June 14, 2010

Hollywood doesn't know anything

An Asian blogger reports on his brother the screenwriter. In particular, how Hollywood forces him to dumb down and "whiten" his scripts:

Of Hollywood and ‘the American People’:  How Status Quo is Maintained[H]e has very intentionally re-incorporated some Asian culture into this particular script--something which I doubt a white writer (or other non-Asian writer, for that matter) would have done. One of his favorite original story ideas that he really pushed back in the day involved prominent Asian characters (main characters, heroes, even).

Except, well ... that story about Asian people? Rejected. The people of color that he’s introduced into his stories? Usually white-washed in later drafts due to the producers’ demands. Or maybe that three-dimensional character he wrote up? Knocked flat before shooting--again, by the producers.

Because Hollywood works like this:

There are a bunch of producers. They’re the ones with the money and the pull and clout to get full movies made and put into the national theaters. As a result, they think they know something about how movies are made. Which, they do.

Unfortunately, these producers also tend to think they know something about “the American people” and “what they want to see” or “what they can understand.” Which they absolutely do not. They think that--because they have made one blockbuster, popular movie--that it indicates what “people want to see.” Of course, when the only options are all pretty much the same, you don’t need my science background and/or a knowledge of variables to realize that doesn’t really mean anything.

But--as a result of this false notion of “what Americans want,” these producers continue to pump out the racist, sexist, classist, bigoted Hollywood “blockbusters” that we all know and love today. Because that’s “what Americans want.”

And, of course, the screenwriters and low-level directors, actors, etc. can’t do much about it. Because money’s involved, and it’s the producers who have the money. I wish I could get more specific, but I can’t believe all the stories I’ve heard about the ridiculous cuts and edits producers have made to my brother’s--and other writers’--scripts due to this faulty belief about “what Americans understand.”

So what is the end-result of so many, repeated instances of ridiculously idiotic producers changing every intelligent, thoughtful aspect of my brother’s (and other writers’) scripts? He starts anticipating their ignorance and just keeping it out of the original. The reasons are obvious--it hurts too much to constantly have his creative work trashed by people that have no appreciation for creative thought, or challenging convention, or flipping stereotypes; so my brother saves himself some of the pain. He lets go a little bit. The even sadder part is--when my brother tries to sell original scripts that are too “different” ... he simply doesn’t sell them. And he can’t really support a family on thought-provoking stories on paper alone.
The blogger also notes the larger implications:On a larger level--what does this mean? Am I just trying to say that we shouldn’t blame screenwriters for the crappy state of Hollywood movies? That it’s just the producers’ fault that the Hollywood media machine is a major reason stereotypes remain in place? A little bit.

But it’s bigger than that. Because we--people, in general--tend to gauge the prominent attitudes of our nation through our media. When folks are trying to figure out what the majority of “Americans” believe, or like to see, we turn to popular media as indicators. Makes sense, right?

Except it actually doesn’t. Because the decks are stacked against us, as popular consumers of media. Our options--in terms of large-scale media--are extremely limited, and the variety is negligible. Therefore, what “we” end up choosing is more a reflection of what’s being put out, as opposed to our actual tastes and beliefs.
Comment:  Naturally, this applies to Natives in Hollywood also.

Glad to see someone with inside insight agrees with me. To reiterate, producers "absolutely do not" know what Americans want to see. If they did, they would've invented the Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and Twilight franchises before their authors created them. They would've undertaken serious Batman, Spider-Man, and X-Men movies 10 or 20 years earlier. They wouldn't have let the Star Trek franchise languish for a decade or given George Lucas all the Star Wars rights.

As William Goldman famously said, "Nobody knows anything." Profitability is just the studios' pretext for pumping out their "racist, sexist, classist" products. Movies and TV shows fail so often that most of Hollywood would be unemployed if the box-office results ruled.

Most of Hollywood's execs are rich white males. They make their decisions in their Beverly Hills mansions, their penthouse suites, and their private jets. They're about as "liberal" as the millionaire Democrats in Congress. They may sympathize with minorities, but I doubt they know much about them.

If you coaxed Nancy Pelosi to make a movie, it might be a more upscale Legally Blonde. You know, a plucky young debutante has to decide whether she'll become a wealthy socialite or a crusading lawyer. It probably wouldn't be a Slumdog Millionaire, Frozen River, or Precious. I'm guessing she doesn't have a movie like that in her.

So the "limousine liberals" who run the studios are out of touch with the real America. They wouldn't dream of making, say, a fantasy about a rural town near an Indian reservation. Not unless a bestseller like the Twilight series forced their hand, that is.

Karate Kid proves point

Not coincidentally, the no. 1 movie this week is the remake of The Karate Kid:

The Will Smith family acting dynasty is officially open for businessThe actor's 11-year-old son, Jaden, kicked his way to the top of the North American box office on Sunday in a remake of "The Karate Kid," one of two new films cashing in on 1980s nostalgia.

Columbia Pictures' "The Karate Kid" earned an estimated $56 million during its first three days, vanquishing 20th Century Fox's "The A-Team," a distant No. 2 with $26 million. Both films had been expected to vie for the top spot, each in the $30 million range.
As far as I know, this movie doesn't have a single major white character. All the main characters are Chinese or black. Yet audiences have no qualms about seeing these minorities on the screen.

You could argue that Twilight and The Karate Kid don't count because they have built-in audiences, established fan bases. Okay, then headline minorities in the next Godzilla, Planet of the Apes, Terminator, Mission: Impossible, Transformers, G.I. Joe, or Friday the 13th movie. These movies are also franchises with built-in audiences. If people will watch them no matter who's in them, use Natives and other minorities as the stars.

For more on the subject, see Hollywood's Cultural Conservatism and Indians Hold Steady at 0.3%.

Below:  Where are sympathetic white characters for audiences to relate to? Avatar, Prince of Persia, and The Last Airbender had to have them. Why not The Karate Kid?


Anonymous said...

I saw Karate Kid over the weekend and I enjoyed the reboot. Also, you know, it wasn't until you mentioned it, did I noticed that there really weren't any main white characters in the movie. It kind of makes me think.

Anonymous said...

"In April 2004, Paramount's MTV Films optioned Twilight, but then developed a script that bore little resemblance to it. (It featured night-vision goggles and transformed Bella into a hip track star.) ''They could have put that movie out, called it something else, and no one would have known it was Twilight,'' Meyer says."


Anonymous said...

LONG COMMENT but i have lots to say

I am studying to become a screenwriter at Texas Tech. My goal is to become an actress so i will write myself into good stories, because i am black and very talented, but i know i would have to be black enough to be a supporting role..whatever that means. Not until this week have i notice the race in media,when i heard about People's magazine 50 most beautiful. Jennifer Aniston and George Clooney are over-rated. What exactly does your brother have to tweak in his script and when it comes to race does he have to specify what the race has to be? I hope I can sell my scripts to those top Actors/Producers like Will Smith, i think they will know a good story when they see one and not judge by what race i put on. My dream is to have asians not doing kung fu or w.e bullshit, indians not seen as poor clerks! thats not how it is in TX at all (rich motherfukers), Mexicans just maids or helpers, they have the same lives as we do, and black as killers or smoking weed, or black family around soul food? like WTF when is the last Time you seen Tom Hanks around Casorole (sp) or spreading Mayo on every meal or eating chinese food or chasing after asian women.

I think everyone here should know that Avatar the last Airbender needs to be boycotted and the best way is not support it. I want it to fail just as Prince of Persia. Its hard for me to do because i love love love that show. but horribly showed racism in hollywood so well, when they casted white people instead of east asians and the casting call asked for whites and other ethnicity not asian and other ethnicity or at least all ethnicity

P.S i watched Karate kid tonight and I was more amazed how diverse the theatre room was. Asians, Middle easter, blacks, Spanish and lots of old white ppl (that makes you think that not all old white ppl are racist!!!!). Media fails to realize that Minorities watch more tv than whites and that youth watch more films than any other age specifically Fridays. There nothing you can do until we are 18! They fail to relate that Hip hop is so popular among us we would love to see black ppl who aren't involve in sports or just there to say ebonics to make you laugh! guess what people! its the new black youth. Most of us dress fresh, speak with sense, and live the same lives as whites. I have white friends and we relate on everything.

Hollywood doesn't no anything!!!