Cinema, Top Stories

Representation and the Communitarianization of Cinema

A spate of recent cinema releases—Wonder Woman, Black Panther and, most recently, Crazy Rich Asians—have all been hailed in an almost repetitive, automatic way as ground-breaking. They are all fairly good films, but the reason for this excitement is not their artistry, or even their individual politics, but, at least with left-leaning critics, their portrayal of “powerful women,” “blackness,” and “Asian-ness,” respectively, within a mainstream Hollywood film. For the Left, the mere fact of representation—meaning the depiction of minority experiences and interests, or, more generally, seeing people who look like you—elevates these works to the position of cultural milestones­­­­.

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In the view of the Left, to recognize a diversity of identities in art and culture is to enable self-empowerment and nurture a sense of collective solidarity. Black Panther, the recently anointed poster-child of representation, was even spoken about in spiritual terms when it was released. In an article entitled “I Dream a World: Black Panther and the Re-Making of Blackness,” Renée T. White wrote that “T’Challa [the hero] is a gateway to the past and a bridge to a different future. Here is a film that might just hold up a mirror, not one distorted by racism and white supremacy, but one that allows the viewer to say, ‘I am.’” 1

The film is not simply something autonomous to be contemplated, which might allow us to see the world differently. By making black identity occupy a space within culture supposedly reserved for white men only, it performs an important social and political function. This function has gone hand in hand with a rejection of cultural universalism—the idea that art is common ground upon which we can all meet in our shared humanity, regardless of gender, race, or class. This is crudely taken to mean “we are all the same” and that culture is simply the ideology of the majority—the distorting lens of white supremacy or patriarchy—imposed upon the rest. The only purpose of teaching culture, therefore, is to undermine it and expose the powers that secretly march behind it.

But universalism does not imply this at all. It acknowledges in its very premise that we are all shaped by our particular cultural or geographic backgrounds. But it goes a step further and says that as human beings we can use our imaginations to transcend difference as well as to understand it. But increasingly difference is seen not as something to transcend, but as the most important thing about a person. The universalist view says that we have important things we can say to each other because at the bottom of things we are all the same fundamental animal. The communitarian view says that what we say is only relative to our particular identities. In this scheme, representation becomes the highest ideal, because it is in the act of representing that culture can have any value for minority groups at all. Identity has become the locus of cultural value and representation the means of its transmission.

But what happens when our culture rejects universalism in favour of representation? Christopher Hitchens, speaking about the Salman Rushdie fatwa, outlined the danger of overturning culture to community interests: “There is an all-out confrontation between the ironic and the literal mind: between every kind of commissar and inquisitor and bureaucrat and those who know that, whatever the role of social and political forces, ideas and books have to be formulated and written by individuals.” Whether it is coming from religious extremists or diversity activists, the invasion of art by group interests turns it into something instrumental and an instrument of political control. It is also essentializes “the group” and makes it the lens through which art works must be formulated and understood. Culture, in this estimation, is nothing but another form of competition, with each group trying to secure a positive mirror for itself.

Representation as Cultural Democracy

Representation is not simply depiction or portrayal but “the action of speaking or acting on behalf of someone.” This implies that culture should be democratic and represent proportionally the interests and experiences of the identities that form society.

The argument goes that representation—as a representative sample of the population—will enrich art and culture because it will produce a diverse range of perspectives and truths about the world. This would be true if these perspectives could always be directly traceable to background, culture, race, gender or any other accidents of birth. But these things do not assume any values and, whatever template we are born with, we are continually being remoulded and refined by individual human experience and subjectivity.

If it were otherwise, a black person, for example, could claim to understand and represent their community (anyone who is black) simply by virtue of being black. A black person from Papua New Guinea and a black person from New Orleans could effectively represent each other on account of their skin colour alone. The idea that we are represented when we see people who look like us is plainly false, and it is patronising to assume that people are only able to identify with someone of their own race, or gender, or class. This kind of thinking is suggestive of a TV executive saying they want more LGBT or Muslim content, and trying to fill a tokenistic quota. But what exactly is Muslim content? It seems to mean nothing more than stories with characters who are Muslims. This corporate paint-by-numbers approach to culture assumes that simply having Muslims on the screen will necessarily represent them or speak to them on a deep level.

Of course, people of a particular background are more likely to share values and customs in common, but there is just as much diversity within groups as without. This is clear from the reception to Crazy Rich Asians. The story centres on Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American woman who follows her Chinese-Singaporean boyfriend Nick to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore and discovers that he and his family are, as the title suggests, incredibly rich. Although billed when it was released as a path-breaker for representation of Asians in Hollywood, it was not uniformly greeted with praise. According to some, it wasn’t representative enough, because it only showed a proportion of very wealthy Chinese-Singaporeans, and excluded the Malay, Indian and other minorities within Singapore who collectively account for a quarter of the population.

The story is not about minorities in America, but majorities in Singapore. Progressive representation is entirely dependent on where you are standing, making it impossible to please everyone at the same time. Perfect balance can never be achieved. Not every character can have lots of screen time, a full back-story and complex, nuanced dialogue. This is because every story is by necessity a microcosm of something. It is as much about choosing what to omit as well as include—where to focus and what to consign to the margins. Nobody thought, for example, that the protagonist of Get Out should have also been a closeted homosexual. It would have been a needless distraction from the film’s preoccupation with race and racism in contemporary America.

In the end, what draws people into a story is not the surface material, but the universal themes it explores. I don’t have to know anything about sailing to enjoy Captain Philips and I don’t have to be part of Chinese culture to connect with a masterpiece like In the Mood for Love. If art has no universal quality and is merely the mouthpiece of different groups, how can this connection be explained? Will a Chinese person necessarily have a deeper connection to In the Mood for Love than I do? Possibly. But, ultimately, I think that how much a film speaks to someone is not dependent their membership of a particular group. In the hands of a great artist, people don’t need to make great imaginative leaps to step inside a different time, or another person’s world.

Art retains value across cultures and across time, because talented artists have been adept at extracting the universal from the particular. Growing up in ancient Greece would have been strikingly different to growing up in modern-day Britain, yet the plays of that era are still performed today, and the themes they explore remain instantly recognisable. The diversity calculators tend to disparage universalism as a way to exclude rather than connect, and instead preoccupy themselves with superficial and irrelevant details such as “what percentage of the characters are gay?”

There are also degrees of Asian-ness to be factored into the equation. The casting of British-Malaysian Henry Golding, to play the boyfriend of Rachel, was initially criticised because he was mixed race and therefore supposedly not Asian enough to be the poster-boy for Asian representation. Golding revealed to Entertainment Weekly that the commotion over his casting felt “quite hurtful”:

People were like, “This guy’s half-Asian, he’s half-white, he’s not even full Asian,” and it comes to, like, how Asian do you have to be to be considered Asian? I’ve lived 16, 17 years of my life in Asia, and that’s most of my life. I was born in Asia, I’ve lived cultures that are synonymous with Asian culture, but it’s still not Asian enough for some people. Where are the boundaries?

The irony of identity politics is that it must employ the logic of racism in order to—supposedly—fight it. The Left would not hesitate to accuse a white nationalist of racism if he were to argue that brown-skinned Muslims could never be British despite being born and growing up there. Yet the comments made against Henry Golding, suggesting he could never be Asian enough despite being born and living in an Asian country for 17 years, make barely a ripple in the public consciousness. The white ethnonationalists and the left-wing identitarians may fight on different sides, but both make assumptions about people based on their ethnicity and enforce what they see as the authentic representation of their group.

Even before the film was released, it was transformed into a political project, with various activists staking their claims for what the film ought to be. It was going to be the Black Panther moment for the Asian community. I feel the same concern as writer Jiayang Fan in the New Yorker:

What does it mean that Crazy Rich Asians must accommodate simultaneous, conflicting demands—to tell a coherent narrative, to represent Asians of all stripes, to showcase Asian culture without alienating the dominant culture, to sell something palatable to the average American—when other movies, starring white leads, are asked only to tell a single story convincingly?

It means that Crazy Rich Asians has been turned into politics by other means. A new brand of representative art is under the thumb of a spurious collectivity, deciding what it should do to advance the interests of the group. It can never simply be what it is.

It is not that art can’t be political. It can have a political message. In fact, some of the great satirical works are political to their core. But this is different to a conception of art as a political tool, a second-class expedient to a political end. A work directed towards the advancement of a group’s cause and image is propaganda, not art.

We will end up with a situation where artists will have to presume to know what a particular community wants before they can even write the first words. Fictional characters will be seen as ambassadors for the interests of marginalized groups and cultures, their purpose, to advance the black perspective or the gay perspective in response to the dominance of the straight white male perspective. In effect, art will be used to serve a social cause rather than the truth.

If representation is a duty it is also a burden. White artists, without the burden of representation, have the freedom to focus less exclusively on the identity of content at the expense of aesthetics. This means that cultural universalism is not just for white people. Black directors like Steve McQueen can feel equally as comfortable making films about an Irish hunger strike, or a white New-York city executive.

The idea of art as a representative sample of the population—as something democratic—creates a false ideal. It says that a marker of good art is something that we can identify with, something that gives us a familiar picture of the world, a mirror. A flash of familiarity when we read a book or see a film can be a comforting thing. But art is also about completely upending the familiar, making us see things in a completely different way, and subverting our expectations. Most great art has been subversive in some way. It doesn’t pay attention to group demands and usually has a dissident relationship to the societies in which it is situated. I share the mindset that novelist Will Self inhabits: “I don’t write fiction for people to identify with and I don’t write a picture of the world they can recognise. I write to astonish people.”

 

Oliver Whiskard is a freelance politics and culture writer and a graduate in English Literature at University College London. His film reviews have appeared in VultureHound Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @OWhiskard

Reference:

1 Renée T. White (2018), ‘I Dream a World: Black Panther and the Re-Making of Blackness’ New Political Science, 40:2, 427, DOI: 10.1080/07393148.2018.1449286

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51 Comments

  1. Circuses and Bread says

    Cinema is yet another part of our culture that has been poisoned by politics. The emphasis in cinema seems to have gravitated away from plot, storyline, and acting skill to virtue signaling and “diversity” instead.

    And I suppose there is amazement when people don’t bother to spend their money to go to the movies. How could that ever happen?

    • The great message of all Hollywood movies is: what, at first sight, seems to be the looser, is eventually the winner. I am not knowledgeable on screenplay-writing, but am pretty sure that in textbooks on the subject, this lesson is already explicitly explained, by all sorts of examples, in the first chapter.

    • annaerishkigal says

      As an author, and a screenwriter, your observation about “it’s only about diversity now” is especially poignant. I had to #walkaway from a large and diverse sci-fi fantasy community that I adored because the identity politics became too much to bear. Most of the stuff getting Hugo Awards these days is absolute rubbish. And now most of the fantasy genres have abandoned plot and pacing to laud “diversity” over story. Oh, yes, that observation is TRUE.

      The fact that everyday, ordinary people are REJECTING these stereotypes can be seen in book sales and movie sales. Sci-Fi is practically a dead genre on bookstore shelves … it stopped selling when it shifted from the heroes journey (Star Wars) and science exploration (Star Trek) and terrifying potential futures (Battlestar Galactica). For example, BSG’s spinoff Caprica failed because it went full SJW-diversity and left behind its mainstream audience. “The Martian” on the other hand succeed because it paired real science with a real heroes journey, and absolutely NO culture war issues.

      Interestingly, good old-fashioned romance sells well, with alpha-males and women who can be women. The “big” publishing houses such as Harlequin have fallen upon harder times because their authors have #walkaway from imposed diversity demands by editors (which their readers don’t like) to self-publish and take their readers with them. Military science fiction has become the hottest selling sub-genre among men … it still has a heroes journey, a plot, and rugged individualism. And certain sub-genres of fantasy and horror still enjoy a good, bloody sword-fight. And this holds true in the cinema, where microbudget horror-thriller combos keep reliably having solid sales, even as blockbuster SJW-pieces such as “Mother” fail miserably.

      Follow the money. Sales figures don’t lie…

      • @annaerishkigal: a recommendation: see MANDY, in case you did not know of it. super-avant-garde but it checks just about all your boxes. great film.

        I liked MOTHER!, almost as much, in a different way. I can see why you thought of it as SJ-y, but that interpretation wouldn’t’ve and hadn’t occurred to me. (the film made the male lead a white guy. a truly SJ film would have made him a white guy because only white people do bad things.)

        do you have any sources for sf books going down?

    • Casual Classisist says

      I tried to see Black Panther, but the theater was just too noisy.

    • Alphonse Credenza says

      Yes, it’s all propaganda now, TV, film, even, if not especially, the American stage, which is uniformly dreadful political hack work funded by political hacks.

      We live in an East Germany. But its moment in the sun is over. It has been toppled.

      Now it is up to you and me to deliver better ideas and better work to the millions who are already receptive to it. I know because I keep finding them. Work on. It’s still early days.

      Now’s the time if you have ever believed that superior ideas drive out inferior to put our ideas into the ring and demonstrate which will out.

  2. Peter from Oz says

    The author states that the ”representationists” are keen on democracy. But enforced diversity is the opposite of democracy.
    Democracy is about choice, not about equality.
    There’s a famous story about a gathering of left-wing witers in the 1930s. All of them were middle class or even upper middle. One of them introduced a real working class person to the gathering. This thrilled the assembled scribblers who had not really spoken to a worker in such cicumstance before. They all believed that it was right that writing should depict mostly working class stories and leave the midldle calss behind.
    One of these august notable asked the working class guest what he liked to read.
    “”Stories about the love-lives of the upper classes.” came the quick reply.

    • Conan the Agrarian says

      Ah yes. Superhero movies:

      “Exhausted by the mental strain of comic books? Does the reading of bubble dialogue and imagining stuff BOTH at the same time make them inaccessible? Boy have we got something for you…!”

  3. Pingback: Representation and the Communitarianization of Cinema - Oliver Whiskard

  4. James Lee says

    Modern hyperliberalism is moving faster and faster towards Communism, where the state is worshipped as the Father who regulates and proportions out the goods to the masses, and where official state ideology had to be injected into every sphere of human life- sports, visual arts, literature, employment, academia, journalism, etc.

    Here is Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko in “The Demon in Democracy”:

    “The ideological interpretation of one of Marx’s basic tenets—that the history of humanity is the history of class struggle—stipulated that this struggle leaves its stamp on human life, both individual and collective, on society, art, science, institutions, law. At the peak of communist domination, when culture was in the grip of the doctrine called socialist realism, it was officially proclaimed that nothing in the human world would not have an ideological dimension…nothing could be neutral with respect to the conflict between… the working class and the bourgeoisie.”

    All we need to do is change wording of the last sentence a bit—bourgeoisie has morphed into white males (sometimes females) and the noble proletariat has morphed into “marginalized groups.”

  5. “Most great art has been subversive in some way.”

    This is often said, but is taken for granted that it is true, but is it really?

    • Maybe subversive is not the right word, but presenting a (shocking, alternative) perspective, mostly anti-bourgeois, is what’s meant. We say: to put somebody on another leg (than the one he is used to walk on). Literature never is about decent, happy folks, even decent happy readers don,t want to read such stuff! Read the first sentence of Anna Karenina!

    • peanut gallery says

      You have no idea what darkly subversive ideas hide behind the “happy fluffy clouds” in The Joy of Painting.

    • Shatterface says

      No, it isn’t. Some of the greatest art was devoutly religious. It’s about as subversive as Sunday school.

      Some of the most ‘transgressive’ art is literally, not just metaphorically, shit.

      • @Shatterface: he said “most great art”, not “*all* great art”.

        you can label art as great because of its technical excellence and sincerity that creates beauty. this describes the religious art which champions the values of the culture.

        then you have a strain of art which challenges the values of a culture but exposing the contradictions and showing the underside. this can shock the audience, at least temporarily, out of (to use the current meme) the NPC mindset.

        both of these forms (and others that I can’t think of right now) have their value.

        the literally/metaphorically shitty art you talk about comes about when artists attempt the second mode but do it badly.

    • @Ryan-IMO, no.
      ‘Great art (in cinema) is what lasts for decades.
      Classic westerns; cop movies;drama’s; great visual fiction films; mysteries; etc., are what ppl want.
      The average person doesn’t give a crap about politics/ideology in movies. Same w fiction books.
      It’s entertainment.

      • Great art never is entertainment, it’s about the opposite!

  6. You make the most important point early on and toss it aside. These movies were *good. The filmmakers excelled at their craft and the audience responded. All of your discussion about diversity follows from there. No one writes an article about “A Wrinkle in Time”, even though it was a diversity poster child before it utterly failed to deliver. You put too much emphasis on the social topic without recognizing the artistry and how it influences discussion.

    • Black Panther was good, but it wasn’t THAT good.

      It wasn’t Lawrence of Arabia or Raging Bull.

      It wasn’t even Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: Winter Soldier.

      • What do you mean “even” Winter Soldier? Until Infinity War came out, I thought Winter Soldier was the best movie the MCU had produced.

        Yeah, Black Panther was kind of middling by MCU standards, but that’s still like being a middling player compared to the rest of the championship team.

  7. Not directly to the point of the article but I find extraordinary that Black Panther is seen as a good film for presenting black culture when it is about an African country run by an absolute monarch chosen by birth of no holds barred combat. That basic idea so soundly reflects the biased western view of “savage Africa” from the time when the underlying comics were first produced. I am amazed at how utterly shallow the identity politics crowd are that they could consider the mere presence of lots of black characters to be all that matters, but then, that is part of what the article is saying.

    • Greg James says

      Yeah, I never got that either. It’s a very stereotypical view of Africa, only with a magic metal that does whatever the plot needs it to. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie a lot, but when you think about Wakanda for more than five seconds, you realize no one would want to live there.

  8. Farris says

    “The white ethnonationalists and the left-wing identitarians may fight on different sides, but both make assumptions about people based on their ethnicity and enforce what they see as the authentic representation of their group.”

    Best statement in the article.

    I will grant the author all the points he made in the article. But my response would still be “Who cares?”
    I will never understand why the pontifications of Hollywood and its ilk carry much weight. This actor endorses this or condemns that. Yawn. If Hollywood says this piece represents this or that, then okay. All the public really cares is if the work is worth the price of admission. Sure art can be subversive but so what; it is still just a depiction. The goal of art is to make the viewer feel or think something, which maybe nothing more than being entertained. The artist may proclaim what ideal the art is intended to convey but only the public gets to pronounce whether or not the message is received. What relevance is Hollywood or its actors to the lives of most ordinary people? These are people who play in a bubble of pretend and whom the public watches for amusement. Their opinions on anything other than their craft should carry as much weight as a carnival performer.

    • Chris C says

      art is an important cultural tool — it mines the impenetrable chaos at the edges of existence, it communicates fundamental human truths that upend hegemonic falsehoods, it teaches facets of experience and emotion that cannot be communicate through rote language.

      we need to keep that tool clean and well oiled to maximize success as a society. The more political horseshit cakes on the blade, the less effective the tool becomes. Political ideology prevents access to the deep and unexplored shadows the great artist must plunge.

      by sitting idly while art and art criticism is overtaken by racist ninnies, we’re not only precluding ourselves from the joy of experiencing great (new) art, but retarding the evolution of our culture. Art is the vanguard that feeds the larger intellectual (and non-intellectual) world.

      • Farris says

        @Chris

        I am not anti-art. I enjoy a wide variety of art. The point I was trying to make was the artist, publisher or producer do not get to proclaim their work important, meaningful or relevant. The public decided the value of art. Thank you for pointing out the ambiguity in my post.

      • Circuses and Bread says

        @Chris C

        Loved the analogy; art is a tool and we shouldn’t let political horses*** cake the blade.

        Classic. I am so stealing that.😄

  9. Shatterface says

    You were doing so well until you got to quoting Will Self who was happy enough to piss on the corpses of Charlie Hebdo.

  10. Caligula says

    Samuel Goldwyn may not have actually said many aphorisms attributed to him, yet many of these are just too good to discard.

    Perhaps the best known is, “Pictures are entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union” (available in several variants). Not only has Western Union exited the telegraph business, but it seems Hollywood has forgotten that movie audiences seldom care to be beaten over the head with political messages.

    And then there’s “Television has raised writing to a new low.” Which remains more true than ever. Writers have always had a low status in Hollywood, but has it ever been lower than today?. Which perhaps explains all those plotless movies, the ones where this happens and then that happens and then something else and then the movie ends. Not to mention how few bother with any significant character development.

    So, yes, these movies are “good” in that they have high production values and skilled actors and, often, some clever CGI or other visual spectacle. Yet (aside from their tiresome, 100% predictable political messages) few seem to have much of a story to tell.

    • What? HBO’s Westworld might be single greatest thing I’ve ever watched. I’m re-watching Netflix’s Daredevil in anticipation of Season 3 dropping tomorrow, and it remains as compelling as I remember. Their Punisher series was a brilliant piece of literature, exploring themes about how betrayal and other disappointments alienate us from the social contract, and the differing ways individuals react to them.

      And that’s just off the top of my head. We’re living in a golden age of television and I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

      Sorry the kids won’t stay off your lawn.

      • annaerishkigal says

        Both HBO and NetFlix are PAID subscription services. They make their money by giving people exactly what they WANT, which is a solid plot, intriguing characters, and lots of twists. Too much virtue-signaling alienates viewers.

    • Peter from Oz says

      I’ve always believed that British TV was better, mainly because the first credit is usually the name of the writer.
      A good film can be political but a political film is rarely good.

    • @Caligula: SJ believes that, intentionally or not, all art makes a political statement. therefore, since it will have it anyway, they should include the *right* messages.

  11. While these may be considered important movies made in America, it’s funny that so many identity folks do not know that in Africa, there are lots of black movies, and in India, lots of movies with Indians in them, and in China, lots of Chinese, and in Japan, lots of Japanese, and in Russia, lots of Russians, and in….

    • In Africa, lots of black movies??? I lived 10 years in Kenya, and saw only one: -Out of Africa-, a white (wo)mans romance, with all the Africans in a rather subservant role (quite logical, because that’s how it was at the time, but nevertheless).During that movie, I heard outcries of the black public of disbelief, where their own people (Kikuyu, Masai and Somali) were exhibited as mere ambience , or in rather silly roles. In India, Japan, Russia and China, indeed, it’s quite different! There you are right!

      • Thecarlos_chp says

        Have you never heard of Nollywood- and to a lesser extend the films on Uganda. Though when I was last in Kenya in the early 1990’s – Bollywood films were very popular

  12. ccscientist says

    The irony of “black panther” (which I loved by the way) is that when the hero decides to help the world, he initiates the very type of inner city social work that has not only failed for so long but that has actually made things worse. Which really just shows that the film-makers don’t know how to solve inner city problems either.

    • Peter from Oz says

      There is no social problem that cannot be made worse by more government money or social workers.

  13. tibbles says

    Not only that, if the film does feature somone of a different race, more often than not, they are cast as the bad dude.

  14. ga gamba says

    Though I’m an atheist, I’m not antagonistic to the religious, and even I find there’s clearly an anti-Evangelical bias in Hollywood film. Evangelical Christians are about 25% of US population; this is roughly the same as blacks, Asians, and LGBT combined. Where are the Evangelical films? Other groups who are usually marginalised, if not erased, are the disabled (12.5% of population), the old (15% of population), and the rural (20% of population). Genuinely working-class people are about a third of population. Let’s not neglect the most marginalised of all: the unattractive. When these people appear, they’re often in need of aid from the young, educated, and attractive. Or they’re the buffoons and antagonists.

    The current message over amplified by dinosaur media is: “We demand other people (chiefly the stale, male, and pale) take the risk of putting up their money, time, and effort to write or buy screenplays and produce films that had better appease us in every way… or else.”

    Is it the studios’ responsibility to provide representation to anyone? Absolutely not. It’s to make money for the owners and investors. Each studio looks to maximise its return on investment, and this list of Hollywood’s all-time twenty most profitable – longevity counts. Though studio accounting practices are murky, reportedly up to 70% of studio releases fail to make money. Film economics researcher Stephen Follows writes: “The film business is led by extremes, where a handful of movies can either make or lose epic sums of money. . . . The top 6% of movies (i.e. those which made the most profit) provided 49% of all the money made by the profitable films. And similarly, the bottom 6% of movies (i.e. those which individually lost the largest amounts of money) accounted for 53% of the money lost by unprofitable films.”

    Undoubtedly there is an argument that appealing to as many film goers as possible has merit and potential financial rewards, but that’s for management to accept or reject. If management gets it wrong it’ll be replaced. (We don’t demand Ferrari build econoboxes and minvans nor Burger King offer Pancit Canton and escargot, do we?) Not every film will appeal to as a wide as possible an audience. Nor must they be created to do so. Often the result of films crafted to appeal to all is a thin and tepid broth that very few enjoy. This needn’t be a cause for distress.

    The beauty of free enterprise and the market is that anyone may enter it by risking their capital and investing their time, talent, and effort toward an end, be it a short-term one such as one film or a long-term endeavour such as establishing studio(s) devoted to making particular types of films. Another attribute of the free enterprise system is how it accommodates and rewards those able to discern and respond to the un- and underserved gaps and seams. Look at all these marginalised groups being marginalised. Appears to be a money making opportunity, doesn’t it? Why would someone draw others’ attention to it and forego the opportunity themselves? Do they not want skin in the game?

    There’s nothing stopping women, people of whatever colour, or anyone else either individually or collectively pooling their resources. What better way to be strong and independent than to create and own? Is whingeing and begging preferable? Seems that’s what happens when talented people are trained to be activists to perceive, or concoct, oppression rather than entrepreneurs who identify opportunity. In fact, with crowd funding such as kickstarter it’s never been easier to launch a film. Even the technological barriers are lower than ever; the film Tangerine, with a budget of $100,000, was shot on two iPhones and edited on a computer. Or they may raise more money and found a new studio or even buy an established one. Of America’s $20 trillion economy, black consumers are responsible for $1.2 trillion in annual purchases, so they have capital to invest. Hispanic Americans are about the same. In 2015, Asian Americans had an estimated buying power of $825 billion, which is expected to grow to $1.1 trillion in 2020. The combined buying power of American LGBT adults was $917 billion in 2015. If those communities were to shift 0.5% of that purchasing power to fund story-telling creators and businesses that’s approximately $5,000,000,000 each.

    I think the “representation” argument is an over-egg, perhaps even a pretext. Often those making it are hostile to capitalism itself, the “patriarchy” or some other bogeyman, or a combination of these. They are following the seize-the-means-of-production script… by having others do the tough work. Demanding managerial control or brow beating executives to comply is a low- or even no-risk means to this end. Further, it isn’t simply they want to create things to appeal to themselves, they also want to make sure little is made that appeals to their perceived enemies or runs counter to their ideology. They’ve taken it upon themselves to veto scripts, castings, and even screenings – a variant of no platforming. What I find especially peculiar is many of the critics are also advocates of global integration. Have they failed to see that it’s easier than ever to view films from China, Korea, India, Brazil, Mexico, and Nigeria? No, they choose to remain fixated on Hollywood.

    By taking a step back, we see this is agitprop is about an anachronistic entertainment model, that of the passive experience. Might as well be asserting, “These bad men are controlling the production of wooden wagon wheels and horse shoes.” It’s not a revelation to state information technology is transforming entertainment. I see that gaming is resolving rapidly many of the representation issues by allowing the players to choose and even configure their own characters. This feature of live-action role-playing game technology will migrate to Hollywood film soon enough. With more and more films being released straight to home via streaming services, the viewer may choose what attributes each major character appearing on screen has. You want an all trans Bond flick? You got it. And it’ll get even more immersive. It’s not implausible to foresee viewers casting virtual representations of themselves and even interacting. Moreover, just a colourisation and cable TV opened the libraries of long-forgotten film to new audiences, enhancing these to provide a virtual experience offers a new revenue stream from content earning little.

    The benefit to Hollywood studios is fewer complaints and scandals as well as less paid to major stars; they’ll be replaced by CGI characters, “virtual actors”. This has already happened in some films and it’s only going to increase. Further, virtual actors don’t say anything controversial to the press or on Twitter, aren’t grabbing anyone by the pussy on the casting couch, and don’t groom teenaged boys and girls. Removing Kevin Spacey from All the Money in the World reportedly cost the studio $10 million to reshoot, wiping out about two-thirds of its profit on a film with niche appeal to start with. Removing as many humans from the equation as possible mitigates the risk. These virtual actors will also allow Hollywood studios to further monetise their creations by having them appear in commercial product adverts such as for whisky, cosmetics, and instant ramen, earnings actors keep for themselves presently.

  15. ccscientist says

    Representative art is simply propaganda, which is always terrible. On the representational view, it is not explicable that rap artists have a mixed-race fan base, that white people loved Black Panther. It would also seem to be impossible to create art about past eras because neither the artist nor actors are from ancient Rome.

  16. codadmin says

    Get Out is a racist movie that gives insight into the deep, genocidal racism of the left, specifically the black left.

    Neo-nazis could have written exactly the same film. Jews would be protrayed as nice and friendly on the outside, but are really brain eating parasites who exist to suck the life force from the gentiles.

    The film would conclude with the mass slaughter of these parasites.

    The only difference between the Nazis and the fascist left is who they hate, who they blame, and who they want gone.

  17. It’s like Quillette has become the gathering place for crotchety old dudes doing their best Clint Eastwood impression…

    “Oh these kids with their newfangled CGI and dark people. Gary Cooper, now there was a real actor…”

  18. You detail nicely the process of the ideological displacement of art by propaganda. No wonder all totalitarian “art” has that same stilted, kitschy deadness and sameness. Like trying to replace life with cliched ideas.
    “Tradition is not something constant but the product of a process of selection guided not by reason but success.”

  19. W2class says

    @Dirk

    Look up “Nollywood”. The African film industry is generally low budget but extraordinarily prolific and popular.

    • Thanks W2, I did, and saw that it was more a West African (Nigerian) thing, and only of the last 15 yrs, so before my time there. I also remember the existence there (then Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso) of a certain Fespaco, Festival Panafricain, in the 1980s more a thing of European development projects, with a lot of influence of the French, Dutch, Swiss cineasts, and money of course, with pictures of an idealised, simple Africa ( nice clean huts in villages with proud women strutting in long dresses, without any Coca Cola signs , motorbikes and smoking old cars around), of which I doubt that the Africans now would be very proud. BTW, I see that there is also a Nollywood diaspora, so, also there much Western influence, I fear. Nevertheless, thanks for the link!
      (I went to quite some Hollywood movies in Kenya, always with a black girlfriend, they didn,t seem to miss the black heros on screen, and knew all those white actors and heros much better than I did)

      • And of (because I almost forgot):” Monotonous images of women (in Vlisco kanga) pounding millet or rice”. Oh my God, if I only remember, me being there, and listening to that sound……., I’ll never forget, though, almost, as I said.

  20. Usually my argument tends to be that if people just cared about the foreign film market the problem of representation in film, and in art generally, would cease to exist. I’d love to see one of these SJW types go to a country like India, Jordan, Indonesia or Japan and propagate their spiel about diversity, inclusion etc.

    “There’s a lack of white men represented in the domestic films of japan!” Hey, if you wanna get progressive, lets get fucking progressive!

    Currently we’re reading Stuart Halls book “On Representation” (edited by Jessica Evans and Sean Nixon) for a collage course and I’m told it’s a must read classic on the subject of culture and semiotics. Yet I seem to find nothing online written about it or its points that’s especially interesting. Hall more than flirts with the Marxist dialectic of power dynamics everywhere in art as a basis and later we’re reading Laura Mulvey and her amazing theory of the “male gaze”.

    Umm, help?

    • Inclusion and the want of diversity are exclusively christian/western (not even muslim, that other great monotheism), you’ll find it nowhere else on the globe, however secure you will look for it.

  21. sandy says

    Tell a story, diversity will happen naturally. If you want to stop racism, stop noticing it all the time

  22. Northern Observer says

    Revolutionary art is boring and revolutionary policy and social morality will always degenerate into farce or tragedy. So we are living through an ironic situation where Whiteness is being attacked for its values but since the competing revolutionary values are so pathetic all that is happening is that while white people are fading physically as a percentage of total population and correspondingly fading in artistic representation, the cultural social political and even artistic values that make up Whiteness endure and are simply embodied by mulatto faces. The woke revolution is simply making liberalism more attractive to “minorities”, the face may change but the culture of whiteness will endure.

    It’s kind of funny really.

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