In recent years, the Internet has grown to be either the biggest cave for trolls or the best improvement that the public agora has known since the advent of modern democracy. Social media has become so powerful that it can and has overthrown governments and shifted political lines in a way that, not so long ago, was thought impossible given the political climate in Western countries.
Filmmaking has not been exempt of such changes. Of course the digital revolution has profoundly changed the landscape, as the main challenge for filmmakers has shifted from raising money to getting movies shown. Once you needed a million pounds to shoot a film, now you can shoot on your iPhone, virtually for free. How do you get it shown? Well there’s YouTube and Vimeo, but that flood of new content can and probably will get lost.
Social media revolution
What’s amazing to witness is when the digital revolution affects both politics and filmmaking, that is to say, mainly, when social media calls out those in power in the film business on their blunders. We saw the reaction at last year’s and this year’s Oscars with the outcry under the banner of #OscarsSoWhite and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has since taken measures for better representation in its body.
Of course, the problem goes much deeper, as Viola Davis pointed out in her impassioned speech at last year’s Emmy awards: the only difference is opportunity. That truth applies to women, who make up most of the world’s population, most film school graduates, and yet end up only directing 3% of the top grossing films. And that’s just quantity, quality of representation doesn’t fare much better as it tends to perpetuate stereotypes.
And now, a new movement has taken shape: #StarringJohnCho, as a standard against Hollywood’s whitewashing of Asian characters. Of late, Emma Stone has been cast as a part-Asian character, mainstream bulldozer Marvel have cast Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange as a character who was indeed a man in the original comic (the world applauded the move forward) but was also Tibetan-born (the world booed, much later, when the trailer was released). Latest in that trend is Scarlett Johansson in her upcoming role in Ghost in the Shell.
Now, the good people of the Internet have started photoshopping John Cho and Constance Wu, two working Asian American actors into posters for hit movies, such as Spectre, The Martian, The Avengers and others and even together in Edge of Tomorrow, in order to call for more representation of Asian people in mainstream films (more history on this topic here.)
Old habits die hard
What can we make of this? Of course this needs to be applauded. More representation, equal representation, better representation in big films is necessary and we do feel the urgency. Hollywood, however, is not one to move fast (unless it’s to green light a bunch of sequels, and in the case of Deadpool, I don’t really mind). Almost three-quarters of the profits of the type of movies we’re talking about are made in international territories, yet they are culturally catered to the homeland.
The problem, then, is that they don’t see that the world is becoming more unified, pluralistic, multicultural and cosmopolitan and, in the case of the United States, the majority is not white anymore. Why should they care? In a sense they shouldn’t, because why change a system that has brought them up, fed them and given them success? And what’s the big deal, since they’re getting press -and any press is good press, right?
Social change comes slowly, as do changes in representation. #StarringJohnCho & #StarringConstanceWu makes a strong statement, but does not have the power or the vibrant momentum that #OscarsSoWhite had, as that latter standard came in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The correlation is clear when you look at the metrics: #BlackLivesMatter is one of the top hashtags mentioned in the same tweets as #OscarsSoWhite -the opposite is not true.
New business models for content creators are still being born, and one truly successful recipe has yet to be found. However, when you tie in the social change coming all over the world with people of all gender identity, race, creed, sexual orientation or other, speak up, and the digital revolution: there’s a new horizon for independent voices. Crowdfunding is not easy, it takes rigorous planning. Distribution needs a strategy. It’s up to you to experiment new ways to tell new stories. Amazon has Transparent, and the Dear White People series is going to Netflix. Who’s next?