WEEK IN WOMEN news roundup: Keri Russell reportedly joining ‘Star Wars’ saga, ‘Bao’ filmmaker Domee Shi talks about her Pixar short, Netflix orders Salma Hayek-produced Mexican drama series ‘Monarca’

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Keri Russell is in talks to follow up her role on the acclaimed TV series "The Americans" with a part in "Star Wars: Episode IX." FX Networks photo

Keri Russell is in talks to follow up her role on the acclaimed TV series “The Americans” with a part in “Star Wars: Episode IX.” FX Networks photo

Golden Globe winner Keri Russell is reportedly in talks to head to a galaxy far, far away in “Star Wars: Episode IX,” according to Variety.

If the Emmy nominee joins the saga, it will mark a reunion with J.J. Abrams, who is returning to write and direct the latest chapter in the blockbuster franchise. Russell and Abrams last worked together on 2006’s “Mission: Impossible III.”

Russell is a performer who has shown remarkable range throughout her career, playing a teenager who follows her high school crush to college in her breakout role in the TV show “Felicity,” a downtrodden small-town piemaker who becomes pregnant in the acclaimed film “Waitress” and a Soviet KGB agent spying in the just-wrapped Cold War-set series “The Americans,” just to name a few.

According to Variety, her “Star Wars” role calls for action-heavy fight scenes, and Russell has shown her skills at pulling off tough stunts in “The Americans,” “Mission: Impossible,” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

Abrams will likely cast two more actors by the time the film begins production at the end of the month, according to the trade publication. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver are all expected to return for “Episode IX.”

With Carrie Fisher and Laura Dern not expected to be back, it’s great to see Abrams add another prominent woman to the roster for the upcoming installment, especially in light of the distinctly misogynistic backlash that has targeted “Stars Wars” since Disney launched the new era of franchise with female actors like Ridley, “Rogue One’s” Felicity Jones and “The Last Jedi’s” Kelly Marie Tran at the forefront.

But it’s interesting (and telling) how news of Russell’s casting has led many to jump to the conclusion that she will be playing the mother of Ridley’s heroic character Rey. Here’s hoping whether she plays a mother or not that Russell will have the chance to take on a well-rounded character in her “Star Wars” outing.

A lonely mother follows in love with a dumpling that comes magically to life in the new Disney/Pixar short film "Bao." Disney/Pixar photo

A lonely mother follows in love with a dumpling that comes magically to life in the new Disney/Pixar short film “Bao.” Disney/Pixar photo

‘Bao’ filmmaker talks about the making of her innovative Pixar short

Domee Shi became the first female director of one of Pixar’s beloved short films with the wonderfully innovative and emotional resonant “Bao,” now in theaters with “Incredibles 2.”

In a Q&A with Cosmopolitan, Shi, who started out as an intern in Pixar’s storyboarding department seven years ago, talked about how she drew on her personal heritage to make a modern fairy tale that was basically “a Chinese version of ‘The Little Gingerbread Man.’” In the wordless short, a Chinese mother struggling with empty-nest syndrome finds herself again in a motherly role when one of her steamed dumplings comes magically to life as a baby.

“I wanted to fill this story with images and people and details that I grew up with that I really love and that I wanted to see on the big screen. That was another motivation for me to make this short — I haven’t seen anything like this on screen,” she said.

“I love all of the little tchotchkes and decorations that fill the mom character’s house, like we have this Chinese calendar in the dining room that we’ve specifically designed to be like those calendars that you’d get if you go to a Chinese supermarket, like a promotional thing. I was really happy to get those details in there — those little things that I felt like really were staples in every Chinese home that I visited or lived in growing up.”

The 28-year-old director, who is working on her own feature film, said she was encouraged by the higher-ups at Disney/Pixar to keep the short’s shocking ending in which – SPOILER ALERT – the mother character eats the dumpling to keep him from leaving home.

“The strange thing is I never had feelings of doubt about the cultural details. I only had feelings of doubt about the dark elements of the short, like when she eats him and I actually did tone it down at some point. When I pitched it to the studio I changed the ending so the mom character didn’t eat the dumpling because I was afraid that it wouldn’t be family-friendly enough,” she told Cosmpolitan.

“But luckily Pete Docter was in the panel of judges (when) I pitched an earlier version, and he stood up and was like, ‘That’s not the version that you pitched to me! You should pitch the original version.’ It was because of him and his encouragement that really helped me find the confidence to just stay true to my original, weird voice.

(Incidentally, Docter, the Oscar-winning director of Up and Inside Out, was recently named Pixar’s chief creative officer, while Jennifer Lee, who wrote “Frozen,” is the new head of Walt Disney Animation Studios, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In the continuing fallout of the welcome emergence of the #MeToo movement, they are replacing John Lasseter, who has stepped down from his role as chief creative officer, overseeing both animation studios, after admitting last year that he had committed unspecified “missteps” that left some employees feeling “disrespected or uncomfortable.” It’s encouraging to see that Docter is this supportive both of a risky creative move and of a young female creative hesitant to make it.)

Shi also addressed the meme that’s been making the Internet rounds in which a white girl calls “Bao” the most confusing 10 minutes of her life.

“I really hope that they’re at least curious enough to watch it again. It also helps to talk about it with other people who did get it, and just even, like, Google it. But I’m just taking the whole thing in stride. It’s cool that the short is bringing up such interesting conversations and debates about culture, about food, about all this stuff. I wanted to tell this universal story about food bringing family together and overprotective parents learning to let go of their children, and I still hope that those themes resonate with audiences who might not be Asian,” she said. “But yeah, approach it with curiosity! Go to a Chinese restaurant or chat with somebody about it. It couldn’t hurt. Don’t be afraid of the dumpling!”

Salma Hayek appears in a scene from the 2017 film "The Hitman's Bodyguard." Hayek is continuing to expand her career into producing with the upcoming Netflix series "Monarca." Lionsgate photo

Salma Hayek appears in a scene from the 2017 film “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.” Hayek is continuing to expand her career into producing with the upcoming Netflix series “Monarca.” Lionsgate photo

Netflix orders Mexican drama series “Monarca,” produced by Salma Hayek

Netflix has ordered  an original drama series from Mexico called “Monarca” that is to be produced by Salma Hayek’s Ventanarosa Productions, Mexico’s Lemon Studios and Michael McDonald’s Stearns Castle.

According to Deadline Hollywood, “Monarca” is set in the powerful world of Mexican billionaires and is a high-stakes, multi-generational family saga about a tequila-born Mexican business empire and the fighting that erupts when a member of the family decides to fight the dirty system her family helped create.

“I’m extremely excited to partner with Netflix, and to be working with amazing Mexican talent in front of and behind the camera. We are proud to show Mexico as a vibrant, sophisticated and culturally rich nation, fighting to control its own destiny,” said Hayek, best known as an Oscar-nominated actor who has starred in films such as “Frida,” “Desperado” and “Wild Wild West.”

Ventanarosa produced “Frida,” which also earned Hayek nominations for a Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards. Its other titles include Emmy and Golden Globe winner “Ugly Betty,” animated film Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” “The Maldonado Miracle,” “El coronel no tiene quien le escribe” and “In the Time of the Butterflies.”

“Monarca” is created by Diego Gutierrez, who also serves as showrunner, and written by Lemon Studios’ Fernando Rovzar, Julia Denis, Ana Sofia Clerici and Sandra García Velten.

“This is the definition of a passion project for me,” Gutierrez said. “Having been born and raised in Mexico, I’m humbled to have the opportunity to tell this story with Netflix and the incredibly talented team of people we’re assembling, both in the U.S. and Mexico.”

Irene Azuela (“Quemar las Naves”) and Juan Manuel Bernal (“Capadocia”) are attached to star, and production is scheduled to begin in the fall for a 2019 worldwide bow, according to Deadline.

“Mexico is a top priority for us in which to continue to develop series,” said Erik Barmack, VP International Originals, “and we look forward to bringing the best originals to the world through partnerships with key players such as Ventanarosa and Lemon Studios.”


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