Private Project

XCLD: The Story of Cancel Culture

The notion of Cancel Culture, which grew out of a mostly progressive move to hold people accountable for bad behavior (especially racist or misogynistic language), has recently been co-opted by conservatives who--in equal measure--bemoan its “woke” goals, cast themselves as its victims, and attempt to use it as a political powerplay of their own, while seeking to de-platform opponents with similar strategies. 

But is Cancel Culture really new? Or really that powerful? Or really that bad? XCLD is a nuanced look at this provocative and controversial issue, directed by Ferne Pearlstein and produced by Trevor Noah’s Day Zero Productions in conjunction with Time Studios, Sugar23, and MSNBC. It will explore the evolution of Cancel Culture, from its history in different forms, to its contemporary genesis on Black Twitter, to where it is today: another divisive issue for people to argue over, and one that creates some exceptionally odd bedfellows.

  • Ferne Pearlstein
    The Last Laugh
  • Kiana Jackson
    Black Girls Play: The Story of Handgames
  • Amy Hobby
    What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    40 minutes
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Ferne Pearlstein

FERNE PEARLSTEIN is a member of the Documentary Branch of the Academy, winner of the Sundance Cinematography Prize for Ramona Diaz’s IMELDA, and has graduate degrees in Documentary from the International Center of Photography and Stanford University. Ferne has made films all over the world, from Haiti to Uganda to Guyana to Burma, where she snuck her 16mm camera into the rebel bases of the Karen Liberation Army just days before they were burned to the ground. Among her many credits as a cinematographer are Oscar winner Alex Gibney’s segment of FREAKONOMICS (Tribeca), three-time Oscar nominee Deborah Dickson’s RUTHIE AND CONNIE (HBO), and Oscar winner Vanessa Roth’s TAKEN IN, which won a DuPont/Columbia Award, and which Ferne also co-produced. 

As a director/producer Ferne has had four features premiere at Tribeca, including SUMO EAST AND WEST and the critically acclaimed THE LAST LAUGH, starring Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, and many others, which screened at over a hundred film festivals and was released theatrically in more than 25 cities. (Both aired nationwide on PBS/Independent Lens, and streamed on Netflix and Amazon.) She has since become a recognized speaker and author on humor as it relates to crisis. Her work also intersects with her activism as part of Persisticon, which stages comedy events to raise money for feminist/BIPOC candidates. In 2020, Ferne was one of a handful of filmmakers chosen by the UN, Google, and Tribeca to direct 17 PSAs about building a sustainable planet, which were featured on YouTube and shown at the UN General Assembly.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

A few years ago, I made a film called THE LAST LAUGH that explored taboos in comedy, particularly, the intersection of humor and tragedy. As a result, that has become a focus of my work. Since then, I’ve become an author and speaker on humor as it relates to crisis, including the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, hate speech, and other topical issues--even the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, now, whenever there is a question of political correctness, or a celebrity makes a provocative joke, or something crosses into seemingly “off limits” territory, people often reach out to me to comment. There is a natural connection from there to the nuanced issue of “canceling” and limits on free speech.

With XCLD, my intent is to wrestle with urgent issues of race, bigotry, and awakening in America, within the long tradition of freedom of expression. Social media in particular has given the powerless a new voice. But can it go too far? Or are those in power just trying to flip free speech on its head, and avoid accountability for their actions, as they have long been able to do?