Updated: Feb 19
Dear Asian Youth,
"What is your favorite movie?"
As a film fanatic, a myriad of titles always flood my mind at that question. I used to have a need to prove that I am a true film fanatic by referring to the artistic and well-known classics. However, as a person of color, there’s also a need to justify that I am not “whitewashed” or neglecting the importance of adequate representation of minorities in film.
In response to that question, I would mention films like “Lady Bird”, “The Godfather”, “La La Land”, “Forrest Gump”, “Good Will Hunting”, “Titanic”, “Dead Poets Society” and “Little Miss Sunshine”.
These films are known to be cinematographic masterpieces with excellent screenwriting, well-rounded characters and poignant scores, winning Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs and more. However, these and other Hollywood films lack diversity within their cast and crew. Some of these films don’t feature any people of color in leading roles, and some don’t have any characters of color at all. What is more outrageous is that some films even include racist remarks and racial slurs.
But there’s a philosophical question in my mind. Should we, as people of color, feel guilty about liking these films?
After investing significant time and effort into contemplating this issue, I have realized that the burden of guilt should not rest upon people of color. We should not blame ourselves for the mistakes which other people have made. It is not our fault when Hollywood does not feature people from minority groups, or when films are offensive to certain communities of people as long as we don’t justify these actions and dismiss them.
During the age of the internet and social media, people have been convinced that perfection exists because of many unrealistic standards. But the truth is that nothing is perfect. Not even critically-acclaimed or best picture-winning films are perfect. We are led to believe that enjoying and admiring imperfection is something we should feel guilty about.
Calling something out and liking something are not mutually exclusive. I could enjoy a character’s emotional arc or rave over the stunning cinematography, but I can also point out the lack of diversity representation in the film’s cast and crew.
For example, in the film “Lady Bird”, the protagonist goes to teenage-girl struggles about friendship, finding one’s identity and sexuality. Although this character arc and narrative is interesting and wholesome by itself, the lack of diversity in the film’s cast does not make the experience relatable to many women of color. It also features an unrealistic lack of people of color in the cast. In the film “Forrest Gump”, a Best Picture-winning and critically-acclaimed film from the 90s, there are problematic issues as well. Although Forrest Gump is one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, he is a privileged white man who becomes a war hero and earns a fortune by just letting life lead the way. He doesn’t comprehend race or the complexities of the Vietnam War, and the film moves further to idolize “skin color blindness” as the solution to the fact that Forrest is the grandson of a Klu Klux Klansman. The film portrays an otherworldly fantasy that does not shed light on the struggles of people of color.
If people from minority groups are not allowed to enjoy films that lack adequate representation or films that are not 100% inclusive of every culture, race and sexuality, the film industry would collapse. There is always room for improvement. The film industry has been far behind in its roadmap to inclusivity, but it is getting better throughout this decade. For example, more films by minority groups have been nominated in award shows, and with the globalization of media, foreign films and those made by people of color have become more accessible. I openly call the film industry out for still being stuck in the period of white supremacy and how opportunities for filmmakers of color are much scarcer than those for white people. But due to the activism and strong friendship between minority groups, the industry is gradually stepping out of that period, and moving on to a more modern one.
Calling out these films which lack diversity may seem like enough, but it is still far away from achieving full-fledged diversity and inclusion. We need to support and share the work of filmmakers of color. We need to appreciate the art they make, and amplify their voices. This should also apply to other creative fields such as music, literature, and the visual arts.
The past is the past. It can’t be changed no matter how problematic it is, but enjoying some aspects of the past is not wrong. The future is still changeable. Let’s elevate the film industry to the diverse globe it should be. Call out the past, but take action to implement changes that will help us build the future we deserve.
- Yanitta Iew
Cover Photo Source: https://variety.com/2018/film/news/hollywood-diversity-falls-short-ucla-report-1202711370/