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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Cinema Is About Hearing From ALL The Voices: The Lack Of Diversity in Hollywood

If you look at the current top 10 films in the USA Box Office, they are primarily written by white American men, aged between 30-50. Out of curiosity, I looked at the stats for the same time last year, and it was exactly the same. Most movies are written by white 35 year old guys who live in LA. Even, 'The Help', a movie primarily about black people, was written and directed by a white fortysomething male. 

And I'm not meaning to start a discussion about institutional racism within the film industry. It's a much debated topic, and I don't know enough about it. I am here as an artist and as a viewer; saying: I'm pretty bored of what's coming out of Hollywood. Would more diversity, writer-wise and director-wise, not make films more interesting? 

Last night, I watched a wonderful South Korean film called "Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.. and Spring". It's a film from 2003, about Buddhism, and the journey of a young man learning from a master. It was beautifully shot, thoroughly engaging, and completely different from what I normally watch, and indeed, totally different to my own experience of life. It reminded me of why I love cinema. At it's best, the movies can take us to places we've never been before. It can take us on unexpected journeys in unique ways. 



But just because I enjoyed it, that doesn't mean everyone who watches Ben Stiller movies would enjoy it as well. World Cinema is enjoyed by the passionate few rather than the mainstream. That's fine, but I feel there's definitely room for some cross-over. 

Most films are produced in LA. And I don't mean to claim any of those over-caffeinated 30 something white guys are undeserving of their writing credits. Indeed, they are a demographic that I am a part of -- and for their perseverance and writing skills, they deserve all of the writing gigs they've been a part of.

But everyone else deserves those opportunities too, . and we're not seeing enough from them. Do black people struggle to understand Final Draft? Are women too busy sitting at home watching the new 'Dallas' episodes? Or does Hollywood, --purposefully or not-- favour the stories of one particular demographic over others? I ask this, not as some activist for equal opportunities, but as a film fan who thinks the movies would be better if more people were invited to the party. 

If Hollywood were to re-make 'Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring", it would almost certainly be written by a 36 year old white guy. 

Here's the pitch meeting. In Starbucks. 


JIM STEIN
So like, my idea, like, for this movie -- is that 
we have these Buddhists, and we see their 
inspiring journey. 

BILL
But we want it to be authentic. 

JIM STEIN
Yeah man. Like, I am so into Buddhism right now. 
I read 'The Secret' and I am going on a four day 
retreat next month. 

BILL
Cool.

JIM STEIN
It is cool dude. We should make the movie.

BILL
Cool.

And then the movie gets made. 

Of all the world's wisdom and intrigue; should all of our stories be coming from a select group of American dudes in LA? Isn't there more to life than that? When you think about the power of cinema - it seems strange that so much of what we see comes from a very specific demographic. It's a demographic that grew up on movies. The modern LA writer can talk to you endlessly about their inspirations and influences --- the end result? Most movies are about other movies. It's hardly a surprise that most movies coming out of Hollywood are remakes and reboots; when that's all anybody has experience in --- other movies. 

I think this is why I am spending most of my time watching foreign films right now. They're far more engaging and thoughtful. When I look at the history of cinema; so many of my favourite writers and directors came from more humble beginnings. Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Frank Capra, Charlie Chaplin -- all emigrated to the USA; and the pain and complexity of their lives was woven into their work. Chaplin escaping poverty, Wilder escaping Nazi Germany. And THAT is what made their work so beautiful, the stories behind the stories. The sweet and the sour. 


Now we have privileged white dudes. Film school brats and Starbucks. And they're responsible for everything we see in the cinema.

Within diversity is a plethora of stories. I feel we have milked nearly every drop out of the thirtysomething-white-American experience. What else can we learn about what it is to be a human being? Could movies play a larger part in showing us? Is Hollywood even remotely interested in the world outside of Starbucks? 

Care to share?

22 comments:

  1. Well, if Hollywood ever need some new Writers... I am German and I am also a writer and filmmaker!

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    1. Some fantastic writers have come out of Germany, I hope to see you continuing that tradition!

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  2. It's because the guys in charge at the studios are mostly white dudes, so they greenlight films they'd want to see. Compound that with the fact that getting a writing job in Hollywood is all about networking, and the fact that the biggest network in Hollywood is made up of poker buddies, and you'll start to wonder how any woman or non-white person ever gets a job.

    Hollywood isn't a meritocracy. Hell, you can't even get an agent or studio to read your script unless you know somebody who knows somebody at that agency or studio! I'm sure there's at least one interesting, out-of-the-box screenplay being stamped "unsolicited, return to sender" right now.

    Maybe when "the big one" hits and California crumbles into the Pacific, things will change. Until then, there's subtitles...and indies.

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    1. "It's because the guys in charge at the studios are mostly white dudes, so they greenlight films they'd want to see" - I think that's a huge generalisation - but I get the point.

      Weirdly, though, I don't think it is all about networking. I think great writing rises -- yet, having said that, I don't believe white writers are inherently better than anyone else -- so how to account for the demographics of working writers in the industry? I'm not sure.

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    2. You're blowing up my phone! So much for subscribing to comments. Jeesh.

      Yeah, it's a generalization, but considering that men are the target audience for dumb comedies and action movies, and those seem to dominate the new releases, I don't think it's that far off.

      Great writing may rise, but someone has to read it first.

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  3. Hello KIFR
    just stumbled upon your blog and just decided I like it a bunch. Very relevant posts, and the tagline rings a bell, as Wilder, Jimmy Stewart and Jack Lemmon (along with Capra, lang, Mankiewicz and others)are some heroes of my screen world.
    Keep on!

    Floreva (learning screenwriting the hard way and developing the screenplay out of my thriller book).

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    1. Really glad that we love similar actors and directors! Thanks for visiting! Good luck with your screenplay.

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  4. It's one of those weird circle things. The people who go out to watch films are going out to see the films that the average film writer will be writing. Those do well, so Hollywood employ more of them to continue. Circle has to be broken at some point though.

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    1. Is cinema the only art form that champions the average?

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    2. But then again, look at the music charts.

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  5. Very good post (found you through Zite). If you enjoyed "Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring", which is a very good introduction to the works of director Kim Ki-duk, I hope you have or will be checking out his other films. 3-Iron and The Isle are among my favorite movies ever, especially the former.

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    1. No idea what Zite is, but I'm glad you're here! I will definitely be checking out Ki-duk's other films, thanks for sharing info about them--- and 'among my favorite movies ever'? Exciting!

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  6. I really couldn't agree more. The saddest thing to me is that with the emergence of cheaper digital technology where "anyone can make a movie" you'd expect the exact opposite of our current movie industry landscape. I'm really intrigued about whether or not it's "industry prejudices" or, for one reason or another, a lot of minorities don't pursue filmmaking as a career. Either way I really hope it changes. And for the record I'm a 23 year old white guy. Thanks for the great article!

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts Thomas, I agree with you. The next few years is crucial.

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  7. You speak the truth. And what is more frustrating is that world cinema is getting less and less of a chance because if a film does do well, it will inevitably get that remake you speak of. But I guess at least those stories are getting heard?

    On the plus side, all I need to do is keep writing for 5 years, move to LA and I'm just who Hollywood are looking for!

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  8. Exactly. As a black women filmmaker, I'm discouraged to see not only the few African-American filmmakers, but the lack of diversity in general in Hollywood. This might sound weird, but yesterday, when I was brushing my teeth, I was trying to think of Asian female directors. I could not come up with one. That's sad. But fortunately, with the new opportunities technology has given us, people of all color and race and gender can make beautiful films that round out cinema and it's global truths. Excellent posts.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts Alley. I look forward to seeing your work in the future.

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  9. Another reason to give up my Starbucks habit!

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  10. It reminded me of why I love cinema. At it's best, the movies can take us to places we've never been before. It can take us on unexpected journeys in unique ways. gladys or glads

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