Archives for posts with tag: movies

#OscarsSoWhite is something that I am as usual addressing much later than most, in no small part due to my unrelenting contempt for Twitter-based social justice trends. However, as the trend does accurately point out, there are a substantial number of white people in Hollywood movies, to the point where characters who are canonically non-white are often portrayed as white people. Scarlett Johansson in the American remake of the Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell is one contemporary example. This generates immense online backlash in the form of the electronic version of rolling one’s eyes. On the flip side, there is backlash when canonically white characters are portrayed as non-whites. A black James Bond and a black Spider-man were both vehemently opposed and neither made it to production. As common as the themes of these arguments are, it’s not the same people arguing both sides. One group is demanding respect for the sacredness of an entirely fictional canon (Spider-man isn’t real), and the other is arguing against the forced monochromatic nature of films (black people are real).

Let’s talk about diversity in films. To be clear, there isn’t much. Black James Bond and black Spider-man never got made, remember, yet Ghost in the Shell, Pan, Gods of Egypt, and Dr. Strange did (or are, for those that aren’t released yet). Is this a huge problem? America is predominantly white, so why not pander to the largest demographic? Bollywood films are pretty much exclusively Indian, and Korean films all star Korean actors. Somewhat ironically, the original Ghost in the Shell anime has a white character voiced by a Japanese man. The film industries of these countries make films depicting their dominant group because that is their audience. It makes sense. Nobody complains about the lack of diversity of language in Hollywood films, because America is an English speaking nation.

It seems logical then that movies should depict the demographics of their host countries. America is 63% white, 16% Hispanic, 12% black, and 5% Asian, so why not aim for that? This is where it becomes complicated. For example, a Hollywood movie would need 20 characters before one of them was Asian, or another solution might be that every 20th movie would need to be casted entirely as Asian. Neither of these are feasible options. Most movies only have one or two protagonists. Or if the film was entirely Asian, it would ignore the largest demographic and would therefore have less of a chance to be a box office success. This is something no movie mogul will abide in our wealth-driven movie industry. Now we’re left wondering: should the film industry ignore 14.5 million Americans just because it would be complicated to incorporate them?

Failing to depict Asians in film does not only a disservice to Asian-Americans who are looking for representation on the big screen, but to the entirety of the population. It is our myths that socialize us, and now that religion is dead, we’re left with the entertainment industry to teach us how to be human beings. Depressing, right? Well life is miserable, get over it. We idolize our fictional heroes and heroines, and so we relate to and emulate their personality and characteristics. Ignoring Asians in film not only denies role models to maturing Asian-American youth, but also prevents Asian faces from being a part of white socialization. If whites aren’t shown any images of another race, they won’t know how to respond to them in person. And we all know how well humans behave around people they don’t understand… It’s poorly. We behave poorly.

So diversity in racial depictions is necessary for social cohesion, demographics be damned. Great. We’re left with one more problem. How do we depict races on screen? I hope I don’t need to argue that racist stereotypes are bad. If all black people on screen are depicted as gangsters, then everyone will be socialized to think of black people as gangsters. It is fairly common to see people arguing for normalcy in racialized depictions in movies. Like a black Spider-man or James Bond who behaves identically to their already established white counterparts. These films have been indistinguishable remakes for years now, what difference would it make to simply have a different race portrayed as the protagonist? Characters with accents or who adhere to dramatic outside cultures might make racial minorities seem like exotic foreigners who do not belong, and portraying other races as identical to whites would foster racial equality within North American culture.

This has one glaring problem: defining normalcy as imitating established white culture makes other cultures abnormal. The First Nations in Canada are in the midst of fighting for cultural sovereignty and to depict one as fully assimilated into white culture, interchangeable with their white peers, would be wholly offensive (especially given the context of our Residential Schools whose barbaric practices aimed at establishing exactly this). Different is not a bad thing. Some people have accents, different styles of clothing, and different cultural practices. Should a Sikh not be shown in a turban because it makes him an exotic foreigner rather than a neighbour? Portraying the rich cultures that make up the diverse American population would allow respect to blossom for alternative ways of living that people have every right to live.

However, this portrayal forces people into their ethnic culture, however respectfully it is portrayed. Some people want to assimilate. It’s not intrinsically evil. Or even pick and choose their practices; it’s their right. How can this translate to film when one version will be offensive to one group, and the other will be offensive to the first? The answer is simpler than you might think.

Let people tell their own stories, define their own characters. Diversity starts in the writing room. It is the only way to authenticity.

We live in a culture of distractions. We watch TV and movies, or browse the innumerable Buzzfeed, 9gag, or Reddit pages, or become sucked into a spiral of Youtube videos, or spend endless hours plugged into our phones even when in the company of friends and family, or play video games of all genres and platforms.

What qualifies these as distractions, rather than play? They are all passive consumption, whereas play is an inherently creative act. It is the difference between playing a sport, or watching it on TV. Of telling a story, or having one told at you. At least books require the creative power of imagination, compared to a television show where the mental faculties required are less than when we are sleeping. Some might argue that video games, since they require input from the player, might escape the definition of a distraction, but actions in a video game cannot evade the programmable components of its software. All the possible outcomes of the game have already been foretold, and it is simply a matter of finding and consuming them.

Think of when you were a child, playing with your friends and siblings. You would create ideas, stories, and whole worlds with something as simple as a cardboard box. Sports and board games frequently had completely made-up rules that were only understood by those playing them. There was a shared intimacy, a bond, created in this play that adults in their more nostalgic moments despondently recall as having lost forever.

Think of your friendships and relationships now. How often does your “play” with friends require passive consumption? Do you go out to consume food? Or drinks? Or a movie? Maybe you play video games. Even playing in organized sports is more about conforming to rules and authority, than it is about engaging in a creative output. Do you feel as though you are not as close with your adult friends as you were with your childhood ones?

Distractions are a narcotic. They are an escape from the world we live in. They offer stimulus without effort. And, like a narcotic, we are developing a tolerance for them. Our movies are a prime example of this: movies today have faster cuts, more special effects, more explosions, more Michael Bay. Movies of the past are frequently referred to as “boring” because of this developed tolerance. Boredom is a withdrawal symptom of the lack of stimuli that our body now craves.

Busyness has become a virtue. Filling our time with something, anything, is a commendable feature of contemporary culture because it means that there is no time for that person to get bored. To stop and appreciate life, to clear one’s head in meditation, to slow down; these are all boons to both health and stability. But too often they are dismissed as “boring”, and people are frequently unable to participate in these slower activities, despite even an active attempt to try them.

The peril of distractions comes not just from their narcotic effects on our minds, but in the literal sense of “distraction” as well. If we are pacified and preoccupied, we are not paying attention to the world around us. This allows unchecked oppression, war, and other such human rights violations to occur while most of the developed world focuses more on celebrity gossip than the strife that surrounds them. The promise of the internet was a worldwide voice, access to infinite knowledge, and with that knowledge and voice would come revolution against oppression and hate, and equality for all. But if you ask anybody today what they use the internet for, typically the answer will be pornography, epic fail videos, or sports statistics.

We also tend to miss out on life; we miss out on the connection with our loved ones, if we are too busy with our distractions. If the time we spent on Facebook was spent with friends, or the time watching cat videos was spent adopting and playing with our own, or if we tried new and exciting activities rather than watching the epic fails of others, the enrichment in our lives would be exponentially higher.

Further tragic correlation with the proliferation of distractions is the jingoism that seems to almost be an inherent aspect of them. Sports fans will become physically violent with other fans, despite no real connection to anybody on “their” teams. People will get up in arms over their choice of computing or gaming platform. People will even define their lives by the television, or other mass media productions, they consume. Any perusal of an online dating website will reveal the dependence on the series Game of Thrones for a person’s sense of identity.

Do these distractions merit the emphasis and importance that we place upon them? Probably not, since they have absolutely no relevance to life, and any meaning we place on them would be purely without basis.

It is true that listening to someone else’s music or stories can affect us emotionally or stimulate us intellectually. Even regular drugs can induce creativity or offer new ways of appreciating the world. But to rely on them, to make them the foundation of our lives, that is the life of an addict.

We do need to escape sometimes. I myself enjoy movies and television, and when I go out with friends, it’s usually for a beer or a meal. The way life is set up almost requires escape; distractions are a necessary coping mechanism to deal with our day to day working lives. But what does that say about the system of our culture if it saps the life and creativity out of us, requiring us to run away with our distractions just to survive?

Post-script: Creating a story or a song requires a passive receptor of that story or song, it’s true. But often the missing component is intimacy and connection in that process. For example, being able to look and experience, or even interact with the person delivering the creative output is far more valuable than seeing them on a screen. Even with this blog, I find it much more rewarding when someone comments or brings it up with me in person, and I’m sure the reading experience is more rewarding as well if there is a connection with me as an author.

Also, for an even more critical look at distractions, specifically sports, listen to Noam Chomsky: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VA5jOdPiZWI