That time I bought out a movie theater to show ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

It all began with a cover story from The Hollywood Reporter entitled “The Stakes Are High for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ — And That’s the Point. The article chronicles how filmmaker Jon Chu and writer Kevin Kwan had to make a tough decision about how/where to create a film version of Crazy Rich Asians:

Behind one door: Warner Bros., which had outbid other traditional studios with a distribution offer for Crazy Rich Asians a week earlier. Behind the other: Netflix, the great disrupter, which had come in hot the following Monday, dangling complete artistic freedom, a greenlighted trilogy and huge, seven-figure-minimum paydays for each stakeholder, upfront. Now Warners had come back with not so much a counteroffer as an ultimatum, giving the filmmakers just 15 minutes to pick an option.[…]

Kwan and Chu had already tried to rationalize the cash grab: “Maybe we donate a percentage of our extra income to great causes,” Chu recalls the two having discussed the night before. “But where does that money go? Right back to trying to get to this position of getting us [Asians] on the big screen.”

No wonder Kwan, 44, was nervous. “I could sense every lawyer on the call shaking their heads: ‘Ugh, these stupid idealists.’ Here, we have a chance for this gigantic payday instantaneously,” he says. “But Jon and I both felt this sense of purpose. We needed this to be an old-fashioned cinematic experience, not for fans to sit in front of a TV and just press a button.” Adds Chu: “We were gifted this position to make a decision no one else can make, which is turning down the big payday for rolling the dice [on the box office] — but being invited to the big party, which is people paying money to go see us.”

Asian Americans have been starved for big screen representation for decades. Not since The Joy Luck Club was released 25 years ago have we seen a film by a Hollywood studio set in modern times, starring an all Asian and Asian-American cast. Crazy Rich Asians would be that film for us, and Kwan and Chu both felt it was worth gambling millions of dollars on giving it a splashy, theatrical release in an industry where those types of things still have cultural cachet.

People often tell you to vote with your dollars, but when you’re an Asian American, you only get a few chances per century to financially express to Hollywood the types of stories you want to see. So when I heard about this story, I asked myself: What can I do to help? How can I show Hollywood that diversity on screen and behind the camera can mean big business?

I’d heard that there was a movement (#GoldOpen) to buy out theaters to show the film. I’d never done anything like this before, but after seeing the movie and being deeply moved by it, my wife and I both agreed that this being part of the #GoldOpen movement was a tangible (but not completely insane) way that we could show that we wanted people to Crazy Rich Asians seriously.

So I bought out a small theater in downtown Seattle to show the film this Saturday.

I talked about my rationale for doing so on this week’s episode of the Slashfilmcast, but I didn’t really expect it to make waves. Next thing I knew I was being featured in Seattle Times story on the subject, then doing interviews with local news stations King5 and KIRO (click the links to watch).

I’ll have a lot more to say about the film itself next week, but for now I just wanted to express my gratitude for the kindness and conscientiousness of all these local journalists who had me on to talk about the movement, not to mention all of my friends and acquaintances who have encouraged me on this little adventure.

It matters which stories society thinks are worth telling. It matters to see yourself and your lived experience represented on the big screen. Representation matters. I hope we can tell this to the world this weekend.

Quitting Twitter

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[I’m quitting Twitter but I’m launching a newsletter in its place. Subscribe above! I’ll plan to cross-post my emails to this blog when it makes sense, which it does for the one below]

Why we’re here

Twitter’s problems with harassment go way back, but in the past few weeks, it’s made some decisions that have forced me to reconsider my relationship with the platform. First, this cryptic message from Seth Rogen about Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey:

While outsiders may perceive Twitter’s verification system as impartial, it’s not. Twitter only verifies people who have reached a specific notoriety level or who hold specific jobs (e.g. journalist, actor, etc.). Verified users get features that unverified users don’t. While Twitter claims verification isn’t an endorsement, in the past, it has removed verification as a means of punishing bad actors.

The fact that Dorsey did not seem to care about verifying white supremacists, even when one of the most popular users of his platform was chiding him about it, was a red flag to me.

Then, the Info Wars wars.

If you don’t know, Info Wars is a despicable media organization whose main claim to fame these days is that they propagated a conspiracy theory about how the Sandy Hook massacre was staged. This has brought untold misery upon the already-suffering families of this senseless tragedy.

Last Monday, every major tech platform took steps to remove Info Wars content. Every platform, that is, except Twitter. In a series of tweets, Dorsey defended his decisionmaking:

The next day, Dorsey appeared on Hannity to further explain why Alex Jones hadn’t been banned. Dorsey’s justifications were soon revealed to be complete nonsense and hypocrisy.

I don’t know why this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, but maybe it solidified the notion for me that Dorsey just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get the extremely basic notion that banning Jones would be far more effective than relying on journalists to rebut his remarks. He doesn’t get that it’s a reasonable position to want your platform to be free of toxicity, and to take steps to make that happen. He doesn’t get that sometimes you need to make a moral choice.

To me, Twitter’s inability to ban Alex Jones was a litmus test. Aja Romano puts it really well in her article at Vox discussing it:

Jones represents what is perhaps the clearest opportunity to draw a moral line that Twitter will ever have. Forget the Nazis for a second; Alex Jones is a man who has seen his followers harass the parents of dead 6-year-olds and continued to egg them on, using the completely fabricated claim that these parents’ grief is just an act. There is nothing redeemable here; there’s no useful idea, no political concept worth debating — there’s only a lie told purely in order to spread harm, confusion, disorder, and pain. Jones is sound and fury, signifying nothing. Twitter’s choice to defend his place on its site, however, signifies everything about what Twitter is choosing to be.

I couldn’t get these words out of my head after I read them: “There is nothing redeemable here; there’s no useful idea, no political concept worth debating.” If Twitter can’t draw the line at Alex Jones, it has no line.

Why quit?

When writer Lindy West quit Twitter, she wrote a piece for The Guardian explaining why. The whole thing is worth reading, but two points stuck out to me. The first is that by using Twitter, we are essentially helping it to generate value and revenue:

Twitter, for the past five years, has been a machine where I put in unpaid work and tension headaches come out. I write jokes there for free. I post political commentary for free. I answer questions for free. I teach feminism 101 for free. Off Twitter, these are all things by which I make my living – in fact, they comprise the totality of my income. But on Twitter, I do them pro bono and, in return, I am micromanaged in real time by strangers; neo-Nazis mine my personal life for vulnerabilities to exploit; and men enjoy unfettered, direct access to my brain so they can inform me, for the thousandth time, that they would gladly rape me if I weren’t so fat.

The second is that we wouldn’t be willing to accept this behavior from any other organization. Why should we do so with Twitter?

I’m pretty sure “ushered in kleptocracy” would be a dealbreaker for any other company that wanted my business. If my gynecologist regularly hosted neo-Nazi rallies in the exam room, I would find someone else to swab my cervix. If I found out my favourite coffee shop was even remotely complicit in the third world war, I would – bare minimum – switch coffee shops; I might give up coffee altogether.

Twitter has added so much to my life. It’s allowed me to have a career. It’s introduced me to tons of amazing people, many of whom have become my collaborators. I used to love the platform and enjoy using it. But until its leaders demonstrate the willingness to make incredibly basic moral choices like banning Alex Jones, you won’t find my work on there.

I realize it’s a privilege to not “need” to use Twitter, so I don’t begrudge anyone whatever decisions they make. Everyone has a different place to draw their own line, and people often do so in different ways with different social platforms. I don’t judge anyone on this matter. Just want to explain my position on it.

And hey, it’s possible Twitter could reverse course tomorrow and I’ll be back on there. But until that happens, you’ll find me on Facebook, on Instagram, on TinyLetter, on YouTube, and here on my blog. Just not on Twitter.

Monetizing your disdain

In The New York Times, Taffy Brodesser-Akner has a great profile of Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s extremely even-handed and as revealing about the writer as the subject. This portion caught my eye.

A gynecologist and obstetrician in San Francisco named Jen Gunter, who also writes a column on reproductive health for The Times, has criticized Goop in about 30 blog posts on her website since 2015. A post she wrote last May — an open letter that she signed on behalf of “Science” — generated more than 800,000 page views. She was angry about all the bad advice she had seen from Goop in the last few years. She was angry that her own patients were worried they’d given themselves breast cancer by wearing underwire bras, thanks to an article by an osteopath who cited a much-debunked book published in 1995. Gunter cited many of Goop’s greatest hits: “Tampons are not vaginal death sticks, vegetables with lectins are not killing us, vaginas don’t need steaming, Epstein Barr virus (E.B.V.) does not cause every thyroid disease and for [expletive] sake no one needs to know their latex farmer; what they need to know is that the only thing between them and H.I.V. or gonorrhea is a few millimeters of latex, so glove that [expletive] up.”

But something strange happened. Each of these pronouncements set off a series of blog posts and articles and tweets that linked directly to the site, driving up traffic. At Harvard, G.P. called these moments “cultural firestorms.” “I can monetize those eyeballs,” she told the students. Goop had learned to do a special kind of dark art: to corral the vitriol of the internet and the ever-present shall we call it cultural ambivalence about G.P. herself and turn them into cash. It’s never clickbait, she told the class. “It’s a cultural firestorm when it’s about a woman’s vagina.” The room was silent. She then cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “VAGINA! VAGINA! VAGINA!” as if she were yodeling.

It reminded me of this piece by Matt Singer about why you shouldn’t share bad articles:

Look, I get it. When someone writes something bad it pisses me off too. And my first instinct is to share it with a “Can you believe someone was paid to write this junk?” tweet. In an ideal world, sharing and decrying these pieces would have their intended effect. Alas, we do not live in an ideal world. When we share a piece of stupidity or racism on social media hundreds of times, and people click on it hundreds of thousands of times, we’ve given the writer exactly what they wanted (or, at the very least, have in no way punished them for doing something bad). The old truism about how there’s no such thing as bad publicity? That’s never been truer than in on the internet circa 2018.

Like I said, I’ve been just as guilty of this as anyone. But I’m trying, Ringo; I’m trying real hard to be a shepherd. Instead of amplifying the bad, I’m sharing the good. They’re not always the sexiest articles, and they rarely get shared far enough to make a positive impact on their traffic (some other time we’ll have to talk about how retweets and likes have become psychological currency, and another incentive to share bad articles). But at least I’m not helping spread the crap in the world. Instead of treating these articles like spoiled milk, we should look at them like a fire: The quickest way of stopping one is by depriving it of oxygen.

People derive great pleasure from sharing and denouncing bad articles but, in a very tangible and financial way, the people behind those bad articles benefit from having them shared. Next time you want to get angry at something, just think about not talking about it. Ironically, it’s the best way to send a message.

Commuting in Seattle is hard

Commuting in Seattle is hard.

On the bus ride into work yesterday, when we got to the Virginia Street stop, a old woman with a cane went up to one of those “Priority Seating for Disability” seats and chastized the people sitting in it (a Chinese woman and a white woman). As she was getting off the bus, she said to them, “Next time you’re sitting in one of these seats, maybe look around to see if someone else might need it more!”

The Chinese woman didn’t seem to understand what was happening and promptly got off the bus. But the white woman was incensed that her honor would be questioned in this way, shouting back, “Next time instead of being passive-aggressive, maybe just ask?”

The disabled woman was already off the bus, but intent on getting the last word, she hops BACK ON the bus and gets into the woman’s face, “I WAS asking. That was me asking!”

An argument ensued and the white woman called the disabled woman a bitch before storming off. Both parties were lessened by the interaction, and I felt bad for both of them.

For the ride home, I decided to use an UberPool. Downtown traffic is a nightmare so it took me about 50 minutes to get home after the driver had dropped off both of the other parties in the car.

On the way home, the driver tells me how he’s been driving Uber in Seattle for five years. Every year, the traffic has gotten worse. And if you live in Seattle, you will know that at a time when the roads are already extremely congested, the city is doing what it can to REMOVE traffic lanes and install public street parks and bike lanes instead. To working people, this all seems like madness. It certainly makes traffic way worse than it needs to be, which is already really bad.

“I guess they think putting in more bike lanes will get people to bike to work?” the driver suggested. “It’s not working. Lots of people still need to drive. Also, Seattle is not a great city to bike in. It rains a lot here.”

Amen, brother. It certainly does.

AMC Stubs A-List Review

I was pleased to have the opportunity to review AMC Theatres’ exciting new service, Stubs A-List. From my written review:

So is A-List worth it? I’d say yes under certain circumstances: 1) If you have a lot of AMC theaters around you, 2) If you’re happy with AMC’s movie selection generally, and 3) If you normally pay to see at least two movies per month. If this describes your situation then I’d say it’s a really solid option. Even better, since A-List is officially sanctioned by AMC, you don’t need to deal with a bunch of the annoying things that you have to deal with when it comes to MoviePass. You don’t need to “check in” to movie showings or take photos of movie stubs to prove that you went. You also don’t need to deal with things like surge pricing, which MoviePass recently announced. It’s just a much smoother process.

However, MoviePass also has a bunch of advantages. The biggest one is, of course, price. It’s $10 per month compared to A-List’s $20. Now, I’d argue that pricing creates a lot of problems for MoviePass. AMC has called it unsustainable, and I have a lot of questions as to whether MoviePass’s long-term business model is actually a viable one for them. But for that price, you can see movies at Landmark, Regal, and Cinemark — and often those theaters will have the high-quality, up-and-coming indie films that AMC won’t have.

I’m extremely lucky because I live in a place with a bunch of AMC Theatres and my AMC theatres show a huge range of movies from the latest Avengers to obscure foreign films. But if you only have one or a few AMC Theatres near you, then I can totally understand why A-List is not a good deal for you. But for me, A-List is a fantastic option and I think it will be for a lot of people.

One Second for Every Day of My Life (2017-2018)

For the past six years, I’ve recorded one second of video for every day of my life, then combined them all to create a 5-6 minute video that summarizes that year.

As usual, the process of going through the seconds is an emotional one. I fondly remember details and moments that I’ve forgotten, and get nostalgic for all the things in life that I miss.

Ultimately, this has been one of the more intense, eventful years of my life and I’m glad to be living through interesting times.

How realistic is HBO’s ‘Barry’ when it comes to acting class?

I had a chance to chat with legendary character actor Stephen Tobolowsky about the new HBO original series Barry. Stephen and I talk about the show’s themes and how realistic its depiction of acting class is. Also: Stephen gives advice to anyone interested in taking acting classes for themselves.

Check out Stephen’s new book, My Adventures with God, on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

My five favorite podcasts (right now)

I was recently featured in an alumni magazine for my work in podcasting, and I was asked what my five favorite podcasts are. When you listen to dozens of different podcasts at differing frequency, it can be difficult to distill your list to only five (particularly when your preferences can change over time). Moreover, it feels pointless to list podcasts that are already extremely popular — why not give love to shows that need it?

I tried to strike a balance between longtime shows that I love and shows that are relatively new that could use more attention. Here were my submissions:

Reply All – A show about the internet that manages to take major trends and online obscura alike to create compelling, emotional stories.
The Next Picture Show – A movie review podcast that evaluates older films and their newer analogues. It’s a must-listen for folks interested in how the past has inspired the present.
On The Media – A show about the media that looks past the headlines to explore how coverage is influenced and deployed.
Death Sex & Money – Anna Sale interviews people from all walks of life and has in-depth discussions on topics that we all think about but don’t usually talk about: death, sex, and money.
Today Explained – This relatively new daily podcast explores the biggest news topics of the day via interviews with experts and other people impacted by world events. Impressive production value for a show that is produced so frequently.

A review of Mixtiles – a cool way to mount and hang photos on your wall

I had a fun time trying out Mixtiles recently, which is an app that lets you print out photos that are ready to hang. I found Mixtiles via an Instagram ad and was intrigued at the idea of being able to easily print, mount and move around photos.

Mixtiles cost $49 for the first three, and $9 for every Mixtile thereafter. Shipping is free (although it’s basically just built into the cost of the first three Mixtiles).

Overall, I had a good experience with Mixtiles and think it’s great in certain circumstances. Find my full video review above and my pros and cons of the service below.

Pros:

  • Responsive customer service — You get the sense that this is a mom and pop operation, but not necessarily in a bad way. Customer service through the app was extremely fast, and responsive. These people really want you to have a great experience.
  • Adhesive quality is good — Mixtiles stick really well onto walls, and aren’t super difficult to remove.
  • Photography quality is decent — Photos appear to have a matte finish. Fidelity and sharpness is solid.
  • Weight — Mixtiles are super light and easy to carry around and transport

Cons: 

  • Foam core does not feel like a premium product — From far away, Mixtiles look great. But when you get up close and touch them, they look exactly look what they are: Photo prints mounted onto foam core. They feel flimsy and don’t seem built to last.
  • The first few are expensive — The first three Mixtiles are $49 (including shipping). That is a high price to pay for this quality level. But the more that you buy, the more it makes sense to do so. This service is particularly useful for events, where you might need to gather large set of mounted photos in short order.

The Art of the Video Essay

I’ve been diving into the work of Patrick Willems on YouTube recently and I enjoyed his piece on the art of the video essay.

Willems argues that the format is fairly stale at this point. Many video essay-ists are actually filmmakers in reality, but their essays don’t reflect the full breadth of their creative abilities. Why not?

I appreciate that Willems is trying to push the medium forward. His subsequent video essay on Star Wars begins to show what may be possible with the medium from a narrative standpoint.

An Oral History of Bob Costas’ Pink Eye

Kelly Conaboy, writing for Vulture:

Bob Costas: I found it odd that some people thought, “Well, he just can’t bear to give up his seat at the Olympics.” I’d done ten Olympics by that time. My honest feeling was: this is my job, and I’m the one who’s prepared to do this job. You know, it’s hard to just — when Matt and Meredith were thrown into it, the researchers wrote stuff for them, and they did a great, professional job. But I’d prepared to do the job; I was the person suited to do the job. And you don’t want to let your colleagues down. They work harder than the hosts do. They’ve spent a year, or a year and a half, traveling the world, doing research, compiling all these research manuals, producing these pieces, and you’re kind of carrying the ball for them. So you don’t want to feel as if you’ve let them down.

I thought this was a ridiculous premise for an oral history piece, but it turned out to be a thought-provoking meditation on what life in the spotlight is like, and the limits of professionalism. Amazing work by Conaboy.

The /Filmcast Interview with Rian Johnson

This is one of the best things that I’ve ever been a part of.

This week, Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson stopped by the /Filmcast for a couple hours. We talked about what it was like to get the offer to direct Star Wars, how he arrived at some of the themes of the film, and how he’s dealing with the polarized reaction from fans.

The first time I spoke with Rian was many years ago when he wrote/directed a a tiny, weird movie called The Brothers Bloom (I loved it). To see him go from that $5MM movie to commanding one of the biggest franchises in cinema history has been a wonder to behold.

And not to toot my own horn, but I also think this is one of the best interviews that’s out there on the topic of the film. Strongly considering retiring after this one – might as well go out on top.

Anyway, so honored to have been able to do this. I hope you enjoy it.

My 10 favorite longreads of 2017

I didn’t get nearly as much reading done in 2017 as I wanted to — hence why this year’s list is coming out much later than usual. I didn’t even know if it was worth putting together a list, as many of these choices are from the first half of the year, before I got a new full-time job and barely had the time to enjoy longform journalism regularly.

But hey, I’ve been keeping this list running for several years now, and it would be a shame to stop it just for having an off year. So without further ado, here are 10 pieces I read in 2017 that I really appreciated:

My President Was Black – On the verge of the Trump presidency, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ wrote a moving account of the Obama White House, capturing both its redemptive nature and the high price that came with it.

The Republican Waterloo – Healthcare was a hot button issue this year and in this essay, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum explains why the Republican strategy was always bound to be a losing one.

The Heart of Whiteness – Ijeoma Oluo’s interview with Rachel Dolezal is contentious, uncomfortable, and revealing. It also helps to bring some closure to this crazy saga of the past two years.

The Lost Picture Show: Hollywood Archivists Can’t Escape Obsolescence – One of the side effects of the digital age is the challenge of archiving films. With a frightening, clinical approach, Marty Perlmutter lays out the very real possibility that many of our greatest cultural works are in danger of being lost forever.

The Leftovers: Life, Death, Einstein and Time Travel – There’s been a lot of great writing about The Leftovers, but this piece by Maureen Ryan is my favorite. It really destroyed me. Ryan powerfully relates personal tragedy with how the show captures grief.

The Silence of the Lambs – Kathryn Joyce chronicles a sex scandal in the Protestant church, demonstrating that complicity and cover-ups are not confined to any single religion.

Four Castaways Make a Family – You don’t have to be biologically related to be a family. In this piece, Rene Denfield describes the process of adopting children. And while she makes it sound intensely difficult to love someone that much (especially when they don’t love you back), it’s also clear that sometimes only the hard things are worth doing.

The Two Americans – Sabrina Tavernise writes about the case of Abraham Davis, who helped vandalize a mosque in Fort Smith, Arkansas, then unexpectedly found forgiveness by the people he attacked. Even in the increasingly divided age that we live in, love still trumps hate.

How Uber’s Hard-Charging Corporate Culture Left Employees Drained – Caroline O’Donovan and Priya Anand’s deep dive into Uber’s intense culture asks the question: What is the true cost of unicorn startup valuations, and is it worth it?

Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Accusers for DecadesHarvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories, and many others  Possibly the most socially consequential stories of the year, Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, and Ronan Farrow broke the story on Harvey Weinstein’s years of sexual assaults, and helped create a movement whose impact is still being felt today.

The best movie moments of 2017

I love thinking through the best movie moments in a given year. More than any other aspect, the individual moments of grandeur and spectacle in films stay with me long after I’ve watched them.

That’s why I was glad to contribute to /Film’s “56 Best movie moments of 2017” piece. There are some great moments on here, assembled by the entire staff. Here’s what I had to say about the ending of The Killing of a Sacred Deer:

My longstanding belief about conspiracy theories is that they’re popular because deep down, humans prefer to believe there’s a higher power at work. It’s terrifying to contemplate the possibility that every occurrence is completely random. Much more reassuring to think that someone is pulling all the strings, even if that someone is malevolent. The Killing of a Sacred Deer turns this notion on its head. Here, surgeon Steve Murphy (Colin Farrell) becomes increasingly certain that teenager Martin (played chillingly by Barry Keoghan) exerts an other-worldly power over his family, causing them to become sick. The only thing that will cause it to stop is if Murphy takes one of his family member’s lives – retribution for Murphy errantly taking the life of Martin’s father in a botched surgery. After agonizing over how to proceed, Farrell decides that introducing randomness into the equation is the only solution. He ties up his family in the living room and spins around randomly, firing a rifle until one of them is dead. It’s a brutal, heartbreaking scene with an unspeakable outcome, demonstrating that sometimes, chance is only outcome we can live with.