Russian trolls influenced 'The Last Jedi' backlash - Silver Screen Beat
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Russian trolls may have had something to do with the all of the ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ backlash

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Star Wars The Last Jedi Mark Hamill
LUCASFILM LTD.

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s riveting intergalactic spectacle Star Wars: The Last Jedi was undoubtedly one of my favorite movies of last year and, in my opinion, is one of the best in the franchise. Many critics felt the same way, giving the latest entry in the Skywalker saga a 91% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

However, as you may recall, the film was met with immediate online backlash upon its release last December from some Star Wars fans who took it upon themselves to launch a campaign to lower the Rotten Tomatoes audience score as far as they could and a petition to have it removed from official Star Wars canon.

As it turns out, though, the discourse surrounding The Last Jedi may not have been from actual Star Wars fans at all, but rather a very elaborate Russian political influence campaign, according to a new study from Morten Bay, a research fellow at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“The study finds evidence of deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments,” Bay writes. “The likely objective of these measures is increasing media coverage of the fandom conflict, thereby adding to and further propagating a narrative of widespread discord and dysfunction in American society.”

For his analysis, Bay divided the online discourse around The Last Jedi into three separate categories: those with a political agenda, trolls and bots, and what he calls “real fantagonists,” which are actual Star Wars fans who were genuinely dissatisfied with Johnson’s film. The results of his 38-page-long study are staggering.

“Overall, 50.9% of those tweeting negatively was likely politically motivated or not even human,” Bay writes, adding that 11 of the 16 accounts he investigated that were suspected of being run by Russian trolls tweeted almost exclusively about The Last Jedi, Johnson, or right-wing U.S. politics.

To some, the results might be surprising, but back in 2017, just one week after The Last Jedi opened in theaters, I wrote about how the film was actually polling pretty well with audiences despite all of the backlash it was receiving online. The Last Jedi received an A-rating from moviegoers polled by CinemaScore, and comScore’s PostTrack audience survey found that 68% of audience members rated the film as excellent, while 21% said that it was very good.

Look, when you consider the fact that Russian trolls were able to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by creating fake accounts and spreading misinformation on social media, it really shouldn’t be all that surprising that they were able to basically do the same thing when it came to stirring up manufactured outrage about a Star Wars movie with a blatantly progressive message that they didn’t like.

All 38 pages of Bay’s study are available to read here via ResearchGate.

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Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie glare intensely at each other in the ‘Bombshell’ trailer

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Bombshell
LIONSGATE

Despite taking place entirely in a hot, stuffy elevator and featuring little to no dialogue, the first trailer for Jay Roach’s Fox News drama Bombshell about the downfall of Roger Ailes does a pretty damn good job of showcasing what is likely to be a serious contender this awards season.

Written by Charles Randolph, Bombshell chronicles the inevitable collapse of Ailes’ reign at Fox News, where he served as chairman and CEO up until his resignation in 2016 amid dozens of sexual harassment and abuse allegations from several female employees at the conservative media empire.

Among the many women who accused Ailes of misconduct were former Fox News hosts Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, who are played here by Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman, respectively, while Margot Robbie plays as a fictional associate producer named Kayla Pospisil.

As if those three stars weren’t enough, the film’s ensemble cast also includes the likes of John Lithgow (who plays Ailes), Allison Janney, Kate McKinnon, Malcolm McDowell, Mark Duplass, Rob Delaney, and Stephen Root.

I don’t know about you, but I dig everything about this trailer (I could literally watch Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, and Margot Robbie glaring at each other in an elevator all day) and I’m actually pretty excited to see how Bombshell turns out when it drops in December.

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This whole Spider-Man dilemma between Sony and Disney is extraordinarily fucking complicated

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Spider-Man
SONY PICTURES

As you may have heard yesterday, Tom Holland‘s Spider-Man has essentially left the Marvel Cinematic Universe due to the fact that Disney and Sony were unable “to reach new terms that would have given the former a co-financing stake going forward,” according to Deadline.

Disney, after originally agreeing to receive just 5% of the box office gross of Sony’s Spider-Man movies, wanted to renegotiate a new deal that would allow them to take a much larger 50% cut because they would also be putting up half the funding under the new terms.

In other words, Disney, which basically controls half of the entertainment industry at this point, wanted to gain even more control over what is inarguably Sony’s most successful franchise to date and the latter wasn’t going to let that happen. Or so we thought?

A statement released by Sony late last night seems to pin the blame for this entire dilemma on Disney, claiming that they are the ones preventing any further involvement of Spider-Man in the MCU, furthering complicating what was already a pretty fucking complicated scenario.

“Much of today’s news about Spider-Man has mischaracterized recent discussions about Kevin Feige’s involvement in the franchise. We are disappointed, but respect Disney’s decision not to have him continue as a lead producer of our next live-action Spider-Man film,” the statement reads.

It goes on to say, “We hope this might change in the future, but understand that the many new responsibilities that Disney has given him – including all their newly added Marvel properties – do not allow time for him to work on IP they do not own. Kevin is terrific and we are grateful for his help and guidance and appreciate the path he has helped put us on, which we will continue.”

So, uh, what’s really going on here? Is Disney actually to blame? Did Sony (rightfully) turn down the Mouse House’s astonishingly greedy 50/50 offer? Are we going to have to witness another godforsaken Spider-Man origin story? It seems a little too early to tell at this point, but time will certainly tell.

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Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Lana Wachowski are returning for a fourth ‘Matrix’ movie

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Matrix
WARNER BROS.

In a truly shocking development, Variety is reporting that the Matrix 4 is officially in the works (!) with Lana Wachowski returning to the director’s chair and Keanu Reeves and Carie-Anne Moss reprising their respective roles as Neo and Trinity.

“We could not be more excited to be re-entering The Matrix with Lana,” said Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich. “Lana is a true visionary—a singular and original creative filmmaker—and we are thrilled that she is writing, directing and producing this new chapter in The Matrix universe.”

Production on the film is scheduled to begin as early as the beginning of next year with Wachowski helming from a script she co-wrote the script along with Aleksander Hemon and David Mitchell, so it shouldn’t be too long of a wait before we can finally get this thing in front of our eyeballs.

“Many of the ideas Lilly and I explored 20 years ago about our reality are even more relevant now. I’m very happy to have these characters back in my life and grateful for another chance to work with my brilliant friends,” Wachowski said.

We’ve been hearing rumblings about a potential reboot of the Matrix franchise for a while now, so the fact that Warner Bros. seems to have abandoned that idea altogether in favor of moving forward with a true sequel with Wachowski, Reeves, and Moss all set to return is pretty damn exciting.

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