For centuries, the heart of media and entertainment whether, in the field of film and television, music, theatre, or art and literature, all have one thing in common – they are driven by compelling stories.
Somewhere along the way, the essence of storytelling got lost in translation. For years, Hollywood has been criticized for living in its own bubble, keeping its doors closed to gender and racial diversity, which has been evident throughout films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charlie Chan, Aloha, The Social Network, and Ghost in the Shell to name a few.
As early as the 1930s whitewashing was already present when a Swedish-American actor, Warner Oland, portrayed a Chinese detective named Charlie Chan in 16 films. He had to dedicate his career to learning the language and looking the part when it could’ve been easier and more realistic if they just cast a person from said race. More recently, Emma Stone in Aloha was cast as Allison Ng, of Hawaiian and Asian descent, and received a ton of backlash that opened her eyes to the prevalence of whitewashing in the industry. It also played a huge factor in the film’s substandard rating at the box office considering it had a cast comprised of big names in Hollywood. Furthermore, the popular Japanese manga series, Ghost in the Shell, faced a controversy when Hollywood decided to remake the film and cast Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese lead character. The studio believed that visual effects in post-production would make her look more Asian, which fans and celebrities such as Constance Wu called out for aggravating the issue at hand.
The repercussions of this system impair the authenticity of narratives as well as deprive storytellers of the opportunity to share the lives of ethnic minorities and shed light on social issues in their purest forms. Controversies ranging from sexual predation to whitewashing have been constantly swept under the rug by its forerunners – particularly the abusive men in power who foster these malicious practices for their own personal gain. It’s about time that executives realize that moviegoers will never let them get away with it and that people are in it for the authenticity of the story.
“The most powerful people in the industry-who are mainly men-have justified their decisions about what to put on screen by what they say sells tickets.” – The Economist
Movements, namely Time’s Up, Me Too, and Never Again, paved way for a new era of storytelling. Films that lack substance and depth, solely made to entertain and boost profits are a thing of the past. Yes, Hollywood is a multimillion-dollar business that thrives on greenbacks, but we must not lose sight of the heart of the matter as to why we turn to movies after a long day – to simply feel and connect with genuine human emotions through the eyes of the characters as they go through their journeys.
Despite the movement’s infancy, this new generation has taken matters into their own hands, listened to the suppressed voices, and crafted remarkable stories celebrating women, minorities, and gender equality that personify the essence of awakening and empowering storytelling such as Wonder Woman, Lady Bird, Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, and Black Panther.
When Warner Bros. Studios and director Patty Jenkins released Wonder Woman in 2017, it broke social prejudice and proved that female-led superhero films, not to mention female directors, are as memorable as the stereotypical male-dominated superhero films we grew up with. It’s also ranked as the largest opening in the history of female filmmakers. Moreover, when Marvel Studios debuted Black Panther, it astonished filmmakers and moviegoers alike with its first all-black superhero cast, giving the impression that positive changes are finally happening in the industry. Lastly, Call Me By Your Name redefined coming-of-age films by beautifully capturing the reality of many people in today’s society who are struggling with gender identity and equality.
“A new kind of storytelling does not mean homogenizing men and women or eliminating sex and violence. It means telling much the same stories, but with a different eye.” – The Economist
This is the kind of change that has been long overdue since the filmmakers of Thelma and Louise had attempted to do in the ’90s.
The New Hollywood
It may have taken us decades to defy the status quo but the changes that are coming will create an avenue for filmmakers to tell bona fide stories that will keep the conversation alive, ensuring that our society never has to fight another day for something that they have the right to have in the first place – a voice.
Through proper representation, cultural diversity, and equality, Hollywood could make wonders and unravel new ways to elevate the craft of storytelling that entices our imagination, speaks the truth, and brilliantly captures the beauty and struggles of humanity without compromising its structural integrity.
Everyone’s story deserves to be told. Your voice could be humanity’s last saving grace.