“Social Justice” in Film

I am actually pissed off, guys. I am so . . . *strangled noise*

So what’s going on? Germany had yet another terrorist attack. MTV made some racist/sexist video about things “white guys” should do for New Years. Trump is still the president elect, I think . . . But what totally relevant thing am I pissed off about, you ask?

Just look at this shit. Look at it.  And, even worse, I became aware of this article because one of my Facebook friends shared it and was super excited about this “amazing development.”

Fuck this. Here’s my reply.

* * *

In an incredibly bold move, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts announced last week that, beginning in 2019, works that do not demonstrate inclusivity in their production practices will no longer be eligible for the Outstanding British Film or Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director, or Producer awards at the annual BAFTAs, often considered the U.K. equivalent of the Oscars.

What the fuck?! What?! Why?

Eligible projects must showcase this in two of the following ways, as the BBC reported: On-screen characters and themes, senior roles and crew, industry training and career progression, and audience access and appeal to underrepresented audiences. BAFTA will also remove the requirement that newly admitted voters be recommended by two existing members.

I don’t care about the second part about newly admitted voters not needing recommendations. That just seems like a way to counter the nepotism that actually is a thing in the film industry. That being said, the first part is ridiculous and is going to be vastly, vastly counterproductive to the assumed goal of helping minorities. This will not help.

As my friend said the second I told him about this development: Tokens, I summon you!!!!!! Way to help out minorities by utterly tokenizing them and making them just a another thing to be checked off of a list in order to get enough funding, right alongside getting the producer’s friend’s niece a speaking role for a few thousand more dollars. We got the finances. We got the sound guys. We got the token black dude whose going to get “co-assistant director” written next to his ethnic-sounding name so that people know we gave a colored an important-sounding job, even though everyone knows co-assistant directors hardly do more than bring you coffee. We got the caterers to make that coffee. . . and we’re good to go!

Let’s actually look at those requirements, though:

On-screen characters and themes. What does this mean? Do they have to be the main characters, or do side characters count? Going off of this logic, the deplored-for-white-washing Avatar: The Last Airbender would totally pass the test of racial inclusivity. That movie had plenty of non-white people. More recently, Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell would totally pass as well. Those are some super racially diverse pan-Asian settings. Something tells me that those films wouldn’t count, though. I’m not even sure what “themes” even refers to. So can a movie not be “inclusive” enough and still be up for an award as long as its theme is “racism is bad?” Is that how this is going to work? Seeing as how the last “racism is bad” movie that came out that focused on non-POC characters got lambasted by SJWs for daring to tell a story about how racism was bad with a white main character, something tells me that “theme” will not be enough of an excuse.

This is the UK we’re talking about here, so would a film about poor Polish immigrants trying to make it in the council estates not count because Polish people are still  the dreaded white *dun dun duuuuun*? Do films about economic disparities not count? Modern leftists have never really cared about class, so I can only assume that a film about dirt poor white people wouldn’t meet the mark. How about a film about a white Muslim? And not to be “that guy” or anything, but what about Jewish people? The Jews are a very over represented demographic in the movie making business–among directors, actors, writers, executives, producers, you name it. So do the Jews still count as a minority that needs to be pandered to here, or are there just too many of them in the bizz for them to be “ethnic enough?” I don’t want to ask this question, but if you’re going to make everything about race/ethnicity, we’re going to have to decide how oppressed we think the Jews are eventually.

And what about movies where the entire cast is one race? I hate to break it to you, but a film only having black people in it does not make that film diverse. That casting is just as monotone and “non-inclusive” as a movie with an all-white cast is. Tyler Perry movies are just as “diverse” as fucking Friends. Something tells me, though, that those films aren’t going to get booted out of the running for a BAFTA for not having enough Asians in the cast line-up though. What a surprise that double-standard will be.

What does “inclusivity” even mean? What counts here? Can I just throw in a “racism is bad” theme as an afterthought and have that be okay? Can I just pull a Clerks and have random, irrelevant black people just pop in sometimes to add a little color? Can I have the top-billed actor be a POC but then totally ignore them in the actual movie? Can the POC “main character” be a Nick Carroway-style character who is totally irrelevant to the plot and themes and narrative in every way but still technically the “main character?” Does that still count? This point is super vague, is what I’m trying to impress.

Next . . .

Senior roles and crew. Once again, where do the Jews fall here? It’s a very relevant question if you’re going to focus on race/ethnicity as a marker of worthiness. Do we care about the Jews? Is Spielberg oppressed enough for his movies to be worth your time? This point is also incredibly vague. What counts as a “senior role?” This, like many other SJW complaints about representation in film, comes across as them caring about surface-level “impressive” jobs and nothing else. How about editors? Do you care about editors? Sound designers? Make-up artists? Costume designers? Cinematographers? You say you care about “crew,” but as the “Oscars So White” and Viola Davis controversies have shown, SJWs really do not seem to care about anyone other than main actors and directors.

So, what you want is POC directors, I’m guessing? What about the guy who directed Birdman? He has an ethnic name and pale skin. Where does he stand here? Does he contribute to “diversity”? What if a POC director makes a movie totally unrelated to race that doesn’t fit the rest of the requirements at all? Are you still going to boot them out of the running for a BAFTA? Or are you going to do some half-assed back pedaling about how “It’s okay for a POC director to not meet all of the qualifications we give to white directors because reasons.”? Having different standards for people based off of skin tone is great and not racist, shut up.

Industry training and career progression. Once again, that assistant co-director title has your name all over it, Tyrone! We’re paying you in experience.

Audience access and appeal to underrepresented audiences. What does this meeeeeeeeeeeeeannnnnnn?! Seriously, what does this mean? So if a movie doesn’t get a wide enough release, it’s not going to be eligible for a BAFTA now? How does that work? Don’t you think that that’s just going to screw indie directors over more than anything else? And if enough black people don’t go to the theaters to see it, it won’t be eligible either? Since when did the fucking BAFTA’s care about what audiences actually go see? The original point of awards like the BAFTA and the Oscar was to guard against the idea that popularity was commensurate with merit.

I also don’t know what “appeal” means. This seems like another thinly veiled way of saying “less white people,” but making the (probably wrong) assumption that it means anything else: how are you going to quantify this with anything resembling consistency? What is appeal? Are you going to have a flow chart or a Vinn diagram charting all the possible ways a film could appeal to the coloreds? If you’re going to make this a rule, that rule needs to be consistently applied, and if it’s going to be consistently applied, it’s going to need concrete qualifications. What are they, then?

“Hmm, the main character’s skin tone is pale, which is a mark against them, obviously, but its soundtrack features a lot of 90s rap songs, so there’s that!” At that point, wouldn’t that just encourage egregious amounts of stereotyping in the film industry about “what black people like” and so on and so forth? At the very least, it would encourage more focus groups and test audiences, two things infamous for fucking ruining movies and turning them into lowest common denominator, middle of the road, mediocre garbage all in the name of “making what the audience wants.” Making this part of the rubric for what deserves an award would be an awful idea even if it wasn’t unnecessarily race-centric.

These “qualifications” are vague at best and very likely to be abused and/or inconsistently applied in a show of bias/nepotism at worst. These will not help. They will not.

Back in 2014, the British Film Institute established similar standards for projects seeking National Lottery funding in an effort to improve representation within the filmmaking industry.

This is very angering to me. Good thing I don’t live in the UK. All of these attempts to “improve representation” have always come across as unbelievably patronizing and condescending to me. Holding a gun to someone’s head and telling them to cast a black person in their film is not going to make them more partial to black people. It’s probably going to do the exact opposite and lead to them seeing black people as props necessary to get the show on the road, people who are only there because an outside force said they needed to be not because they deserved to be there. Congratulations?

BAFTA’s decision is particularly striking, however, when you hold it up against its American counterpart, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which, of course, faced an embarrassing PR backlash with the #OscarsSoWhite campaign this year.

If by “embarrassing,” you mean “totally nonsensical because minorities are actually over represented among Oscar winners when you take into account the population makeup of the country,” then yes. It was embarrassing.

Not long after the Oscar nominations revealed, for the second year in a row, a slate of all-white acting nominees, the academy announced that it was changing its membership rules in an effort to address the issue. This included shortening members’ voting statuses to 10 years (able to reactivated so long as they remain active within the industry) and adding three more governors’ seats filled by people from underrepresented groups.

Once again, I have no real complaint with swapping out the Oscar judges more. Your taste in movies is tired and stereotypical! But guess what? “Tired and stereotypical” also applies to the new, “diverse” people who are apparently only there because they look the right way, which isn’t insulting in the slightest, I assure you. Oh really, the movie about how racism is bad is nominated for an Oscar? Oh brave wonders! Who would’ve thunk that such a drastic turn in the Oscars’ taste in movies would have happened by simply switching out the judges!?

But that change was nowhere near as radical as BAFTA’s, which directly addresses the bigger and more pressing concern for representation, from acting to directing to executive opportunities, and everything in between.

It’s almost like the Oscars cared about preserving some level of artistic freedom that the Brits couldn’t give two shits about or something.

Stating, point blank, that you cannot even think about receiving these accolades from one of film’s most prestigious institutions unless you make an effort to bring in a wider variety of collaborators is to light a much-needed fire under the filmmakers’ butts.

This person is clearly not an artist. If they were, they would realize how fucking insulting this is. Under your new “ground-breaking, much-needed” standards, some of the best films of the last decade would not have received their well-deserved accolades because they dared to have too many white people involved in their making. Artistic collaboration is not about fucking skin tone. It is about working with the people who understand what you want to do. It is about working with the people who you work well with and who will help you make the best product. And if those people do not happen to have a higher level of melanin in their skin, that is fucking irrelevant to how well they work with you.

Diversity is fine. It’s great. If you want to have it, go right on ahead! The things I make are “diverse.” But punishing something for not being diverse is stupid and pointless. That would be like me, as an atheist and a writer who tends to write nonreligoius characters just by default, going up to an Oscar bait movie and saying, “If you don’t have an atheist in this movie and depict that atheist well, then you are just a piece of mediocre shit that doesn’t deserve any attention. Fuck you and your lack of representation for me and the things I personally like!” Diversity isn’t a prerequisite for quality or merit. You don’t need diversity to be good. It’s just one of those things that you can have, that could conceivably add to something’s quality if done well (or detract from the quality if done poorly) just like every single other aspect of making a piece of entertainment.

It won’t solve every issue overnight—surely somewhere out there there’s a filmmaker, or a funder, who really, truly doesn’t care about awards—but it’s a step in the right direction.

I love how “film makers who don’t care about awards” used to be lauded by these people because they made movies that the “white awards” paid no mind to. But as soon as they’re on the award givers’ side, then people who don’t care about awards are a bunch of losers and phonies. Not caring about awards is fine. As I have shown multiple times throughout this very post, I think these film award systems are very flawed and tend to rely more on who you know than anything else. That being said, it is still nice to receive credit for a job well done in an often thankless artistic medium. And “a job well done” is not something determined by how you or your crew look.

Holding someone’s funding and/or chances to reach a wider audience hostage all in some attempt to punish them for not being “diverse enough” is incredibly selfish and entitled. As though everything that is made must be made for you and you specifically otherwise it doesn’t have a right to be acknowledged. And this is coming from somebody who is a minority who wants to make movies that coincidentally fit your fucking stupid, arbitrary criteria for what kind of movies “deserve” accolades and recognition. But since I disagree with you about the necessariness of this quota, maybe the films I make wouldn’t be up to snuff, I can only assume.

As we’ve seen countless times, counting on people in power to do the right thing while letting them go unchecked does not lead to progress, and even hinders it.

You aren’t going after the dreaded “people in power” with this. You’re going after filmmakers, people who are actually the ones fighting against the “people in power” at every fucking turn to make something resembling the movie they actually want to make. I fucking love this. These arbitrary rules about how “diverse” a film must be in order to be recognized–its actual quality and merit not mattering in the slightest–are being enforced on up-and-coming filmmakers above anyone else, the filmmakers with hardly any say whatsoever in regards to the politics-laden world of film. And yet, somehow, the ones imposing those rules on them are the ones who have no power. But I get it, you are the victim here! Even when you are overtly the one telling everyone else what to do, under threat of punishment, you are the victim here! Of course.

Many people will undoubtedly find this move to be blasphemous, leaning on the tired crutch of “artistic freedom” to label BAFTA as intrusive. They can live and die by that sword if they’d like, but they’ll only be proving that they’re not quite as creative or imaginative as they claim to be.

Fuck this writer. Seriously. Fuck them. “Oh, waaah. My artistic freedom! Boo hoo!”

You are the same kind of person who went to Japanese film directors in the 1930s and told them that if their films didn’t “promote a love a Japan,” than they weren’t going to get funding or license to show it anywhere. You are the same kind of person who said that movies with gay sex scenes were too obscene to be given an official rating, therefore relegating them to obscure video releases with almost no hope of reaching a larger audience. You are the same kind of person who says that foreign films should not be allowed in the country because they don’t promote your country’s values. You are the same kind of person who gave funding to filmmakers only if they made racist propagandizing films and blacklisted them if they refused. You are the same kind of person who wanted cursing taken out of films to protect the children.

You just have a different “greater good” that you’re fighting for by telling actual artists what they should and should not be able to do. Oh, but it’s okay. You’re not forcing them to do anything. You’re just telling them that it’s a nice future as an established filmmaker they got there, and that it would be a shame if something were to happen to it. You are blameless. You are doing “the right thing.”

Fuck you. And you sit there and stupidly wonder why there’s a rising sentiment that there’s a war on white people? It’s shit like this. It’s stuff like this saying that white people will be penalized . . . for existing the way they do, because we don’t want them anymore and they should be replaced with someone “better,” someone “more representative,” because they represent nothing but awful, negative things.

You’re not helping. You’re not helping anything. 

Merry fucking Christmas, guys.

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5 thoughts on ““Social Justice” in Film

  1. Slate just made a correction stating that not being a diverse film doesn’t omit one from all the awards, just the outstanding british film award. Still is a pretty confusing and stupid move on their part though.

      • No prob! This is only placed on the Best Film and Best Upcoming Director/Writer/etc. I believe. That being said, I don’t think that distinction matters much. Up and coming filmmakers certainly aren’t “in power,” and they are the ones being directly targeted by this, which actually makes my point even better.

          • I have a handful of friends in film school now who are ecstatic about this essentially “because diversity,” but they’re the same people who went into film school with the intention of race/gender/etc. being topics they already wanted to make films about (which seems like this incentive is kind of superfluous, making this more a matter of “Why doesn’t everyone want to make the movies that *I* want to make?” more than anything else). People like me, POC or otherwise, who are more interested in genre films and/or blockbusters couldn’t care less about faux-diversity and will, as I pointed out, treat this like a check to be marked off. Granted, this is the American film industry, but I can’t imagine the UK industry is overwhelmingly different.

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