You might recognize Zac Delventhal’s name from Parhelion; he was the genius who choreographed our stage fights. Genius is not used lightly – he managed to have a bench thrown safely in a very small space. You might recognize his face; he’s been on stages all over the Twin Cities from Six Elements to the Flower Shop Project. He’s a regular renaissance man: writer, actor, fight choreographer, lobbyist. He’s teamed up with his wife, Laura (who has directed at TEASE since 2012) to create a new youtube channel, Cinescrubs.
These two are wonderful supporters of new work all over town and lend their time and talent to the stage. Now, they’ve turned their gaze toward film in an effort to help promote diversity. Youtube is more than a place for cat videos – it is a wonderful platform to for important dialogue like those the Delventhals are starting with Cinescrubs.
Can you give the Cinescrubs elevator speech for us?
CineScrubs is a data-driven time machine examining the history of cinema and comparing it to today. Both Laura and I have noticed how almost every story in every medium stars a white guy, with white guy supporting roles, and white guy villains. Women and people of color are typically marginalized as token characters with little control over their own destiny: the princess to be rescued, the encouraging mother, the tragic victim who motivates the (white male) hero to do great things. There are exceptions of course, but they are vanishingly rare.
We started to wonder, has it always been like this? Have stories always been so homogenous? The common refrain from Hollywood is that only movies about white guys make money, but thinking back to classic films like the Wizard of Oz, there were a ton of female characters that drove the plot forward and it was a huge success. So was there a time when things were less refined, when a movie about women, or people of color, could get made without fear of losing profits? This is a question we are very interested in answering, but I quickly discovered there is no data on the subject. Studies about diversity in film don’t go further back than the last decade or so. So CineScrubs tries to find that data, and in doing so maybe answer some questions about how we tell stories in general.
You and Laura addressed that you noticed the “samey white dudes” syndrome over time – was there a specific incident/moment that made you think “we should study this?”
Well, it’s something that’s pretty obvious just looking at what’s playing at the box office, but the big realization came after watching Oz The Great and Powerful. We talk about this in the first episode of CineScrubs a bit, but that movie just floored me. It’s the prequel to a film full of powerful women, but the plot centers around how these three witches are completely helpless since their dad died and need a man to come and set things right. Not only that, Oz is a promiscuous cad who sleeps with everyone, something represented as endearing, but the women who sleep with him are shown as dirty, undesirable, tainted, and idiots for believing his lies. The Witch of the West is literally turned permanently evil and ugly because she was a slut. I walked away of that movie amazed and disgusted. Not only did they go with yet another white male hero, they built their entire plot around some of the worst sexist elements of our culture. Laura and I talked a lot about that movie, and it was during those conversations that we started asking, “Was it always this bad?”
What do you hope watchers of Cinescrubs will walk away with? What kind of conversations do you think are going to happen going forward?
Well first, I hope viewers are entertained, we are trying to create a show here. But after that, what I really want folks to walk away with is good data. I find it very hard to talk about issues without having the numbers, so hopefully I can provide that for other people’s discussions. Obviously I have a bit of a pro-diversity axe to grind myself, and I’m not trying to hide that, but as much as possible I want to step back and let people draw their own conclusions.
How do you envision the google doc being used?
Well, there are a few layers to it. I imagine most people will just take a peek at the breakdown, look at some graphs, and get a gist of where the data is falling. We’ll cover a lot of that information in the episodes as well, so if that’s as far as most viewers go, that’s great. It’s really important to us to make the raw data available too though. We want to compile something robust and complete enough that folks smarter than us can use it to draw interesting conclusions we would never have thought of.
Is there a movie/decade you’re looking forward to reviewing and why?
I’m not going to lie, a big part of this is just having an excuse to watch a lot of old movies. So far I’ve already seen most of the films we’ve watched, but I’m looking forward to getting back to the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, which is a period I basically know nothing about. I’m very curious to find out what it’s like.
Since you both come from a theatre background why did you choose movies versus plays/stage work?
Ultimately we hope to reveal something about how we tell stories and our culture in general. Since I’m not sure on a good way to systematically look at all stories, Hollywood seemed like a decent canary in the coal mine. It’s been the most popular form of storytelling for almost a century, so I think it can reveal a lot about our tastes in general. Plus it’s something most people can readily identify with, unlike theatre which has become pretty esoteric for the population at large.
Who would you say does a great job at integrating diversity in casting/storytelling around town? (local filmmakers, theatres, arts organization, etc)
Well, I definitely want to shout out groups like Theatre Unbound, Mixed Blood, Penumbra, Mu. Not only is diversity a part of their mission statement, but they are out there doing good work, proving you don’t need a white guy in the lead to be successful. In a way though, these groups really illustrate the larger problem too. You shouldn’t need to have a specific focus on diversity to have a non-white non-male show every so often. I’m not saying every show or anything, I still want to get cast sometimes, but you look around at most theatre in the Twin Cities (and elsewhere) and as much as they’ll pay lip service to diversity, time and time again casts get filled with white men.
What is your favorite movie? Is it on your list of movies to include?
Such a tough question. I love movies, and it is very hard to pick favorites. American Beauty and Big Fish are both films that I love which have had a huge impact on me artistically. Pacific Rim had me on the edge of my seat the whole time, an absolutely spectacular action flick. Gone Girl floored me and may be the best film I’ve seen in years. I don’t think any of those were top grossing films, so we won’t be analyzing them anytime soon, but it’s possible we’ll look at Best Picture winners later, so that would put American Beauty in there. So far though we’ve gotten to watch Toy Story, Back to the Future and Jaws, which are all pretty great, so our initial sample is not without gems.
What have you seen in the past year that’s inspired you? (seen on stage, screen, read etc)
Gone Girl, which I mentioned, was just fantastically written, directed, and acted, top to bottom. Some of the twists it took . . . like I said, I was floored. Similarly, I absolutely love the dialogue from the TV show The Blacklist. I’ve been working on my own writing a lot lately, and both have really inspired me to do better. I still write very on-the-nose, without a lot of subtext, but characters in The Blacklist can have an entire conversations where both of them are lying to each other, and they both know it, but they both have to keep up the charade anyway . . . I love it every time.
What is the question I didn’t ask you but should have?
I guess you could have asked why diversity in storytelling is important to me.
What is the answer to that question?
Well, since you asked, I obviously have an interest in basic fairness, like most people, but I think in the end it comes down to entirely selfish reasons. I want better, less paint-by-numbers films and I also want to be able to share the stories I love with my wife and with the daughters I may have someday. There are some video games, for example, that have had a huge influence on me and I can’t wait to share them with my children, but what if I have a daughter and she can’t get into them because there is no characters she can identify with? Maybe that is a little forward thinking, but it’s honestly something I worry about.
If you were stuck in a lifeboat, what would you need to have with you? (you’ve got food and water)
A pad and pen. I’m very easily distracted, but I’m always trying to get more ideas on the page. Being stranded in a lifeboat might be a great opportunity to get some work done.
You can follow the Cinescrubs channel on YouTube to hear more from Zac and Laura.