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Before Nov. 3, Watch This and This and This

Jeff Daniels agreed to play James Comey in Showtime’s “The Comey Rule” on the promise that the four-hour mini-series would be released ahead of the election. The documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney worked at a breakneck pace to complete his feature-length film “Totally Under Control,” an indictment of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus, so it could debut before Nov. 3.

And Aaron Sorkin began courting streaming companies at the end of May when it became clear that the global pandemic would impede Paramount Pictures’ ability to release his film about protests at the 1968 Democratic convention in theaters this year.

For Mr. Sorkin, the decision to forgo a traditional theatrical release — “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is available on Netflix starting Friday — was all about being part of the conversation when the conversation was happening.

“There is going to be exhaustion a year from now,” he said in a recent interview. “Now is when you want to release it.”

Hollywood rarely shies away from politics. This election cycle, however, a plethora of movies, documentaries and TV mini-series are hitting the marketplace with immediate relevance. That stands in contrast to the usual industry practice of waiting for events to pass into history before depicting them onscreen. Think Oliver Stone’s “JFK” or Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X.”

(Mr. Sorkin’s “Chicago 7” falls into that category, too, though the nationwide protests this summer give it urgency, as does Mr. Sorkin’s meant-for-the-moment dialogue like having Abbie Hoffman, one of the Chicago 7 activists, say when he testifies during the trial, “I think the institutions of our democracy are wonderful things which right now are populated by some terrible people.”)

Credit…Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Netflix

“I can’t think of any writer-director who ever had the opportunity I had, to write about the collapse of a building while it was still collapsing,” said Billy Ray, who began working on “The Comey Rule” in 2018 when Mr. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, released his memoir, “A Higher Loyalty.” The mini-series, which features Brendan Gleeson as President Trump, generated mostly positive reviews, and the first episode was seen by 2.5 million people across various platforms and the second by 2.1 million.

Whether these projects can influence the election is another matter. And with less than three weeks until Election Day, the window to reach undecided voters is quickly closing anyway.

“The percentage of voters who are swayable in the states that matter are 2 to 5 percent,” said Tanya Somanader, the chief content officer for Crooked Media, left-leaning political content company, and a strategist in the Obama administration. “And that number is collapsing by the day because people are voting early.”

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That won’t stop Hollywood from trying. Last month, Amazon Studios released the documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” which both tracks Stacey Abrams’s run for governor in Georgia in 2018 and its contested result and examines the history of voter suppression in the United States. The film was accompanied by a 22-city bus tour and an extensive voter-registration drive.

“We are hoping to inspire people to fight for what is theirs,” said Liz Garbus, who directed the film with Lisa Cortés. “That means voting.”


Credit…Niko Tavernise/Netflix, via Associated Press

On Wednesday, HBO will debut “537 Votes,” a documentary about the disputed 2000 presidential election. The director Adam McKay (“Vice”) is the executive producer. On the same day, the magazine The Atlantic will unveil its first documentary, “White Noise,” about the rise of far-right nationalism.

Next Friday, Amazon will start streaming “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” a sequel to the 2006 satire starring Sacha Baron Cohen as the clueless Kazakh journalist Borat. While the plot has not been revealed, the film’s trailer shows Mr. Cohen’s alter-ego crashing the Conservative Political Action Conference while Vice President Mike Pence is speaking. (Mr. Cohen also plays Mr. Hoffman in “Chicago 7.”)

Mr. Gibney began his “Totally Under Control” project in May after the coronavirus ripped through New York, killing one of his friends and putting another one on a ventilator. He and his co-directors, Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger, trace the administration’s delayed response, its failure to secure proper protective equipment and the subsequent politicization of science regarding the pandemic.

The documentary features, among others, Dr. Rick Bright, the whistle-blower from the Department of Health and Human Services; Kathleen Sebelius, the department’s secretary under President Barack Obama; and Max Kennedy Jr., a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy who sent an anonymous complaint in April to Congress detailing the “dangerous incompetence” of the Trump coronavirus task force, for which he was a volunteer.

“I hope it makes a huge difference,” Mr. Gibney said of his film, which became available on demand on Tuesday and will stream on Hulu next week.

“It’s a crime film, and the crimes we discovered were fraud and negligence,” he added. “If you are looking at it from the perspective of ‘Did this administration do all it could to protect American citizens?’ — that’s an important piece of information to have when you are going to the voting booth.”

Hollywood’s liberal leanings have long been known, and that hasn’t changed this year. Last month on Instagram, Dwayne Johnson announced his support for Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee. Mr. Johnson was soon followed by Taylor Swift. Last week, a group of naked actors including Sarah Silverman, Mark Ruffalo and Tiffany Haddish demonstrated in a viral video the proper way to send in a mail-in ballot.


Credit…Neon and Participant

Their efforts are not usually welcomed by those on the right. “Hollywood can be very off-putting to the other side, who are very much about staying in your lane,” Ms. Somanader of Crooked Media said. “It’s not that they actually reject entertainment, but rather they feel they are being rebuked by the people who entertain them.”

That’s not stopping Mr. Sorkin, who argues that actors have as much of a right to their political opinion as dentists do. The day before “The Trial of Chicago 7” became available on Netflix, HBO Max aired the “The West Wing Special,” a restaging of an “ode to voting” episode of the NBC show Mr. Sorkin created in 1999, to promote voting via Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote initiative.

With “The West Wing” often categorized as a “liberal fantasy,” Mr. Sorkin is bracing for a withering response from conservatives. He even wrote his defense into the introductory remarks that the actor Bradley Whitford read at the start of the special:

“We understand that most people don’t appreciate the benefit of unsolicited advice from actors, and if HBO Max was going to point a camera at the 10 smartest people in America, we would gladly clear the stage for them,” Mr. Whitford said. “But the camera is pointed at us, and we think that the risk of appearing obnoxious is too small a reason not to do something if we can get even one person to the polls.”

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Inside eBay’s Cockroach Cult: The Ghastly Story of a Stalking Scandal

Veronica Zea is pretty sure that before showing up to work at eBay in the spring of 2017, she used the site only once. She bought a surfing poster. It ended up in her closet.

Although Ms. Zea grew up in Santa Clara, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley, she cared little for the dazzlements of technology. In college, she studied criminology. After graduating, and a year spent recovering from knee surgery, she surprised herself by answering a classified ad and ending up at the e-commerce pioneer.

Ms. Zea’s first job at eBay was intelligence operator. In a windowless room at corporate headquarters in San Jose, she watched closed-circuit cameras and helped people who were locked out of their offices. Ms. Zea (pronounced ZAY) was 23, with no special skills, but she worked hard. Soon she was promoted to intelligence analyst, charged with staying ahead of geopolitical and individual threats.

Her division, Global Security and Resiliency, consisted of dozens of people, including retired police captains and former security consultants. But it was surprisingly intimate. “We’re a family,” James Baugh, the boss, and Stephanie Popp, her immediate supervisor, would say to the analysts. “We’re Mom and Dad.”

True, Dad could be kind of scary. Mr. Baugh was a stocky, middle-aged guy with thinning hair who loved to talk and did not like to be questioned. He would often say he used to work for the C.I.A. Sometimes he said his wife was working for the C.I.A. right now. Once, he found a knife on a barbecue grill on campus. A deranged person could have used it to hurt someone, he told the analysts, and proceeded to stab a chair. It was never removed, a warning for the timid. (Through his lawyer, Mr. Baugh declined to comment.)

Ms. Zea had never worked in an office. Her only real job before this was on the Grizzly roller coaster at California’s Great America amusement park. So she just accepted things. Like the way eBay was a regular film festival. Mr. Baugh would bring the analysts into a conference room and show the scene from “American Gangster” where Denzel Washington coolly executes a man in front of a crowd to make a point. Or a clip from “The Wolf of Wall Street,” where the feds are investigating shady deeds but none of the perpetrators can recall a thing. Or the bit from “Meet the Fockers” about a retired C.I.A. agent’s “circle of trust.”

That one came up frequently. “No one is supposed to know this,” Mr. Baugh would tell the analysts about some piece of office gossip. “We’ll keep it in the circle of trust.”


Like the other analysts, Ms. Zea was a contract worker. Her ambition was to be hired by eBay itself. One mistake could crush that hope, and even risk lives. It was her responsibility to track “persons of interest” — individuals who might pose a danger to eBay — and rank them in a threat matrix. The woman who shot three people at YouTube in April 2018 proved there were people out there with a grudge against tech.

“We need to be ready,” Mr. Baugh would say. “We are the only ones who can prevent it from being really bad.” Drills happened when the analysts least expected. “There’s an active shooter in Building Two!” they would suddenly be told. Everyone would scramble.

There were usually six analysts, but turnover was high. Ms. Zea noticed that the men were becoming scarce. By May 2018 the group was entirely female. Mr. Baugh had a video for that too: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg explaining “why we have too few women leaders.”

Ms. Sandberg did not say these women should all be young and blonde — “Charlie’s Angels” and “Jim’s Angels” were their nicknames in the executive suite — but Ms. Zea wasn’t about to point that out. Women got fired, too, and afterward the survivors would whisper about why. One departed analyst had been reprimanded for not smiling in front of executives. Another was let go because she sang to keep herself awake during the night shift. A third because she chewed on her pen.

In January 2019, the temperature in Global Security and Resiliency went up even further. Elliott Management, a hedge fund considered merciless even by Wall Street standards, bought a chunk of eBay and asked for changes. Nobody was safe — especially the chief executive, Devin Wenig. The co-founder of another company that had earlier drawn the attention of Elliott said the experience of looking up the fund online was like “Googling this thing on your arm and it says, ‘You’re going to die.’”

As Mr. Wenig and other eBay executives tried to make nice with the hedge fund, they did not want to hear criticism of the company. That could cause trouble. And if some critic persisted? They needed to shut up. If necessary, they needed to be scared speechless.

Another mandatory video was from “Billions,” the TV drama about Wall Street ruthlessness. At least five times, Ms. Zea was compelled to watch a scene in which a billionaire toys with a subordinate he has caught considering a job with a competitor. “You don’t try to be loyal,” the billionaire sneers. “You just are.”

Loyalty. That was one of the tenets of Global Security and Resiliency. In the summer of 2019, Ms. Zea did what her boss, and her boss’s boss, and the chief executive of the $28 billion company wanted — even as those things got more and more deranged, and as they were all drawn into the most lurid scandal in the history of Silicon Valley.


Credit…Cayce Clifford for The New York Times

One year later, on June 15, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice charged six former eBay employees, all part of the corporate security team, with conspiring to commit cyberstalking and tamper with witnesses. Their alleged targets were almost comically obscure — a mom-and-pop blogging duo from a suburb of Boston and a Twitter gadfly who wrote often in their comments section. According to the government, their methods were juvenile and grotesque, featuring cockroaches, pornography, barely veiled threats of violence and death, physical surveillance and the weaponization of late-night pizza.

“This was a determined, systematic effort by senior employees of a major company to destroy the lives of a couple in Natick,” said the U.S. attorney in Boston, Andrew Lelling, at a news conference, “all because they published content the company executives didn’t like.”

Each charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. Mr. Baugh, whose age was given as 45, and his deputy, David Harville, 48, were arrested. The other defendants are Ms. Zea, who is now 26; Ms. Popp, 32; Stephanie Stockwell, 26; and Brian Gilbert, 51. A seventh employee, Philip Cooke, 55, was charged in July. Contacted through their lawyers, none would comment except Ms. Zea, who said she would plead guilty. Ms. Popp, Ms. Stockwell, Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Cooke are expected to do the same. The case is still open.

This account is based on court documents and dozens of interviews with people who followed the stalking scandal closely, including six who worked in Global Security and Resilience. The scheme they describe was both completely malevolent and remarkably inept — full of daft assumptions on the part of eBay about a plot that did not exist. It stands as a warning about how easily tech companies can feel aggrieved, and the mayhem that can ensue when they do. And it vividly shows how the internet makes people crazy, often without them ever realizing it.

Paul Florence was the chief executive of Concentric Advisors, the staffing agency that placed Ms. Zea at eBay. “It felt like eBay was breaking the analysts down psychologically — making them doubt themselves, isolating them, turning them against each other,” he said. In 18 months, eBay fired at least a dozen analysts. When Mr. Florence protested, his firm was fired, too.

“I was relieved,” he said. “It seemed like a cult.”

Like many people during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, Ina and David Steiner took a hobby and turned it into a business. Ina worked at a publishing company and collected books. David, a video producer, had been going to yard sales since he was a kid. He liked advertising collectibles, antique tools — anything that caught his eye. In 1999, four years after eBay was founded, when the notion of transacting with strangers online was still for the bold, they started a modest website offering advice to buyers.

They called it AuctionBytes, which later morphed into EcommerceBytes. Eventually, by tracking trends and policy updates across the industry, it became a resource for sellers on a number of platforms, from Etsy to Amazon — a kind of trade publication for anyone whose business is auctioning items out of a garage or storage unit. Today, Ina is in her late 50s and does the writing. David is in his early 60s and is the publisher. Neither has spoken to the press since eBay’s alleged plot against them came to light.


Credit…Jodi Hilton for The New York Times

EcommerceBytes may not have been well-known, but it was required reading at the highest levels of eBay. In early 2019, Ms. Steiner shared the news that eBay had hired a new communications chief, Steve Wymer, who would report directly to Mr. Wenig.

The two men shared an aggressive streak. Mr. Wenig had spent most of his career in East Coast financial media, as a lawyer and executive at Thomson Reuters, and he maintained a certain New York alpha quality. Before working as a technology spokesman, Mr. Wymer had spun for three Republican senators in Washington, and he kept up an interest in politics. When Representative John Lewis tweeted about the civic importance of getting in “good trouble, necessary trouble,” for instance, Mr. Wymer replied that he had “another view on how the USA should be governed. My view is equal to your view.”

Publicly, Mr. Wenig celebrated eBay’s five community values — among them, “People are basically good” and “We encourage you to treat others the way you want to be treated.” But together, he and Mr. Wymer worked to forge a more combative eBay, one that drew less inspiration from the Golden Rule and more from “The Sopranos.” (They did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and eBay would not make any executives available for interviews.)

While neither Mr. Wenig nor Mr. Wymer have been charged — both have denied involvement in the intimidation campaign — they clearly loathed Ms. Steiner. In April 2019, she wrote about the chief executive’s compensation, noting that his haul of $18 million was 152 times what the average worker got, and mildly suggested it was coming at the expense of eBay sellers. After her post was published, Mr. Wymer texted a link to Mr. Wenig, adding: “We are going to crush this lady.”


Credit…Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Credit…Mike Coppola/Getty Images for eBay

Whether Ms. Steiner was breaking news about questionable expenditures, such as a pub eBay built on its campus, or marking more innocuous developments, Mr. Wenig seemed to find her existence infuriating. On May 31, 2019, she wrote that he had “promised to give sellers greater protection” from fraudulent buyers.

“Shockingly reasonable…” Mr. Wymer wrote to Mr. Wenig.

“I couldn’t care less what she says,” the C.E.O. responded, adding: “Take her down.”

If there was one person Mr. Wenig detested as much as the Steiners, it was a Twitter gadfly best known by the handle “Fidomaster.” His wife sold on eBay and he thought the site was often unfair to sellers, so he would tweet about it. Each message might get no more than a dozen likes, but the Global Security and Resiliency analysts kept a file on him, and it quickly grew fat.

Mr. Baugh was convinced that there was a sinister relationship between the Steiners and Fidomaster — that they were actively conspiring to damage eBay. (He even indulged a theory that Fidomaster was the Steiners’ secret alter ego.) Eight days after Mr. Wenig’s “take her down” message, a member of the security team flew across the country and drove to the Steiners’ home, a steeply roofed charmer on a quiet street. On their fence, prosecutors say, he scrawled the word “FIDOMASTER.”

It was both ridiculous and threatening, and a taste of just how weird things would get.

Ebay never learned Fidomaster’s real name. Neither have I, although we spoke extensively by phone, email and Twitter. Fidomaster shared a parallel story of eBay subterfuge that is only glancingly mentioned in the criminal complaint covering the harassment of the Steiners.

In mid-2019, Fidomaster received an unsolicited message from a new Twitter user calling herself Marissa. Her picture showed her to be about 25. Claiming to be a former eBay employee, she said she possessed “extremely damaging videos of executives misbehaving” — and wanted help passing them to the Steiners.

She was fishing for Fidomaster to acknowledge that he was in league with them. When Fidomaster pointed out the obvious ways one could reach Ms. Steiner, whose email address was public, Marissa suggested leaving the videos on a thumb drive at “a hotel in the city of your choice.” The wilder her suggestions got, the more Fidomaster resisted. Get a lawyer, he kept suggesting.

According to Ms. Zea, “Marissa” was two of her fellow analysts. Fidomaster’s reluctance to take the hotel bait could have suggested to eBay that perhaps its paranoia was out of control. Instead, leaders of the security team concluded that they needed to redouble their efforts.

On Aug. 1, 2019, Ina Steiner wrote a post about a lawsuit eBay had filed against Amazon. Although it was just a couple of paragraphs, and contained only a light note of skepticism about Mr. Wenig’s strategy, the chief executive was irate. Thirty-three minutes after the EcommerceBytes article went up, he texted Mr. Wymer: “If you are ever going to take her is the time.”

“On it,” Mr. Wymer responded. He texted Mr. Baugh. “Hatred is a sin,” wrote Mr. Wymer, the son and grandson of Baptist pastors. “I am very sinful.”

Mr. Baugh signaled that he was ready to escalate. “Amen. I want her DONE,” Mr. Wymer wrote. “She is biased troll who needs to get BURNED DOWN.”

Mr. Wenig was going to Italy on sabbatical for August. EcommerceBytes needed to be taken care of before he returned.

Planning for the harassment campaign began, naturally, with a movie. Mr. Baugh showed the analysts a clip from “Johnny Be Good,” a 1988 teen comedy, in which a villainous football coach must deal with a host of pests arriving at his house simultaneously: a delivery guy with hundreds of dollars of unwanted pizza, singing and dancing Hare Krishnas and their elephant, a rodent exterminator, a male stripper. Mr. Baugh asked the analysts for inspiration. One of them suggested sending the Steiners a coffin.

The security chief made it clear that eBay’s leadership supported taking action, forwarding a message by Mr. Wymer in which he declared that Ms. Steiner and Fidomaster “have seemingly dedicated their lives to erroneously trashing us.” Mr. Wymer continued: “I genuinely believe these people are acting out of malice and ANYTHING we can do to solve it must be explored.” He signed off with: “Whatever. It. Takes.”



According to prosecutors, Mr. Baugh and members of the security team devised a convoluted and improbable strategy: to secretly harass the Steiners, and then offer eBay’s assistance in stopping the attacks — winning the Steiners’ confidence and manipulating them into favorable coverage of eBay. They called it “the White Knight strategy.” Inevitably, there was a movie screening: “Body of Lies,” a C.I.A. thriller about a fake plot that draws out a real terrorist.

Prosecutors say that on Aug. 7, Ms. Popp — the “Mom” to Mr. Baugh’s “Dad” — began sending Twitter messages to Ms. Steiner via a fake account, @Tui_Elei. The profile picture was a skull, and he seemed to be an eBay user from Samoa who believed that EcommerceBytes had harmed his sales. Ms. Steiner ignored the messages, even as the tone got angrier and more abusive. @Tui_Elei wrote: “I guess im goin to have to get ur attention another way bitch…”

A parade of disturbing deliveries began at 4 p.m. on Aug. 10, when a package containing a bloody pig mask arrived at the Steiners’ home. Fourteen minutes later, @Tui_Elei wrote: “DO I HAVE UR ATTENTION NOW????”

The Steiners received a book titled “Grief Diaries: Surviving the Loss of a Spouse” and a funeral wreath. They got fly larvae and live spiders and a box of cockroaches. Copies of the September issue of “Hustler: Barely Legal” touting “eye-popping 18-year-olds” arrived at the homes of neighbors with David Steiner’s name on them.

The Twitter bombardment continued, as @Tui_Elei began to hint at violence: “wen u hurt our bizness u hurt our familys… Ppl will do ANYTHING 2 protect family!!!!”

On his own Twitter account, Mr. Wymer evoked Fred Rogers — he said a movie about the inspirational TV personality made him cry, and he once retweeted Mr. Rogers’ line that “If there’s anything that bothers me, it’s one person demeaning another.” But inside eBay, Mr. Wymer was goading the harassment on.

“I want to see ashes,” he told Mr. Baugh on Aug. 11. “As long as it takes. Whatever it takes.”

Mr. Baugh shared the message with his deputy, David Harville, adding: “I’ve been ordered to find and destroy.”

After the menacing deliveries and the Twitter attacks, the third phase of eBay’s campaign against the Steiners began: physical surveillance in Natick.

On Aug. 15, Mr. Baugh and Ms. Zea flew first class across the country. She had to go, she was told. Late that night, after checking into the Ritz-Carlton in Boston and joining with Mr. Harville, they drove to the Steiners’ home in a rented vehicle. Their mission was to install a GPS device on the couple’s Toyota, but they soon discovered that the car was locked in the garage. Mr. Harville went to a hardware store, prosecutors say, and bought a pry bar and nitrile gloves so he could break in. (That never came to pass.)

The Steiners were suffering. “It was psychologically devastating,” Mr. Lelling, the U.S. attorney, later said. The couple lost sleep, became anxious and worried about being followed. They turned for help to the local police, who agreed to keep an eye on them.

On the team’s second day in Massachusetts, Mr. Baugh, Ms. Zea and Mr. Harville returned to Natick and began following the Steiners’ car as it drove the streets. They tapped into an internet feed of the Natick police radio, and when they overheard that they’d been spotted, they abandoned their pursuit.

But the torments continued. At 4:30 a.m., a 24-hour pizzeria delivered to the Steiners $70 of pies — and a demand for payment. @Tui _Elei kept up his semiliterate invective, with graphic sexual references. More pizza. Craigslist ads appeared, announcing estate sales (“Everything must go!”) and nightly swingers parties at the Steiner home (“Come knock on the door/ring the doorbell anytime of day or night”). @Tui _Elei doxxed their home address.

Mr. Harville returned to California, and Ms. Popp took his place in Boston. The eBay team made another attempt at surveillance on Aug. 18, this time with a different rental car — which David Steiner managed to photograph. The fourth time they traveled to Natick to stalk the Steiners, a Jeep with tinted windows was parked outside the house, easily identified as an undercover cop. With satisfaction, Mr. Baugh wrote on WhatsApp: “They are seeing ghosts now. Lol.”

Laughing was a mistake — the Natick police were fast and efficient. A detective figured out that a payment had been made on some of the pizzas with a gift card bought in Silicon Valley, just a few miles from eBay headquarters, and the license plate of one of the rental cars was traced to Ms. Zea. It wasn’t hard to figure out where she worked. On Aug. 21, a detective showed up at the Ritz-Carlton to see her. After Ms. Zea dodged him, the detective called her phone as Mr. Baugh was hustling her to the airport. Mr. Baugh answered, pretended he was her husband, and played dumb.

Ms. Zea’s flight was not for hours, so they got a hotel room at the airport to hide out. Mr. Baugh sat on the couch and played a clip from the 2003 comedy “Old School,” in which a husband answers the door to a fellow who says, “I’m here for the gang bang.” He kept watching it over and over and laughing, telling Ms. Zea to lighten up.

The Natick police got the F.B.I. involved, as well as eBay’s lawyers, who began their own investigation. According to prosecutors, Mr. Baugh’s security team began a cover-up. To explain away why a gift card used in Natick had been purchased in eBay’s backyard, they combed their list of “persons of interest” — anybody who’d ever made a threat against the company — for locals, so that they could frame someone. They also considered creating a stalker from whole cloth, preferably a Samoan, to match the fake @Tui_Elei account.

Managers also ordered up fake dossiers on the Steiners as persons of interest themselves, for the purpose of sharing them with police — to “make them look crazy,” as one of them put it, and discredit their harassment complaints.

Meanwhile, members of the security team wrote emails to one another to create the appearance that they had just discovered the @Tui_Elei tweets, and one of them, Brian Gilbert, phoned the Steiners, ostensibly to offer eBay’s support — the final step of the “white knight” strategy. “Just made phone contact,” Mr. Gilbert informed the team afterward. “They are totally rattled and immediately referred me to Natick PD.”

For hours, prosecutors say, the team workshopped cover stories to mislead the Natick authorities, and at one point considered enlisting a “friendly” in a Bay Area police department to provide falsified security camera footage. The next day, Aug. 22, Mr. Gilbert met with Natick detectives. According to records produced by prosecutors, the confident tone of the security team’s communications changed almost immediately.

On Aug. 25, looking for some high-level support, Mr. Baugh wrote Mr. Wymer that his team had done an “Op” on “our friend in Boston.” Police had gotten wind, he said, and even eBay’s lawyers were asking questions. “If there is any way to get some top cover that would be great,” he wrote. Mr. Wymer’s response is unknown.

Mr. Baugh’s team tried to stonewall company investigators. When eBay’s legal department interviewed Ms. Zea the next day, over speakerphone, the lawyers did not know that Ms. Popp was coaching her in the background. Ms. Zea lied, saying she had been in Boston to attend a conference. Afterward, according to prosecutors, Mr. Baugh instructed the team to erase data from their phones. By the end of the month, eBay lawyers knew enough to place the first members of Global Security and Resiliency, including Mr. Baugh, on administrative leave.

On Sept. 18, Ms. Zea got a message from her placement agency: “We find it necessary to terminate your employment effective today.” She received no severance. Mr. Wymer was also fired. Mr. Wenig resigned later in the month, saying it was clear he “was not on the same page” as the eBay board. There was no hint of scandal. His exit package was $57 million.

In June 2020, when the F.B.I. completed its investigation and the charges became public, Mr. Wenig said in a statement that he had done nothing wrong. “There was no direction, no knowledge, no private understanding, no tacit approval. Ever,” he said. “I was just speaking off the cuff.” In a separate statement, Mr. Wymer said he would “never condone or participate in” any of the activities directed against the Steiners.

Ina Steiner continues to cover eBay news big and small. The company’s stock has nearly doubled since a March low, thanks to the coronavirus powering online sales. Elliott Management has booked a substantial profit.

Ms. Zea is faring less well. She got a job as an analyst at a big social media company last fall, but when the Steiner case became public, she was fired. She has moved back in with her parents. She used the people-tracking skills she acquired at eBay to wipe herself off the internet. Some days, she feels she barely exists at all.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Why didn’t I leave?’” she says. “But in the moment, I was terrified and stuck. I am so sorry. I regret playing even a small role here. If I could go back in time and prevent the Steiners from experiencing this in any way, I would do so in a heartbeat.”

She says she did little in Massachusetts except sometimes drive the rented cars around Natick and call her mother and cry about how much she hated her job. It had been truly sadistic: Once, a guard pulled all the analysts’ personal possessions out of their lockers and dumped them in trash bags, to teach them that they could not expect privacy at work. This was followed by a clip about locker discipline from the Vietnam film “Full Metal Jacket.”

Tech platforms are used to commit crimes all the time, but Ms. Zea’s experience is something new: being asked to commit a crime to protect the platform itself, or at least protect the executives running it. Balk — as one of her colleagues did — and you’re fired. Go along with the plan, trusting that the ex-police captains on your team know the difference between right and wrong, and your fate might be much worse.

“I don’t know when I’ll ever trust an employer again — or when an employer will ever trust me,” Ms. Zea said.

Mr. Wenig and Mr. Wymer have no such worries. In June, Mr. Wenig was re-elected to the board of General Motors, a position that pays $317,000 a year. Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive, called the cyberstalking scandal “regrettable” but noted “it didn’t involve any GM business.”

Mr. Wymer has a new job, as the chief executive of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley. The chair of the board said the nonprofit was “aware” of what happened at eBay, but believes Mr. Wymer is “a leader with integrity” and was the unanimous choice for the job.

A tweet from the organization announcing his hiring included as a hashtag Mr. Wymer’s signature phrase: Whatever It Takes. For the children of Silicon Valley in the bleak year 2020, that’s the new Golden Rule.

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‘Tenet’ Didn’t Bring Audiences Back to Movie Theaters. Now What?

LOS ANGELES — “Tenet” was supposed to mark the return of the movie theater business in the United States. Instead, it has shown just how much trouble the industry is in.

After five months of pandemic-forced closure, the big movie theater chains reopened in roughly 68 percent of the United States by Labor Day weekend, in large part so they could show the $200 million film, which Warner Bros. promoted as “a global tent pole of jaw-dropping size, scope and scale.” But “Tenet,” directed by the box office heavyweight Christopher Nolan, instead arrived with a whimper: It collected $9.4 million in its first weekend in North America and just $29.5 million over its first two weeks.

Theaters remain closed in New York and Los Angeles, the two biggest markets in the United States and the center of Mr. Nolan’s fan base. In the areas where “Tenet” did play, audience concern about safety — even with theater capacity limited to 50 percent or less in most locations — likely hurt ticket sales. Box office analysts also noted that “Tenet” is a complicated, cerebral movie with little star power; a frothier, more escapist offering may have had an easier time coaxing people back to cinemas.

Whatever the reason, the bottom line was strikingly clear: People aren’t going to the movies at anywhere close to the numbers that Hollywood hoped, and things are not expected to improve in the near term. Studios are postponing big movies again — “Wonder Woman 1984” retreated last week, prompting at least three studios to convene meetings on Monday to discuss how to proceed with other scheduled releases — leaving theater owners without much new to offer for the next two months. Some analysts have started to re-sound alarm bells about the future of the theater business.

“We have no way of forecasting how long it will take for consumer comfort with indoor movie theaters to return,” Rich Greenfield, a founder of the Lightshed Partners media research firm, wrote in a report on Monday.

Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

In recent days, Warner Bros. shifted “Wonder Woman 1984” to Christmas Day from Oct. 2, and MGM/Universal pushed back the slasher remake “Candyman” to next year. STX announced it was moving its Gerard Butler-starring disaster movie “Greenland” out of September to later this year. Marvel’s “Black Widow” and Pixar’s “Soul” are two films supposed to come out in November whose future now seems in question.

“I’m disappointed that the marketplace is still 30 percent unopened,” Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. president of distribution, said. “The markets we are missing are key markets where Chris Nolan movies have really performed well in the past.” Mr. Nolan’s last three non-franchise movies — “Inception,” “Interstellar” and “Dunkirk” — opened in the $50 million range in North America and went on to collect between $527 million and $837 million worldwide, with the bulk of sales coming from overseas.

Theater owners now must put their faith into two factors out of their control: studios staying the course with end-of-year releases, and New York and Los Angeles (along with San Francisco, the No. 3 market in the country) allowing theaters to reopen.

“Death on the Nile” from Disney’s Twentieth Century division is the biggest-budgeted movie still scheduled to come out in October. If “Black Widow” (Nov. 6) or the James Bond spectacle “No Time to Die” (Nov. 20) get pushed back or moved online — as Disney did recently with “Mulan” — theaters are likely to face arduous conversations about their futures with investors and lenders.

In addition, the longer the pandemic drags on, the more that streaming becomes a threat to theaters. At least a dozen movies originally destined for big screens, including “Hamilton,” “Trolls World Tour” and “Greyhound,” have been redirected to streaming services or online rental platforms. The move has kept money flowing to studios, but analysts say that it has undercut theaters by training consumers to expect new films to be instantly available in their homes.

“We’re learning that markets being opened, cinemas having safety protocols and studios releasing movies are all tied together,” John Fithian, chief executive of the National Association of Theatre Owners, said in an email. “Open markets need safe cinemas, movies need open markets, cinemas need movies. All these things raise audience awareness and comfort in returning to movies. You can’t do one at a time.”

Wall Street’s reaction to the “Tenet” opening and the “Wonder Woman” postponement is telling. AMC shares climbed to about $7 on Sept. 4, the day “Tenet” arrived in U.S. theaters, up from about $2 in April. They have since declined by about 17 percent. Cinemark has declined 18 percent since Sept. 4. Cineworld, the parent company of Regal Cinemas, is down 14 percent. (For context, the S&P 500 is flat for the period.)

“From a cash standpoint, we can see this thing through way into next year if need be,” Mark Zoradi, Cinemark’s chief executive, said by phone. The company, based in Texas, operates about 5,977 screens in the United States and Latin America. “The fourth quarter is getting our feet back on the ground. Next year is a transition year. 2022 is back to a sense of normality.”

He added that recent customer surveys had shown 97 percent satisfaction with safety protocols. “We’ve spent millions and millions of dollars getting this stuff right,” he said. “If we can convince the consumer that we have done all of these things, they are much more likely to want to come back.”

The nation’s largest multiplex chain, AMC Entertainment, declined to comment.

When it comes to the three largest film markets, expectations are tempered for both Los Angeles and San Francisco given the strict metrics California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced as part of its reopening plans. For New York though, exhibitors and studio executives alike are incensed that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given no specific time table for when movie theaters can reopen, coupling them with other large-crowd places like concert venues and amusement parks, while allowing bowling alleys and restaurants to resume indoor operations. Not only is New York City crucial for sales, much of the media coverage and online buzz surrounding new movies is generated from there. (The New York Times typically does not review films that are not playing in New York.)

“The industry needs New York to open as soon as possible,” said Ken Thewes, Regal Cinemas’ chief marketing officer. “Governor Cuomo has done a great job getting it under control, but we really need him to give cinemas the same thought that he’s given to the restaurant industry and let us resume operations.”

If those markets don’t open, and the studios get skittish, theater operators may have to take some dramatic steps to weather the storm. Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro, said cinemas may start reducing operating hours to minimize expenses — perhaps going down to 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. screenings only, and foregoing matinees and early-evening screenings. In some cases, theaters have leases that require them to operate seven days a week. For those that don’t, showing movies only on weekends may be an option.

“The next stretch is going to be extremely hard,” Mr. Robbins said.

“Tenet” was not the only movie released in August, but the others — “The New Mutants”($15 million) and “Unhinged” ($14 million) — haven’t fared much better at the box office, although they cost less than half as much to make.

For Mark Gill, the chief executive of Solstice Studios, the studio behind “Unhinged,” the film’s grosses are not nearly at the level he hoped for five weeks after release. Yet he says the international performance of “Tenet” — it has brought in $177 million worldwide — illustrates that if the United States can get its public safety issues under control, people will start going out to movie theaters again.

“You can see that this just links to the public health situation here,” he said. “The longer it takes us to get that under control, the tougher it’s going to be. It’s not a permanent problem but it’s a large temporary problem.”

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Films Hit Festivals Trying to Create Buzz Without a Crowd

LOS ANGELES — Some 70 cars crammed into a downtown Los Angeles parking lot surrounded by high rises and a smattering of food trucks on Thursday night to watch “Concrete Cowboy,” a father-son film starring Idris Elba and set in North Philadelphia’s Black cowboy community.

In terms of movie premieres, it was unorthodox.

“It is a dream come true,” Ricky Staub, the 37-year-old white filmmaker making his directorial debut, said with a big grin while standing in front of a huge screen. “I don’t know when you dream of releasing your movie it’s at a drive-in. But I never dreamed that my first movie would be an all-black western set in Philly.”

Mr. Staub had ambitious plans when “Concrete Cowboy” landed coveted spots in the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. He envisioned his cast of real cowboys descending onto Telluride’s red carpet in Colorado on horseback this month before flying north to be regaled in Toronto’s 2,500-seat Roy Thomson Hall theater — a choice venue for garnering all-important buzz in front of a packed crowd of industry luminaries and eager moviegoers.

That all changed when Telluride was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and Toronto opted for a hybrid model that features in-person screenings for Canadian audiences and a virtual version for everyone else.

“Everyone told me the best part of finishing your movie was when you started going to the festivals,” Mr. Staub said in an interview. “I don’t get to experience that at all. I have huge amounts of gratitude, but I’m sad I don’t get to go. It’s all just different degrees of being bummed.”

Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

The loss of traditional film festivals means more than missing out on cocktail parties and the red carpet, however. For small indie films like “Concrete Cowboy,” which cost under $10 million to make and is still seeking a distributor, not having a chance to build word-of-mouth momentum at the festivals could be the difference between becoming an unlikely Oscar darling or another also-ran in the video-on-demand market. At the Venice Film Festival, held in person with certain safety restrictions and concluding this week, “One Night in Miami” — the directorial debut of the Oscar-winning actress Regina King — has already generated early awards chatter. Amazon recently bought it in a bidding war.

“The eventized nature of what festivals are and what they do, from building momentum around a film and often a filmmaker, make what we do possible,” said Tom Quinn, the chief executive of Neon, which distributed “Parasite.” That film first caught audiences’ attention at the Cannes Film Festival last year before making its unlikely march to the Oscar stage, where it was named best picture.

“We lose all of that,” Mr. Quinn added. “It’s not as quantifiable. It’s hard to believe it’s really there if you can’t see it.”


Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

Toronto is trying to create that enthusiasm in the virtual world. Between a select number of online question-and-answer sessions with filmmakers, and both drive-in showings and 50-person theater screenings in Toronto, the event will showcase 50 films instead of the 333 it programmed in 2019. “Concrete Cowboy” will be shown at the festival Sunday — though the filmmakers won’t be there — and online on Monday.

Cameron Bailey, artistic director and co-head of the festival, admits that it’s “strange,” especially without the usual throngs crowding the streets during the 10-day international event. But he said the festival was still able to propel new filmmakers and films, even in a virtual world.

“A festival’s primary currency is intangible — it’s buzz,” Mr. Bailey said. “Buzz is not a physical thing. It doesn’t have to happen in a particular place, at a particular time. It can happen in all different ways, as we know from the internet on a daily basis.”

Film festivals have long been incubators of talented filmmakers. Steven Soderbergh pioneered the modern indie film movement when his first feature, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” debuted in 1989 at what is now the Sundance Film Festival, and Barry Jenkins and “Moonlight” began their march to the Oscars in Telluride in 2016.

Lee Daniels, a producer of “Concrete Cowboy,” saw his own career take off after debuting the second feature he directed, “Precious,” at Sundance in 2009. That early screening helped propel his movie to two Academy Awards, including one for Geoffrey Fletcher, who became the first Black screenwriter to win an Oscar.

“These festivals give birth to young voices, and they celebrate them,” Mr. Daniels said. “They nurture you.”

Mr. Daniels came aboard “Concrete Cowboy” as a producer because he was attracted to the story, centered on a Black father and son, and believed that he had found a new talent in Mr. Staub. He’s pleased that both Telluride and Toronto agreed.

He said he was confident the film would find an audience even without the traditional festival mechanisms. “The work speaks for itself,” Mr. Daniels said. “It’s strong.”


Credit…Green Door Pictures

“Concrete Cowboy” takes place among Black cowboys trying to preserve the last urban horse stable in an area that was once filled with them. It tells the story of Cole (Caleb McLaughlin from “Stranger Things”), a troubled 15-year old sent to live with his estranged father (Mr. Elba), a subdued horseman more comfortable with his animals than with other people.

The producers are hopeful that with so much production still paused and content companies, especially streamers, eager for more, the movie will find a buyer. (On Friday, Netflix bought Halle Berry’s directorial debut, “Bruised,” which is premiering in Toronto as a work in progress, for $19 million.) Also, the Oscars have been pushed back to April, meaning an award campaign could be started if the film receives positive critical response.

Even buyers like Neon, which prefers to have films play in theaters first, are planning on opening their wallets if they find a movie worth purchasing. “We are coming to Toronto to buy, definitely,” Mr. Quinn said. “Nothing has changed.”

In 2017, he bought “I, Tonya” after seeing it at Toronto. That film generated $54 million at the worldwide box office and earned Allison Janney an Oscar for best supporting actress.


Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

Mr. Elba, who is also a producer of “Concrete Cowboy,” acknowledged that the conditions for the film weren’t ideal, but he still embraced the thought of being involved with the festival. “It’s a very special film during a very special time,” he said in a recorded video message that played ahead of the Los Angeles drive-in event, which was hosted by the film’s sales agent, Endeavor Content.

“It’s a shame we are not there, but sometimes you’ve just got to shape shift and move and that’s what we did,” Mr. Elba said in a phone interview from New Mexico, where he is about to resume shooting on a Netflix movie that was postponed this year when he was infected by the coronavirus. “We, as a group, are thankful we get the opportunity to put it out there even if it isn’t with the bells and whistles we would like.”

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Disney Wanted to Make a Splash in China With ‘Mulan.’ It Stumbled Instead.

LOS ANGELES — Executives at Walt Disney Studios were celebrating. “Mulan,” a $200 million live-action spectacle five years in the making, had arrived on Disney’s streaming service to strong reviews, with critics lauding its ravishing scenery and thrilling battle sequences.

The abundant controversies that had dogged “Mulan” over its gestation — false rumors that Disney was casting a white lead actress, calls for a boycott after its star expressed support for the Hong Kong police — had largely dissipated by Sept. 4, when the film arrived online. Success looked likely around the world, including the crucial market of China, where “Mulan” is set and where Disney hoped its release in theaters on Friday would advance the company’s hold on Chinese imaginations and wallets.

“In many ways, the movie is a love letter to China,” Niki Caro, the film’s director, had told the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Then the credits rolled.

Almost as soon as the film arrived on Disney+, social media users noticed that, nine minutes into the film’s 10-minute end credits, the “Mulan” filmmakers had thanked eight government entities in Xinjiang, the region in China where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps.

Activists rushed out a new #BoycottMulan campaign, and Disney found itself the latest example of a global company stumbling as the United States and China increasingly clash over human rights, trade and security, even as their economies remain entwined.

Disney is one of the world’s savviest operators when it comes to China, having seamlessly opened Shanghai Disneyland in 2016, but it was caught flat-footed with “Mulan.” Top studio executives had not seen the Xinjiang credits, according to three people briefed on the matter, and no one involved with the production had warned that footage from the area was perhaps not a good idea.

The filmmakers may not have known what was happening there when they chose it as one of 20 locations in China to shoot scenery, but by the time a camera crew arrived in August 2018 the detention camps were all over the news. And all of this for what ended up being roughly a minute of background footage in a 1-hour-55-minute film.

Disney declined to comment.

Credit…Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Asked about the credits fiasco at a Bank of America conference on Thursday, Christine M. McCarthy, Disney’s chief financial officer, noted that it was common practice in Hollywood to credit government entities that allowed filming to take place. Although all scenes involving the primary cast were filmed in New Zealand, Disney shot scenery in China “to accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography for this historic period drama,” Ms. McCarthy said.

“I would just leave it at that,” she said, before allowing that the credits had “generated a lot of issues for us.”

No overseas market is more important to Hollywood than China, which is poised to overtake the United States and Canada as the world’s No. 1 box office engine. Disney has even more at stake. The Chinese government co-owns the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort, which Disney executives have said is the company’s greatest opportunity since Walt Disney himself bought land in central Florida in the 1960s. Disney is also pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into upgrades at its money-losing Hong Kong Disneyland in hopes of creating a must-visit attraction for families.

Disney worked overtime to ensure that “Mulan” would appeal to Chinese audiences. It cast household names, including Liu Yifei in the title role and Donnie Yen as Mulan’s regiment leader. The filmmakers cut a kiss between Mulan and her love interest on the advice of a Chinese test audience. Disney also shared the script with Chinese officials (a not-uncommon practice in Hollywood) and heeded the advice of Chinese consultants, who told Disney not to focus on a specific Chinese dynasty.


Credit…Keith Bradsher/The New York Times

“If ‘Mulan’ doesn’t work in China, we have a problem,” Alan F. Horn, co-chairman of Walt Disney Studios, told The Hollywood Reporter last year.

The “Mulan” controversy underscores the dilemma companies face when trying to balance their core principles with access to the Chinese market. The Chinese government shut out the National Basketball Association last year after the general manager of the Houston Rockets shared an image on Twitter that was supportive of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The backlash cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars. (After mounting pressure from American politicians to sever ties with a basketball academy in Xinjiang, the N.B.A. disclosed in July that it had already done so.)

Disney has long argued that its infractions are unfairly magnified because its brand provides a convenient punching bag. A lot of American companies had operations in Xinjiang in 2018, and some still source goods there.

Apologizing for the Xinjiang credits could anger China and threaten the release of future movies. China blocked the release of Disney’s animated “Mulan” for eight months in the late 1990s after the company backed Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun,” a film seen as sympathetic to the Dalai Lama. The animated “Mulan” bombed in China as a result.

“On one hand, Disney supports Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement and has been responsive to calls for inclusion by making a movie like ‘Mulan’ with an all-Asian cast and a female director,” said Michael Berry, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. “On the other, it has to be very careful on the topic of human rights in China. That’s business, of course, but it’s also hypocritical, and it makes some people angry.”


Credit…Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The political realities have shifted drastically since 2015, when Disney started working on “Mulan.” As part of its escalating confrontation with the Chinese government, the Trump administration has started to attack Hollywood for pandering to the country. In July, Attorney General William P. Barr criticized studios for making changes to films like “Doctor Strange” (2016) and “World War Z” (2013) to avoid trouble with China.

The pressure is not coming just from conservatives. PEN America, the free-speech advocacy group, on Aug. 5 released a major report on Hollywood’s censoring itself to appease China.

“Hollywood was already in the election-year cross hairs,” said Chris Fenton, the author of “Feeding the Dragon: Inside the Trillion Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the N.B.A. & American Business.” “This situation with ‘Mulan’ only makes it worse.”

At least 20 members of Congress have already written Disney to express outrage over the Xinjiang matter and demand more information.

It remains to be seen how “Mulan” will fare in China. The country’s 70,000 theaters have reopened, but most are still limiting capacity to 50 percent as a coronavirus precaution. Rampant piracy and chilly reviews could also cut into ticket sales.

On Friday, theaters in China were decked out with large posters of a fierce-looking Ms. Liu as Mulan, clad in a red robe and wielding a sword as her long black tresses billowed behind her. At one Beijing cinema, moviegoers were invited to test their archery skills.

By the end of the day, “Mulan” had taken in a humdrum $8 million. “The Lion King,” released last year, collected $13 million on its first day in China.

Detail-oriented Disney set out to make a movie that rang true to Chinese audiences in aspects big and small — much as the company approached Shanghai Disneyland. It infused the park with myriad Chinese elements and avoided classic Disney rides to circumvent cries of cultural imperialism.

“I had an army of Chinese advisers,” Ms. Caro, the film’s director, told the Xinhua News Agency. Many Chinese feel an intense ownership of the character of Mulan, having grown up learning about the 1,500-year-old “Ballad of Mulan” in school. The poem has been the source of inspiration for countless plays, poems and novels over the centuries.

In the quest to make a culturally authentic film — and to give “Mulan” sweep and scale — Disney sought to showcase the diverse scenery of China. In keeping with China’s rules on filming in the country, Disney teamed with a Chinese production company, which secured the necessary government permits. A crew filmed in the Xinjiang area for several days, including in the red sandstone Flaming Mountains near Turpan, said Sun Yu, a translator on the film.

“Usually when a lot of foreigners go to Xinjiang, officials there are pretty sensitive,” Ms. Sun said in an interview. “But actually our filming process went very smoothly because the local government was very supportive and understanding at the time.”

To find the perfect Mulan, Disney casting directors scoured the globe before choosing the Chinese-born Liu Yifei. To Disney, Ms. Liu was ideal: physically fit, a household name in China (for playing elegant maidens in martial arts dramas) and fluent in English, having spent part of her childhood in Queens.

Then, last summer, as tensions boiled in Hong Kong over the antigovernment protests, Ms. Liu reposted an image on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform, expressing support for the police there.

The backlash was swift. Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists quickly called for a boycott of the movie.

Mr. Horn told The Hollywood Reporter that her post had caught Disney by surprise. “We don’t wish to be political,” he said. “And to get dragged into a political discussion, I would argue, is sort of inherently unfair. We are not politicians.”

As Disney’s marketing campaign for “Mulan” ramped up this year, other contretemps surfaced. There were complaints about a lack of Asians among the core creative team; cries of sacrilege that Mushu, a wisecracking dragon in Disney’s animated version, had been jettisoned; and grumbles that this telling of the Mulan tale seemed to pander to Chinese nationalism.

The internet storms had mostly died down by the time “Mulan” arrived on Disney+ on Sept. 4. The credits changed that.

As many as one million Uighurs — a predominantly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic minority — have been rounded up into mass detention centers in Xinjiang in what advocates of human rights have called the worst abuse in China in decades. The entities mentioned in the movie’s credits included a local police bureau that the Trump administration blacklisted last year from doing business with U.S. companies.

As the backlash over Xinjiang mounted, China ordered major media outlets to limit their coverage of “Mulan,” according to three people familiar with the matter.

Still, on Friday night, the Emperor Cinema in Beijing was set for a “Mulan” party.

Some moviegoers wore red, in homage to the title character, while others opted for a more traditional Chinese look: flowing robes and bejeweled hair accessories. After the screening, two traditional Chinese opera singers dressed in elaborate red-and-yellow costumes took the stage to perform an excerpt from a well-known Henan Opera rendition of “Mulan” called “Who Says Women Are Inferior to Men?”

The movie had already been playing in China, thanks to pirated versions on the internet. By Friday’s opening, there were more than 76,000 reviews on Douban, a popular Chinese review website. Most were tepid, averaging 4.7 out of 10 stars. (The 1998 animated version had 7.8 stars.)

In a review posted on Weibo, Luo Jin, a Chinese film critic who goes by the nom de plume Magasa, called the film “General Tso’s Chicken” — an Americanized take on Chinese culture.

“Some people are just going to be against these Hollywood takes on Chinese movies no matter how well made the movie might be,” Mr. Luo said in a phone interview. “For them, the thinking is like, ‘Who are you to appropriate our culture for your own benefit?’”

Brooks Barnes reported from Los Angeles, and Amy Qin from Taipei, Taiwan. Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Beijing, and Amy Chang Chien from Taipei. Claire Fu contributed research from Beijing.

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Disney’s ‘Mulan’ Criticized for Filming in Xinjiang

Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” has drawn a fresh wave of criticism for being filmed partly in Xinjiang, the region in China where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps.

The outcry, which has spread to include U.S. lawmakers, was the latest example of how the new film, released on Disney+ over the weekend, has become a magnet for anger over the Chinese Communist Party’s policies promoting nationalism and ethnic Han chauvinism.

For months, the film has been facing calls for a boycott by supporters of the Hong Kong antigovernment protests after the movie’s star, Liu Yifei, said she backed the city’s police, who have been criticized for their use of force against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Last month, as Disney ramped up promotion for the new film, supporters of the Hong Kong protests anointed Agnes Chow, a prominent democracy activist who was recently arrested under the territory’s new national security law, as their own, “real” Mulan. The criticism of the movie this week also points to broader concerns about China’s aggressive efforts to assimilate minorities, leading to rapid cultural erosion.

Such fears drove protests last week that erupted in China’s northern Inner Mongolia region over a new education policy that would reduce the teaching of the Mongolian language in local schools in favor of Chinese, the language used by the dominant Han ethnic majority.

The latest backlash against Mulan began on Monday, when several social media users noticed that in the film’s credits, Disney thanked eight government entities in Xinjiang, a region in China’s far west that is home to the Uighurs. The predominantly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic minority have lived for years under increasingly expansive surveillance and repression in the region.

The entities mentioned in the movie’s credits included the police bureau in Turpan, an ancient Silk Road city in eastern Xinjiang that has a large Uighur population. Last October, the Trump administration placed that bureau and other police organizations in Xinjiang on a blacklist that forbids U.S. companies from selling or supplying products to them.

In Washington, politicians began firing off fiery missives against Disney. Rep. Mike Gallagher, Republican of Wisconsin, wrote on Twitter that “while the CCP is committing crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, @Disney thanked four of the propaganda departments that are lying to the world about these crimes. It also thanked the Turpan Public Security Bureau, which is on the entity list for its role in these atrocities.”

The details of Disney’s partnership with the authorities in Xinjiang are unclear. The company did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Tuesday morning. Calls to the regional and local propaganda departments in Xinjiang and Turpan on Tuesday also went unanswered.

“Mulan” is scheduled to be released in theaters in China on Friday. But the timing of the preproduction and the filming suggest that the cast and crew may have been in Xinjiang after the government expanded its crackdown in the region in 2017.

Production for the movie, which is about a Chinese folk heroine who disguises herself as a man to stand in for her ailing father in the army, reportedly began in 2018, with filming taking place mostly in China and New Zealand.

The Chinese Communist Party has rejected international criticism of the internment camps in Xinjiang and has described them as job-training centers that are necessary to fight Islamic extremism. But leaked documents and testimonies by former detainees have described a ruthless and coercive environment in which physical and verbal abuse, as well as grinding indoctrination sessions, are widespread.

Human rights advocates and legal scholars have called the crackdown in Xinjiang the worst collective human rights abuse in China in decades.

Grant Major, the film’s production designer, recently told Architectural Digest that the production team spent months in and around Xinjiang to do research before filming. In September 2017, Niki Caro, the film’s director, posted a photo of a vast desert landscape on her Instagram with the location marked as “Asia/Urumqi.” Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang.

The area surrounding Turpan, in addition to being known for its vast, rugged landscapes, is also the site of a number of detention camps. That includes the earliest documented case of what China has called “transformation through education” targeting Muslims, from August 2013, said Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington who has studied Chinese policies toward the Uighurs.

In 2016, Zhu Hailun, a former deputy party secretary in Xinjiang, inspected Turpan’s “centralized re-education de-extremification” work, which Mr. Zenz said was an indication that “the region was an early leading example of such work.” Mr. Zhu was one of a group of Chinese officials sanctioned by the Trump administration in July for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

“This film was undertaken with the assistance of the Chinese police while at the same time these police were committing crimes against the Uighur people in Turpan,” said Tahir Imin, a Uighur activist based in Washington. “Every big company in America needs to think about whether their business is helping the Chinese government oppress the Uighur people.”

Disney, which has long eyed China’s booming box office and growing middle class, has a history of running into political sensitivities in China. In 1996, the company was shut out of China’s film market after it angered officials with its backing of “Kundun,” Martin Scorsese’s 1997 film that is seen to be sympathetic to the Dalai Lama. In 2016, C. Robert Cargill, a screenwriter on “Doctor Strange,” said filmmakers had decided to scrub a central character of his Tibetan origins out of fear of treading on the Chinese government’s political sensitivities over Tibet.

Credit…Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The release of Disney’s original “Mulan” animated film from 1998 was delayed for a year as a result. It was not until Disney bought the foreign distribution rights to two Chinese feature films, hired a Chinese performance troupe to participate in the European release of “Mulan” and floated the idea of opening a theme park in the country that Chinese officials finally approved the release of the film in February 1999. Later that year, Disney announced plans to build a park in Hong Kong.

Disney is just the latest American company to come under fire for its affiliation with Xinjiang. In July, an ESPN investigation described reports of abuse of young players at the National Basketball Association’s player-development training camps in China, including in Xinjiang. After the investigation was published, the N.B.A. acknowledged for the first time it had closed its Xinjiang academy, but declined to say whether human rights had been a factor.

Thermo Fisher, a Massachusetts company, has also sold medical equipment used by the police in Xinjiang to collect DNA from Uighurs for social control purposes. Last year, the company, in the wake of criticism, said it would stop selling its gear to the authorities in Xinjiang.

On Monday, calls to boycott “Mulan” began growing on social media. Among the critics was Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, who accused Disney of bowing to pressure from Beijing. Supporters in Thailand and Taiwan had also urged a boycott of the movie, citing concerns about China’s growing influence in the region. The pro-democracy movement has become known as the #milkteaalliance, named after their shared love for the drink.

Edward Wong contributed reporting from Washington, and Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting from Taipei.

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Movies Anywhere officially launches its digital movie-lending feature, ‘Screen Pass’

Digital locker service Movies Anywhere is today officially launching its movie-sharing feature dubbed “Screen Pass,” which lets you lend out one of your purchased movies to a friend or family member. The feature was rushed into beta testing this March, followed by a more open public beta trial in April, thanks to increased demand from consumers stuck at home during coronavirus government lockdowns.

The Movies Anywhere app today allows customers centralized access their purchased movies from across a number of services, including iTunes, Vudu, Prime Video, YouTube, Xfinity and many others.

Today, the app is jointly operated by Disney, Universal, WB, Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox. The product itself had evolved from a 2014 version known as Disney Movies Anywhere, but later migrated to a new platform in 2017. The app was also rebuilt to accommodate an expanded group of operating partners, rebranded, and now operates as a different business than it did in years past.

In April, Movies Anywhere reported over 6,000 of the titles in its app were Screen Pass-eligible. Since then, it’s added 500 more movies to the collection, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit, A Star Is Born Encore, The Muppets, and National Treasure. With the additions, over 80% of its library titles can be shared through the new feature.

Image Credits: Movies Anywhere

To share a title, you’ll click the Screen Pass icon on the title and enter the details, like the recipient’s information. Shared movies can be sent out over text, email or a message to the recipient who has a week to accept. The shared movie then works like a digital movie rental, for the most part, as the viewer will have up to 14 days to watch and up to 72 hours to compete viewing after the movie has been started. But unlike rentals, the recipient doesn’t have to pay to watch — it’s free to both share and watch.

The company says early data from Screen Pass beta tests indicated the feature has the potential to drive new acquisitions and purchases.

45% of senders shared a movie using Screen Pass because someone else had first shared a movie with them. 30% of those who received a shared movie were new to the Movies Anywhere platform. A small number of movies drove around 9% of total shares, including Ready Player One, The Prestige, Tombstone, The Mule, Bad Times at El Royale, and Jaws. This data indicates that Screen Pass shares weren’t limited to newer titles, as one may expect, but also included older classics.

In addition, around half of sharers (53%) chose the movie they were lending, versus 47% who let the recipient choose. But this could be due to how the Screen Pass beta test was structured, as recipients would be opted into the beta test by accepting a share from another member. It’s likely that some portion of the early group was simply inviting their friends by sharing a title with them.

In addition to Screen Pass sharing, Movies Anywhere also recently introduced a co-viewing feature called Watch Together which offers a synced viewing experience with up to 9 other people. This product works via Screen Pass, and competes with a variety of solutions that emerged or grew in popularity amid the pandemic, including those from Hulu, Amazon, and third-parties like Scener and Netflix Party, among others.

Screen Pass is launching today to all Movies Anywhere customers in the U.S. The Movies Anywhere app works across a range of devices, including iOS and Android mobile, Apple TV, Roku, Kindle Fire, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and LG and Vizio smart TVs.

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Movies Are Returning to Theaters. Will Audiences Follow?

HENDERSON, Nev. — The Regal Sunset Station multiplex in suburban Las Vegas reopened on Thursday night after sitting empty for five months in eerie pandemic-forced exile. One of the first people to take a center seat, popcorn and orange soda in hand, was Brian Truitt, who bought tickets to “The New Mutants,” a Marvel superhero movie, a week in advance.

“I figured it would be jammed, with pent-up demand to come to the movies again,” Mr. Truitt, 38, said as he sat back in his reclining seat and tugged at his face mask. He looked around the mostly empty auditorium, with capacity for 172, and shrugged in surprise. “I guess not.”

For the first time since March, big-budget movies are being released again in theaters. “The New Mutants” cost at least $70 million to make and market. Coming next week is Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” a hotly anticipated $200 million thriller. But the willingness of Americans to return to theaters — to sit inside a closed room with strangers for hours, regardless of the safety protocols — remains anything but certain. For Hollywood, which has come to rely on superheroes and star directors like Mr. Nolan as relatively sure bets, releasing these films is like stepping off a ledge without knowing where the ground lies.

If Thursday night at Regal Sunset Station was any indication, the drop could be considerable. By the time the lights dimmed for the 7 p.m. show and trailers started to play, the sound system jouncing everyone’s insides, only 28 people had turned up, including myself.

Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

Maybe it was the movie. “The New Mutants,” a long-delayed “X-Men” thriller, has been beleaguered by bad buzz and was lightly marketed by Walt Disney Studios. It epitomizes what many people think is wrong with Hollywood: endless overreliance on superheroes (“New Mutants” is the 13th installment in the 20-year-old “X-Men” franchise); corporate consolidation (the film was delayed because of Disney’s takeover of 20th Century Fox); filmmaking by committee (at least eight writers worked on the project).

Theater executives have pointed to “Tenet” as the film that will send people cascading back into seats and restore a sense of normalcy to an industry that was essentially brought to a standstill by the pandemic. The economics for “Tenet” and other megamovies work only if lots of people leave their houses and buy tickets to see them in theaters. Put another way, if people don’t return to the theaters, it may change what is available to watch — studios may have to start making less expensive films.

Maybe it was the still-threatening coronavirus. Studio research has indicated that the majority of Americans are not ready to immediately return to theaters, even with theater companies promoting a wide array of safety procedures: capacity limited to 50 percent, enhanced air filtration, aggressive cleaning, masks required except when eating or drinking. Nevada reported 632 new coronavirus infections on Friday, reversing a week of declines.

Or maybe moviegoing has changed forever.


Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

With theaters closed, studios have made films like “Hamilton,” “Trolls World Tour” and, coming up, “Mulan” available on streaming or on-demand services, training people to expect instant access to big movies in their living rooms. “Consumer interest in moviegoing will be meaningfully reduced,” Rich Greenfield, a founder of the LightShed Partners media research firm, wrote in an Aug. 6 report. “Moviegoing will not disappear, but there will not be enough demand (nor supply of content) to support 40,000+ screens in the U.S.” (The country has 40,998 movie screens, according to the National Association of Theater Owners.)

Theater executives from companies like Regal, AMC and Cinemark disagree. They are betting that a Covid-19 vaccine will arrive and that studios will soon return to their decades-old system of releasing movies, first in theaters for an exclusive period of several months and then in homes. Mark Zoradi, the chief executive of Cinemark, recently told analysts on a conference call that the box office should become relatively “normalized” by 2022.

“There is significant pent-up demand for the theatrical out-of-home experience, with the gigantic screens, immersive sight and sound technology and, of course, that irresistible movie theater popcorn,” Mr. Zoradi said.


But the trial balloon that is “New Mutants” suggests that the road ahead for Hollywood will be anything but easy.


Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

“It felt odd,” Shawn Mitchell, 25, said about returning to the movies as he left Regal Sunset Station on Thursday. “It was harder to just zone out during the movie. Now you’re more aware of what’s happening around you in the theater.”

Was that the sound of someone shaking kernels in the bottom of a popcorn bucket — or a dry cough? (Whew, popcorn.) Were any workers monitoring the theater as the movie played and reminding patrons that they had to wear masks if they weren’t eating or drinking? (Not that I ever saw.) Is that woman sitting nearby seriously going to watch the entire film with her mask dangling from one ear? (Yup.)

By the end of the 98-minute movie, many of the attendees were mask free, their popcorn long since munched. At one point, my mind wandered away from the mutants trying to escape a marauding computer-generated bear. I couldn’t stop thinking about a trailer for a coming disaster movie that had played before the film in which a voice had instructed: “Seek shelter immediately! Seek shelter immediately!” I comforted myself by tightening my own mask and using some Clorox wipes to make a little pillow for my head on the reclining seat.

But no one else seemed concerned. “I’m young and healthy, so I’m not really worried about it,” said a mask-free Malary Marshall, 24, before the movie started.


Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

Lois Gumataotao, 69, who came to see “New Mutants” at Regal Sunset Station with her husband and grandson, said she was satisfied with the safety protocols, noting in particular that the theater was leaving one seat unfilled between groups to create distance. The Gumataotaos also kept their masks on.

“We felt safe,” Ms. Gumataotao said. She added, “There was not a big crowd, but if there was we would have felt differently.”

She was not thrilled about “The New Mutants” as the main offering, however. “It was the only thing they had,” she said. (Although the 13-screen multiplex was mostly showing “The New Mutants,” it had one other new film on offer on Thursday night: “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” a modestly budgeted comedic drama based on the Charles Dickens classic. Another new film, “Unhinged,” a road-rage thriller starring Russell Crowe, joined the lineup on Friday.)

Everyone in attendance did agree on one thing. Having just reopened, the Regal outpost was spotless.

“I have also never seen a theater as clean as this one is right now,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Normally at a lot of theaters there is popcorn and all sorts of yuck on the floor. I really hope they keep it this way.”


Credit…Claire Folger/20th Century Studios
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New Safety Standards for Moviegoing as U.S. Theaters Reopen

LOS ANGELES — “Some people go to the gym. Some people go to church,” Megan Colligan, the president of Imax Entertainment, said at a news conference on Friday to mark the reopening of theaters in much of the United States. “And some people really do need to go to the movies.”

The film industry is holding its breath that she is right.

For the first time since March, when the pandemic brought much of American life to a halt, the nation’s major multiplex chains are selling tickets and serving popcorn again — although not in six states (New York, California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland and New Mexico) where government officials say it remains too dangerous.

To help convince the rest of the country that moviegoing is safe, Ms. Colligan and the chief executives of the four largest theater chains in the United States — AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, Marcus Theaters and Regal Cinemas — appeared together via Zoom on Friday to announce uniform health protocols: mask requirements, limited capacity, no condiment stations, plexiglass partitions and enhanced air-filtration systems (or at least in top working order).

Most of the protocols, including limiting capacity to 40 percent or 50 percent (depending on the chain), had already been announced piecemeal by the companies. But consumer research, they said, indicated that moviegoers wanted to know that standards were uniform.

So they unveiled a campaign called CinemaSafe. More than 2,600 theaters operating more than 30,000 screens in the United States have signed on, according to the executives. Participating locations will display logos with a green check mark on a theater seat and the slogan “Your safety is our focus.”


Credit…Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Credit…Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The group also sought to position moviegoing as no different from other public activities to which many people had returned, like eating in restaurants. Dr. Joyce L. Sanchez, an infectious-disease expert at the Medical College of Wisconsin, noted that most films run about 90 minutes to two hours.

“It’s pretty similar to the time on a short-distance flight, which a lot of America is doing at this point,” she said at the news conference, which was organized by the National Association of Theater Owners, a trade group. Dr. Sanchez was not paid by the theater association to give her assessment of CinemaSafe.

But what about mask enforcement (in the dark, no less)? Some airlines have been kicking people off flights if they refuse to wear masks.

“We already do routine checks as movies are playing to make sure the sound and picture quality are excellent,” Mooky Greidinger, the chief executive of Cineworld, which owns Regal, said in a phone interview earlier in the week. “Those people will now be watching to see that people are wearing masks. These people will be opening an extra eye.”

That responsibility could pose challenges for theater workers, some of whom are teenagers. Retailers have had difficulties policing mask policies. In some instances, fights have broken out.

Mr. Greidinger said his company had already reopened its theaters in Britain and other European countries and had experienced “very, very small numbers of arguments.” Regarding mask comfort, he said: “I’m not going to say it’s the greatest. But after 10 minutes they will forget.”

This weekend, movie offerings include “Unhinged,” a road-rage thriller starring Russell Crowe that will play in more than 1,800 theaters in the United States and Canada. An X-Men movie, “The New Mutants,” and a faith-based film, “Fatima,” roll out next Friday. Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated “Tenet” arrives on Sept. 3 in the United States.

Movie theater companies are desperate to begin selling tickets again. Domestic ticket sales so far this year total $1.8 billion, a 76 percent decline from the same period in 2019.

Credit…Angela Weiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Regal and its competitors, however, make most of their money on concessions. But is it a good idea to be munching on popcorn — and removing one’s mask while doing so — during a movie?

Mr. Greidinger said it was. After all, he noted, everyone’s mouth will be pointed in the same direction while chewing. And chewing (with one’s mouth closed) without a mask is considered safer than speaking without one.

Dr. Sanchez seemed less certain, saying she would encourage patrons to minimize eating and drinking during a screening. She noted that respiratory droplets carrying the virus had been shown to travel up to 16 feet.

“Going to the movies is not risk free,” she said. But she did offer tips for anyone returning to a theater this weekend.

“Honor the people around you,” she said. “Speak up. Hold our movie companies accountable for what they are promising.”

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MGM Remakes Orion Pictures to Tell More Inclusive Stories

LOS ANGELES — Checks have been written to racial justice organizations. Training programs for Asian, Black and Latino filmmakers have been created. “We must do better” has been tweeted and re-tweeted by studio executives, most recently after the killing of George Floyd in police custody prompted a national conversation about racism and inequity.

But power in Hollywood still belongs almost exclusively to white men. “There are almost no people of color in the film industry who have the power to say, ‘this movie is getting made and by this person,’” said Ana-Christina Ramón, an author of studies about Hollywood hiring that are published annually by the University of California, Los Angeles.

On Thursday, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the 96-year-old home of James Bond, Rocky and RoboCop, took a modest yet meaningful step toward correcting the imbalance, hiring a young producer, Alana Mayo, to remake its Orion Pictures division to focus exclusively on underrepresented filmmakers and stories. Ms. Mayo will lead a greenlight committee made up entirely of women — meaning the chairman of MGM’s film group, Michael De Luca, will not have a vote in selecting the films that Orion makes or acquires for distribution.

“As a person who is a woman and Black and queer, I want to create something that will hopefully make other people like me feel like they are finally a part of the Hollywood system,” Ms. Mayo said in a phone interview. “One of the most exciting things about this opportunity is being able to greenlight movies. Who gets to say ‘yes’ is massively important. A lot of studio executives still have a fairly myopic view of what and who is film worthy. The human experience is 360 degrees. We have been looking at 20.”

The overhauled Orion will initially release two or three films a year with budgets of up to $15 million, about the same output and budget level as before. (MGM’s signature division works with higher budgets — a coming biopic about Aretha Franklin starring Jennifer Hudson cost MGM about $55 million to make — and aims to release eight to 10 films annually.)

Ms. Mayo, 36, has worked in the film business for more than a decade, climbing rungs at Paramount Pictures and, most recently, producing films and television series with Michael B. Jordan. They were instrumental in pushing WarnerMedia in 2018 to adopt an inclusive hiring policy for productions, and their recent civil rights drama “Just Mercy,” with Mr. Jordan in the lead role, was the first movie to adhere to it.

Credit…Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Macro

“We will absolutely have an inclusion policy on all Orion productions,” Ms. Mayo said. “I now know how it is done in a practical sense. How it’s achievable.” Such policies, still rare in Hollywood, evolved out of the concept of an “inclusion rider,” a term Frances McDormand brought public attention to in her 2018 Oscar acceptance speech — a contractual obligation that actors and filmmakers could potentially wield to increase diversity in productions.

Orion has lately put out horror and comedy films with predominantly white casts and directed by white men. “Child’s Play,” a remake of the 1988 movie about a murderous doll, was a moneymaker last year, costing about $10 million to make and selling $45 million in tickets worldwide. But other recent releases — “Gretel & Hansel,” the spiritual romance “Every Day” — have disappointed. The next movie on Orion’s release schedule is the goofball comedy “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” which will arrive in theaters and on VOD on Aug. 28.

John Hegeman, who has been Orion’s president since 2017, is leaving the company, along with his entire team.

Mr. De Luca and Pam Abdy, president of MGM’s film group, said in a statement that remaking Orion to focus on people of color, women, the L.G.B.T.Q. community and people with disabilities was “a moral and business imperative.” Kevin Ulrich, chairman of the MGM board, cited Ms. Mayo’s “fearlessness” as one reason she was hired.

“It was essential that we find an exceptional executive who will be a leader at the forefront of change in our industry,” Mr. Ulrich said in a statement. Mr. Ulrich is the chief executive of Anchorage Capital Group, a New York investment firm that is MGM’s largest owner. The plan to bring in Ms. Mayo was hatched with Creative Artists Agency, which serves as an adviser to Mr. Ulrich, not long after Mr. Floyd’s killing in late May.

MGM’s primary movie operation underwent its own shake-up in January. Out: Jonathan Glickman, who stepped down after nine years as the studio’s film chief. In: Mr. De Luca, a former Sony Pictures and New Line Cinema executive (and a producer of the infamous 2017 Oscars telecast that found Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty naming the wrong film best picture). MGM has since shown a new aggression in deal-making, lining up an adaptation of “Fiddler on the Roof” to be directed by Thomas Kail (“Hamilton”) and a 1970s-era film from Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights”).

There is speculation in Hollywood that Mr. Ulrich is sprucing up MGM ahead of a potential sale to a company like Apple, which lacks a library for its streaming service. An MGM spokeswoman declined to comment.

Orion, founded in 1978 as an independent company, sizzled in the 1980s and early 90s, in part because it took risks on challenging stories. Oscar-winning hits included “Amadeus” (1984), “Platoon” (1986), “Dances With Wolves” (1990) and “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991). Orion also gave the world “Caddyshack” (1980).

But the studio also had misfires, among them Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Cotton Club” (1984) and “She-Devil” (1989), which paired Meryl Streep with Roseanne Barr. Orion eventually found itself unable to compete with larger studios and declared bankruptcy. MGM bought Orion in 1997, and it remained largely dormant as a film business — it also has a TV division, which will not be part of Ms. Mayo’s purview — until Mr. Hegeman was hired in 2017.

Ms. Mayo, who grew up in Chicago (her mother was a paralegal and her father was a radio executive), graduated from Columbia University with degrees in English and film studies. She got her start in show business as an intern for Lee Daniels (“Precious,” “Empire”). She said Spike Lee was as an important influence, in particular his “Bamboozled,” a 2000 satire about a modern televised minstrel show.

Ms. Mayo was briefly married to Lena Waithe, the Emmy-winning writer behind the Showtime series “The Chi.”

There are other Black women in senior roles at film studios. Nicole Brown is the executive vice president of Tri-Star, a Sony division that recently won a bidding war for “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” a Whitney Houston biopic. Vanessa Morrison oversees the development and production of original films for Disney+.

But they are extremely few and far between and most do not have the kind of movie-picking power that Ms. Mayo has been promised. According to the most recent U.C.L.A. study on diversity in Hollywood, senior management teams at studios are 93 percent white and 80 percent male. Five years ago, they were 92 percent white and 83 percent male.

As Ms. Ramón and her fellow researchers authors noted in the report, “Decisions about what types of films to make, how large a budget to assign to them, how they will be marketed, and who will be at the directorial helm are all made by the men and women who occupy Hollywood’s executive suites.”

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