Like many Americans, recently I have been consumed by the news, conversations, and protests that have taken place throughout this country in response to the murder of George Floyd and so many others before him. Also like many Americans, I have struggled to find the right words or the right sentiments needed to find any sort of comfort in this moment, or to make sense of the current state of our country. Even though I tend to refrain from making political and social statements online, I found myself finally sharing some brief thoughts on Twitter yesterday.
(Ignore the privilege typo please, very insecure about it)
Despite how important I feel open and honest conversations can be at times like this, there are a few different reasons for why I believe the internet isn’t always the best place to have those conversations. The first being, I don’t view platforms like Twitter—which actively restrict the length of your statements with character limits—to be the proper place to have complicated public discourse. It seems that when people post political statements to Twitter they often feel the need to present their opinion in as short or succinct of a manner as possible, which usually isn’t helpful. Also, social media platforms can make people feel like they need to have the exact and definitive correct answer in the moment. With certain issues however, not necessarily the ones dominating our culture right now, it takes some time to form your opinions. Sometimes it even takes talking through a wrong idea to get to the right idea, which is something I wish more people would acknowledge and be comfortable with. Another thing I wish more people would be comfortable with, is admitting that they don’t have the right answers. Unfortunately, this isn’t a popular tactic on social media. Often times online, regardless of what the actual issue is, people would rather present an uninformed take than admit they don’t know what they’re talking about. Moreover, with the never-ending scroll aspect of something like Twitter, tweets like the two I just shared above can sometimes feel like nothing more than noise on top of more noise. Despite all of the reasons I just mentioned, I found myself wanting—or perhaps even needing—to say something this weekend.
When it comes to the specific conversations that are currently engulfing our society, there is another reason I choose to abstain from joining in on the discourse online. It is not because I hold any beliefs that are inflammatory. Instead, it is because—as a 23-year-old white guy—I feel it is best for me to be the one listening rather than the one talking right now. That’s why this post isn’t necessarily going to be about the riots, the protests, George Floyd, or the systematic errors in our country that led to his death. I don’t know much, but I know I shouldn’t be the person leading those important conversations. When it does come to those conversations, I’m here to be an ally and to listen for how I can do my part to help spark the necessary changes this country needs. This is an approach I wish more people like me would be willing to take because listening is one of the most important things we can do right now. Ignorance is the fuel behind a lot of the fires plaguing our country currently, and more people listening and actively trying to understand certain struggles they are fortunate enough to not have to experience directly, can help put out some of those fires.
So, what is this post going to be about then? Well, when I decided to write something related to the issues prevalent in our country, I started thinking what would be an appropriate way for me to discuss said issues. I figured I should choose an area that I do feel qualified to speak on. For me, that is film.
Over the weekend, as the conversations surrounding these issues heightened, I found myself having an urge to revisit one of my all-time favorite films in order to help me process everything that has been going on. The film I’m referring to is Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece Do The Right Thing. This was not the first time I have found myself looking towards the world of film during a confusing or upsetting time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. It’s clear to anyone who knows me, or has read even a handful of the posts I’ve published to this site, that film is very important to me. I’ve made it one of my life’s goals to consume as many great and important films as possible. Not only do I care about film from an entertainment standpoint, I genuinely believe in its power to both bring people together and to inform viewers on aspects of society that they may never experience firsthand. While some movies—like the ones found in the MCU or the Star Wars universe—can provide an important escape from the real world and all of the problems that it holds, other films can actually shine a light on those problems. In fact, one of the main values of film is its ability to allow viewers to take a look into disparate cultures with which they are unfamiliar. Although I would never advocate for film to be the main way in which someone teaches themself about the world, I do think it has the power to be a valuable educational tool. When looking at much of the discourse taking place right now in our country, it is clear that some of us are just not informed on the struggles that other people face on a day-to-day basis. There is a lot of ignorance when it comes to just how different life can be for certain cultures and ethnicities. That is why I have always believed in the importance of the push for greater diversity and representation in film, as well as all popular art forms.
Even though I may use this blog to frequently write about the decline in popularity movie theaters have been facing over the past few years, film is still one of our most popular art forms. And giving more voices a chance to be heard and a chance to tell their story through film can undoubtably lead to more people being informed. The reason this is so important is because, in many ways, hate is born out of ignorance. Racial stereotypes exist across the globe because people are uninformed about other cultures, and have been for a long time. People fear what they don’t know or don’t understand, and often times that fear leads to racism. I’m not trying to make an excuse for the racists of the world by saying “they’re not actually hateful they’re just dumb.” Instead, I’m simply trying to highlight the fact that if you sat down the biggest racist in America and asked them how many black people they knew or interacted with on a daily basis, their answer would not be a high number. Similarly, if you sat down the biggest homophobe in America and asked them how many gay people they were friends with, they would say zero. Maybe I just live in a rainbow-filled, happy, unrealistic, Disney-Channel-esque world but I truly believe if the racists and homophobes that exist around the globe got to know some of the people they hate, they would realize that they’re just people too, and they deserve the same rights as all of us.
I thought Taika Waititi’s film Jojo Rabbit from last year did a great job of exploring some of the ideas I’m touching on. That film effectively used comedy to show that a lot of stereotypes come from people not knowing anything about those that they claim to hate. It also explored how a bigot’s entire world view can be changed by just getting to truly know one person from the marginalized group that they have convinced themself is somehow a problem for society. Similarly, seeing someones story represented on screen can open up people’s minds to the fact that we’re all the same, we’re all just fucking people, and the color of your skin is nothing more than just the clothes you are wearing.
A lot of times the push for greater diversity in Hollywood, and in art in general, can just be seen as the left complaining about PC issues. Certain individuals feel that this is not an issue worthy of being discussed. To the people who feel that way, I say fuck you. Increased representation in our entertainment matters, and if you’ve never had to think about the fact that the people on and behind the camera don’t look like you, then you shouldn’t be the loudest voice speaking on this issue. Likewise, if your group has never had to deal with being systematically killed by police officers in this country for decades, then you shouldn’t be the loudest voice speaking on the appropriate ways to protest those killings.
People sometimes get away with ignoring these issues by framing film and television as unimportant, but the truth is, storytelling has been an incredibly important part of our society from the beginning. Unfortunately though, most of the stories that have been told throughout history tend to focus on one group of people. This is because not everyone has been given a chance to tell their stories. If only one group of people, such as white men, are allowed to tell their stories, then most of the stories we consume are going to be about that group. That is why—although they’re both incredibly important—I believe the push for greater off-screen diversity in film is even more significant than the push for greater on-screen diversity. One simple way of illustrating this issue in Hollywood is by looking at the number of black and female filmmakers who have been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars. In the 92 year history of the Academy Awards, only five women have ever been nominated for directing, along with only six black filmmakers. That means just about 2% of all people nominated for Best Director throughout history have been either black of female. Moreover, among those 11 nominations, Kathryn Bigelow has the only win for her work on 2008’s The Hurt Locker. It is bits of information like this that show just how big of a problem this has been throughout America’s history. Furthermore, it makes you wonder in what small ways would this country look different if minority filmmakers were given a chance to tell their stories from the beginning. Luckily, it looks like things are finally starting to change. Of the 11 nominations I just mentioned, eight of them have taken place in the last 17 years. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, we have seen a rise in all different types of filmmakers being given a chance to make movies and to tell their stories. In fact, out of all the talented filmmakers who made their feature-length debuts during this past decade, a strong argument can be made that the three most important ones are Jordan Peele, Ryan Coogler, and Greta Gerwig. Two black men and a white woman, but more than that, three incredible storytellers.
So, what’s my point? Am I saying that police brutality will cease to exist if more black filmmakers are given a chance to make movies? No, of course not. But, I do believe that anything that can help make this country less divided and more united is a step in the right direction. Moreover, anything that helps us understand each other better is a positive as well. I firmly believe that film has the power to do both of those things. Obviously, there is so much more we need to do, but that’s part of my point as well. We have a lot to do, and not only does change need to take place in the obvious places, it needs to take place in all areas of society, including our entertainment and our art.