closes Netflix

Netflix Closes $30 Million Deal For ‘Malcolm & Marie’ Off Promo; Sam Levinson Lockdown-Shot Drama Stars Zendaya & John David Washington: Toronto – Deadline

EXCLUSIVE: Netflix continues to set the tone for the 2020 Toronto Film Festival Market. Deadline hears that the streamer is wrapping up a deal near $30 million for worldwide rights to Malcolm & Marie, a Sam Levinson-directed romantic drama that stars Zendaya and John David Washington. This follows the around $20 million Netflix deal for the Halle Berry-directed Bruised, the fest’s first major deal made before the film’s premiere. Netflix yesterday acquired Pieces Of A Woman, which won the Best Actress prize for Vanessa Kirby at Venice.

Shot quietly during the production lockdown on 35mm in black and white with help from Fotokem, Malcolm & Marie was the first post-pandemic film to complete production. There was a stampede for this one, and I’m told that others in the mix were HBO, Amazon, Searchlight, MGM, Apple, A24 and Focus Features. While the pandemic seemed likely to throw a wet blanket over a TIFF because most buyers and sellers can’t cross the Canadian border, the market is turning out to be livelier than last year.

Deadline reported in our Toronto curtain raiser that CAA Media Finance and Endeavor Content had screened promo footage on the film for buyers late last week. Sources said the promo reel was about 20 minutes. Washington plays a filmmaker who returns home with his girlfriend (Zendaya) following a celebratory movie premiere as he awaits what’s sure to be imminent critical and financial success. The evening suddenly takes a turn as revelations about their relationships begin to surface, testing the strength of their love.

Malcolm & Marie filmed June 17-July 2 at Feldman Architecture’s Caterpillar House, an environmentally conscious glass architectural marvel in Carmel, CA, in compliance with WGA, DGA and SAG-AFTRA, and extensive COVID-19 safety protocols.

The film came about after Levinson and Zendaya were told their series Euphoria had to shut down. The actress asked Levinson if he would write and direct a movie with her during quarantine. The concept came through quickly as did the script, and they focused on Washington, the fast rising star of BlackKklansman and Tenet.

Netflix confirmed the deal and director, writer and producer Levinson said he was “so grateful to this cast and crew, many of whom are my Euphoria family, for coming together during such uncertain times. We felt privileged to be able to make this film together and we did so with a lot of love. We are all thrilled that it has ended up with Netflix which is unparalleled in allowing filmmakers the freedom to tell their stories that reach audiences all over the world.”

Pic’s produced by Levinson, Kevin Turen and Ashley Levinson of Little Lamb Productions — who are producers on Pieces Of A Woman, which Netflix acquired yesterday. The exec producers are Zendaya, John David Washington, Yariv Milchan, Michael Schaefer, Will Greenfield, Aaron L. Gilbert and Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi). The co-exec producers are  Harrison Kreiss, Katia Washington, Stuart Manashil and Kenneth Yu. The DP is Marcell Rév, Michael Grasley is the production designer, Julio C. Perez IV is the editor and Law Roach & Samantha McMillen are the costume designers.

The cast and crew of Malcom & Marie will share a portion of the proceeds of this sale with Feeding America. The film was shot at a modest budget and some of the key below the liners made deals that profit off the back end. The big sale will make that a reality and a big help for a time that work is difficult to find.

Zendaya is repped by CAA, Monster Talent Management and Skrzyniarz & Mallean; John David Washington is repped by WME; Sam Levinson is repped by WME and Novo.

The deal was closed by Endeavor Content and CAA Media Finance, brokering together.

Read More

Cancel Netflix

Why ‘Cancel Netflix’ is trending – The Verge

Groups of conservative provocateurs, QAnon supporters, and others on social media have jumped on the release of the French coming-of-age film Cuties and a trending “Cancel Netflix” hashtag to associate the company with pedophilia.

This isn’t the first time that people have tried to cancel Netflix. Republicans tried it in 2018 following Netflix’s confirmation that it had signed a multiyear deal with Barack and Michelle Obama to produce a series of titles. Earlier this year, people threatened to cancel Netflix over 365 Days, a movie that petitioners argued glorified sexual violence against women. And, at the same time that people are calling for others to cancel Netflix over Cuties, there’s a petition from fans of shows like Jessica Jones, The OA, and Anne with an E, hosting a “cancel Netflix” campaign to try to bring attention to their favorite series that have been canceled.

But while some of those cancel campaigns are pretty direct — Republicans don’t like the Obamas, Jessica Jones fans just want more Jessica Jones — the Cuties situation gets very complicated very quickly. It moves from people being upset about the way young girls were positioned on a poster in a marketing campaign to QAnon supporters using this as proof that their dangerous conspiracy theories are real.

Alright, let’s back up.

What is Cuties?

Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, Cuties is a French movie that critiques society’s sexualization of girls. The movie follows an 11-year-old Senegalese girl living in Paris who dreams of joining a local dance clique. She decides to protest her parents’ strict household and join the other girls in dancing their way through competitions, trying to make a name for themselves.

Cuties uses “uncomfortable images to provoke a serious conversation about the sexualization of girls — especially regarding girls of color, the policing of a girl’s sexuality, double standards, the effect of social media on kids, and how children learn these behaviors,” one critic wrote on Roger Ebert. Doucouré’s intent is to show “that our children should have the time to be children,” she told TIME magazine this month. In using imagery about exploited youth, Doucouré wants to hit home just how important innocence is, and how much it’s taken for granted today.

The film even won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award at Sundance Film Festival this year, and it was widely praised for its depiction of the pressures of girlhood. Netflix secured the global streaming rights to the film, with Variety noting at the time that Cuties would be translated into more than 40 languages. Under the Netflix umbrella, the film would stream in 190 different territories that Netflix operates in, excluding France where it had domestic distribution.

Attacks on the movie began before people had even seen the film. Criticisms lobbed against Cuties and Doucouré came from people who saw a poster and assumed the film was one thing, and as the backlash grew, it became apparent that criticism was disingenuous, based on preconceived notions of what the movie was without having sat down to watch it. Which is why Netflix only made it worse.

Netflix’s gaffe

Despite the film existing for some time, it wasn’t until August that people really became aware of it.

In August, Netflix tweeted a teaser for the movie’s release date that came with a new poster. Designed by Netflix’s team, the new poster seemed to present a different type of movie than the one Doucouré made. The original French poster framed the main cast of girls as that — young girls, walking through the streets of Paris, waving around shopping bags and having fun. Netflix’s now-deleted poster positioned the girls as older characters, similar to posters for other dance movies like Step Up. Here’s a side-by-side comparison.

Not long after Netflix tweeted the poster, including descriptions of the movie as 11-year-old Amy becoming “fascinated with a twerking dance crew,” tweets sprang up calling Netflix to take the poster down. Those tweets then snowballed into a few different campaigns decrying Netflix’s decision to carry the film, garnering tens of thousands of signatures. Within a couple of days, Netflix had removed the poster and used different artwork for the film on its platform.

“We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Cuties,” a statement posted to Netflix’s account on August 20th read. “It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance.”

A statement and removal of the poster didn’t clear everything up. By September 3rd, a Turkish media watch group demanded the film be banned from Netflix in Turkey over concerns that the movie promoted child exploitation, Reuters reported. Several high-profile, conservative commentators picked up on the story, too. They started tweeting about Netflix “grooming” children and arguing that it’s “pedophilia soft-porn.” Former NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch demanded Netflix “remove the film” entirely. The accusations lobbed at Netflix also found their way to Doucouré who told Deadline she received countless death threats.

“I received numerous attacks on my character from people who had not seen the film, who thought I was actually making a film that was apologetic about hyper-sexualization of children,” Doucouré said.

Doucouré received some support from celebrities and high-profile Twitter users alike, including Tessa Thompson, who noted she was disappointed by Netflix’s marketing campaign. Thompson added she understood people’s response to the post, “but it doesn’t speak to the film I saw.” Again, much of the complaints at the time were coming from people who hadn’t seen the movie, while defenses came in from people who had.

As Rolling Stone’s critic wrote in his review of the film, “Out of context, the girls’ outfits look questionably flashy and trashy; seen in context, as the costumes for a hip-hop dance troupe competing for a grand prize, you understand how they function in regards to a bigger-picture message that Doucouré is trying to get across.”

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos called Doucouré to personally apologize for the poster the team created. She’s currently working on another project for Netflix and told Deadline that despite the negativity associated with the poster, she had many back-and-forth conversations with Netflix to avoid this happening in the future.

A new wave of attacks

The “cancel Netflix” trend picked up again on September 9th alongside Cuties’ release. But unlike the original controversy a few weeks prior, attacks online became far more aggressive and targeted.

The fact that Cuties is streaming on Netflix, a big entertainment company with deep tech roots that’s perceived as “liberal,” also plays into this equation. Tech companies with liberal-leaning policies have found themselves at the center of anger and discourse from right-wing and conservative groups. Netflix deciding to carry an evocative film of this nature easily lends itself to those critics.

Posts went around Twitter and Instagram tagging critics who reviewed the film positively, calling them out as promoting dangerous material, but it was also a way to mobilize harassment against those writers. Conservative provocateurs like Steven Crowder and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones dedicated videos to calling out the “leftist media” that praised Cuties. Writers and personalities from conservative publications like The Daily Caller and Breitbart also criticized the film’s content.

Actress Evan Rachel Wood posted a series of Instagram stories about the film’s use of child exploitation. Republican Senator Josh Hawley commented that Netflix might “like to come talk this over before Congress,” retweeting a Daily Caller columnist. Senator Ted Cruz called Netflix carrying the film “deeply disturbing.” On Rotten Tomatoes, the film was review bombed, with plenty of audience reviews calling the film sick and twisted.

Unfortunately, a marketing attempt to promote a coming-of-age movie took on a life of its own beyond Netflix and Doucouré, as conspiracy theories about deep-rooted pedophilia rings in Hollywood — a popular theory within QAnon circles — grabbed hold of the story.

Supporters of QAnon, a group that believes Hollywood is controlled by a cabal of pedophiles, seized on the backlash. Tweets littered with hashtags like #SaveTheChildren — known for its connection to the group — started populating, and soon it was a perfect storm of anger centered on Cuties that had nothing to do with the film itself.

Not all of the criticism came from people who openly support QAnon. But the backlash makes Cuties an easy target for QAnon supporters to spread conspiracy theories. The focus has shifted away from the actual movie, including its purpose and contextual uses of certain scenes, because of the resurgent backlash. But as a critic wrote in his Rolling Stone review, Cuties is not “a salacious bit of pedo-bait designed to appeal to baser instincts rather than better angels.”

The support

Alongside all of the criticism and backlash that led to #CancelNetflix trending, there’s also been a show of support for Doucouré and Cuties. Several film critics have tweeted positively about the movie and the director, alongside their own published reviews. Their words echo the message that Doucouré worked to show in her film: giving the audience a chance to experience what it’s like “to become a little 11-year-old girl in today’s society and not judge her,” as she told film site Shadow and Act. Netflix also issued a statement decrying the criticism and supporting Doucouré’s film.

Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a Netflix spokesperson told The Verge. “It’s an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up — and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”

Cuties message can get lost in the sea of backlash, online rage, and conspiracy theories that have found themselves attached to the film, but Doucouré wanted to tell a story that was close to her own life. In interviews she’s given, she’s expressed hope that people will watch the movie before they make a decision about whether they think it’s good or bad.

“My one message would be that childhood is precious and we all have to protect our children,” she told Shadow and Act. “We all have to come together to figure out what is best for our children so that we can give a beautiful space to our children to grow up safely and peacefully, so that they can have the freedom to choose who they want to become and the best version of themselves.”

Read More

Hastings Netflix

Netflix’s Reed Hastings Deems Remote Work ‘a Pure Negative’ – The Wall Street Journal

As a founder and co-chief executive of Netflix Inc., Reed Hastings has reshaped both the way people watch television and how the entertainment industry operates.

Launching Netflix in 1997 as a DVD-by-mail movie-rental service with Marc Randolph, Mr. Hastings grasped early that the internet was the future of distribution. First with old movies…

Read More

Netflix offers

Netflix offers a collection of original movies and shows for free – Engadget

It’s worth noting that only the first episode of shows are available, so you won’t be able to binge-watch the first season of Stranger Things, but there’s enough high-profile material on this page to get people started. If you want to check it out, you’ll only be able to watch it in a browser on a computer or on an Android phone. The free material isn’t available through the Netflix mobile apps, and it doesn’t work on the iPhone’s browser either. But you can’t argue with the price.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.





Read More

crushing Netflix

Here’s what’s crushing it on Netflix right now – BGR

  • Among the most-watched shows on Netflix for the week of August 20-26 is a new documentary series exploring the golden age of the video game industry through an affectionate, nostalgic lens.
  • That Netflix series is called High Score, and the list of the most-watched shows on the streamer right now comes as always from Reelgood, the streaming search engine service that each week shares with BGR what’s most popular on the platform at any given time.
  • The most-watched show on Netflix this week, once again, was the superhero series The Umbrella Academy.

One of my favorite things on Netflix right now — in fact, one of the most-watched shows on the streamer at the moment, by one reckoning — is a new breezy, 6-episode documentary series that’s awash in nostalgia for the golden age of video games.

I suppose the coronavirus pandemic made me extra susceptible to High Score, the new Netflix original series in question that debuted on August 19, partly because playing video games (okay, a certain lighthearted Nintendo game) is how many of us have passed the time stuck at home, dealing with quarantines and the like. Apart from, you know, bingeing shows and movies on Netflix.

The release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons has certainly been one of the cultural touchstones associated with the coronavirus era, with the game’s release earlier this year providing some desperately needed escapism and an abundance of whimsy and joy. That’s the part about playing video games that High Score focuses on. From Netflix: “Through ingenuity and sheer force of will, computer pioneers and visionary artists from around the globe spawned the iconic worlds of Space Invaders, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog, John Madden Football, and beyond.

“Without rules or roadmaps, players and innovators alike pushed the limits of money to be made, rivals to be crushed, and hearts to be won. This is the story of the brains behind the pixels and how their unmatched innovation built a multi-billion dollar industry — almost by accident.”

Here’s my review of High Score, the 6-part doc about video games on @netflix: Big smiles, constant chills, I love video games.

— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) August 21, 2020

For the week of August 20-26, High Score was near the very top of the list of the 10 most-watched series on Netflix, per the team at Reelgood — the streaming search engine service that each week shares with BGR a look at what its millions of monthly users are streaming the most of via the platform. You can check out the full list below — and I don’t know about you, but the prevalence of Netflix original content like High Score is partly the reason why my must-watch queue keeps getting impossibly long these days. Though, for a pop culture junkie, there are certainly worse problems to have.

  1. The Umbrella Academy
  2. High Score
  3. Dark
  4. The Rain
  5. Lucifer
  6. Biohackers
  7. Teenage Bounty Hunters
  8. Breaking Bad
  9. Schitt’s Creek
  10. The 100

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.

Read More

Netflix Review

Fear City review: How Netflix’s new mafia documentary failed –

Rudy Giuliani, wearing a navy suit with a flag pinned to its lapel, sits in a glassy conference room talking to a camera. “I was a tough kid. I was a boxer. I was taught not to be afraid of anything,” he says. “Could I have been a wise guy? Sure I could have. But in the ’70s, I became an assistant US attorney.”

Surprisingly, he’s not in a campaign ad. Giuliani is a major and exalted figure in Sam Hobkinson’s Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia, a new three-episode documentary series on Netflix. Of course he is. Giuliani, after all, had a large role in the legal strategy that helped law enforcement break the stranglehold that five major mafia families had on the economy and culture of New York City in the 1980s. It would be weird to make a documentary about the era without including him in it.

But Rudy Giuliani circa 2020 is not the same cultural figure he was back then. Nor is, for that matter, Donald Trump, whose connections to the mob in that era and apparent adoption of mob-like tactics are no secret. Fear City — a true crime tale for the “law and order” crowd, laced with nostalgia for the good ol’ days — pulls off some wild feats of lazy filmmaking in its storytelling. And the wildest of them all might be an almost complete absence of any acknowledgment that the past is barely in the past, when it comes to this topic.

Imagine making a documentary in 2020 about New York City, the mafia, and the 1970s and ’80s with only the thinnest possible reference to the current president of the United States — who, whatever you think of him, is a thoroughly relevant character. (The thin reference in this series comes at the beginning of the third episode, when someone says that if you were a real estate developer in New York in the 1980s, you had to deal with the mob. Fear City shows a few images of Trump while mentioning Trump Tower as a major development from a major developer, and plays a bit of a tape where a mobster mentions him. Okay, but: How did Trump deal with the mob? To what extent? Were his actions criminal? Don’t hold out for an answer. Fear City has already moved on.)

Or contemplate the decision-making that goes into including Giuliani — Trump’s future lawyer — as a pervasive presence and primary subject, alongside the New York attorneys and FBI agents he worked with, nearly all of whom are interviewed in similarly glossy settings, with everyone giving uninterrogated accounts as the film’s most reliable narrators. The more colorful former mobsters’ voices (mostly guys who did time or became states’ witnesses) become less significant once Giuliani and co. enter the picture — a working title for Fear City could well have been How Rudy Saved New York City from the Bad Guys: And That’s Why Law Enforcement Is Good. I had to scan the credits to confirm the series wasn’t funded by the Department of Justice.

Others can better speak than I to the historical veracity of Fear City. Was RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), the congressional act that gave law enforcement the ammunition they needed to finally indict mob bosses, as unambiguously good as the film makes it seem? How well does the way that former mobsters and FBI agents characterize those years of cat-and-mousing each other hold up against history? I have no idea, but its lack of voices outside of those directly involved in the cases leaves me skeptical.

Michael Franzese, who was a member of the Columbo crime family.

I’m not here to quibble with Fear City on the level of facts, though, or even politics; what struck me was how bad it is as a documentary.

Fear City is shallow, toothless, and dull

It’s a boring choice to tell a story like this from the point of view of the FBI agents. Their perspective is well trodden in TV and movies. And New York’s relationship to the mob is not exactly hidden history.

It’s also crushingly dull to adopt the official narrative about what New York was like back then as the film’s de facto worldview, proposed in (unfortunately punctuated) on-screen text at the start of the first episode:

1970’s NEW YORK


That’s not entirely wrong, of course. New York was in rough shape in the 1970s, and nearly bankrupt.

But if there was anything else going on in New York at the time, you wouldn’t know it from Fear City, which provides little, if any, context. Nor would you know how ordinary New Yorkers were really affected by the state of things, except through the words of the mobsters and the FBI agents interviewed in the film.

There’s plenty of talk of the mafia’s control over unions, but no former union workers appear to talk about it. We hear stories about grocery store owners being exploited, but never hear from the actual grocery store owners. And women don’t seem to exist in this world at all. (Very few women speak throughout the entire series; the most interesting female voice is former FBI agent Charlotte Lang, who was the sole woman agent on the mob-busting team, and she only appears halfway through the third episode. Fear City would have been far more compelling if it had reoriented itself around her.)

What we get with Fear City isn’t “New York vs the mafia,” as the subtitle promises; it’s “the FBI and the District Attorney’s Office vs the mafia,” which boils down to a lot of talking about the specific ways bosses got bugged and doesn’t offer much of a sense of how New York was caught up in it all.

But the worst sin Fear City may commit is being … tedious? Something as pulpy and cinematic as cops chasing criminals should be loaded with juicy stories. Fear City somehow manages to both be far too simplistic and utterly lost in its own weeds. Watching it made me feel like an interloper in a conversation a bunch of guys were having as they relived their glory days to one another, only to realize 10 minutes in that none of them were particularly good storytellers. The film spends a lot of time talking about bugging the mafia, which is interesting enough at first, but then it goes on … and on … and on … and just when you think it’s finally moving on to a new topic, it goes back.

Former FBI special agent Joe Cantamessa in Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia.

Documentarians can only work with the facts they have available, of course. But they make choices, just like other filmmakers, about what goes into their film and what doesn’t. They pick the voices they believe are important and leave out the ones that don’t matter, and they adopt narratives and choose which facts to use to tell their story.

The story told in Fear City is ultimately about heroic law enforcement and attorneys pursuing the mafia. It’s also about how glamorous and fun it was to be in the mafia. (Drinking Champagne comes up frequently.) It is emphatically not about what factors led to organized criminals becoming so powerful in New York.

It’s not about what kind of men were attracted to the mob, and why. Nor is it interested in the ethics of spying on civilians suspected of criminal activity, or curious about why women were so consistently sidelined (a question mob-movie godfather Martin Scorsese explored just last year in his film The Irishman). It is only glancingly concerned with why someone — like, say, Rudy Giuliani — would decide not to be a “wise guy” and instead become an attorney. (In part, it seems he, and others, hated what the mafia had done to Italian American communities, which would have been another great thread to tug on.)

Fear City is also not about why this particular moment in history matters, other than its potential for entertainment value (if you are very interested in the mechanics of placing a bug or the construction of legal strategies). But you don’t tell a story like this for no reason. At the end of Fear City, the film halfheartedly notes where some of its interviewees landed: jail and state’s witness status for the mob guys, mayor of New York for Giuliani, no note of the other agents and lawyers.

Then it turns ominous. The last scene is archival footage of a newscaster wrapping up the story by saying, “Who will the next generation of bosses be, and what kind of shadowy crime games will they play?” The footage cuts to a shot of lower Manhattan, with the Twin Towers prominent. We go to credits.

You can take away any number of messages from that directorial choice, but Occam’s razor suggests it’s a link between what we all know happened to the Twin Towers and how Giuliani brought down the mafia. Giuliani has long made political use of his governance during 9/11 and its aftermath, particularly since becoming President Donald Trump’s attorney in 2018 — something Fear City does not mention at all (again, seems relevant!).

No matter: The link is established. Fear City plays best as an extended attempt to remind us that the good guys were the good guys and Giuliani was the smartest guy in the room, no matter what he’s up to these days. It is not interested in how the mafia’s presence in New York shaped the city’s future, or what the events of the past reveal about the twisted present; it’s not interested in New York. It’s a reinforcement of accepted ideas, not a probing of history.

Sure, there’s a place in the world for uncomplicated nostalgia for the old days. But it should never be as vapid, or dull, as Fear City.

Fear City is streaming on Netflix.

Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

Read More

comes Netflix

Netflix comes to Google’s Nest Hub devices – Engadget

From today, Netflix is available to stream to Google’s Nest Hub and its Nest Hub Max, enabling you to catch up on your favorite shows wherever you’ve connected those devices. As with any Nest setup, you simply need to connect your account inside the Google Home or Assistant app. To celebrate, Google is boasting about the discounts its offering right now to get people to buy one of these devices for your kitchen or hallway.

If you’re not a paid-up member of the Nest ecosystem, you may have thought that Netflix was already on the platform. After all, Nest Hub devices have Google Cast built-in, and it can already stream other video services, including Hulu, CBS All Access and Disney+.

Read More

Comedy Netflix

Netflix comedy ‘Space Force’ shows real military branch’s struggle to be taken seriously – NBC News

Space Force has a gravity problem.

That there is a Netflix comedy series, “Space Force,” out Friday lampooning the newest branch of the U.S. military isn’t the best sign that the American public is taking its intended mission seriously.

Initiated with great hoopla by President Donald Trump with a June 18, 2018, executive order, the Space Force came with a grandiose vision. “It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space,” Trump said at the time, “We must have American dominance in space.”

Eighteen months later, the Space Force was officially established under the Air Force with the mandate of making good on the presidential bluster. Still in the development stage, the fledgling service has since struggled with an image problem — its real marching orders are far more grounded than the sci-fi name would suggest. It didn’t help shake that perception when the official symbol unveiled in January bore a noticeable resemblance to a logo from “Star Trek.”

Space Force Senior Enlisted Advisor CMSgt Roger Towberman, with President Donald Trump, presents the Space Force Flag on May 15, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House.Mandel Ngan / AFP – Getty Images

“The idea of a Space Force was put forward about two years ago now and there’s been a lot of misunderstanding of what this is,” said Jack Burns, a professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“What it isn’t is Captain Kirk in the Starship Enterprise battling Klingons, or Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader — in fact, it’s probably going to involve very few military folk in space,” Burns, who served on the 2016-2017 presidential NASA transition team, said. “It’s more, as I understand it, enhancing our defensive posture with better satellites dealing with hypermissiles in the atmosphere, a lot of software development, a lot of remote sensors.

“All of it, according to the experts, is behind where it needs to be given the progress that both the Russians and the Chinese have made.”

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

“That’s a very different Space Force than the public perception.”

The first 10-episode season of “Space Force” reunites showrunner Greg Daniels with his star from “The Office,” Steve Carell, who plays four-star Gen. Mark Naird, head of the titular branch. Co-starring John Malkovich, Jimmy O. Yang, Tawny Newsome, and Jane Lynch, the series orbits the current political landscape closely — with stand-ins for Trump, Anthony Scaramucci (former White House Director of Communications), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., as the butt of the jokes.

John Malkovich as Dr. Adrian Mallory, Steve Carell as General Mark. R. Naird, Alex Quijano as Steve Hines, Roy Wood Jr. as Army Liaison Bert Mellows, John Hartmann as Chambers, Noah Emmerich as Kick Grabaston, and Brandon Molale as Clarke Luffinch in episode 105 of “Space Force” on Netflix.Netflix

“POTUS wants complete space dominance,” the fictional secretary of defense says at one point during the first episode. “Boots on the moon by 2024. Actually, he said b–bs on the moon, but we believe that to be a typo.”

As close as the first half of that dialogue hews to the president’s June 2018 promise to return American astronauts to the moon, “Space Force” is not close to a documentary. The fictional Space Force was filmed without incorporating the input of the real one.

“We welcome the opportunity to discuss providing support when requested,” U.S. Air Force Maj. William Russell, a spokesman for the Space Force, said by email. “Any program that opens up a conversation about the ongoing, vital national defense mission performed by the U.S. Space Force is a worthwhile endeavor.”

Just how worthy of an endeavor the military will find the new show is a question. Beyond the job title, there is little resemblance between Carell’s bumbling character and the distinguished four-star general who sits behind the real desk, Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond. And an episode featuring a trained chimpanzee forced to make a spacewalk to fix a satellite sabotaged by the Chinese makes a monkey out of what the real Space Force is trying to accomplish.

But what exactly is the Space Force attempting to accomplish, even as it’s dogged by memes, social media jokes and sitcoms?

“Our adversaries and competitors continue to threaten U.S. interests and endanger international security with new space weapons and tactics,” Russell said. “In April, the Iranians launched its first military satellite into the Earth’s orbit, while Russia recently performed an anti-satellite test.

“These are real-life examples on how the threats to U.S. and allied space systems are real, serious and growing.”

The real message, though, isn’t helped by the hyperbole heaped on the Space Force by the president, who touted the development of a “super duper missile” during a Space Force flag ceremony earlier this month. Lost in the superlatives is that the core mission, to protect U.S. assets, including vulnerable communications and GPS satellites, has been a priority for successive administrations and tasked to the Department of Defense for decades.

Critics, though, debate whether or not it required a sixth branch of the military with startup costs likely up to $4.7 billion, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office.

“Space Force is not a partisan issue, it’s a President Trump issue,” said Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation, a private organization dedicated to studying sustainability in space. “The debate about how best to organize the U.S. military for space activities has been going on for decades and it is not generally a partisan discussion.

“I think that the challenge comes in that President Trump has campaigned on this, he’s made it a feature of his rallies,” Weeden said. “So he has closely tied the issue of the Space Force to his personal political success.”

Weeden points to the parallels to the contentious debate over Ronald Reagan’s proposed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), an expensive space-based missile-defense system that was derisively nicknamed “Star Wars” by its detractors.

“People were really confused at the time,” Burns said. “Also the technology proposed was way beyond our capability. At that point in time, there was no way you could provide a shield that could 100 percent protect from nuclear weapons.”

Technology has improved by light years since; the political debate over whether or not it is worth the cost remains the same.

Which makes the current space race a final frontier for comedy writers, just as a previous generation found humor in the specter of Cold War nuclear annihilation with the 1964 satire, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” And Daniels and the writers are careful to at least sometimes portray the fictional “Spacemen” as dedicated and competent as their 16,000 off-screen counterparts.

“Space is a happening place right now, from the entertainment industry, to popular culture, and the halls of the Pentagon,” Russell said. “Hopefully this comedy will encourage people to learn about the serious business of the real U.S. Space Force.”

Read More