. He should let Christopher Nolan do the majority of campaigning, with Universal treating Downey like a secret weapon of sorts.
Overexposure is a bad thing.
I included Robert De Niro on the list because he does his best work in years in Killers of the Flower Moon, and while it’s not a particularly subtle performance, I do think it’ll be enough to secure a nod from voters, who may also find themselves torn when it comes to backing Mark Ruffalo or Willem Dafoe for Poor Things. While both actors could ostensibly slip into the race, it’s just as likely that both find themselves on the outside looking in, as this is a deep category.
Sterling K. Brown is fantastic in American Fiction, possibly outshining star Jeffrey Wright, and newcomer Dominic Sessa is a gem in The Holdovers, in which he goes toe to toe with Paul Giamatti and holds his own.
Meanwhile, Peter Sarsgaard won Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his turn as a man with dementia in Memory, and that film absolutely broke me at TIFF. I really hope he finds his way into the final five, as his work is superb, but that’s a small movie from an even smaller distributor (Ketchup Entertainment) and it may struggle to catch on with voters.
Matt Damon could very well ride the Oppenheimer wave to a supporting nod, as he’s really good in that movie as well, though voters may not want to go overboard by giving it two nods in the same category.
And finally, while I haven’t seen The Iron Claw yet, Jeremy Allen White is a rising star in this town, and early buzz on the film has been encouraging. Given his Emmy heat for The Bear, I find myself hard-pressed to write him off in this race, though I’ll have a better sense of his chances once I see the film for myself.
Bits and Bobs (A Daily News Roundup)
Elvis once said, “You can’t keep a good movie down, brother.”
The Bikeriders Update - There’s a happy ending after all for Jeff Nichols’ biker gang movie, as Focus Features has rode to its rescue and will release the film in theaters next year. Huzzah! Deadline had the scoop, and I’d like to thank the trade for crediting me with the news about New Regency shopping the film. Much appreciated.
Vengeance Is Mine - There’s a major bidding war underway for a series adaptation of Cape Fear. Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese will executive produce the series, which hails from creator/showrunner and fellow EP Nick Antosca, whose credits include The Act and Candy. This time around, “a storm is coming for a pair of married attorneys when an infamous killer from their past gets released after years in prison.” You know who isn’t mentioned in that logline? Max Cady. Is that because Antosca — who is pretty damn good with female monsters — plans to introduce Maxine Cady and gender-flip the villain role? No word yet, but I like the dramatic possibilities in play here, including that of making the lawyers a same-sex couple. Here’s Nellie with the scoop…
Encino Man Heads to Tokyo - This year’s reigning Best Actor winner has found his follow-up to The Whale — Hikari’s movie Rental Family, in which he’ll play a down-and-out actor living in Tokyo who is hired as a token American guy for a Japanese rental family company that provides professional stand-in services. It’s an offbeat choice for Fraser and not what I was expecting in terms of his first starring vehicle post-Oscar, but it also sounds interesting, so count me in.
Beware the Crane Kick - Sony is embarking on a global casting search to find the young Chinese star of its next Karate Kid movie, which will unite Ralph Macchio with Jackie Chan, both of whom starred in Karate Kid movies decades apart. Jonathan Entwistle (The End of the Fucking World) is directing from a script by Rob Lieber (Peter Rabbit), and Karen Rosenfelt is producing the untitled feature, which is slated to hit theaters on Dec. 13, 2024. This is a valuable franchise for Sony, and I happen to like the idea of bringing back Macchio (hot off Cobra Kai) and pairing him with an international superstar like Jackie Chan, whose 2010 film grossed $359 million worldwide.
Time to Reflect Again - Netflix has renewed Black Mirror for Season 7, which will begin filming later this year, so expect casting announcements after the holiday break. The real question is whether there will be another Red Mirror episode. Stay tuned…
Boss Baby - A24 has confirmed the cast of Babygirl, an erotic thriller from Bodies Bodies Bodies filmmaker Halina Reijn. Oscar winner Nicole Kidman will star as a successful CEO who embarks on an illicit affair with her much younger intern (Harris Dickinson). Sophie Wilde, who starred in A24’s Talk to Me, will co-star alongside Antonio Banderas and Jean Reno. I wasn’t a fan of Bodies Bodies Bodies, but this one sounds good…
Dustin Lives - Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) announced the cast of his crime comedy Riff Raff, and it’s pretty solid — Ed Harris, Pete Davidson, Lewis Pullman, Jennifer Coolidge, Gabrielle Union, Michael Angelo Covino, and most importantly, Dustin Hoffman, who, may I remind you, is one of our greatest living actors. Now filming in New Jersey, the indie film follows a former criminal whose ordinary life is thrown upside down when his family shows up for a long-awaited reckoning. A generic logline? Sure. But the cast should ensure a good time — and a sale.
Congrats - To Dave Filoni on being named Chief Creative Officer of Lucasfilm, where he’s taken on more and more responsibility of late. I wouldn’t say he’s being groomed to replace Kathleen Kennedy, nor is he being set up as her fall guy… I would say he offers a reassuring presence during an unquestionably chaotic time for the franchise.
Film Twitter’s Main Character of the Day
Your 15 minutes start now…
This is where I shine a light on the good, the bad, and the ugly tweets that Film Twitter is, well, already shining a light on. Whether you’re being hailed as a hero or a villain in this space, I hope all recipients of this esteemed award take it in the good nature with which it is intended.
With that disclaimer out of the way, today’s Main Character is… Jacob S. Hall, Senior News Editor of SlashFilm.
Yesterday, Jacob hinted that he knew more about the Melissa Barrera situation than he could report and that the actress may have said some other stuff outside of the Instagram posts that Spyglass flagged. Unfortunately, he did so without any evidence — the equivalent of throwing a Molotov cocktail online and running from the scene.
Barrera’s defenders quickly pounced on him, accusing him of making an ugly situation even worse. He took responsibility for it and deleted his tweet before apologizing. But should he have? Are journalists obligated to bring receipts to every conversation, or can they allude to important information they’re not allowed to share for one reason or another? Was this apology necessary or did Jacob cave to the Twitter mob? You be the judge!
I made a shitty tweet earlier. I stand by our reporting, which reflects what we heard from a trusted source. But the way I framed the situation in a tweet was unhelpful, stupid, and only added noise to a situation where people are hurting. I sincerely apologize and will do better
— Jacob Hall (@JacobSHall)
Nov 22, 2023
Got a hot tip, or an interesting pitch? Want to buy an ad or ask a provocative question for future mailbag installments? Email me at [email protected], and have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!