Hollywood: A Mirror with No Reflection

by Sophia Conger
From the October 2015 Issue
Fantastic1Picture this: The summer of 2015 has just arrived. The sun is shining, birds are chirping, and kids are playing. More importantly, everyone is excited to frequent the local movie theater to watch the newest blockbuster films. But as you search the Internet for the list of upcoming features, you cannot help but feel a bit disappointed. Pitch Perfect 2? Jurassic World? Ted 2? Magic Mike XXL? Really? You were hoping to see something more innovative, captivating, and emotionally stimulating. But you keep looking, in hopes that there may be other films worth watching: Ant-Man? Fantastic Four? Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation? It becomes clear that all the features in the theaters are either remakes, sequels or comic book adaptations. Desperately, you ask yourself: What is there for a 19-year-old female to watch that isn’t Paper Towns?

For years I have heard people say that film is a dying industry. And I have tried my best to object to that statement. Surely, film isn’t dying if studios still make billions of dollars a year, and students, like myself, are attending film school across the nation (and globe) in the hopes of becoming the next Kathryn Bigelow. But as I get older and my interests and perception become more complex, I find myself less likely to frequent my local movie theater. Why? Because I am no longer attracted to commercial cinema, and apparently, a large part of America isn’t either. This summer was historically bad for the box office and the Fourth of July weekend sales were down over 40% (Gonzales, 2014). Cinema has been alive for around 125 years – long enough for American audiences to be able to draw a distinction between a film and a movie. And what is out there in the theaters is exactly that— movies. This is a controversial statement, I know; however, you cannot deny that a sizable portion of the films produced in the past decade have been remakes of previously successful films. Once viewed as a beacon of light and creativity, Hollywood has now become an industry of repeats.

From 2003 to 2012, 122 remakes were made, with an average critic score on Rotten Tomatoes of 46% (Desta, 2014). While critics do not seem too pleased, the executives surely must be, with box office grosses totalling $12 billion over that ten-year period (Desta, 2014). What does this say about our once beloved film industry? Studios always have one goal in mind: reeling in profit. So, in order to ensure a film’s bankability, studios now make features with the lowest factor of risk possible. Audiences are more inclined to see (and like) a film that was once a success, and now there is the added draw of high-definition visuals and captivating computer-generated imagery. But can Hollywood really recreate success by putting a modern spin on these films? Most of the time, audiences are immersed in a world that isn’t real. Entire sequences are shot on a green screen and props or backdrops are filled in with a computer. This is not to say that these processes require little talent or lack merit, but it appears that original storytelling takes a backseat when the goal is to create cutting edge visuals. The heart of the original film is missing and audiences are noticing it as they sit through their 90-minute movie.

One cannot help but think who makes and watches these movies? Studies show that men directed 93.7% of films in 2013 and less than 20% of these films were directed by men of color (Hunt, 2015). The competition is even tougher for women, who directed only 6% of films in 2013. Studio executives were 94% white and 100% male for that same year. These statistics might play out nicely if Hollywood’s main demographic was assumed to be white males, ages 19 to 25; however, it appears the tables have turned. Hispanic women over the age of 25 are most likely to be visiting movie theatres and lining up to see blockbusters (Dockterman, 2014). What does this say about our film culture and our tendencies to focus on the male perspective when the demographic is clearly on the opposite side of the spectrum? Studio executives should keep in mind who their real audience is. Hispanics are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in America. Although they comprise only 17% of the population, the group alone bought over 25% of movie tickets sold in 2013 (Dockterman, 2014).Night1To many, the value of art, or film more specifically, is that it carries a certain amount of truth, acting as a mirror to society and life itself. What I see in the reflection of these Hollywood blockbusters is that there is a large demographic that is not being reflected: the voices of minorities and women. Diversity is more prevalent in screenings at festivals and art house theaters, most of which are located in urban, densely populated areas—where most Americans do not reside. Therefore, a majority of Americans do not have access to these diverse works. So, the question ultimately becomes: why are we not seeing this diversity in mainstream theaters across the nation?

When looking more closely at the state of American independent cinema, one may observe that indie films are well received—but only by a specific audience. Independent cinema has reached a high point in terms of sophisticated filmmaking and developed story ideas and characters. Environmental pieces such as Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves to horror features like David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows demonstrate how the art of cinema has truly come alive in the past decade. With technology becoming increasingly more available, films can be shared with the simple click of a mouse. More importantly, filmmakers are able to make their artistic visions come to life on staggeringly low budgets. However, due to a lack of funding, distribution, or interest, independent films struggle to reach a mass audience. Filmmaker James Gray claims that even if the independent theaters were opened in more cities, there would still be limited viewership: “The number of people who want to see movies that aren’t franchise-type spectacles is very small. The movies might be there, but where are the distributors and where is the audience?” (The New York Times, 2014). Films like It Follows are available on VOD (video on demand), a new distribution model that is a way of reaching an audience without requiring a theatrical platform. But major cinemas still struggle with the concept of “day and date releases,” where films are released in theaters, DVD and VOD simultaneously. Worried that this practice will undercut their profits, theaters are not showing important independent cinema—a lot of which contain the voices of underrepresented groups. In other words, if you live in Akron, Ohio, your chances of seeing Dear White People are zero to none.

Skepticism aside, I believe there is hope for the future of cinema and that the “art” of film is more alive than ever. But in order for film to truly thrive, we need to hear the silenced voices and cut back on remakes of the films that we have already seen. Rather than produce blockbusters that insist minorities just familiarize themselves with the perspective of the white man, let’s diversify the casts and crews of the films. Let’s encourage studio executives to see the value in reaching a broad demographic. Let’s offer creative support for underrepresented filmmakers—they’re out there and they’re hungry to capture the developing and dynamic culture of America. If we do not start now, I am afraid that film will take a turn for the worse. Rather than provide reflection, cinema will remain a shadow of a seemingly undying past.

Desta, Yohana. “Why Hollywood Is Producing So Many Damn Remakes.” Mashable. N.p., 09 Oct. 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.
Dockterman, Eliana. “The Surprising Demographic That Sees the Most Summer Movies.” Time. Time, 15 July 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.
Gonzales, Dave. “Hollywood Loves White Guys, But Its Real Superhero Audience Will Surprise You.” The Guardian. N.p., 29 July 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.
Hunt, Darnell, and Ana-Christina Ramon. 2015: Hollywood Diversity Report: Flipping the Script. Rep. Los Angeles: Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, 2015. Print.
“So Many Indie Films, So Many Reasons.” The New York Times. N.p., 09 Jan. 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

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