Hollywood Cynicism Finds a New Low in College Bribery Scandal

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

People from outside Hollywood keep asking me about the college bribery scandal. I live here, after all, and I have a bunch of college- and postcollege-age kids.

They want to know, of course, how common it is for people to bribe their way into elite universities. Even my kids want to know who else was doing it.

How do I know?

The fact that I had never heard the slightest suggestion that there was a bribery ring implicating a fake charity, a professional SAT test-taker, college sports administrators and desperate celebrity parents looking for the kind of guarantees life is not supposed to give you — none of that matters.

Also Read: Lori Loughlin’s YouTuber Daughter Olivia Jade Is Dropped by Sephora as College Admissions Bribe Case Unfolds

To everybody else, that’s what Hollywood represents. Two actresses and an owner of CAA (TPG’s Bill McGlashan, who exited the firm last week) may as well be the entire industry. A culture of privileged cheaters. (And of course Lori Loughlin’s daughter Olivia was on the yacht of USC chairman Rich Caruso in the Bahamas when the indictments came through).

Coming on the heels of an endless stream of disclosures of alleged sexual assault by famous actors and powerful executives, of sexual harassment, rape, casting couch extortion and — thank you, Michael Jackson — pedophilia, it’s pretty damn ugly.

My cynicism calculator has gone off the charts. It’s hard to fathom that Emmy and Golden Globe winner Felicity Huffman might face jail time after being charged with a felony she’s accused of committing on behalf of her daughter.

Meanwhile the international media is still feeding on the carcass of “Everybody in Hollywood knew about Harvey Weinstein.” (I just gave another interview on the matter last week to a major French TV network.)

And the Michael Jackson documentary “Leaving Neverland” is raising questions about the late pop star’s circle: Who knew what and when and why and how and what do we do now?

Also Read: ‘Generation Wealth’ Director on Why Kardashians, Trump Dominate Our Culture (Video)

Bennett Raglin for Own Network

I’m getting tired of making excuses for our crowd.

When I moved to Los Angeles just over 20 years ago, my biggest fear was raising my children in this culture. At the time, documentarian Lauren Greenfield had just published “Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood,” a photography book chronicling the absurdly lavish lifestyles that wealthy and privileged children in L.A. enjoyed. I wrote an article about the book and emerged further terrified that my kids’ friends would have birthday parties in the penthouse suite of the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, that every bar mitzvah would be on the Sony lot and that by the end of high school they’d all end up in rehab.

That turned out to be an oversimplification. Not false necessarily, but not the whole story. And by comparison, I can’t say that our political leadership and the titans of tech measure up any better than Hollywood parents. (Full disclosure: two of my children went to or still attend USC — one of the universities implicated in the worst abuses — and one of them knows Olivia Loughlin, though not well.)

Like most of the readers of this post, I know that the Hollywood community is mainly made up of hard-working men and women with solid values, who chose to become the world’s storytellers because of their passion to share and communicate. And yeah, maybe to get rich and famous too.

But it seems that we live in a time that all our assumptions will be challenged, when our sacred idols will be left in ruins, and that the values we believed in as a democratic society — equal opportunity, social justice — will need to be restated and reaffirmed in a way that does not lead to hilarious parody Lori Loughlin clips on Twitter.

But for now, prepare for a not-short period of a caricature of Hollywood and what we are all about.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Top Crisis Managers to Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin: ‘Just Stay Quiet and Disappear’

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Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin Arrested in College Admissions Cheating Scam Case

After ‘Leaving Neverland,’ We Need to Reassess Michael Jackson

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

We must once again reassess Michael Jackson. The fans don’t want to hear it. The pop star died 10 years ago at age 50 and thus cannot face evidence or testimony in a court of law.

But the heartbreaking accusations of sexual abuse offered in unflinching detail by Wade Robson and James Safechuck in the new HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland” cannot be ignored. Their stories must be heard and considered in all their terribleness. And we must remember the star’s other past accusers, whose accounts line up with these latest ones.

Now grown men, Robson and Safechuck each accuse Michael Jackson of things we would prefer not to know, and would rather not believe. Grooming the boys and their families with gifts and attention. A gradual introduction to touching, then masturbation, then oral sex, then anal sex. Then porn. Every night. All with expressions of love by Jackson. And in both cases, the boys say they loved him back, deeply and devotedly.

Also Read: ‘Leaving Neverland’ Brings Explosive Michael Jackson Accusations to Light

Robson was 7 when he said Jackson first molested him. He said the “sexual stuff” continued until age 14.

Safechuck was 10, he said, and the abuse continued well into his teens.

The accusations play like classic pedophilia, except it’s not some seedy guy in a van with blacked-out windows. It’s Michael Jackson, the artist who loved children more than anything and wanted to heal the world. And who repeatedly denied ever molesting children during his lifetime.

Robson and Safechuck’s accounts were taken separately by filmmaker Dan Reed and unfold slowly in four hours of documentary. In a powerful interview with Oprah Winfrey on Monday after the documentary aired on HBO, Robson and Safechuck said they had not met during the filmmaking. But their experiences were markedly similar.

Also Read: 5 Most Devastating Accusations Against Michael Jackson From ‘Leaving Neverland’

Bennett Raglin for Own Network

And in both cases the implications for their emotional lives were deep. Robson, who went on to become a successful choreographer, hit a wall when he had a child himself. But for years, he said he buried what happened: “I didn’t feel it was abuse,” he said. “I didn’t feel I was hurt by it. That anything bad happened to me. At that point, I loved MIchael, Michael loved me — that happened between us. That’s it. I had no feeling that I was affected negatively.”

That was the case until he said he could no longer function, had a nervous breakdown, lied to a therapist like he’d lied to everyone else, including in court. Then he had another nervous breakdown, he said, and ultimately confessed to his therapist about what he says happened.

Safechuck is still actively struggling, and said so. He is confronted by deep feelings of self-hatred, which he doesn’t understand. He too has a child, and found the damage bubbling up as he confronted fatherhood. Because he loved Michael Jackson.

“It was two feelings together,” he said in the interview with Winfrey. “He does these things that are harmful but you still have love for him. I’m still grappling with that.”

Viewers must judge for themselves what is credible, because definitive proof is elusive. But if we have come to a place in the #MeToo era where we choose to hear accusers out instead of dismiss them as fame-seeking, money-grubbing climbers, then Robson and Safechuck need to be taken seriously.

Also Read: ‘Leaving Neverland’ Premiere Is HBO’s Third Most-Watched Doc in a Decade

We must also consider them in the context of two allegations of the past, Jordy Chandler — who accepted a $25 million settlement in 1993 after filing a civil suit accusing the star of molestation — and Gavin Arvizo, who was the plaintiff in a 2005 case when Jackson was acquitted of lewd acts on a minor.

As a reporter who covered Michael Jackson for years The Washington Post and then The New York Times, I found the accusations against Jackson discomfiting and weird, fascinating and bizarre.

It seemed possible that Jackson, as an artist who projected a permanent childlike state, was not sexual at all. He seemed more like a man trapped in childhood than a predator. He seemed neither gay nor straight. We all heard rumors that a sperm donor from his vast network of medical fixers parented his three children. We knew he slept in the same bed as young boys.

Maybe he really was Peter Pan?

Also Read: ‘A Bargain’: Trump Ally Seeks $31 Million for Neverland as Michael Jackson Doc Drops

These ideas wither in the wake of these new accounts. And it means we must reassess not only Michael Jackson but ourselves and how we treat celebrity and transgression. What is the role of the media in enabling this behavior, of parents in turning a blind eye to abuse? And is there collateral damage when we seek to protect our cultural idols from accusations of wrongdoing?

It is possible to love Michael Jackson’s music and to consider the evidence that he was a rank pedophile.

In fact, there is an imperative to do just that.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Michael Jackson Songs Still Streaming on Spotify, Apple Music – Unlike Post-Accusation Ban on R Kelly

Corey Feldman Defends Michael Jackson After ‘Leaving Neverland,’ Says Singer ‘Never Touched Me Inappropriately’

‘A Bargain’: Trump Ally Seeks $31 Million for Neverland as Michael Jackson Doc Drops

5 Most Devastating Accusations Against Michael Jackson From ‘Leaving Neverland’

Why the ‘Green Book’ Oscar Victory Has Divided Hollywood

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Inside the Governors Ball on Sunday, where the Oscar-shaped smoked salmon canapes were passed in abundance, it didn’t take long for Spike Lee’s tantrum over “Green Book” winning Best Picture to make the rounds.

Oscar-goers and winners were aghast that Spike turned his back in the theater when “Green Book” was announced for the final award, and then made his displeasure even more clear in the press room when he said, “The ref made a bad call.”

But more than gossip about Spike’s bad manners, the question was why did “Green Book” seem to rub some people — including a leading director of color — the wrong way? Especially on a night when an historic number of nonwhite talent won gold statues?

Also Read: Spike Lee Gets ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ Deja Vu From ‘Green Book’ Win: ‘Ref Made a Bad Call’

“It was great to see Spike Lee hold an Oscar,” actor David Oyelowo said at the Governor’s Ball, echoing the sentiments of many, and emphasizing the positive.

But the backstage drama suggested a clash between Hollywood’s old and new waves, as when Ava DuVernay showed up, queenlike, at the much-dissed Vanity Fair post-Oscar party in support of the new-generation editor Radhika Jones.

En route to that party that some folks wonder might lose its luster! LOL. @VanityFair#OSCARS pic.twitter.com/Zb9c43klf1

— Ava DuVernay (@ava) February 25, 2019

Also Read: Oscars Make History With Record 7 Black Winners

This year’s Oscars seemed suspended between what the Academy aspires to be — progressive, inclusive and actually diverse — and where it traditionally has been, which is politically progressive as seen through the eyes of privileged white folks, almost exclusively men.

“Green Book” fell squarely in the latter category, the latest iteration of well-intentioned storytelling about American race relations told by white people who continue to hold most of the power. Spike Lee, ever the barn-burner, seemed to rebel against that convention even when the Academy chose to honor him with his first-ever competitive Oscar for his own dark comedy about…. that’s right, race.

Understandably, the makers of “Green Book” found no comfort in the backlash. Producer Jim Burke seemed wounded when asked at the Governors Ball about Lee’s criticism. “It’s a Spike issue,” he said, adding, “It’s never been made clear” what specific issues the “BlackKklansman” director has with the movie.

Also Read: Oscars: ‘Green Book’ Win Gives an Old-Fashioned Ending to a Diverse, Forward-Looking Show

But truth be told, Spike wasn’t the only one questioning the “Green Book” victory —  he was just the only one invited to the party who threw a stink bomb.

Twitter immediately was afire with critics who found the choice artistically offensive. Many noted that director Peter Farrelly’s acceptance speech omitted mention of Don Shirley, the African American concert pianist who was the subject of the film (played by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali).

Others, like past Oscar nominee James L. Brooks, detected an odd note in Ali’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor. “The director earnestly thanked for never coming near the actors, ‘giving us space’ ..letting us work it out on our own,” he tweeted. “Must have been one edgy set.”

Literally still laughing at last night’s thank you speech 4 best supporting actor. The director earnestly thanked for never coming near the actors, “giving us space” ..letting us work it out on our own” and confining himself to an occasional “tweak”..Must have been one edgy set.

— james l. brooks (@canyonjim) February 25, 2019

Also Read: Oscars 2019: ‘Green Book’ Best Picture Speech Omits Don Shirley, But Carrie Fisher Gets a Shoutout

Almost immediately, the “Green Book” win divided people along political and cultural lines.

On the racial politics of telling another story about racism in the 1960s South through the point of view of a white man, Burke tried to explain: “It’s about the black-and-white experience. It’s about differences in race and class, but we are all, every one of us, very proud of this film. If you have a problem with that — it’s confusing.”

I asked whether he thought some of the criticism came from the fact that the film had a white director, white writers and five white male producers (although, to be fair, Octavia Spencer also co-produced).

“I can’t change the fact that I’m white. If the question is: Can white people have or not have a point of view on racial inequality?…” He trailed off, without an answer and finally just said: “It’s been a rough campaign season.”

Related stories from TheWrap:

Watch and Read Spike Lee’s Oscar Acceptance Speech That Trump Called ‘Racist’ (Video)

Oscars: ‘Green Book’ Win Gives an Old-Fashioned Ending to a Diverse, Forward-Looking Show

Oscars 2019: ‘Green Book’ Best Picture Speech Omits Don Shirley, But Carrie Fisher Gets a Shoutout

Top Critics Vent as ‘Green Book’ Tops Oscars; LA Times Critic Calls It Worst Best Picture Winner Since ‘Crash’

Jussie Smollett Arrest Stuns Hollywood Into Silence and Sorrow

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Stunned silence would be one way to describe how Hollywood is processing the arrest of Jussie Smollett after authorities say he made up a racist and homophobic attack.

The normally active Twitter feeds of leading artist-activists such as Ava DuVernay, Judd Apatow and Matthew Cherry were quiet in the hours after Smollett’s Thursday arrest in Chicago on a felony charge of filing a false police report.

Don Lemon — the outspoken CNN anchor who like Smollett is both gay and African-American — grasped for words on his newscast on Wednesday night. “It’s … terrible,” he managed to say.

Also Read: Cops: ‘Empire’ Star Jussie Smollett Staged Attack Because He Was ‘Dissatisfied With His Salary’

There’s some cognitive dissonance going on: Smollett, that beautiful, sweet young man who comes from a warm, sprawling family with sibling actors, who started out in “The Mighty Ducks” in 1992 and rose to prominence on the edgy Fox show “Empire” — that Jussie is accused of mounting a racist, homophobic attack on himself?

Insiders with whom I’ve spoken were frustrated and saddened. One said that she had already had a difficult conversation with her children about the attack when it was first reported, and now wasn’t sure what to tell them.

The Chicago police chief said on Thursday that Smollett staged the attack because he wanted a pay raise — but that didn’t add up to observers in the business.

I will here pause to point out that we don’t know the truth at this point. Smollett has been charged and arrested, but maintains his innocence. Maybe he is. The evidence we’ve seen — like those two brothers buying a rope and other paraphernalia — doesn’t look good.

For weeks, Fox has been standing behind its star, vouching for his good character, hiring a PR specialist, denying rumors that he was going to be written out of the show. Within hours of his arrest, the studio pivoted from its previous blanket support for its star to say: “We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”

Also Read: Fox Says It Is ‘Considering Our Options’ After Jussie Smollett Arrest

In the last few days, defenders like DuVernay insisted on reserving judgment even as the police said they were moving toward the conclusion that Smollett had written himself a threatening letter, hired two brothers to throw a noose around his neck and fling bleach at him and claim a MAGA connection.

The sight of a visibly indignant Chicago police chief, decrying a waste of precious public resources on the case, does not help matters for Smollett.

Update: According to Chicago police officials, Jussie Smollett wrote a fake letter and paid for the staged attack because he was “dissatisfied with his salary.” https://t.co/MyPbjMeUKh

— Twitter Moments (@TwitterMoments) February 21, 2019

It’s an awkward moment for Hollywood at a time when this liberal industry is busy decrying the divisive politics of our time both on public platforms like Twitter and in the films and TV shows — including Smollett’s own show “Empire,” which was created by Lee Daniels, another artist who happens to be gay and African American.

And it’s distracting on the eve of an Oscars ceremony that finally has recognized a critical mass of diverse talent and movie themes in its top categories, from “Roma” to “Black Panther” to “Black KKKlansmen” to “Green Book.”

Also Read: Oscars Endgame: What Are ‘Roma,’ ‘Black Panther’ and Other Campaign Ads Really Trying to Say?

It’s a setback for those who want to champion equality and diversity, which is pretty much everyone in Hollywood, let’s be honest. It hands a potent weapon to critics of “Hollywood liberals” that will be wielded for years.

Like the Tawana Brawley case of the 1980s which left a lasting stain on activists like Al Sharpton, it will haunt Smollett and those who chose to ardently defend him.

I will stipulate again that I don’t know what happened in this case. But it’s an important reminder that no one has a monopoly on idiocy, cynicism and egoism. And that we should pay close attention before we judge.

Jeff Bezos vs The National Enquirer: A Tale of Journalism and Blackmail

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

To those expressing shock at Jeff Bezos’ extraordinary accusation of extortion by the National Enquirer’s owner American Media Inc., I can only say — get a clue.

What’s shocking is that the Amazon billionaire had the guts to expose a well-worn practice of journalistic blackmail by a publication untethered by ethics.

And what’s even more shocking is that AMI would have the chutzpah to put all this in writing and stamp it with the imprimatur of editor Dylan Howard on one document and AMI lawyer Jon Fine on another while the company is under a binding agreement with federal authorities to keep their noses clean as cooperating witnesses in the Michael Cohen case.

Also Read: Read the Blackmail Email Jeff Bezos Says He Received From AMI

The fact that they did so anyway gives you some sense of how accustomed The National Enquirer is to this kind of “negotiation” — leveraging secrets to help allies, catch-and-killing salacious stories, paying for information and mixing business with journalism, a term I use in this case ironically.

These practices have been well documented as AMI’s stock in trade in its past dealings with Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harvey Weinstein to name a few:

• AMI has admitted to federal prosecutors in New York that it participated in a “catch and kill” scheme with Trump’s alleged former mistress Karen McDougal, who (as Ronan Farrow detailed in the New Yorker last year) was paid to tell her story to the tabloid and instead given a spurious promotional deal to keep her from speaking out during the 2016 presidential election. (This is seen as a campaign finance violation, not a First Amendment issue.)

• In Schwarzenegger’s case, as deeply reported by Anne Louise Bardach, the secret deal to kill evidence of the then-gubernatorial candidate’s past sexual exploits resulted in the “Terminator” star appearing on the cover of an AMI-owned health magazine. Arnold won the election, you may recall.

• Harvey Weinstein exchanged emails with editor Howard in which the disgraced mogul asked for help to punish his enemies, a story of mutual back-scratching detailed in the New York Times. Weinstein struck business deals with AMI to develop television and movies as an inducement for the publication to be on his team.

Also Read: Federal Prosecutors Open Investigation Into National Enquirer Owner Over Jeff Bezos’ Accusations

An uncooperative billionaire, a power-drunk tabloid, the president and the independent counsel’s investigation — this is a complexification that Hollywood couldn’t make up.

Now the feds are investigating whether this violates AMI’s plea deal in the Cohen case — ratcheting up the pressure as another potential headache for the White House.

Two big questions linger:

• Why was AMI so intent on getting Bezos to assert that their reporting on his affair had no political agenda?

• Why is AMI chief David Pecker still protecting Donald Trump even though he’s in political jeopardy himself over the apparent McDougal cover-up?

Also Read: Jeff Bezos Would Still Be World’s 4th Richest Man Even If Divorce Claims Half His Net Worth

This does not even get into the speculative mess involving The Washington Post’s persistent reporting on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which Bezos referenced in his Medium post on Thursday, and why AMI would want to help Saudi Arabia by embarrassing the Post’s owner.

Let’s get clear on a few things. Trading on information is a timeworn tool in reporting. And publications have the absolute right under the First Amendment to publish true information that is of interest to the public. (The limits when it comes to individual privacy were recently challenged by the Peter Thiel-funded Hulk Hogan case against Gawker, which bankrupted that digital tabloid.)

Here’s how this feels like extortion: I threaten to publish a damaging fact about you unless you tell me damaging facts about another person. Or, as that ethical line slips, other demands are made.

Today Bezos’ refusal to play the game — and to go public about it — has triggered a federal investigation, all because we have a president who dances with the tabloid devil.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Federal Prosecutors Open Investigation Into National Enquirer Owner Over Jeff Bezos’ Accusations

AMI Promises to ‘Promptly and Thoroughly Investigate’ Jeff Bezos Accusations

Read the Blackmail Email Jeff Bezos Says He Received From AMI

Jeff Bezos Would Still Be World’s 4th Richest Man Even If Divorce Claims Half His Net Worth

Sundance’s Haves and Have Nots: Can Traditional Indie Distributors Still Compete?

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Sundance 2019 brought into sharp focus the two-tiered reality that now dominates the world of independent content.

It’s a story of the haves and the have-nots.

The haves are those giant tech-based companies like Netflix, Amazon and Apple that can plunk down many millions of dollars on a movie they like without a second thought.

Also Read: Sundance 2019: Every Movie Sold So Far, From ‘Late Night’ to ‘The Farewell’ (Updating)

The have-nots are everybody else — scrappy distributors who still do the Old Math: adding up the P&A costs, the ancillary rights like TV and international and, um, airlines to figure out how to protect their downside and maybe make a profit.

But there’s no such old-style nonsense for the tech giants — and Amazon is the colossus of choice at this year’s Sundance, blithely buying multiple movies for $15 million without so much as entering a bidding war. Who does that? (Netflix, which wasn’t in the game this year.)

“Late Night,” the broad comedy by Mindy Kaling and co-starring Emma Thompson, went to Amazon for $13 million on Day One of the festival. “The Report,” a gripping drama about the Senate investigation into U.S. torture after 9/11, went to the streamer for $14 million.  And by week’s end Amazon went after a comedy titled “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” starring Jillian Bell, buying it for $14 million.

There isn’t math behind these sales that make any particular sense, despite the fact that the tech giants are supposedly driven by data, according to a number of individuals in the know. Amazon is looking for subscribers to its Prime service, and needs a credible lineup of entertainment to compete with the crushing volume of original content now coming from Netflix. (Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Also Read: Sundance Shocker: Big-Money Acquisitions Take Indie Film Market by Surprise

Amazon chief Jeff Bezos is capable of spending anything he needs to compete in the entertainment space, having just reported yet another behemoth quarterly earnings triumph.

That leaves the second-tier of buyers to compete over the rest. The noble task of finding movies, buying them at a price and then marketing them to (hopefully) success is left to the likes of Sony Pictures Classics, which bought a David Crosby documentary by producer Cameron Crowe.

Or the taste-making indie distributor A24, which bought a Tilda Swinton starrer “The Souvenir.” Or The Orchard (now known as 1091 Media — but why? please change the name back), which bought Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary “Halston.”

IFC acquired U.S. rights to “The Nightingale,” the latest film from Jennifer Kent, the Australian director of “The Babadook.”

Scrappy Neon, which has shown distinctive taste in choosing movies in the last few years, was probably the most aggressive indie in the “have-not” space, punching above its weight to buy a number of films.

One agent I spoke to who sold a number of films disputed this thesis, saying that a couple of films went to traditional distributors over the streamers — including Netflix — who wanted to pay more.

“What the streamers can often offer is greater or more immediate reach to consumers, which sometimes make sense for that particular film,” said Rena Ronson, co-head of UTA’s  Independent Film Group. “So a lot has to do with knowing your film and making the right choice not just financially, but creatively and strategically.”

But many other distributors I talked to were coldly realistic about their chances to nab the buzziest movies premiering at the festival.

Also Read: Neon Acquires Naomi Watts’ Sundance Film ‘Luce’ in Partnership With Topic Studios

“We’re buying what we can,” said the head of one art-house distribution company. Most of the second-tier sales did not announce the prices in their news releases, a sure sign that the figures were modest.

Notably absent from the buying activities (at least at time of publication) were more traditional art-house studios based at the majors like Focus Features and Fox Searchlight. (Weirdly, WarnerMedia’s New Line stepped up to by Gurinder Chadha’s ’80s-set teen movie “Blinded by the Light” for $15 million).

This makes for a strange dynamic in the indie space, especially since many of the tech giants have now hired veteran executives who are used to competing in the scrappier world.

But then — why should the world of indie film be any different than the rest of the country?

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In ‘The Report,’ Government Heroes Expose America’s Torture After 9/11

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

‹We know that the bland, dark-suited people who run the government can sometimes be villains. But it’s easy to forget that people in government can also be heroic.

Making stories about those people can be challenging as entertainment, but Scott Burns’ “The Report” manages to do just that, dramatize in deliberate, thoughtful chapters the investigation into America’s shameful descent into torture after 9/11.

The film debuted on Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival.

Also Read: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Skip Sundance Screening of Doc About Her Primary Campaign

Senator Dianne Feinstein, played by Annette Bening, is the unlikely hero of this drama, as the veteran, centrist Democrat of California leads the Senate Intelligence Committee looking into allegations that the CIA tortured detainees.

Her staffer Dan Jones, played by Adam Driver, is even more worthy of note. He spends fully six years digging into mountains of evidence, seeking the truth of what the CIA did, and why. After writing a 7,000 page report and a 400-page summary that the CIA heavily redacts, he fights to see the report released to the public.

The film brings to life the antiseptic term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” colloquially known as torture, which we now know the Bush Administration made legal with a special memo after the 9/11 terrorist attack sent the country and government into panic mode.

Also Read: Michael Jackson’s Estate Calls ‘Leaving Neverland’ Documentary ‘Tabloid Character Assassination’

The threading of the legal needle is referred to frequently in the film as dependent on the result of the interrogation. If it works to get information that saves lives and if it does not confer “severe” and “permanent” physical damage, it is legal.

“It’s only legal if it works” is repeated several times in the film. And the problem was… it didn’t work.

The film depicts these acts: water-boarding, chaining detainees to the wall or the floor in “stress positions,” depriving them of sleep while blasting heavy metal music at impossible decibels.

Even when the person on the receiving end is the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, it withers the soul.

It turns out we, our democracy, did this for four years and all along failed to extract meaningful intelligence through this process. George W. Bush, the film narrates, was informed of the EIT practices in 2006.

In seeking to understand how this all came to pass, Feinstein repeatedly confronts not only CIA director John Brennan, but Barack Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm).

KSM was water-boarded 183 times, according to the movie. In a moment of devastating understatement, Feinstein asks Brennan why that would have been necessary if the procedure worked.

Also Read: ‘Where’s My Roy Cohn?’ Film Review: Doc About NY Lawyer Is as Timely as Roger Stone’s Arrest

Burns along with the entire cast was present at the premiere, and so was Dan Jones himself. Driver was asked during the Q&A what he took away from playing Jones:

“Dan Jones is who you hope is in a basement somewhere, against the odds, being given responsibility,” he said. “Those are the people you fantasize are hidden in a basement in government, with moral conviction as their guiding force. It’s easy to lose faith in institutions. So I’m proud to be part of telling that story.”

The film is up for sale.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Sundance 2019: Every Movie Sold So Far, From ‘Late Night’ to ‘Ask Dr. Ruth’ (Updating)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Skip Sundance Screening of Doc About Her Primary Campaign

Mindy Kaling’s ‘Late Night’ Might Just Be the First Commercial Hit at Sundance This Year

‘Leaving Neverland’ Brings Explosive Michael Jackson Accusations to Sundance, and Protesters Stay Home

‘Untouchable’ Film Review: Documentary Revisits Harvey Weinstein Horrors – Too Soon?

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Had enough of Harvey Weinstein? Not just yet.

There’s not a lot of new information in “Untouchable,” a creditable documentary about the scandal that upended Hollywood and unleashed  a #MeToo movement across the world, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday night.

But for those eager to hear more about this conundrum of a man – a tastemaker who made culture-defining movies for two decades but was allegedly also a monstrous, serial rapist who damaged the lives of dozens of women – this movie is for you.

Also Read: ‘The Inventor’ Chronicles the Cautionary Tale of Theranos and the Rise and Fall of Elizabeth Holmes

The Hollywood crowd in attendance was certainly riveted. It included everyone from former Ticketmaster CEO Fred Rosen to TV legend Norman Lear and his wife Lyn Lear to former MGM CEO Chris McGurk, among others who packed the Marc Theatre.

That’s no surprise, since in some sense Hollywood is still processing the tectonic changes brought on by the investigative bombshells published by The New Yorker and The New York Times. Men and women in the industry are still figuring out what just happened and sorting through what is or is not permitted in the current culture. TimesUp has been created, and meanwhile a dozen other powerful men – including the head of CBS – have been driven from the industry.

What director Ursula Macfarlane’s film does best is place the Weinstein scandal in context, revisiting the early years of Bob and Harvey, two brothers set on challenging the staid parameters of Hollywood filmmaking by making bold choices and supporting daring writer-directors.

In interviews with some longtime Miramax executives, they remind the viewer that before Harvey Weinstein was a monster he was a master movie marketer who picked “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Cinema Paradiso,” “Shakespeare in Love” and created the model for a successful independent film company.

Also Read: Harvey Weinstein Accused of Forcibly Performing Oral Sex on Woman in New Lawsuit

They were so successful, so uniquely talented that they sold their company to Disney in 1993 and were given a shocking amount of freedom (and money) to continue making movies. And, as it turns out, to continue assaulting women.

The film goes on to interview a series of women, many of whom the viewer will know from the avalanche of media coverage in the past 15 months: former London assistant Zelda Perkins, actresses Paz de la Huerta and Rosanna Arquette, aspiring actress Erika Rosenbaum.

They tell their stories anew. One new voice comes from Hope d’Amore, an early alleged victim of Weinstein who met him when he was still a concert promoter in Buffalo. Her shame at giving in to his advances in a New York hotel room is still close to the surface despite being decades old.

“It’s the collateral damage – what it does to your friends, your relationships – and they don’t know why,” she says. “It steals something.”

We still cannot take the measure of what Harvey Weinstein has stolen from all these women. That will take more time than a documentary can do while the wounds are still so fresh.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Inside Indie Film’s Year of Upheaval: Weinstein and Open Road Are Out, Netflix and Searchlight Soar

Harvey Weinstein Email Leaked: ‘I’ve Had the Worst Nightmare of My Life’

‘Leaving Neverland’ Brings Explosive Michael Jackson Accusations to Sundance, and Protesters Stay Home

Theranos and the Rise and Fall of ‘The Inventor’ Elizabeth Holmes Is a Tale of Our Times

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

The rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her $9 billion medical tech start-up, Theranos, is the stuff of Greek tragedy: Hubris, ambition, deception and betrayal abound.

But it is also a stunning emblem of our delusional, self-aggrandizing, fake-it-till-you-make-it times, a cautionary tale of the tech era and the insidious culture it has created of would-be legends and short-lived genius.

Veteran documentarian Alex Gibney has all the raw ingredients of great drama in “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” which screened on the opening night of the Sundance Film Festival.

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Also Read: 15 Buzziest Sundance Movies: From Shia LaBeouf’s ‘Honey Boy’ to ‘Leaving Neverland’ (Photos)

Holmes started her company Theranos as a 19-year-old Stanford drop-out, with the dream of revolutionizing the medical diagnostic industry with a simple idea: a few drops of blood could quickly diagnose anyone’s medical condition, rather than the traditional method of drawing lots of blood and running lots of tests.

She was blond and beautiful. She was a woman in a male Silicon Valley culture. She dressed like Steve Jobs – in a ubiquitous black turtleneck – and spoke in throaty, confident tones about her vision of the future.

The problem was she hadn’t figured out the technology. And while she raised hundreds of millions of dollars and convinced the likes of former Secretary of State George Schulz and former Pentagon commander James Mattis to join her board of directors, she found herself digging an ever-deeper hole of deception and lies.

By the time Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou showed up and started asking persistent questions, Holmes was in too deep. And like most fabulists when cornered, she dug deeper into her delusions and lies.

Also Read: Sundance Market Preview: Will Netflix and New Streamers Apple and Disney+ Go on Buying Sprees?

Gibney, who has made a career of hard-nosed documentaries on delusional fraudsters from Enron to Lance Armstrong to the Church of Scientology, does a great job of letting Holmes tell her own story, weaving footage of her rallying her employees with a grand vision, and constantly telling doubters that this is just part of what you get when Greatness challenges the status quo.

He also has revealing interviews with the whistleblowers who worked with Carreyrou and fed detailed  information to the reporter, such as the fact that most of the prick tests being submitted for federal approval, or investors, or Walgreen executives signing a massive contract, were actually being done on conventional blood-testing machines and not by the revolutionary and totally secret Theranos method. Which happened not to exist.

Carreyrou gets his due in the film, and plenty of public figures get their comeuppance. Super-lawyer David Boies, whose reputation has also suffered as a brass-knuckles Harvey Weinstein enforcer, is shown as a bully willing to defend Theranos’s false claims in order to intimidate Carreyrou.

The journalist who helped create the Holmes mythology by putting her on the cover of Forbes as a rising business star, Roger Parloff, comes close to tears as he grapples with his role – however unintentional – in a grand fraud.

It is stunning to see Holmes cross to the dark side in order to save herself, passing from half-truths and obfuscation to outright lies.  The truth, of course, eventually comes out. And whistleblowers like Schulz’s grandson Tyler, who worked at the company, and a lab researcher, Erika Chung, were present at the screening on Thursday.

“From Day One it was pretty clear,” said Schulz at the screening. “The inside joke among the scientists was that the science didn’t work.”

Theranos was dissolved in 2018 and Holmes and her one-time partner Sunny Balwani face criminal charges for their actions.

“She wasn’t planning to perpetrate a long con,” said  Carreyrou, who wrote a best-selling book about the subject, at the Q&A after the Sundance premiere. “She wanted to be a successful entrepreneur and she threw herself into it. ‘Fake it till you make it’ is embedded in Silicon Valley.

“And she might have gotten away with it in the realm of computers. She lost sight that her product was a medical device.”

BuzzFeed, HuffPost and Mic: Inside the Crisis in Digital News

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

The future of digital news is once again a topic of raging debate and concern after BuzzFeed and AOL-Yahoo and HuffPost announced severe staff cutbacks this week, once again putting hundreds of journalists out of work.

Can news survive in the digital age? What is the model?

“What if there is literally no profitable model for digital news?” MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes asked on Twitter on Thursday, setting off a long back and forth. “Or none that actually scales and endures without, say, the established readership base and brand of the [New York Times]. This seems…. Increasingly likely to me?”

Also Read: BuzzFeed to Lay Off 15 Percent of Its Staff

The word “crisis” is in the air, and understandably so. After a brutal year in the digital advertising space, after budgeting and strategic review and board meetings in January, BuzzFeed said it was cutting 15 percent of its staff (with pink slips to go to up to 400 people, according to one insider). Verizon said it was shedding 800 jobs in media — meaning AOL, Yahoo, Oath and HuffPost.

This follows other radical cuts by digital news organizations — the millennial news site Mic laid off its entire editorial staff last November before selling off its remaining assets, Refinery29 hacked 10 percent of its staff in October, and Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter trimmed 22 people this month as parent company Valence Media restructured its business operations.

The problem, as has been chronicled in this space with rising dismay, is that advertising dollars have been sucked away by the tech giants — Google and Facebook.

Also Read: James Woods Celebrates BuzzFeed, HuffPost Layoffs: ‘Victories for Real Journalism’

Two decades ago, Craig’s List killed classified advertising, the cash float that helped so many local papers — and newspapers have never really recovered.

Digital media organizations that arose in the wake of that shift found a model that worked for a time. To make newspapers obsolete, they raced for massive scale, driving reader “clicks” to float digital advertising dollars that could match the higher prices of print and pursuing video to get premium ad dollars for that platform.

But the cost of producing video at mass scale did not pencil out to profit and pricey experiments like HuffPost Live faded away.

Also Read: Layoffs Hit Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter After Restructuring at Parent Company

By the second decade of this millennium, Google and Facebook made any achievement of “scale” — of hundreds of millions of unique users per month — obsolete. With a technological expertise that news organizations can’t match, they target the audience that advertisers want more efficiently and with more precision than even the largest of news sites.

The third tech entrant into media selling, Amazon, has similar gargantuan scale and technological chops.

The Twitter debate on Thursday questioned whether news needs to be reframed less as a business proposition than as a public trust, funded by a federal tax, or whether seeking nonprofit status will be required to sustain journalism (particularly local journalism) in a modern democracy.

Also Read: Amazon Investors Unfazed by Jeff Bezos’ Divorce From His Wife of 25 Years

Sewell Chan, the new deputy managing editor at the Los Angeles Times, wrote: “I joined @latimes to find such a model. America is too big, its communities too diverse for @nytimes, @washingtonpost and @WSJ (great as they are) to be the only legacy papers that survive this mass-extinction event.”

BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti recently floated the idea of a merger between BuzzFeed and another publisher, saying in the New York Times that players like Vice Media, Vox, Group Nine and Refinery29 could combine forces and potentially provide a big enough bulwark against Google and Facebook.

On Twitter, David Folkenflik of NPR raised the prospect of micropayments for news, which he said has not worked in places where it’s been tried. Another commenter said news sites should consolidate payment through one vendor to make it easier for consumers.

Also Read: Refinery29 Lays Off 10 Percent of Staff After Missing Revenue Goals

Friends inside Oath and HuffPost tell me it is vastly demoralizing to know that Verizon has written down — or essentially written off — the value of their entire division despite the fact that it still produces hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the parent company.

Vice too is the midst of facing a similar reality. At TheWrap’s Power Women Summit in November, Vice’s new CEO Nancy Dubuc said she wasn’t sure about the media company’s valuation at that point — and Disney recently wrote down the value of its investment in Vice by $157 million.

How important is news? In the current era when news consumption and interest seem higher than ever, finding a way for digital news to survive is more urgent than ever.

Related stories from TheWrap:

James Woods Celebrates BuzzFeed, HuffPost Layoffs: ‘Victories for Real Journalism’

BuzzFeed to Lay Off 15 Percent of Its Staff

Robert Mueller’s Office Disputes BuzzFeed’s Bombshell Report: ‘Not Accurate’

When We Need It Most – Martin Luther King Day

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

At times like these, with division and anger leading the national conversation, we can feel grateful that there is a day to honor someone who represents their polar opposite.

At times like these we may hang on to the words of Martin Luther King like a life raft as we swim, daily, in waters polluted by ALL CAPS tweeting, race-baiting, lies and childish insults from our commander in chief.

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Remember there was a time when words uplifted, not tore us down:

“Violence is not the way,” said King. “Hate is not the way. Bitterness is not the way. We must stand up with love in our hearts, with a lack of bitterness and yet a determination to protest courageously for justice and freedom in this land.”

King preached non-violence, but also freedom and justice and equality. These are the core values of our democracy at any time.

It’s so often hard to remember this.

In the age of Trump many of us — I do, at least — feel ashamed to see words giving comfort to white supremacists. And some of us feel helpless witnessing a brutal federal policy that separates families in our name.

Now in the age of Facebook Live, we have also been made painfully aware of the continued, systemic racism faced by people of color no matter who has been in the Oval Office —  including an African-American president.

Also Read: Hollywood’s Zero-Tolerance on Racism, Sexism Is the New Normal

With that in mind let us recall the observation King made about the arc of history being long but bending toward justice.  Let us recall that he taught us how freedom for all is driven forward — by incremental effort.

“If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving,” he urged us.

Here is something else worth remembering: A Republican president, Ronald Reagan, signed the legislation to create Martin Luther King Day in 1983. This was only the second national holiday created to commemorate and honor an American, after George Washington.

Also Read: ‘Black Panther’ Stars Chadwick Boseman and Michael B Jordan on ‘Broadening People’s Bandwidth’

So as we take comfort in that, just as we may take comfort in the advances our country has seen toward the values King espoused in the diversity of our new House of Representatives, and in the richness of our popular culture from Oprah to “Black Panther” to Beyonce.

Because of him, we have a national hero who is African-American and celebrated everywhere, officially, thanks to his sacrifices and those of his generation who marched and sat in and stood up for human dignity.

More than ever, we need his words and his legacy.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Amen.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Watch Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech (Video)

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Patricia Arquette on Her Golden Globe for Playing an ‘Unlikable, Sexually Unapologetic’ 50-Year-Old

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

You don’t want to mess with Patricia Arquette anymore. For those of us who remember her as the wispy-voiced, quirky girl with the curves in “True Romance” and “Flirting With Disaster” (my personal favorite) a million years ago — that’s just not on the menu.

Most of us know she has become a champion for pay equality for women, and God bless her for that. But her new character on screen is a doughy, unattractive, ethically compromised prison guard on Showtime’s “Escape From Dannemora” who’s a different kind of breakthrough, as she told me last night.

“We got to see a different kind of person that we see in our life, that we see around us, but we really almost never see in Hollywood,” she said, walking out of the Golden Globes ballroom with her statue in hand for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture made for Television. “To be a 50-year-old of a certain body type who’s unapologetically sexual and actually feels OK about sex and being loved — that was really a gift.”

Also Read: Patricia Arquette Apologizes for F-Words That Got Her Bleeped During Golden Globes Acceptance Speech

Arquette plays the unsmiling Tilly, an employee at the Clinton correctional facility in the sleepy upstate New York town of Dannemora who becomes romantically entangled with one of the inmates (Benicio del Toro) to the point that she helps him and another inmate (Paul Dano) escape from the prison.

“It’s so liberating,” Arquette said of the role in the fact-based, seven-episode limited series, which Ben Stiller both directed and executive produced. Here’s my full conversation with Arquette as she took the measure of her win:

What about this character was important to you?

After 28 years in the business, I feel like the mantra that I’ve always heard over and over again — and I don’t know if it’s because I am a woman — I can do a great fighting scene and the feedback is, “That was great, but maybe a little too angry” or I do a great emotional scene and they say, “That’s great, but maybe it’s too painful, can you make her more likable?” Or, “She doesn’t look pretty when she cries.”

I never got that from Ben or the studio. They were like, “We don’t care if these characters are likable. We trust the audience. Let them see all these people with all these nuances. They can decide for themselves.” To be unsaddled from that need to be likable, to be pleasing in any kind of way I feel is more integral.

We got to see a different kind of person that we see in our life, that we see around us, but we really almost never see in Hollywood. To be a 50-year-old of a certain body top who’s unapologetically sexual and actually feels OK about sex and being loved. That was really a gift too. Sometimes people try to pretty it up or dumb it down. It’s so liberating. By Showtime and Ben Stiller. Both of them.

Also Read: ‘Escape at Dannemora’ Subject Joyce Mitchell Calls Ben Stiller a ‘Son-of-a-Bitch Liar’

Was that character what was on the page?

They were like: This is what she looks like. They were all fine with that. This is Tilly and this is fine. The writers thought she was complicated and different. They saw her point of view. They thought she was difficult. And the actors were really supportive.

And of course it’s still very much men in positions of power, other than our DP [director of photography], who was a woman. But in general, these men are super supportive of this really complicated and different voice of a woman.

Also Read: ‘Escape at Dannemora’: Did Richard Matt Really Have a Photo of Hillary Clinton in His Jail Cell?

You aren’t playing the game anymore. 

I’m excited about right now. Hollywood is starting to realize… Unfortunately for them, it’s like, “Wow, it actually pays big dividends to have diversity. Who would have ever known we would make a lot of money?”

But also it makes better movies. We’re kind of just beginning to explore other human beings. We’ve been so trapped in this model and concept for so long that I’m so excited about the new voices of tomorrow.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Patricia Arquette Apologizes for F-Words That Got Her Bleeped During Golden Globes Acceptance Speech

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‘Escape at Dannemora’: Eric Lange on Why Lyle Mitchell Is the ‘Human Cost’ of the Story

‘Escape at Dannemora’: Did Richard Matt Really Have a Photo of Hillary Clinton in His Jail Cell?

A Commitment Fulfilled: TheWrap Achieves Gender Equity Among Its Film Critics

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

In November at our inaugural Power Women Summit, TheWrap committed to bringing gender balance to our team of film critics.

At the time, I said that we wanted to make sure we walked the walk and set an example by our own actions. We all know that having different a diverse set of views among writers creates a smarter, richer context for the discussion around our popular culture. (More info on that event here.)

For that reason I’m pleased to announce that we have achieved that commitment, and that TheWrap now has an equal number of women as men critics.

Also Read: TheWrap Wins Best Entertainment Website and More First-Place Wins at National Entertainment Journalism Awards 2018

Sharon Waxman committing to gender equity at the Power Women Summit 2018 / Photo by Randy Shropshire

We have added to our esteemed group of writers Yolanda Machado, Candice Frederick and Monica Castillo, who join a wonderful group of independent-minded thinkers reviewing films for the site.

TheWrap’s reviews editor Alonso Duralde enthusiastically took on this commitment and it is thanks to his leadership that we can be proud to have a greater mix of perspectives on the films and shows we review.

Here is a list of our pool of critics, and our thanks go out to each of them for their strong work, which you can read here:

Robert Abele

Carlos Aguilar

William Bibbiani

Dan Callahan

Monica Castillo

Candice Frederick

Todd Gilchrist

Courtney Howard

Yolanda Machado

Tricia Olszewski

Elizabeth Weitzman

Dave White

April Wolfe

Also Read: TheWrap’s Top 100 Portraits of 2018, From Gal Gadot to Spike Lee (Photos)

In her recent review of “Bird Box” starring Sandra Bullock, Yolanda Machado wrote:

“For generations, the picture of motherhood has been that of a woman who connects with her child immediately, who is openly loving and soft. Motherhood today is not as simple. There are real dangers that our children face daily, simply by walking outside. There’s no new handbook to teach us how to prep our kids in case their school is taken over by a shooter, nor is there a guide on how to lead our children when we ourselves are uncertain of what the future holds. We’re all fumbling into this new parenthood blindly, hoping that we’re raising smart and strong kids while also allowing them to experience the joys of childhood, and it’s that innate understanding of parenthood that makes Bullock’s performance feel real. It’s equally fascinating and terrifying to watch.”

In her review of “Destroyer,” by director Karyn Kusama, April Wolfe wrote: 

“But despite the film’s needlessly fractured structure and a relentlessly grim story, Kidman and Kusama seem to be speaking the same language, in quieter moments illuminating not just the faults of the protagonist but also the faults of every tragic hard-boiled detective in cinematic history.”

And in her review of “Vice,” Candice Frederick recently wrote:

“If there’s one thing writer-director Adam McKay’s “Vice” does well, it’s highlight how white mediocrity has thrived in American politics and pop culture. But McKay also does this by way of making a mediocre movie about mediocre politician Dick Cheney played by a surprisingly mediocre Christian Bale. At some point, and at some level, you wish the white mediocrity could be reined in, but it never is.”

Also Read: 11 Best Movies of 2018, From ‘Paddington 2’ to ‘Eighth Grade’ (Photos)

The voices and views of TheWrap’s critics matter a great deal as we are among a handful of publications that see films at their very earliest screenings, and are the first reviews to be published.

As a company, we are already at gender equity as a whole, not such a surprise given that it was founded by a woman. But still, we love having all the smart men on our staff – along with the talented women.

We invite our colleagues in the industry — Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and others — to make gender equity a priority among their critics as well, and together we will have a chorus of diversity among those who set the tone for our discussion of film.

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Batten Down the Hatches for 2019 – A Media Storm Is Coming

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

There’s no one I know in media who isn’t scared of what the next 12 months will bring.

Here’s the general picture:

• Consolidation continues to chew up jobs and companies in the entertainment arena.

• We continue to navigate a world in which media and entertainment are both in flux, even as we see overall trends like the rise of streaming, the decline of cable, the explosion of television content, the squeezing of theatrical movies and the still-unstable business model around short-form video.

• Digital media hasn’t found a business model that guarantees stability or financial success: “Scale” doesn’t seem to work, “pivot to video” doesn’t work and God knows building your business plan around Facebook or Snap is a fool’s errand.

Also Read: 11 Media Winners of 2018, From Hope Hicks to Rachel Maddow (Photos)

Which means that a couple of decades into the digital revolution we find ourselves in a world where a couple of big winners dominate in each sector: Google and Facebook in media (by which I mean advertising), Netflix and Disney in entertainment, Amazon and Apple in tech.

The more time goes by, the more that dominance seems to be institutionalized — though the fate of Facebook strikes me as unclear.

In 2018, Netflix nabbed former ABC entertainment chief Channing Dungey

Meanwhile the broader context around all this is an uncertain economy with a stock market on a downward slide under the leadership of a possibly criminal president who is only likely to get more unstable as multiple investigations box him in.

This is why most people I know in media are in super-cautious mode.

“A lot of bad businesses will go away” in 2019, Rob Goldberg, the CEO of digital video producer Fresno, told me last week. “A lot of investors will lose money, and already have.”

Also Read: Fresno’s Rob Goldberg on 2019: ‘A Lot of Bad Businesses Will Go Away’

Other CEOs I’ve spoken to recently are focused on reinforcing their core businesses and hoping for not too much change. “It’s going to get rougher out there,” said one CEO, noting that raising capital is going to get harder in this climate.

Executives are honing their résumés as much of 21st Century Fox merges with Disney and AT&T makes its moves around the divisions of Warner Media.

Also contributing to the cautious mood is the broader cultural resonance of #MeToo. We’ve seen dozens of high-level male executives and creative talent publicly named, shamed and drummed out of the entertainment business. Harvey Weinstein, sure, but so many others — from Kevin Spacey to Matt Lauer to Louis C.K. to Charlie Rose.

Indeed, most of us thought that the wave of #MeToo accusations had passed when the New Yorker investigation into Les Moonves dropped last summer and led to what a year earlier would have been an unthinkable exit.

Also Read: Women of #MeToo Gather for Much-Needed Moment of Healing

You can be sure that many others are still cringing at their desks, hoping the fateful finger of “the reckoning” does not wander their way.

On the bright side: It’s been a good year for diversity. For starters, we’ve never seen a year like this for African-American filmmakers — not just the success of a blockbuster movie like “Black Panther,” but a veritable parade of critical and commercial wins (think “Creed II,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “The Hate U Give”). Female filmmakers are feeling the love as they start to score more significant directing and producing projects. And a big shout-out to the new Hawaiian-born superhero, “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa.

Similarly, we’ve seen huge checks being written to grab key diverse talent — $100 million for Ava DuVernay to work at Warner Bros. TV, and similar deals for Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris to take their ideas to Netflix.

Also Read: ‘Black-ish’ Creator Kenya Barris: I Left Disney for Netflix Over Shelved Anti-Trump Episode

While those are exciting moments for those individual talents, the question is whether those huge checks amount to an overall boon for the creative side of the entertainment industry. So many young screenwriters and directors have confided to me that they are worried that their project will get lost if they give it to Netflix. And more established writers worry that the residual-free universe of streaming means they will have to work longer and harder to earn less.

The big picture is undeniable: Fewer, bigger winners and fewer, bigger players across the entertainment landscape. Every year that passes suggests that this is increasingly the case. We have yet to see Amazon make a convincing play for dominance in the content space, and ditto for Apple and Facebook. All of those companies could decide to invest much more heavily in quality story-telling, though Ava and Kenya and Shonda (and Ryan Murphy) are already spoken for. So far it’s a Netflix game.

I feel for the hundreds of hard-working executives who are being displaced by consolidation as there is no guarantee that they will find a soft landing. I feel for the entrepreneurs who have poured their hearts into inventing new ways to understand consumers and build relevant content — only to find that Facebook has eaten their business.

Simple concepts like “make good movies” (or shows, or series) don’t bring great comfort in this  context.

So if you haven’t prepared for a coming storm — then you should start battening down the hatches.

Related stories from TheWrap:

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Fresno’s Rob Goldberg on 2019: ‘A Lot of Bad Businesses Will Go Away’

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Facebook’s Faceplant Year: Is This the Beginning of the End for Social Media Giant?

Why Channing Dungey’s Leap to Netflix Is Making TV Folks ‘Queasy’

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Related stories from TheWrap:Former ABC Entertainment Chief Channing Dungey to Join Netflix’s Original Content TeamABC’s Channing Dungey Says Kenya Barris Was ‘Frustrated’ by Limitations of Broadcast TVNetflix Originals Thrive as Disney’s Content Leave…

CBS and a Pattern of Toxic Masculinity: Protecting the Predators, Not the Victims

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

The bodies and the settlements at CBS keep piling up. There were two on Thursday alone.

Actress Eliza Dushku was secretly paid $9.5 million to settle her contract after she complained about sexual harassment from the star of “Bull,” Michael Weatherly, we learned in The New York Times.

This followed a revelation earlier in the day from Cybill Shepherd, the smart and sassy blonde on ’90s network television, that her show was canceled shortly after she rebuffed a sexual advance by CBS chief Les Moonves.

Also Read: CBS Paid Eliza Dushku $9.5 Million to Settle Sexual Harassment Claim Against ‘Bull’ Star Michael Weatherly

According to the Times, Weatherly made comments about Dushku’s appearance in front of the crew. She said he made a rape joke and a comment about a threesome.

What happened when she complained? Did a human resources professional consult with her and make Weatherly take sensitivity training?

Ha-ha, kidding.

No, Dushku was written off the show after she confronted Weatherly. She got a check and Weatherly is still on the air. Weatherly apologized in the Times after having reflected on his behavior as “both not funny and not appropriate.”

In Shepherd’s case, she said Moonves invited her to dinner when she was the star of “Cybill.”  “His assistant and my assistant made a dinner date and we went to it and he was telling me his wife didn’t turn him on and some mistress didn’t turn him on,” Shepherd said. She turned Moonves down, left the dinner and “quite shortly afterwards” her show was canceled.

Also Read: Cybill Shepherd: My CBS Show Would’ve ‘Run Another 5 Years’ If I Hadn’t Shot Down Les Moonves’ Advances

The pattern of behavior is undeniable at this point. Men who should have been called out for bad behavior instead protected one another. Women who dared raise their voices were punished and paid off, their careers set off course, shamed into silence.

The evidence of a toxic male culture at CBS is overwhelming, led by a chairman who had a staffer “on call” for oral sex.

Let’s take a brief look at some of what we have learned about what was tolerated and hidden at CBS:

  • “60 Minutes” producer Jeff Fager was fired in September following a New Yorker report in which he was accused of groping a former intern at a party and turning a blind eye toward sexual misconduct by his employees.
  • CBS paid $5 million to settle a lawsuit against the revered Don Hewitt, who created “60 Minutes” and was accused of sexual assault decades ago.
  • Mark Harmon, executive producer and star of “NCIS,” was accused of intimidating Pauley Perrette after his pit bull attacked a crew member and Perrette objected to the dog returning to the set. Perrette left the show in May this year and declined to give a reason.

Then there’s:

  • Charlie Sheen and his prostitutes.
  • Charlie Rose and his interns.
  • An executive producer at “CBS This Morning” exiting this week in part because he too turned a blind eye to complaints about sexual harassment.

And then there’s Moonves himself, accused of sabotaging the career of Ileana Douglas, accused of sexual misconduct by a dozen women, accused of demanding oral sex from at least four employees and having an employee “on call” for blow jobs, according to the internal draft report of a law firm’s investigation into network culture prepared for the network’s board of directors.

Also Read: Les Moonves to Exit as CBS CEO Amid New Sexual Misconduct Accusations

The draft has notably not been denied by CBS, which seems most concerned about all the leaks to the media.

Moonves, whom I had truly admired until very recently, built the success of the network on his unabashed male appeal. He created shows that had machismo and viscerally seemed to get the desires of middle American men. This showmanship drove the network to No. 1 status, always skewing male.

Moonves’ signature shows included “Two and a Half Men,” Jerry Bruckheimer’s “CSI” and the Harmon-led “NCIS” franchise. His hit CBS shows were the brawny “SEAL Team” and “SWAT” and “Magnum PI” and “FBI” and “Hawaii 5-0.”

And a legal procedural called, um, “Bull.”

If you wanted light entertainment, female stars and gay people  — say, “Will and Grace” — you had to go to NBC. “Ellen”? That was on ABC.

If toxic masculinity lay behind all this, I shudder to think of how that seeped into our broader American culture.

Also Read: ‘CBS This Morning’ EP Ryan Kadro to Step Down After Charlie Rose Sexual Misconduct Settlement

But how far will CBS go to change an environment that is clearly many levels of rotten? How many good shows with interesting female characters never saw the light of day because everybody knew how things went in the network’s executive offices? How many more board members were like the late Arnold Kopelson, whom the Times reported once said in a meeting:  “I don’t care if 30 more women come forward and allege this kind of stuff… Les is our leader and it wouldn’t change my opinion of him.”

CBS’ vice chairman is a woman, Shari Redstone. And I feel badly for the many good people at CBS who have nothing to do with this but are caught up in a culture that simply must change.

“The allegations in Ms. Dushku’s claims are an example that, while we remain committed to a culture defined by a safe, inclusive and respectful workplace, our work is far from done,” the network told TheWrap in statement. “The settlement of these claims reflects the projected amount that Ms. Dushku would have received for the balance of her contract as a series regular, and was determined in a mutually agreed upon mediation process at the time.”

I’m gratified to see CBS take note, but it remains to be seen if Redstone, her new board of directors and the traumatized leadership at the top will achieve the hard work of cultural change.

Related stories from TheWrap:

CBS Paid Eliza Dushku $9.5 Million to Settle Sexual Harassment Claim Against ‘Bull’ Star Michael Weatherly

Cybill Shepherd: My CBS Show Would’ve ‘Run Another 5 Years’ If I Hadn’t Shot Down Les Moonves’ Advances

‘CBS This Morning’ EP Ryan Kadro to Step Down After Charlie Rose Sexual Misconduct Settlement

TheWrap Wins Best Entertainment Website and More First-Place Wins at National Entertainment Journalism Awards 2018

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TheWrap won Best Entertainment Website at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, and also won top honors in commentary, blog and hard news categories.

TheWrap, led by Sharon Waxman, Tim Molloy and Thom Geier, won in the best entertainment website category, beating out fellow nominees Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Tonight and California Rocker.

“I am incredibly gratified to see the hard work of our newsroom recognized by the L.A. Press Club,” said Waxman. “We believe that professional journalism matters immensely in the entertainment community and we will continue to pursue smart, relevant business and cultural reporting on behalf of our readers.”

Also Read: TheWrap Lands 15 Nominations for LA Press Club’s Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards

TheWrap took several first-place honors at the awards including:

TheWrap was nominated in 15 categories at the prestigious and coveted awards, including several photo and visual categories, for its award season magazines and for theatrical criticism.

The 11th annual National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards gala was held Sunday night at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.

TheWrap also won best website in 2018 for a news organization exclusive to the internet at the L.A. Press Club’s SoCal Journalism Awards.

The Wrap News Inc. is the leading digital-first news organization covering the business of entertainment and media via digital, print and live events. Founded by award-winning journalist Sharon Waxman in 2009, The Wrap News Inc. is comprised of the award-winning, industry-leading website with its high-profile news breaks, investigative stories and authoritative analysis; it also includes premium, glossy magazines with stunning original photography and editorial, distributed to entertainment industry professionals; Wrap Events, a series of high profile gatherings of thought leaders including the Power Womenbreakfast series and Summit, Oscar season screening series and TheGrill, an executive leadership conference centered on the convergence of entertainment, media and technology. The Wrap News, Inc. is backed by Maveron, a venture capital firm based in Seattle, Washington, and co-founded by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Dan Levitan.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Harvey Weinstein’s Media Enablers’? The New York Times Is One of Them

Hollywood’s New Demand for Diversity Drains Disney’s Executive Ranks

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In the last four months, The Walt Disney Company has seen the exits of four prominent African-American executives, signs of rising competition in Hollywood for diverse talent in an industry long criticized as too white.

Channing Dungey, the president of ABC Entertainment, told Disney this month she would not renew her contract in 2019. Tendo Nagenda, executive vice president of production at Walt Disney Studios, left in August to be head of production at Netflix. Nne Ebong, ABC’s head of drama, also left in August without a place to land, and the network’s head of comedy, Jamila Hunter, left in October to join Kenya Barris’ Khalabo Ink Society production company.

Any one of these exits of executive talent would be noticed at a global entertainment company that has made diversity a priority in its programming and in grooming new leadership. But combined with the high-profile losses of “Black-ish” creator Barris and “Scandal” hitmaker Shonda Rhimes in 2018 — both of whom left for lucrative production deals at Netflix — the feeling is even more acute. As one concerned insider pointed out, Disney now finds itself with very nearly no executives of color in its top ranks.

Also Read: Inside Disney’s Campaign to Keep Channing Dungey as ABC’s Head of Entertainment and Why It Failed

Said the insider, who has knowledge of the exits: “There is a war for talent, and in this case it has decimated the ranks of diverse executives at Disney.”

Channing Dungey

In a statement, Disney chose not to address the exits themselves, but stressed its efforts to recruit inclusive talent.

“We are proud of our efforts to recruit, develop and promote a diverse group of executives, and it’s no surprise that our executives are constantly sought after by other companies looking to lure them away,” a Disney spokesperson told TheWrap. “Inclusion is a critical part of telling the best stories and being relevant, which is why we continually seek to build teams that reflect the life experiences of the audiences we serve.”

TheWrap spoke to multiple executives and industry experts about the exits, and none chose to go on the record. Those who spoke on background said that the executives did not leave because of problems at Disney, but rather because of the intense competition for talent now that diversity has become a priority for many in the industry.

Also Read: ‘Black-ish’ Creator Kenya Barris: I Left Disney for Netflix Over Shelved Anti-Trump Episode

As TheWrap previously reported, Dungey had been up for a promotion before Disney’s acquisition of Fox. That massive deal led to that opportunity going away for her. Despite a campaign to convince Dungey to stay and grow under a new regime, “she wants to be a free agent, she wants to test the market,” said one of the insiders interviewed by TheWrap.

More than one expert noted that Netflix seems to have targeted Disney’s executive pool as it has aggressively ramped up its own production goals.

Reached by TheWrap, Netflix declined to address the question. But an individual close to the company said Netflix is “always looking for the best talent to reach its diverse member base.”

In November of last year, Netflix hired Disney/ABC’s head of business affairs Tony Brackett to be the company’s director of business and legal affairs for kids and family programming. Brackett brought former Disney colleagues with him. Said the  knowledgeable insider: “He took out all the people of color in the legal department.”

For Disney, the losses are keenly felt given the emphasis the company has placed on diversity, according to multiple insiders. Disney has been particularly proud of the inclusive hits on its ABC network, including “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat.” The global blockbuster success of “Black Panther,” the story of an African superhero, is another point of pride at the company.

The exits pose a challenge for a new regime that is arriving with Disney’s acquisition of Fox, Disney TV chairman and co-chair of Disney media networks Peter Rice and Disney TV studios and ABC Entertainment chairman Dana Walden. The insider said diversity “has not been dismantled on the air, but it has been dismantled in the executive ranks.”

Tendo Nagenda, who exited Disney to help lead production at Netflix

Also Read: WarnerMedia Makes Company-Wide Pledge to Improve Diversity On and Off Camera

On the movie side, Nagenda’s hire was a major coup for Netflix and a commensurate loss for Disney, where the executive had been a rising star in his eight years at Walt Disney Pictures. Nagenda had worked on movies including “Queen of Katwe” and Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” At the time of his exit he had also been working on tentpoles including upcoming live-action versions of “Dumbo” and “Mulan.”

Like Dungey, Nagenda was a personal mentee of Disney CEO Bob Iger in the company’s prestigious executive mentoring program, giving both of their departures a more personal sting. Nagenda and Dungey individually declined to comment to TheWrap. TheWrap was unable to reach Ebong and Hunter ahead of publication.

Hollywood has been widely criticized for the overwhelming dominance of white people — especially men — in its leadership ranks. The criticism led to the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign two years ago that referenced a lack of diversity at the Academy Awards.

Since then, the motion picture academy has made a concerted effort to increase the percentage of women and people of color among its members. And the entertainment industry as a whole has publicly placed more emphasis on fostering diversity.

But according to UCLA’s 2018 Diversity in Hollywood report, the entertainment industry has been slow to “accept … that its success in providing today’s (and tomorrow’s) audiences with what they crave also hinges on the presence of diverse talent behind the camera — in the director’s chair, in the writer’s room and in executive suites.” The report was authored by professors Darnell Hunt, Ana-Christina Ramón, Michael Tran, Amberia Sargent and Debanjan Roychoudhury.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Inside Disney’s Campaign to Keep Channing Dungey as ABC’s Head of Entertainment and Why It Failed

How Will Disney Manage Hulu and Launch a Competing Streaming Service at the Same Time?

Is Disney+ a Netflix Killer?

Facebook’s Betrayal of Trust: The Fallout Begins

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So let me get this straight.

The wide-eyed billionaires who run Facebook previously claimed they were simply unaware of how their platform was being used by bad people to sway the U.S. presidential election, foment hate and division and contribute to ethnic cleansing abroad.

That’s what they said. But as it turns out, they were delaying. They were denying. They were — what’s the word for it? Oh yes: dishonest.

Also Read: Mark Zuckerberg ‘Didn’t Know’ Facebook Worked With Opposition Research Firm

And they were watching their stock price — no doubt, very very carefully.

The New York Times’ five-byline, 4,000-word investigation, published on Wednesday, brings hard facts and reporting to the charade we’ve been watching for years.

“As evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled,” the investigation concludes, referring to founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg.

“Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view,” the Times wrote. “At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.”

Also Read: Facebook Drops Conservative Consulting Firm That Targeted Critics and Competitors

I’ve been ringing the bell about Facebook for some time, after watching in horrified silence as the platform — which once promised to create a business model to promote and support the creators of news content — turned out to be dishonest about that, too. No financial support was ever forthcoming for those who reported the news and partnered with Facebook to share it. It turned out to be the other way around — publishers have to pay Facebook to access their own subscribers — surprise!

Too bad for newsrooms being decimated quarter by quarter.

Also Read: The Confused Ethics of Mark Zuckerberg – Let’s Definitely Not Judge Those Holocaust Deniers

All this rotten fruit falls from the same poisoned tree.

I always thought — and have written — that manchild-CEO Mark Zuckerberg was tone deaf about the serious responsibilities that come with creating and maintaining a platform used as a tool of mass communication among hundreds of millions of people. This summer I pointed out that his lack of a humanities education as a Harvard drop-out was a real problem. In his heart, it seems, he does not accept that his platform gives him massive responsibility. The lip service he has paid publicly was not convincing before Congress, or in interviews like the one this summer with Kara Swisher in which he defended Holocaust deniers’ right to share their lies on Facebook.

So why should we trust this latest remark? “To suggest that we weren’t interested in knowing the truth, or that we were trying to hide what we knew, or that we tried to prevent investigations is simply untrue,” he stated today on a press call about Facebook’s latest content standards.

It is also disappointing to learn that Sandberg — beloved for her empathic air, her intellectual polish, her advocacy of women’s leadership — bought into this system.

Also Read: Mark Zuckerberg Is Russia, Trump and Cambridge Analytica’s Useful Idiot

According to the investigation, instead of digging into the alarming revelations of Russian meddling and fake news on the platform in 2016, she chewed out Facebook’s head of security Alex Stamos for embarrassing her in front of the board.

I am particularly offended that we learned in the article that Facebook  — shame! — lobbied “a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic,” and hired hired conservative opposition research experts to launch a counter-information campaign. Definers, the conservative group that reportedly wrote stories slamming Facebook critics, encouraged journalists to look into George Soros’s funding of those groups.

Facebook responded in a blog post: “Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the funding of ‘Freedom from Facebook,’ an anti-Facebook organization. The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company. To suggest that this was an anti-Semitic attack is reprehensible and untrue.”

But overall, it turns out that Facebook was more worried about appearances and stock price than fixing how the platform was being misused to undermine democracy. It seemed more worried about appearing pro-Democrat than about whether Russia had burrowed its way into our country: “If Facebook implicated Russia further, [advisor Joel] Kaplan said, Republicans would accuse the company of siding with Democrats.”

I called a Facebook spokesman who said he was offended that I said his company’s behavior and statements suggest a betrayal of public trust.

“You’re conflating things in an unhealthy and unproductive way,” Tom Reynolds, of the company’s policy and communications team, told me. “These are important issues. It’s important to be precise.”

“During the spring and summer of 2016, we found Russian hacking activity, we alerted the government, and campaign committees,” he said. “When we learned things, we tried to disclose it as much as possible. Where we can, we share as much information as we can.”

He pointed to tweets by Facebook security chief Alex Stamos spreading the blame for 2016 around to news outlets who reported on the hacked emails.

I asked: Do you think Facebook has a trust problem?

“That’s for other people to decide on,” he said. “We are working around the clock to do a better job when it comes to content moderation, reducing hate speech, reducing bullying . Reduce the bad, amplify the good.”

An admirable goal, to be sure.

TheWrap’s Inaugural ‘Power Women Summit’ Broadcasts Exclusively on SiriusXM

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 SiriusXM announced that it will exclusively broadcast TheWrap’s first-ever Power Women Summit, which aims to raise awareness and have frank conversations about gender equity in entertainment and media. The week-long special series will premiere on November 12 at 12:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET on Stars channel 109.

The “Power Women Summit on Stars” kicked off on Monday with highlights from the summit, including “Activism and Empowering the Next Generation” with Dolores Huerta, Katie Hill, and Zoe Saldana; “On the Basis of Sex,” with Felicity Jones; and “Leading by Example: A Conversation,” with Jill Soloway and Rebecca Sugar. The trailblazing lineup of speakers that will be featured throughout the week also includes actress and activist Alyssa Milano, former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, attorney Anita Hill, actresses Mira Sorvino and Olivia Wilde, #MeToo Movement Founder Tarana Burke, and more.

Also Read: Hollywood Women Make History at First Power Women Summit: Takeaways and Next Moves

“The Wrap put together a remarkable lineup of women, and we are excited to share their powerful, thought-provoking conversations with the national SiriusXM audience,” said Megan Liberman, Senior Vice President of News, Talk, and Entertainment at SiriusXM.

“Right now is a crucial time to discuss equality and women’s rights,” said Sharon Waxman, CEO and Editor in Chief, The Wrap. “There was an air of excitement and momentum at our inaugural Power Women Summit, and I’m grateful to SiriusXM for helping further the message to a national audience.”

The Wrap’s 2018 Power Women Summit took place in Los Angeles on November 1 and 2 before a gathering of more than 1,500 women from across the media and entertainment industry. More information can be found at http://wrapwomen.thewrap.com.

Also Read: ‘Blazing the Trail’: What Four Women Learned From Being the First Women in Their Fields (Video)

SiriusXM offers people without a subscription the chance to sample SiriusXM’s content on the SiriusXM app and the streaming web player at SiriusXM.com, seamlessly and without any registration requirements. Go to https://siriusxm.us/2AVma2a to tune in.

SiriusXM subscribers can hear highlights from the 2018 Power Women Summit beginning on Stars channel 109, and those with streaming access can listen online, on-the-go with the SiriusXM mobile app and at home on a wide variety of connected devices including smart TVs, Amazon Alexa devices, Apple TV, PlayStation, Roku, Sonos speakers and more. Go to www.SiriusXM.com/AtHome to learn more.