Most Importantly, Do We Need Hollywood?
Karina Lafayette – March 2022
So after all this, if the producers of the Oscars are now angry that some tuned in only after hearing about the interaction between Chris Rock and Will Smith, maybe it’s because we just stopped paying attention to a side of the entertainment business that won’t cater to everyone that watches movies in the first place.
When it takes a publicity stunt (or a joke in bad taste) to draw in views on what was once the most celebrated night of the year, it makes you wonder where our priorities should be. Let’s face it, they want us to watch movies, but keep raising the prices to see them. They want us to work on those movies, while paying crew members less and asking them to work ridiculously long hours. They wonder why we’re bored, but keep remaking every hit and series in existence. They want to be taken seriously, while giving attention to scandal and who wore it best. It isn’t about the talent, it’s about the attention. It isn’t about whether you’re a writer, actor, or performer, it’s about how much profit they can make off your back.
Even if you didn’t watch this year’s Academy Awards, you’ve probably at least seen the memes. Otherwise, Google search Chris Rock and Will Smith, because I refuse to give more attention to either of them.
Let’s talk about the real issue, and how every year, shows like the Academy Awards shuffle around giving statues to the same handful of people, with the exception of some newbies either thanks to them feeling forced to acknowledge that most of us aren’t white, straight or male, or thanks to good-ol’ fashioned nepotism. Not to mention, the second-hand embarrassment for those who were in the room when Will and Chris had their moment. Even though what Chris Rock said was clearly innapropriate, the fact that this happened just as ratings continue to plummet- I don’t know what to believe. What was intentially a night of celebration, became a meme.
Now because of this, few will remember how Ariana DeBose is the first openly queer woman of color and the first Afro-Latina to win an Oscar. How Troy Kotsur is the first deaf man to win. How Megan Thee Stallion is the first woman rapper to perform at the show. And of course, Jane Campion being the third woman to win Best Director- yes, only three women in 94 years won Best Director. With all that, what people will remember most is a moment that in all honesty, took two people at fault and should’ve never happened in the first place.
As a kid about to get into film school, I would literally be glued to the television for every award show imagineable. If it was on, I was watching. I would sit there and fantasize about my speech, the dress I might wear, wanting to shake hands with every name in the business.
During my first semester studying cinema in college, we learned about Luis Buñuel, who was both a filmmaker and one of the founders of the Surrealism Movement alongside Salvador Dali. I was surprised to learn that Buñuel once said, “Nothing would disgust me more morally than winning an Oscar”. It always seemed to me that if you had at least one, you made it. What happened last night, only proves further, that some hypes are just that, and in a way, Buñuel made sense. The exchange between Chris Rock and Will Smith is like in The Wizard of Oz, when the curtain lifts and Oz is just a regular man like everyone else. The magic has evaporated. The glam meaningless. Hollywood’s Golden Age has faded into the midst long ago and their viewers no longer crave the Emerald City. What used to be the most important night of the year, now another show. Maybe for making movies, there really is “no place like home”.
In 1952, director Jean-Luc Godard said, “Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self.”
That’s when a group of young directors in France decided to start making films, simply because. Without a budget, or studios, and often by use of improv and non-linear storytelling that focused on social issues of its time.
There was the idea that anybody can make a film, and came the birth of La Nouvelle Vague (the New Wave). Part political movement and part film movement, French New Wave had one thing in mind, to tell stories. No interference of big studios. No censorship. Sometimes a group of friends and a camera. Filmmaking at its core is really where artists take pride in showing their inner world, but with the current rules the industry goes by, many are finding it harder to express just that. Film has become a product produced en masse (in economical terms) and along the way lost itself. With the rise of globalization, we’re in a era where we need to return to the idea of “Art for art’s sake”, instead of profiting major companies that honestly don’t care about who they represent. In my work, I’ve channeled this with a no-budget documentary called The Student Diaries, I’ve tried making my own green screen, and when in doubt, tried anyway. Because even if it’s hard, it still can be done.
At best, the concept of making art for the sake of it can be cathartic, therapeutic even. For those who believe in this, they get a backseat, and not only in film.
And yet every year, it seems there’s an aim to make it harder and harder to be a serious artist, not just in movies. If you’re a writer, Amazon has Kindle self-publishing that only provides between 40–60% in royalties. If you’re a vlogger, on Youtube, in order to get passive income from videos, you need at least 1,000 subscribers. On TikTok, you don’t get paid unles you have 10,000 followers. If you run a small business, even Etsy recently increased the percentage they get through your sales. On Spotify, one million streams makes about $3000. If you aren’t any of the above but share your Netflix password, you’re now paying more per month for it. And then there is the endless amout of red tape that makes it hard for young directors to get proper funding. Because it’s all about who you know, right?
Now when it comes to the Oscars, only a tiny percentage of people in film will ever be nominated. That’s just the reality. Many films overtime that didn’t get acknowledged at first went on to be cult classics. Studios didn’t want to fund Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the film that not only later inspired the slasher genre, but managed to get four Oscar nominations. Even Dirty Dancing had to resort to being produced by a small-time production company that until then, was only known for making B-movies.
In all honesty, it really is about time the stage opens up to the rest of the world. There are countless of amazing titles here alone in Canada. There are countless of amazing titles in South America, India, Italy, France- wherever there is a camera and actors and crew, there is potential to make stories. The inferiority complex that indie artists have is truly unnerving and disappointing- we really do underestimate ourselves. Yes, having a major studio to back something up makes it easier moneywise, but in the long run, what is it that you really want? Do you want to keep riding the coat-tails of Hollywood, or tell your own story? Because as someone living in Toronto, I want to see more big movies that not only get made in Toronto, but actually take place in Toronto, with local artists getting the credit they deserve.
Meanwhile, the Academy Awards has the audacity to ask why viewers won’t tune in when for years, not only do they overlook people who deserve to be acknowledged, they also entertain a side of the business where costume designers like Jenny Beavan, who designed for the movie Cruella, continue to be overworked and underpaid.
As if that isn’t enough, for the “in memoriam” segment, they failed to mention Anne Rice, who wrote the screenplay for the movie adaptation of her classic novel Interview with the Vampire. The movie went on to receive Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe nomination for Kirsten Dunst. They also left out Bob Saget and legendary actor Ed Asner.
With an ever-growing focus on stories told from various perspectives, it’s pretty clear by now that focusing on diversity and movements are only the tip of the iceberg. We need to make filmmaking resources available to different communities, that will encourage more women and more people of various facets of society to make their own films! More funding, more grants, and free (or low-cost) film training by people already in the industry, are just several possibilities. I’d literally encourage anyone reading this to make the kinds of films they want to see, rather than waiting on Hollywood. Like, really, just pick up a camera. it doesn’t matter how great or not great it turns out.
Even though Canadian film has often seemed at the shadows of anything and everything Hollywood, it’s also been the place to release films that dare push the taboo. With the likes of Juno (2007), which was recognized for its feminist take on teen pregnancy, to Mambo Italiano (2003), where we get a glimpse at life for a gay man raised in a traditional Italian-Montreal family. Then you also have French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan who’s been making his own movies since age seventeen.
Another Canadian title that this time manages to intersect borders both for culture and nation, is Deepa Mehta’s 2002 gem, Bollywood Hollywood. The film has dialogue in both Hindi and English, and features Montreal actress Jessica Paré, and Indo-Canadian Lisa Ray.
On an international scale we have Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, who has been directing storylines centred around women’s issues for decades. In All About my Mother (1999), he celebrates motherhood, culture and sexuality. The opening scene is a nod to the 1950 classic All About Eve starring Bette Davis. The film even features a character named Huma Rojo (literal translation Red Smoke), an aging stage actress that’s devoted her career toward emulating Davis herself.
One genre that has often pushed the boundaries of onscreen gender portrayal is sci-fi.
It may seem odd that directors find it necessary to imagine a futuristic world where women have equal power. Nevertheless an example of this of course the movie Alien, which was groundbreaking in its time for not only being the first of its kind to have a female lead, but screenwriter Dan O’Bannon was said to have written the Ripley character originally as a male.
Finally by 2015, we saw the release from the Mad Max series, Fury Road. We have the two main characters, Furiosa and Max, clashing with each other despite both seeking to escape Immorten Joe’s dictatorship. This clearly is meant to depict how through the years structures have managed to pin men and women against each other even when they face a common problem. Here Furiosa is careful about trusting Max, yet is still willing to have him as an ally when he aids her in saving the Five Brides.
Unlike its predecessors like Alien, Fury Road talks about a world that is more eerily realistic to our times. In here, the common threat isn’t robots or aliens- it’s the people we’ve learned to trust. The idea that young women are used as brides has always been around; arranged marriage is a common issue that’s spanned for cultures and generations. The only reason it seems more brutal in Fury Road is because here, it’s happening to Westerners.
Diversity in cinema often has a great impact. Not only because it brings people together, but because it talks about stories that we have experienced. We’ve seen this most recently with Moonlight, Get Out, and so many others. You’re not allowed to feel the escapism that usually happens while watching a movie. You sit down and are kept with your eyes pried open like Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange. You’re shown bitter truths but you can’t look away, because this is your life, beyond the sanitized lens of Hollywood. It’s your life presented onscreen by actors and writers who seem to tell the story more accurately than you, and it’s scary. Like it or not, the key to moving forward is in knowing that everything we want is on the other side of fear.
If the last big evolution in filmmaking prior to digital happened in French New Wave, the next leap will happen when everyone has a place at the storyboard, and where jokes like last night’s Oscars, are pushed to the side.
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(Originally published on Simily)