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Brie Larson And Marvel Didn’t Want Captain Marvel To Wear The Bathing Suit Costume

Comic book fans can be mighty particular about costumes being comic-accurate. Captain Marvel will be showcasing some familiar looks for Brie Larson’s character, Carol Danvers, just not the one-piece from Ms. Marvel’s early years. Here’s Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige with more on that:

That’s not quite the direction they’re taking the MCU’s Captain Marvel movie. That comic book version of Carol Danvers looks more like a WWE wrestler. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not the direction this movie is taking.

Carol Danvers was first introduced in the comics in 1968 as a colleague of the Kree superhero Mar-Vell. In the 1970s, she became the first character to take up the mantle of Ms. Marvel.

Just the use of “Ms.” made Carol Danvers stand out as a symbol of feminism at the time, rather than using Mrs. or Miss.

Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel movie is taking inspiration from the comics written by Kelly Sue DeConnick in 2012, with artwork by Dexter Soy. In that series, DeConnick’s idea for Captain Marvel was basically “Carol Danvers as Chuck Yeager,” referencing the iconic test pilot.

Brie Larson took her Captain Marvel training very seriously, and she built up some muscles under her superhero costume. But, thankfully, she didn’t have to show off those muscles in a one-piece. Her status as an Air Force pilot has definitely been featured in the trailers, and the movie even renamed her comic book cat “Goose” in honor of Top Gun. (The cat’s name is Chewie in the comics, as a nod to Star Wars‘ Chewbacca. No idea why they couldn’t have just kept that the case on screen.)

Captain Marvel will apparently be showcasing multiple looks for Carol Danvers, and also giving us the backstory of Nick Fury’s later one-eyed look. The ’90s-set film will introduce the heroine before bringing her into the Avengers fold for Endgame.

Bohemian Rhapsody’s Rami Malek Says Playing Freddie Mercury Was The Hardest Job Of His Life

The film world is currently in the midst of Awards Season, with critical favorites from the last calendar year earning nominations and wins at a variety of ceremonies. With the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and BAFTAs now in the rear view, the time has come to look toward the holy grail: The Academy Awards. Plenty of filmmakers and actors are looking to snag a trophy in a few weeks, with certain performances being the clear frontrunners.

One of these frontrunners is Rami Malek’s role as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in the hit biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Malek brought the physicality, teeth, and voice of Mercury to the silver screen, in a performance supported by Queen’s band members. The Mr. Robot actor might have made the performance look effortless, but he recently revealed it was the hardest job in his career, saying:

Rami Malek had big shoes to fill in Bohemian Rhapsody, as the 37 year-old actor had to immerse himself in the role and truly become Freddie Mercury. And considering that Queen has generations of fans, the pressure was on to deliver a performance that wouldn’t spark outrage among that mass of moviegoers.

Luckily for him, Rami Malek’s performance has been universally acclaimed. While Bohemian Rhapsody suffered from lackluster reviews, Malek’s characterization still got nods from even the harshest critics. And in the end, audiences didn’t find as many issues with Bryan Singer’s biopic. Bohemian Rhapsody has since made a ton of money, helping to make Rami Malek a household name for more casual film fans who haven’t caught him in USA’s Mr. Robot.

In his same conversation with Express.Co, Rami Malek also expressed the flip side to his massively difficult role. Aside from garnering a ton of trophies and nominations for playing Freddie Mercury, Malek is happy that Bohemian Rhapsody is introducing Queen’s catalogue to a new generation of fans. As he tells it,

Rami Malek might have had a difficult time playing Freddie Mercury and dealing with the pressure of leading Bohemian Rhapsody, but it seems his efforts are paying off. Queen’s music is once again at the top of the charts, while Malek is the frontrunner to pick up a Best Actor Oscar in a few weeks. We’ll just have to see how it all turns out.

Bohemian Rhapsody is available for home purchase now, and you can see how Rami Malek fare at the Oscars February 24th on ABC. In the meantime, check out our 2019 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.

This Iconic Hollywood Restaurant Lets You Travel Back in Time

Then

LONG BEFORE Hollywood Boulevard had its Walk of Fame, it had the Musso & Frank Grill. Or, as it was originally called, “Frank’s Café”—the brainchild of entrepreneur Frank Toulet. He opened the joint in 1919, just as Hollywood was completing its metamorphosis from rural backwater to the movie capital of the world. With the nearest eateries still miles away, Toulet figured film workers might appreciate a convenient place to dine.

By the early ’20s, when Toulet joined with restaurateur Joseph Musso and renamed the place…

Isn’t It Romantic Director and Screenwriters Talk Romantic Comedy Tropes

Isn’t It Romantic—the highly-anticipated rom-com parody starring Rebel Wilson, Priyanka Chopra, and Liam Hemsworth—hits theaters today. It centers on Natalie (Wilson), a woman who finds herself trapped inside a romantic comedy—and all the cringe-y tropes that come with it. You know exactly what we’re talking about: In this alternate universe, Natalie has an apartment far too expensive for a twenty-something, a gay best friend who is just there to help move the plot along, and a love interest so hot, nothing else matters.

But don’t mistake Isn’t It Romantic for the rom-coms of 2003. The brains behind this movie are acutely aware these tropes exist—that’s why they included them. The director (Todd Strauss-Schulson) and screenwriters (Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman) actually subvert stereotypes in Isn’t It Romantic and, as a result, bring the genre into 2019.

Of course, this required some research, but Strauss-Schulson, Cardillo, Fox, and Silberman soon became experts in romantic comedy tropes. Below, they tell us which ones they enjoy—and which ones they were most excited to poke fun at—in Isn’t It Romantic.

Todd Strauss-Schulson, Director:

Before I got on set to direct Isn’t it Romantic, I watched 80 romantic comedies in a row. I went a little insane, but my heart grew more and more tender by the day. Obviously, I’d seen romantic comedies before, but I wanted to become an expert. The idea was to crack the code and see what story and visual tropes were used over and over again.

I wanted to break the rom-com genome and isolate the textures and tropes, so I could rebuild them into something modern and fresh for our movie. I found a lot of weird stuff beyond the well-known “gay best friend who has no purpose in life but to care for the main character” and “trying on clothes montage” tropes. For instance, did you know there is a lot of shellfish eaten in romantic comedies? It’s true, but why? Maybe because shellfish is an aphrodisiac? Who knows, but it’s in a lot of ’em.

One of the most consistent visual tropes—and when I say consistent I mean I was straight up spooked when I kept seeing it repeat in every movie—was: half moon windows. Like this:

Everywhere I turned, there they were. In the offices of Bridget Jones, Working Girl, and What Women Want. At a restaurant in Picture Perfect. Front and center in the apartments in When Harry Met Sally and Made of Honor.

So I did a little deep dive, and I found two interesting potential answers. First, half moon windows are also referred to as lunettes, and Merriam-Webster says there is some evidence of the word being used for a “little moon.” (Though that meaning is now obsolete.) The moon is often associated with having a deep connection with women, and so it makes sense they would be subliminally placed all over this particular genre.

In Tarot, arches symbolize beginnings, initiations, and ceremonies of renewal. Walking through an archway represents the sloughing off of the old and moving into a new phase of life. That sounds a lot like a rom-com plot to me! These characters are opening up to love, getting out of their comfort zone…and maybe even getting married.

Moons have cycles—and so do genres. Rom-coms are coming back, and we hope Isn’t It Romantic becomes one of your new favorites.

Erin Cardillo, Screenwriter:

My favorite rom-com trope is “The Realize and Run.” As in, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” (Thank you, Harry. See: Nora Ephron.) Back before cell phones existed, this trope made sense. You suddenly realize you’re in love with somebody—after being a dingbat about it for the better part of the movie—but you can’t call them to tell them because landlines are stupid. Plus, they aren’t home. In fact, your somebody is probably at the airport having just passed through security, ready to board that flight to “I’m never coming back, and you can’t track me down.” Or, in most cases, they are in a nondenominational church about to marry the wrong person and they’re totally against annulment.

So you must run. Fast! Cars are just as stupid as phones. Luckily, you don’t have a bad back—or if you do, it was designed that way for comedic effect. Nevertheless, you can run, and you are capable of traversing whatever absurd obstacles are in your path. You have to do this! This is the closest thing to an action sequence the audience is going to get in most rom-coms, and it’s essential to get them reinvested in your happy ending before your big, perfect “I love you” speech. A speech that, while often flawed and totally cliché, is, after your epic run, still pretty freakin’ satisfying.

Happy Death Day 2U: What CinemaBlend Thought Of The New Sequel

It’s only been a little over a year since Happy Death Day hit theaters and Blumhouse Productions already has a sequel not only in the works, but shot, packaged and hitting theaters just in time for Valentine’s Day. This time around, the sequel has a more specific premise and goes in a totally different direction tonally than the first film.

Look, in particular Happy Death Day 2U is a sequel to Happy Death Day, but it’s probably not the movie you think it is, especially if you’ve seen the trailers. Both Jason Blum and director Christopher Landon have spoken out prior to the release of the film about how “bonkers” the movie is, and it’s no surprise to me that mileage might vary with the movie (as plenty of critical reactions have shown.)

Over at CinemaBlend, it’s been no exception. Some of us think Happy Death Day 2U is the bee’s knees, some of us didn’t really get it and some of us liked it well enough but appreciated it trying hard to do something different. This is exactly the sort of movie that makes a roundup like this valuable. It can be really difficult to see a star rating for a movie like Happy Death Day 2U and know whether or not it will be worth your time. So, especially if you are on the fence about shelling out money to see this one on a very big screen, check out what we had to say about the new release.

First up is Mike Reyes, who wrote the official – and might I add glowing – review for Happy Death Day 2U. He said:

Happy Death Day was a novel original feature the did the groundwork for something truly exciting in Happy Death Day 2U. With a cast that’s as game as Christopher Landon’s script and direction are to really bring out the bonkers, all involved have not only stepped up their game with the sequel, they’ve set a pretty high bar to clear for any potential follow-ups. The movie is fun with a capital “F-U,” as it plays with your expectations to not only get a bigger reaction than the first film, but to show off the full extent of the premise’s possibilities. This is a movie you need to see with an audience, simply because the reactions are as golden as what happens on screen.

If you want more glowing recommendations, look no further than our own Eric Eisenberg, who has plenty to say about the movie and how it compares as a follow-up to 2017’s Happy Death Day. Per Eric:

In a year that was already peppered with fantastic horror movies, Happy Death Day was a real surprise when it was released in 2017, and it’s a wonderful thing that writer/director Christopher Landon has had the opportunity to explore his vision for a sequel. Happy Death Day 2U is most definitely a change-up that fans should be prepared for – with a genre switch that makes the material more sci-fi and comedy heavy than a Groundhog Day-type slasher story – but it’s a worthy follow-up that’s impressively clever, super funny, and has legitimate heart.

Then there’s the slightly less enthusiastic take on Happy Death Day 2U from our own Mack Rawden, who nonetheless still feels like he was able to engage with and stay involved in the wild things happening on the screen in front of him.

Happy Death Day 2U is a weird movie that only gets weirder as it moves along. I’m still not entirely sure if it’s a horror movie or a comedy or a dramedy about a science experiment or all of the above, but you certainly won’t see anything else like it this year. I’m not entirely sure I would say I had a great time, but I remained interested, which is more than I can say for a healthy percentage of movies. So, if you like the unusual, go for it. If you’re looking for a paint-by-numbers horror movie, this certainly isn’t it.

Cody Beck said he was also a little bit confused about how this movie ended up panning out as a story, but he had a fun enough time and was at least happy he checked the final product out. Plus, he hopes it makes enough money to continue the franchise into a third movie sometime down the line, which is something Christopher Landon has already expressed interest in doing and has ideas about.

Happy Death Day 2U is a bloody fun sequel, but the leap from horror to sci-fi leaves a little to be desired. Compared to the first film, many of the slasher-film elements that made me love Happy Death Day are put on the backburner in lieu of adding too much exposition. I’d still recommend checking it out and really hope that Landon is able to wrap up his trilogy.

Personally, I think the movie is neither as funny nor as scary as the first movie, but still earns a merit badge for being unlike any other movie I will likely see this year. Or as I put it…

This movie is utterly and completely bonkers. You won’t see anything like it elsewhere this year and you also probably won’t see a sequel that tries for something quite so different from the original movie elsewhere either. Despite a few scenes that miss for me, I love how Happy Death Day 2U doesn’t fall into the usual sequel trap. See it and judge for yourself.

I may be biased, but if you take anything from CinemaBlend’s roundup, it should be the “see it and judge for yourself” part. You can catch Happy Death Day 2U in theaters starting today and all through this Valentine’s Day weekend. I’d say it’s counter programming to Isn’t It Romantic, but we all know that was also created as cheeky comedy counter programming to the usual Valentine’s Day rom-com releases. We’ll get in a time loop if we keep talking about this, so just look over the movie schedule to see what’s out.

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‘Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment’ Review: History Through an Ideological Filter

Albert Bierstadt’s ‘Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite’ (c. 1871-73), left, and Valerie Hegarty’s ‘Fallen Bierstadt’ (2007), right
Albert Bierstadt’s ‘Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite’ (c. 1871-73), left, and Valerie Hegarty’s ‘Fallen Bierstadt’ (2007), right Photo: From left: North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; © Valerie Hegarty/Brooklyn Museum

Salem, Mass.

One of the provocative displays in “Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment,” the elaborately polemical exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum, places Albert Bierstadt’s luminous “Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite” (c. 1871-73) alongside its evisceration. In Bierstadt’s painting, the cataract’s mist disperses spectral light as towering cliffs nestle Edenic wildlife. To the right is a swollen replica of the painting in a similarly gilded frame. It hangs askew, bent, its bottom melted and charred, its images gouged by fire or sabotage. This is Valerie Hegarty’s “Fallen Bierstadt” (2007).

It isn’t a deconstruction; it’s a demolition. And we are meant to cheer the effort, for it is close to the exhibition’s own.

Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment

Peabody Essex Museum
Through May 5

In over 100 objects—ranging from a mahogany chest to a Georgia O’Keeffe oil, from a 19th-century Tlingit robe to Linnaeus’s 18th-century lists of species—we are swept along in a narrative that invokes Native American history, American history, natural philosophy, environmental science, and progressive politics, in service to what the catalog calls “ecocritical art history.”

The show originated at the Princeton University Art Museum, where its curators—Karl Kusserow, at the Princeton museum, and Alan C. Braddock, who teaches art history and American studies at the College of William & Mary—also edited the ambitious catalog. At the Peabody Essex, the curators—Austen Barron Bailly and Karen Kramer—substituted some works and shortened exhibition text. (The show next travels to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark., May 25-Sept. 9.)

And what is its argument?

Take Bierstadt: These landscapes, we are told, were meant to show the West free of human presence, even though Indian tribes had been there for millennia. “Paintings like this one,” we read, “legitimized U.S. land theft and violence against Indigenous people.” “Fallen Bierstadt” is an attack on that idea; it “questions the way such traditional landscape painting idealizes nature.”

Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘The Lawrence Tree’ (1929)
Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘The Lawrence Tree’ (1929) Photo: © Georgia O?Keeffe Museum/ARS

The erasure of history in Western landscapes, it is suggested, is also true of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s 1858 plan for Central Park, also on display, along with a period photograph of its barren earth. The exhibition correctly points out that both omit the fact that some 1,600 residents—including a majority African-American community—were moved to make way for an idealized Nature.

Thus, what we don’t see becomes the main point—at least until the exhibition reaches contemporary times, when so much of what we see are explicit images of environmental depredation and what is called “environmental racism.” “Browning of America” (2000) by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith shows a map of the U.S. stained with brown streaks, which are meant to be “reasserting Indigenous presence.”

The source of the violence against indigenous peoples and the environment, we are informed, is an ancient Western conception of Nature: “The Great Chain of Being”—a hierarchical ordering of the natural world. It is reflected in Linnaeus’s lists of species, or in a 1579 engraving by Diego de Valadés that “positioned God in Heaven atop a descending scale” of life.

Nathan Begaye’s ‘Snow Cloud’ jar (1998)
Nathan Begaye’s ‘Snow Cloud’ jar (1998) Photo: Peabody Essex Museum

This Chain, it is suggested, justified mistreatment of non-European humans and nonhuman life forms. In contrast, tribute here is paid to the ecological understanding of indigenous peoples. The robe woven by a Tlingit artist reflects “deeply held beliefs about the interrelationships between humans and other beings” and affirms values “encompassing the natural world and the wider universe.”

Actually, the exhibition affirms an even steeper hierarchy than the one it attacks. The indigenous good guys are “interconnected,” “inclusive,” “organic”; the nonindigenous are expansionist, hierarchical, rigid. Race also becomes a marker. Grafton Tyler Brown’s “View of the Lower Falls, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” (1890) is here partly because the painter was African-American. His “unusual” perspective, we are told, is “more intimate” than that of his white predecessors. It is also far less accomplished—though this is not suggested. But the catalog affirms Brown’s “early assertion of environmental justice.”

Meanwhile, the mahogany chest (1755-74) recalls that “enslaved Africans and Indigenous people located, cut down, and moved mahogany logs,” depleting old-growth forests. A silver urn (c. 1800) recalls the “poisoning, maiming, and death of millions” in South American silver mines. This approach sweeps all before it; every museum—like all of history—is a charnel house.

If this perspective seems familiar, it is because it is now at the heart of American education. But almost everything about it is also open to question. Ever hike in Yosemite? In the 19th century it was not a delusion to be amazed at its vastness, nor was it a distortion to see few humans; the Western regions were immense, and Native populations were mostly nomadic hunters and gatherers.

As for the Great Chain, it is one of many Western attempts to comprehend the world’s variety; in many respects—as with Linnaeus’s classifications—it allowed for increased understanding. Moreover, the main period here, the 19th century, was precisely when hierarchy was being questioned in physics, biology and politics. In fact, the most important aspect of the U.S., as European observers recognized, was that it dissolved many social boundaries. As for slavery, ultimately the contradiction between slavery and these ideals made it untenable.

Were there depredations? Moral stains? Surely. But seeing American art and history through this exhibition’s monochromatic, ideological filters turns history into a morality play, its lessons as leaden and obvious as the comments posted at the exhibition’s end, when visitors are asked for environmental recommendations: plant a garden, eat less meat, impeach Trump, don’t use straws.

All the Curve Models Who Walked During Fall 2019 New York Fashion Week

Just before the start of New York Fashion Week, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) published an open letter to designers: “As you cast your New York Fashion Week shows, please remember to promote diversity and inclusion, on and off the runway,” Steven Kolb, the organization’s President and CEO, wrote. “American fashion can lead the path.”

That message made it into the casting rooms: At New York Fashion Week, the Fall 2019 shows featured 94 appearances by curve and non-sample-sized models. It’s the most size diversity we’ve seen since the Spring 2018 season, when Glamour‘s count reached 208, largely thanks to a handful of plus-size companies appearing on the schedule. For Spring 2019, the tally was 72.

The Fall 2019 shows kicked off with a special moment, courtesy of 11 Honoré: The luxury retailer for sizes 10-20+ staged its first-ever runway, which featured curvy models exclusively. Meanwhile, designers like Christian Siriano, Cushnie, Prabal Gurung, and Chromat continued their multi-season history of casting models of all different sizes. AREA and Veronica Beard had curve models for the first time as part of their lineup.

No matter how many curve models appear at fashion week or where they’re walking, we’ll always celebrate body diversity on the runway. Ahead, catch up on all 94 appearances by curve models at the fall 2019 New York Fashion Week shows.

Cinematographers Aren’t Happy About The Oscars Bumping Their Category To The Commercial Break

In the months leading to the 91st Academy Awards, the show has certainly had its share of controversial discourse, as the producers have attempted to make some changes after last year’s viewership all-time low. The Academy’s latest decision was to present four categories during the commercial breaks, leaving them out of the initial telecast.

The categories being moved from the live broadcast this year are Best Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup And Hairstyling and Live-Action Short. This decision has outraged members of the filmmaking community, namely from American Society of Cinematographers President Kees Van Oostrum, who notified his almost 400 members with these words, in part:

Since Academy president John Bailey is a member of the ASC he also received the letter and responded by clarifying that the show is “still honoring” each of the categories and the categories cut from the broadcast will be rotated every year. The Academy is also still filming the acceptance speeches of the winners of these categories, but they will not be aired until later in the broadcast.

According to sources to The Hollywood Reporter, the ASC volunteered to be presented during commercial breaks, though it doesn’t seem to reflect the thoughts expressed in President Kees Van Oostrum’s letter. He did however express to THR his understanding that the Academy president is being pressured by the network to shorten the show and likely didn’t have a choice.

Roma director Alfonso Cuarón, who is also nominated in the Best Cinematography category for his work on the highly-acclaimed Netflix film recently took to Twitter to give his thoughts. Take a look:

He brings up a valid point, if the Oscars celebrate the art of filmmaking, cinematography and film editing is one of the most vital elements of putting together a film. The Academy’s decision sends an awkward message to some nominees, even if they feel it’s necessary to keep viewership up.

Some have pointed out that the four categories left out of the broadcast are the few technical categories that don’t include Disney films. Since the Oscars is televised on ABC, which is owned by Disney, it makes looks like the categories were emitted to meet Disney’s best interests should Black Panther, Mary Poppins Returns, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Avengers: Infinity War, Christopher Robin, Solo: A Star Wars Story or animated short Bao take home the golden trophy. Of course, this could simply be a coincidence.

Marvel Studios is hoping for a win out of Black Panther’s seven nominations or by Infinity War’s Visual Effects nomination and with those chances, it will nab one or two. To delay some of the most pivotal filmmaking awards to take all the glory during the broadcast certainly doesn’t seem fair.

The move is part of the Academy’s attempt to keep the show at three hours, following complaints about the length of the show. We’ll have to see (or not see?) come Oscars night on Sunday February 24.

Five Feet Apart Trailer Looks Like A Real Tear-Jerker

There are fewer more potent combinations guaranteed to induce waterworks than when young love is mixed with life-threatening illnesses. If that’s what you need to let the tears flow freely, it’s been a while since A Walk to Remember or The Fault in Our Stars and your reservoir is probably backed up. Fear not, Five Feet Apart has you covered because the trailer for the romance looks like a real tearjerker. Check it out:

So, these two are totally doomed right? This trailer is playing on your emotions hard, showing the desperate situation Stella and Will are in with their cystic fibrosis and the restrictions of their disease. But it also features the sparks flying between them would make them want to risk their very lives just to be closer to one another.

Judging by the trailer, the chemistry between the two leads is palpable, Riverdale‘s Cole Sprouse as the defeatist rulebreaker and The Edge of Seventeen‘s Haley Lu Richardson as the eternal optimist, determined to do everything right and trying to help others along the way. This chemistry is crucial to audiences investing in their romance, and connecting with Five Feet Apart in the way that they did for something like The Fault in Our Stars– which was hugely successful.

As the trailer goes on we see that Stella pulls Will out of his malaise and gives him a reason to fight and to live, while he causes her to bend her own rules in a desire to gain some agency in her life. It looks like an incredibly sweet and uplifting story that will probably see audiences shed a few happy tears before what I imagine will be a tragic ending.

Five Feet Apart is the narrative feature debut for director Justin Baldoni who is also an actor on Jane the Virgin. The film is written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. That writing duo has another film hitting theaters this year, one from the opposite end of the genre spectrum, the terrifying looking horror film The Curse of La Llorona.

Unlike The Fault in Our Stars, which was based on John Green’s book, Five Feet Apart was developed simultaneously as a YA novel according to Publishers Weekly. Rachael Lippincott adapted Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis’ screenplay into the novel, which landed on the New York Times bestseller list. So if you want to prepare your tear ducts by reading the book first, it is available.

Five Feet Apart arrives in theaters on March 15. I don’t imagine tissues are included with the price of admission so plan accordingly. Check out our 2019 Release Schedule to see all of the movies you can look forward to this year and stay tuned to CinemaBlend for the latest trailers and movie news.

A Crucial Step for Averting AI Disasters

A Crucial Step for Averting AI Disasters
Illustration: Daria Kirpach

Artificial intelligence isn’t always intelligent enough at the office.

One major company built a job-applicant screening program that automatically rejected most women’s résumés. Others developed facial-recognition algorithms that mistook many black women for men.

The expanding use of AI is attracting new attention to the importance of workforce diversity. Although tech companies have stepped up efforts to recruit women and minorities, computer and software professionals who write AI programs are still largely white and male, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show.

Deborah Harrison, left, leader of the editorial writing team for Microsoft’s Personality Chat project, works with diverse colleagues from various creative, technical and artistic backgrounds to write small talk for bots.
Deborah Harrison, left, leader of the editorial writing team for Microsoft’s Personality Chat project, works with diverse colleagues from various creative, technical and artistic backgrounds to write small talk for bots. Photo: Baret Yahn

Developers testing their products often rely on data sets that lack adequate representation of women or minority groups. One widely used data set is more than 74% male and 83% white, research shows. Thus, when engineers test algorithms on these databases with high numbers of people like themselves, they may work fine.

The risk of building the resulting blind spots or biases into tech products multiplies exponentially with AI, damaging customers’ trust and cutting into profit. And the benefits of getting it right expand as well, creating big winners and losers.

Flawed algorithms can cause freakish accidents, usually because they’ve been tested or trained on flawed or incomplete databases. Google came under fire in 2015 when its photo app tagged two African-American users as gorillas. The company quickly apologized and fixed the problem. And Amazon.com halted work a couple of years ago on an AI screening program for tech-job applicants that systematically rejected résumés mentioning the word “women’s,” such as the names of women’s groups or colleges. (Reuters originally reported this development.) An Amazon spokeswoman says the program was never used to evaluate applicants.

Broader evidence of bias came in a 2018 study of three facial-recognition tools of the kind used by law-enforcement agencies to find criminal suspects or missing children. Analyzing a diverse sample of 1,270 people, the programs misidentified up to 35% of dark-skinned women as men, compared with a top error rate for light-skinned men of only 0.8%. The study was led by Joy Buolamwini, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass.

The findings have spurred calls for closer scrutiny. Microsoft recently called on governments to regulate facial-recognition technology and to require auditing of systems for accuracy and bias. The AI Now Institute, a research group at New York University, is studying ways to reduce bias in AI systems.

An algorithm can become a black box in the marketplace, however. Algorithms can learn and make predictions on data without being explicitly programmed to do so. This process continues in the background after a program is built, says Douglas Merrill, CEO of ZestFinance, a Los Angeles maker of machine-learning tools for financial-services companies.

Douglas Merrill, CEO of ZestFinance in Los Angeles, says diverse employee teams may have more conflicts, but they also produce better AI programs.
Douglas Merrill, CEO of ZestFinance in Los Angeles, says diverse employee teams may have more conflicts, but they also produce better AI programs. Photo: Jeff Galfer/ZestFinance

Any biases in the algorithm can skew companies’ decision-making in costly ways. One financial-services company’s algorithm noticed that people with high mileage on their cars and those living in a particular state tended to be poor credit risks, Dr. Merrill says. Each factor alone made some sense, but combining the two would have led the company, unintentionally, to reject an undue number of African-American applicants, he says. After ZestFinance rewrote the algorithm and added a large number of additional criteria, many of those same applicants proved creditworthy.

Eliminating bias up front among those who write the code is essential. “That’s why we work so hard on building diverse teams,” says Dr. Merrill, a former CIO of Google. Asked about the makeup of his 100-person workforce, he ticks off a half-dozen groups his employees represent, including a high percentage of women, as well as military veterans and people with disabilities.

“The biases that are implicit in one team member are clear to, and avoided by, another,” Dr. Merrill says. “So it’s really key to get people who aren’t alike.”

Successful AI programs promise to open up new markets for some companies. Ford Motor Credit found in a joint 2017 study with ZestFinance that machine learning may enable it to broaden credit approvals among young adults and other applicants without lowering its underwriting standards.

Some Fortune 500 companies are using tools that deploy artificial intelligence to weed out job applicants. But is this practice fair? In this episode of Moving Upstream, WSJ’s Jason Bellini investigates.

Younger applicants are often routinely denied loans because they don’t have a credit history and their incomes are low, Dr. Merrill says. Machine learning allows lenders to scrutinize a much larger number of decision-making criteria, including whether the applicant has paid rent and cellphone bills on time, made regular deposits into savings accounts and other measures of responsible behavior. This may help identify many more creditworthy young people. “The answer to almost every question in machine learning is more data,” Dr. Merrill says.

A spokeswoman for Ford Motor Credit says the company is continuing to work on machine-learning applications.

Affectiva, an AI company based in Boston, has attracted more than 100 corporate customers by amassing a database of 4 billion facial images from 87 countries. It develops technology to read the emotional expressions on those faces accurately, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender. Companies use its software to study consumers’ reactions to proposed ads and promotions, and auto makers use it to monitor drivers for drowsiness and distraction.

At one point, Rana el Kaliouby, Affectiva CEO and co-founder says, women working in the company’s Cairo office asked, “Are there any people in here who look like us?” Engineers quickly added images of Muslim women wearing hijabs.

“You need diversity in the data, and more important, in the team that’s designing the algorithm,” Dr. el Kaliouby says. “If you’re a 30-year-old white guy who’s programming this algorithm, you might not think about, ‘Oh, does this data set include a woman wearing a hijab?’ ”

Beyond racial and gender diversity, Microsoft recruits employees with diverse creative and artistic skills to help write conversational language for its Cortana virtual assistant and Personality Chat, an AI program that handles small talk for bots developed by others. Team members have included a playwright, a poet, a comic-book author, a philosophy major, a songwriter, a screenwriter, an essayist and a novelist, whose professional skills equip them to write upbeat language for the bots and anticipate diverse users’ reactions, says Deborah Harrison, a senior manager and team leader. They also teach the bots to avoid, say, misusing ethnic slang or making sexualized remarks.

One team labored over how Cortana should respond to a user who announced, “I’m gay,” Ms. Harrison says. Her team came up with a pleasant, nonjudgmental response: “I’m AI.” But they weren’t satisfied, she says. It was a teenage visitor to their lab who suggested a tweak that finally pleased everyone: “Cool. I’m AI.”

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at sue.shellenbarger@wsj.com

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