Seeking Change in “Liberal” Hollywood

“Cinema” by Weegeebored is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I cannot recall life before I fell in love with words, sounds and moving images that weaved together complicated stories told by great visionaries. Film, at its absolute best, is an immersive experience with exhilarating highs, devastating lows and the encompassing calm in between.

The sensations that washed over me the first time I watched my favorite films are still fresh. From my audible gasp at the end of Scarface, to gut-wrenching sobbing when “Sophie” makes her choice, to heart-stopping fear during the climax of Do the Right Thing; film compelled me to feel things my reality could not. It illuminated issues, enlightened closed minds and often filled me with the desire to do something, anything, to alleviate human suffering.

In short, film has been the greatest teacher of my life.

Over the last few years, it’s been dismaying to feel a disconnect with cinema. It is truly heartbreaking that I’ve lost the desire to go to the movie theater. Bold proclamations by critics that the latest movie is a “must see” or “will make you fall in love with film again,” ring totally false. Film and I have become an old married couple that’s reached the point of apathy; the love still exists but they rarely speak to my soul.

I’d hoped to reconnect with the passion with a 2015 movie marathon.

I spent countless hours making my way through an unusually long list. There were films that immediately rose to the top like Spotlight and Room, with Creed, 45 Years and Tangerine following in the high rankings as well. Others like Dope and Ex Machina easily made my top ten list. Then, there was Inside Out and Anomalisa; animated films that are two of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever seen.

After each movie I said to myself, “Okay, that was pretty good, but I didn’t really feel anything.” There were no tears like the second time I watched Titanic, no excitement like the first time I watched Love & Basketball and no stunned silence like Magnolia. More often than not, I was left wondering what I’d missed.

Brooklyn, a film critics praised, immediately came to mind. The protagonist’s journey from Ireland to the United States was difficult, but not seemingly insurmountable. She had a job and home waiting for her along with an opportunity to further her education. She would inevitably fall in love and all would be right in the world. I failed to identify with any aspect of the film, as the protagonist’s journey wasn’t interesting or compelling, it only reinforced how differently my ancestors were treated and the enormous, institutional obstacles they faced.

I thought of Brie Larson, who was brilliant in Room. As perfect as she was, would the film have been different if the people held in that room were of color? Would the police have acted differently? Would the response from the community been less vociferous?

Sicario was an amazing ride, but couldn’t an actress of color have killed that role too? Did anyone else have a chance?

Since the beginning of film, Hollywood has catered to white males. I’ve realized that I’ve been expected to relate to and connect with Caucasian characters. Viewers of all colors enter their world where, oftentimes, there is not a shade of brown present. Studios realized that regardless of representation, people like me would spend our money to support their products. Unfortunately, as the world has evolved and become more diverse, Hollywood has remained stubbornly wedded to their antiquated model.

As I made my way through a stack of 2015 films, I asked myself, “ Why am I having such a hard time loving these films and characters?” It truly bothered me. Finally, the answer became clear: I’m tired.

I’m tired of not seeing people who look like me in leading roles as fully realized human beings.

I’m tired of being comic relief.

I’m tired of being the girl with the attitude, the thot, the caretaker, the angry single mother.

Most of all, I’m tired of a vocal minority of Caucasian filmgoers who lose their mind every time a person of color is cast in a major role in a Hollywood blockbuster because it’s “unrealistic”. It seems when these announcements are made, the dirty, underside of America rears its ugly head again to remind us how far we have not come.

Nowadays, I refuse to lose myself in a universe that bears no resemblance to me. With a lack of diversity, what is being said to little girls and boys? Women and men of color? Are our stories unworthy of being told? Are we less talented? Is it because Hollywood believes the target audience cannot relate to people of color? Is racism so ingrained in a broken system, that Hollywood cannot see the value in embracing a wider umbrella without perpetuating hatred, intolerance, ignorance and an overall lack of humanity?

The more we spend money on films that do not reflect our experiences, the less incentive for Hollywood gatekeepers to change their formula. In 2016, it’s time to flex our economic power to demand a shake up of the system. If we are truly committed to diverse representation, we must not simply talk about change, we must be the change.

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