CinemaCon 2019: Q&A with Charles Rivkin, Chairman & CEO, Motion Picture Association of America

We experienced a great year at the box office, both domestically and abroad, in 2018. What were your biggest takeaways from last year?

The extraordinary box office results in 2018 are proof that in an ever-changing entertainment marketplace, theaters remain strong and competitive. When you think of all the new technologies and many different entertainment choices consumers have today, it’s really a great story of endurance and innovation. The social and sensory experience of watching big-screen spectacles in a collective atmosphere is still uniquely powerful. I am encouraged, not only because of our important partnership with NATO, but because a strong theater industry benefits the entire entertainment ecosystem. On that foundation, we can continue to build our iconic industry.

Diversity has been a growing concern in this industry. Do you believe we’ve been able to make some progress in the matter? Is it within reach to have a more diverse industry—both in terms of content and executives at leading companies—in the coming years?

There is a wonderful quote from Verna Myers, a true expert on this topic: “Diversity is about being invited to the party. But inclusion is about being asked to dance.”

We saw this in action at the Academy Awards. Production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth Carter, nominated for their work on Black Panther, were the first African American winners ever in their respective categories. They were among a record-setting 15 women to win Oscars this year. And that is before we even get to Alfonso Cuarón, Regina King, Mahershala Ali, and Spike Lee.

MPAA member companies are working to create opportunities for emerging talent from all communities. They have internship programs, writing and directing initiatives for people of color, and engagement with a wide array of multicultural film festivals. They are looking to identify and nurture not only the next Barry Jenkins, Constance Wu, or America Ferrera but also more writers, camera operators, editors, and special-effects designers.

At the MPAA, we support these efforts in many ways, from forging innovative partnerships with civil rights and advocacy organizations to encouraging dialogue within the industry. 

Are we finished yet? Not by a long shot, but we continue to move toward a more inclusive entertainment industry. If we are to effectively tell America’s story, then every American creator should have opportunities to be part of telling it.

I think it’s fair to say that a couple of eyebrows were raised in the exhibition community once it was announced that Netflix was joining the MPAA. How did it come about? What are your thoughts about the current tension between streaming platforms and cinema circuits?

The film and television industry is constantly evolving, and so is the MPAA. All of our members are committed to pushing the film and television industry forward, in both how we tell stories and how we reach audiences. To meet our mission of advancing the business and art of storytelling, we have to be forward-looking and proactive. Adding Netflix allows us to even more effectively advocate for the global community of creative storytellers, and I look forward to seeing what we can all achieve together. I think we can see, in the record-breaking 2018 box office and the ever-expanding array of content available across platforms, that audiences want as many great stories as they can get. 

Can you highlight some of the MPAA’s current projects? What are the organization’s biggest concerns moving forward?

Reducing online piracy remains our constant mission. One of our strongest efforts is the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, or ACE. This coalition of 30 global creative companies, with the support and expertise of the MPAA content-protection team, is constantly taking action, from our victories in the Tickbox and Dragonbox litigations to our many investigations and collaborations with law enforcement.

As one of our country’s most successful export industries, we are focused on opening markets through trade agreements that protect intellectual property, foster competition, and lower barriers. While there are certain provisions that are not ideal for the U.S. creative industries in the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), we support its overall agenda to facilitate trade and commerce and grow the U.S. film and television industry. 

We are also working to build on the success of the 2012 memorandum of understanding with China that opened that market to U.S. films. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the Chinese government are diligently negotiating, and our hope is that we continue to achieve fairer and greater access for American creative content. 

Last but not least, we are looking forward to reopening our beloved home and headquarters in downtown Washington, across Lafayette Park from the White House, after an extensive renovation. We’ll have a brand-new facility, including an expanded, state-of-the-art theater, where stories can be enjoyed. 

It’s an exciting time at the MPAA.

How do you anticipate the effects of consolidation in the industry will influence the MPAA in the near future?

Change is a constant, particularly in our industry, and that is a good thing. We have many new players in the business of content creation and distribution, which shows that this industry remains an attractive investment. There will always be creative and enterprising people seeking to grow and adapt businesses, and we have to be prepared. At the MPAA, we see this as an opportunity. Our role at a policy level and operationally through our content protection efforts is more important than ever. 

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