Showing posts with label Hollywood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hollywood. Show all posts

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Hollywood’s Glass House


(Image: g4sfacts.org)

“Sincerity — if you can fake that, you’ve got it made!"
Groucho Marx

I am no fan of President Trump but I am a movie fanatic. I can quote lines, recite entire dialogues and even rattle off names of obscure directors and screenwriters. Ever since I was a child I have been enamored of movies and their power to connect people, build empathy, change attitudes and be a force for good - a force that can change the world in positive ways.

I also used to enjoy watching the Oscars back when it was still a celebration of the art and its greatest auteurs. It is true that Hollywood has always been a liberal bastion that championed a variety of issues, from famine and genocide to civil war, but for the most part their causes pertained to humanity and were not blatantly partisan; after the last election the mask came off and every awards ceremony has been hijacked by tone-deaf, selective lecturing and hypocritical finger pointing.

It is one thing to use your art as a valid and powerful way to protest something. I am all for making movies and documentaries that champion causes and wade headfirst into divisive political issues; however, it is entirely another thing to abuse the microphone at a non-political event meant to celebrate this art. Putting aside the fact that awards shows are not the right venue to bring up politics, the reality is that Hollywood is also the last group of people in the world who should be preaching morality, diversity and equality based on the facts within their own industry.

A study of 900 popular Hollywood films over the last decade by USC Annenberg School forCommunication and Journalism found that despite the industry's preaching diversity to the rest of us, “there has been little year-on-year rise in inclusion in films released in 2016”. Across the board the industry fails on inclusivity when it came to minorities, LGBTQ and disabled people. As recently as 2016, the same study found that 70.8% of speaking roles in top 100 films were still being awarded to white actors. Even behind the scenes their record remained appalling with women making up a measly 4.2% of directors, 13.2% of writers, 20.7% of producers and just 1.7% of composers.

Further, another 2016 UCLA study found that film studio heads are 94 percent white and 100 percent male. Management is 92 percent white and 83 percent male. Film studio unit heads are 96 percent white and 61 percent male. TV network and studio heads are 96 percent white and 71 percent male. TV senior management is 93 percent white and 73 percent male. TV unit heads are 86 percent white and 55 percent male.

As a result, the recent award show protesting and preaching comes across as a disingenuous PR stunt designed to distract us and prevent shining a light on their own industry. Even after the shocking revelations about Harvey Weinstein, as the New Yorker put it, “A few of the mighty have fallen,a few of the less mighty have been embarrassed, but the institutions that protected them remain unshaken, their potentates still in power.”

Oprah spoke eloquently and passionately about “speaking your truth” at the last Golden Globes, and while Hollywood seems willing to point fingers, it is entirely unwilling to introspect or make meaningful changes to the predatory atmosphere it has nurtured within its ranks. Hollywood seems to have forgotten the wisdom about glass houses or perhaps they assumed we would not hold them to the same standards they rightly want to hold the President and his administration to, when it comes to women, minorities and the disabled.

I laud the release of 'Black Panther' but we cannot ignore the fact that it has taken one hundred and eight years, ninety Academy Awards and the election of Donald Trump to create the first black super hero movie. This year, Jordan Peele became only the fifth black man to be recognized in the Best Director category, and the first to win for Best Screenplay. Greta Gerwig was only the fifth woman to ever be nominated for Best Director. Only one woman has won this category in the Oscars 90-year history. I hope we won’t have to wait another hundred years for black, female and minority studio heads.

Interestingly, I am not the only person feeling this way about Hollywood’s now shallow and incessant preaching at award shows since the last election. The 2018 Oscars were the least-watched in history, scoring a 19% drop from 2017. To give you an idea of the magnitude - the Oscars have never fallen below 32 million viewers and 21 metered markets household rating before, making this year’s ratings the lowest since they started keeping records. Even among the coveted youth audience, social media mentions were down a whopping 28% from last year. The Golden Globes witnessed their lowest TV ratings in six years. Even the Grammys, where Hillary Clinton showed up, suffered a precipitous decline to amass its lowest tally since 2008, a 24% drop from the previous year.

If we want to hear political speeches, we will attend a political rally. 
If we want a lecture, we will find a college professor.
If we want to a sermon, we will go to church.
If we want to be chastised about our lack of morals, we will visit our parents.
We come to Hollywood to be entertained and the industry seems to have forgotten its place in society.

As long as Hollywood uses their art to make us laugh, cry, inform, broaden and challenge our thinking, we too are willing to overlook the fact that they are mostly well-meaning but grossly overpaid and completely out of touch elites. The air around them is so rarefied that Jennifer Lawrence is lauded for picking up her dog’s poop, and Gwyneth Paltrow argues that moms who have office jobs have an easier life than an actress making $9 million a movie.
 
Movies have the power to connect people, build empathy, change attitudes and become a force for good - a force that can change the world in positive ways. I hope Hollywood remembers to wield this great power by letting their art speak for them.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

I am Not Applauding, Hollywood




 (Image: Western Free Press / Artist: Sabo)
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” 
Martin Luther King Jr. 

The mainstream media and coastal Americans are gushing about the Golden Globes this morning. People are lauding Oprah’s speech and pushing her to run for President in 2020.

I admire Oprah and she gave one hell of a speech. I agree with her that “speaking our truth is the most powerful tool we have…” but the problem lies in the fact that Hollywood has always hidden its truth, and refused to speak out, while being the first group to point fingers at everyone else.

Oprah’s brilliant speech and its full-throated celebration by the very people who have always had a voice and the power to speak their truth masks a deep hypocrisy and glosses over their lack of courage. Until they are willing to call out their cowardice we cannot truly move forward and ensure that the voiceless are no longer suffering in the shadows.

For me, therein is the problem with celebrating the Hollywood stars jumping on the #MeToo bandwagon now that it is in vogue and there are no risks associated with speaking their truth. Is this not same truth they did not speak when it might have cost them an acting role or a seven figure salary?

Rosa Parks did not sit on that seat in order to become a trending hashtag. Mahatma Gandhi did not embark on fasts unto death to write a bestseller and Mother Teresa never wanted movies made about her life. These icons of history did what they did because they were tired of injustice and were willing to lose EVERYTHING to fight for all those who did not have a voice or could not fight.

All we are doing by applauding Hollywood is applauding spinelessness, and telling future generations that it is okay to wait to speak your truth only when it is convenient, only when it will not cost you anything personally, and only when it will not harm your career.

I am incensed that people like Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Salma Hayek chose to stay silent. By doing so they made a decision that their careers, successes and fame were more important than telling this horrific truth.

I am not talking about when any of these actresses were starting out, living off someone’s couch and likely working two jobs just to make ends meet, having no voice or recourse. I am upset that when they became stars, powerful women in their own right, after they had paid their dues and earned their way up the ladder, and when they had the choice to share their truth – they still chose to stay silent.

By choosing silence they chose to leave in the shadows the millions of voiceless women who are taken advantage of and abused every day in their industry.

Meryl Streep felt compelled to speak out about the way Trump belittled a handicapped reporter, she cried, but never once did she feel the need to address the casting couch and horror stories of misogynistic, degrading and predatory behaviour of people she was close to and had worked with for years. I was deeply disappointed.

Make no mistake. I am glad that we are finally having this conversation and that a spotlight finally shines on the horrific experiences women across industries have suffered and had to endure, and still settle for lesser advancements than men less able or talented, purely because of their gender.

But for us to turn this moment into a lasting movement, one that results in real generational behavioral change, we need courageous people to carry the torch, not opportunists looking to burnish their own celebrity and trend on Twitter.

Courage is taking the plank out of your own eye before taking the speck out of someone else’s. I have not seen courage in Hollywood.

The Time’s Up announcement of a legal defense fund for underrepresented groups is a wonderful thing, but here is the thing about overcoming the greatest personal adversity: we cannot help people with handouts or defense funds alone. We need to inspire them to find their voice and find the courage to come forward. The only way to do that is through our own actions.

If the traditionally powerful have rarely been courageous, rarely put everything on the line, rarely spoken out against gross injustice, then how can we expect the single mother, the catering manager, the gaffer, the set decorator or the location scout to come forward and risk losing everything to do the right thing?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why You Need To See American Sniper

"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity." 
Dwight D. Eisenhower 

Image source: www.sofrep.com

I am struggling to understand the small but vocal backlash against Clint Eastwood’s movie, American Sniper. This movie, like many before it, is based on the real life story of Chris Kyle. He was a Navy Seal credited with the most sniper kills in US history. I have no problem with people disliking the film, or disagreeing with Eastwood’s vision but what bothers me is the unfair politicisation, seeming hypocrisy and the often one-sided arguments of many of these critics.

One critical review I read was written by Peter Maass at The Intercept (“HowClint Eastwood Ignores History in ‘American Sniper’). In this piece he chastises his fellow reviewers from the Los Angeles and New York Times as people “who spend too much time in screening rooms” because in Mr. Maass’s estimation they “are falling over themselves in praise of it.” To begin with I find his criticism rather disingenuous. He is part of the same media establishment that completely abdicated its responsibility in the lead up to the US invasion of Iraq. The American media failed to challenge the veracity of every hasty, unproven claim and the numerous unverified assertions of the Bush administration for months before the invasion. I believe it amounted to the greatest failing of media in modern times.

So it seems ironic when Mr. Maass says “We got Iraq wrong in the real world. It would be nice to get it right at the multiplex,” considering he was part of the establishment that failed to question Cheney and Bush before they invaded a sovereign nation; without provocation, justification or any real or imminent threat to America. It seems convenient for Mr. Mass to again abdicate his responsibility; this time by chastising a Hollywood movie. It would seem that he wants to cleanse his conscience of all the innocent Iraqi blood on American media hands. If Mr. Maass were serious about righting the wrongs of America’s invasion, he would stop picking on soldiers who served their country and Hollywood, and work on persuading the International Court to summon Messrs. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Blair and every other architect of this illegal invasion before a war crimes tribunal.

Before I tackle some of the other criticisms that I have read in other media reviews and people’s Facebook posts, I want to clarify that it is a Hollywood film. It never claims to be a documentary, or a historically and factually accurate account of the Iraq war. Furthermore, the filmmakers have gone out of their way to say that they were not trying to make a war movie, much less present a critique of the mess America made in Iraq. Besides, the last time I checked movies are still made to entertain (and make money) by suspending reality with larger than life characters, salacious storylines and over-the-top dramatisations of actual events; even when they are based on biographies. If you want accuracy, analysis and facts, watch a PBS documentary.

Additionally, I think we can agree that no matter how brilliant a movie, nothing from Hollywood must be upheld for its historical accuracy or a realistic and honest portrayal of real-life events. That would just make for boring film. This is entertainment pure and simple; I doubt people would pay money to watch the very monotony they came to escape. So, for people to suddenly hold this movie to such a high standard would be the equivalent of saying that they get their world news from Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. Then decide to take these men to task for factual inaccuracies, lack of objectivity, presenting one-sided views and for dramatising and making light of serious events. Ava DuVerney, the director of Selma, after being criticized for historical inaccuracies in her film, pointed out that we will become a very sad and dangerous society if we expect our kids to learn history through our movies.

Another major criticism that people have is that Kyle, as he states in his autobiography, seems to have relished killing and referred to Iraqis as savages. It is likely he enjoyed killing, but Kyle is hardly alone in this. It is said that we must be passionate about what we do to truly excel. So why does it not hold true for soldiers, who are trained killers? I am not saying that every soldier enjoys pulling the trigger and taking a human life, but how can we discount that a small percentage of the men we train to be cold blooded killers will get addicted to and enjoy killing? To this point, I think Kyle’s character in the movie forces us to accept that war is not pretty. It is not politically correct, it is not fair and it is always senseless. The actions taken by soldiers on the battlefield will never fit into neat our little moral codes or Geneva Conventions that make us feel warm and fuzzy in the safety of our homes. War forces good and honourable men to sometimes do both evil and dishonorable things. Soldiers see what human beings were never meant to witness, and war changes everyone. Even those who make it back lose a large part of their humanity. I don’t believe our souls can ever un-see what our eyes have seen. That is the real cost of war, beyond physical injuries. Just like Taya Kyle tells her husband Chris, there are thousands of veterans who came back physically but are yet to make it back emotionally and mentally to their families. This movie does a good job of reminding us of this very real and hidden cost to our soldiers and their families. Have you ever wondered why the largest percentages of homeless are veterans? In, 2013 alone the VA served more than 249,000 Veterans who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless (Source: US Department of Veterans Affairs).

Another criticism that has been leveled at the filmmakers is that they chose to show only one side of Kyle’s character, leaving out the evil blood lust and racist overtones that come through in his book. I would argue that this holds true for every movie with a flawed hero, from a Gordon Gekko to Abe Lincoln to MLK to JFK. An essential part of great film making is to get an audience to feel empathy with its hero - to a point where we are able to forgive even their worst trespasses because all men have flaws. This may not be the reality, but it is what all brilliant directors and successful films do. I would even argue that Kyle's killing of a young Iraqi boy, barely ten years old, in the opening moments of the film is a big character flaw that creates a likeability deficit, which the rest of the film needs to work hard to overcome, in order to win back the audience’s empathy for its hero. I have never read his book, but I don’t see Kyle as a hero. I see him as another unfortunate victim of an unnecessary war.

To this point I would also add that movies, video games and other forms of entertainment cannot ever become our yardstick for reality, values, principles, and history or life lessons. Those still need to be taught in our homes and schools, so that when we consume various forms of entertainment we are able to differentiate between good, bad, fiction and reality and never the other way around. I also disagree that the film fails to show the general disillusionment with the Iraq war, and the lack of clarity of mission. In the movie there is a very powerful scene where Kyle meets his brother, who is returning home from Iraq, as Kyle arrives for another tour. His brother’s utter disenchantment and disillusionment with America’s purpose in Iraq is juxtaposed beautifully as it clashes with Kyle’s blind patriotism and unquestioning, brainwashed, jingoistic sense of duty.

Also, I think it is very easy for us to forget how one-sided and “sanitized” the Iraq war reporting was in the American media. It felt more clean and censored than daytime soap operas, so much so that the vast majority of us barely remembered there were men and women dying and being maimed daily. This, as we blissfully continued to drive to the mall and impatiently wait in line at Starbucks, while checking our smartphones for the latest Kardashian gossip. Again this alternate reality is something the movie delves into. We see Bradley Cooper’s character struggle and have a hard time processing this total lack of care and awareness among American people, the same people he had gone to die for.

Veteran care or lack thereof is another ignored aspect of war of which American Sniper raises awareness, in a very powerful way. Benjamin Franklin said that "Wars are not paid for in wartime, the bill comes later." It is this real and ongoing human cost of war we continue to underestimate, that American Sniper delves into masterfully. None of us have to deal with the long-term effect it has on children and family members of servicemen. We all saw Obama declare an end to the war in Iraq, but consider that among those who made it back there are now a million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with permanent and life redefining disabilities. They include veterans with lost limbs, traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), depression, hearing loss, breathing disorders, diseases, and other long-term health problems (Source: Cost of War, Brown University). In fact, medical experts say that many of Kyle’s unsubstantiated claims, like punching Jesse Ventura and killing looters during Hurricane Katrina, are consistent with patients with severe PTSD. Let’s not forget that Chris Kyle served four tours; he witnessed the horror of war for close to a decade.

It is easy to politicise and be critical of everything, as we take for granted the very freedoms that the Chris Kyle’s were told they were fighting to protect. The point is not whether you see Chris Kyle as a hero or villain. This movie is worth seeing because it is ultimately an anti-war movie. One that forces us to recognise the human cost of war, through the eyes of a soldier who has an over-simplistic moral code, which actually makes him the ideal soldier. However, even he cannot escape what Eisenhower and Franklin understood - the ugliness and inhumanity of war; scars all veterans and their families bear forever.

If we understand this, then we might understand why everyone who witnesses war first hand says that there are no winners. Even the victors lose. This realization alone will ensure that we begin to hold our leaders more accountable and question any decisions to go to war the next time they try to pull the wool over our eyes and rush in. We must never forget that even though war is sometimes necessary, it should always be the last resort.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why I Boycotted Martin Scorsese


“And as I've gotten older, I've had more of a tendency to look for people who live by kindness, tolerance, compassion, a gentler way of looking at things.”
Martin Scorsese 

Martin Scorsese is not a very imposing man at 5’ 4” but few will deny the towering influence he has had on global cinema since the early 1970’s. In fact I doubt that there is anyone in the world over the age of thirty who has not seen or heard of a Scorsese film. Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed and most recently The Wolf of Wall Street, to name just a few of the phenomenal movies and enduring movie characters he has created over the years. 

The biggest movie stars in the world line up to be cast in one of his movies, new directors would kill to have made one movie from his long resume, in their entire career, and moviegoers flock to his latest creation in droves. Apart from the films he has directed, he has also produced countless classics and served as mentor and inspiration for a few generations of filmmakers. 

Being a movie fanatic myself, he has long been a hero of mine. No matter the subject matter or the cast, I used to be one of the faithful who would gladly pay to watch the next Scorsese film with blind devotion.

This is a man whose every film I would run out to be the first to see; a man for whom I had a great deal of respect. A man whose pain I personally felt, each time he was cheated out of a Best Director Oscar; amazingly he has still won ONLY one Oscar for The Departed in 2006; but I digress. The point is that in an industry filled with shallow, self-absorbed and feckless people, this was a man I admired for being the opposite. 

He is someone I believed held values and principles that were made of sterner stuff in the midst of an often morally bankrupt profession. This was a man who in my mind had not drunk the Hollywood Kool Aid of self-importance. Instead of using his fame to preach to us, off the camera, he spoke purely through his art; staying true to his vision and not succumbing to chasing the box office numbers and studio-driven bottom-lines. 

To be clear, I am not comparing him to Gandhi or Mandela but within Hollywood he was someone who stood out from the rest of the big studio sell-out pack, with his humble, gentle and self-effacing demeanor. Why then you might ask did I take this drastic step and boycott a genius and someone whom I clearly held in such high regard?

In September 2009, Roman Polanski was detained on a U.S. arrest warrant related to a 1977 child sex charge while trying to enter Switzerland. He was on his way to attend the Zurich Film Festival, where he was to be honoured. Polanski has been on the run since 1978. 

He was 43 years old when he pled guilty “to a single count of having unlawful intercourse with a minor acknowledging he had sex with a 13-year-old girl.” It seems there “have been repeated attempts to settle the case over the years, but the sticking point has always been Polanski's refusal to return to attend hearings. Prosecutors have consistently argued that it would be a miscarriage of justice to allow a man to go free who "drugged and raped a 13-year-old child." (Source: CNNarticle). I would be inclined to agree with the authorities. 

Mr. Polanski not only committed a crime but actually admitted to it. After he was arrested a section of the Hollywood community led by Harvey Weinstein started a petition to ‘FREE POLANSKI’ because they claimed "it seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him" (Source: ONTD article). The petition called on every filmmaker we can to help fix this terrible situation," (Source: CNNarticle). Martin Scorsese was one of the signatories to this petition.

Let’s begin by stating the obvious; it seems to me that these petitioners are suggesting that due to Mr. Polanski’s greatness as a filmmaker and based on his tremendous contribution to the arts, he should somehow be forgiven for raping a 13 year old girl; or worse that perhaps the laws of the land that apply to the rest of us mere mortals do not apply to Hollywood greatness. It would be one thing to request that the authorities arrest him after the function (personally, I don’t believe a child rapist should be afforded even that courtesy) but to suggest that he not only not be arrested but that he be allowed to remain a free man, is abhorrent and an insult to the rights of women and every daughter, sister, wife and mother. Also, I am aware that the girl he raped famously forgave him in 1997 and requested that the charges against him be dropped; she did so to find closure and move on with her life. Irrespective, her forgiving him should change nothing. Mr. Polanski committed a serious crime and must face the consequences for his actions. It is for the Judge and jury to weigh the victim’s forgiveness when Mr. Polanski faces them in a court of law. If we start to determine criminality and sentencing based purely on a victim’s forgiveness of the perpetrator, we may as well do away with the criminal justice system.

It honestly does not matter to me that there were other famous Hollywood personalities like Woody Allen, Darren Aronofsky, Wes Anderson and Jonathan Demme who also signed the same petition. But it troubled me deeply that Mr. Scorsese did. Perhaps, naively so, but I had never equated him with the rest of this industry and had held him to a higher standard. His signature and support to free a confessed child rapist felt like a personal betrayal and I chose to show my indignation by boycotting his movies from that day.