1. God Keeps Getting Picked Last
It’s been an interesting week for God in Hollywood. Biblical themes and narratives are perhaps the most plagiarized and influential source material in cinematic history. Yet, God himself remains a largely unwelcome guest.
During a keynote address at the film festival SXSW (South by Southwest), director Darren Aronofsky—an atheist with a seemingly eternal fascination with religious themes—spoke about his difficulty making Noah (2014). He recalled how test screenings were received poorly with evangelical audiences forcing to battle with studio executives in order to keep his own version of film and prevent the Christians from “sabotaging” It.
Similarly, AWrinkle in Time screenwriter Jennifer Lee (who also wrote Frozen) revealed this week that the strong Christian elements from the original source material were intentionally left out of the adaptation in order to make the story more “inclusive.”
I find both situations curious. Hollywood continues to exclude Christianity from its films in order to “include everybody.” Hollywood has not shown similar concerns, however, about alienating audiences by including specific ideologies of sexuality, politics, or even other religions in their films. It appears that only in the case of Christianity does Hollywood seem to believe that being inclusive requires them to being exclusive. In the end, both Noah and A Wrinkle In Time turned out to be critical and box-office disappointments (the later more than the former). Perhaps this is to be expected when a beloved story is stripped of the elements that made it so beloved in the first place.
2. Dollars and Sense
Outrage! It wouldn’t be a week in Hollywood if people weren’t mad about something. This week’s flavor is the revelations concerning the hit Netflix series The Crown, that Claire Foy (who plays the lead role of Queen Elizabeth II) was paid less than Matt Smith (who places a supporting role of Prince Phillip). In the current climate of #MeToo and #TimesUp, isn’t it repugnant and unfathomable that a male is paid more than the female with a larger role?!
There’s a misconception that actors/actresses are hired to act. This isn’t completely true. Actors are paid to make studios money. Directors may care about the artistic quality, but the studio-heads writing the checks care about one thing: $$$$$. With films, the general rule of thumb is the promotional budget is roughly equal to the production budget (if a film cost $30 million to make, the studio likely spent another $30 million to market it). This means actors get hired and paid largely for their the ability to sell their movie/show, not just for their talent or performance. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson isn’t the most talented actor in the world, but he’s proven to be bankable and promotional gold with audiences flocking to his movies—so The Rock gets paid. This is true for women as well. Jennifer Lawrence will likely always be the highest paid actor/actress in whatever film she does, regardless of how small her role. Her name on the poster sells more tickets and her promotional interviews get more views than her costars who may or may not have larger roles and give better performances.
Hollywood is a different beast than the corporate world or sports world, where pay should be equal based on performance. Hollywood actors are paid according to their marketability, reputation, and star power. So should women always get paid the same as men? Not always. Nor should men always be paid the same as women. The Hollywood Pay Gap is a real and serious issue, but not every inflammatory headline requires us to grab torches and pitchforks and riot. There are enough real cultural battles to fight without wasting energy on needless ones.
3. It was the Best of Diversity, it was the Worst of Diversity
Black Panther finished #1 (yet again), while the new release A Wrinkle in Time finished #2. This is the first time in Hollywood history that the Top 2 films in the weekly box office were directed by African Americans. We should celebrate this. I’ve heard and read from some who counter that we shouldn’t, and that skin-color and gender should be irrelevant (ie. “we don’t make a big deal when two white directors finish 1-2″ etc). I totally understand this perspective, and I certainly agree that it should be irrelevant. But, I think the fact that it’s never happened before means it is relevant. We don’t make the same big deal about the accomplishments of white or male directors because, frankly, we’ve never had to. An equivalent can perhaps be made to politics (*gulp*). Voting should obviously be based on policy and leadership ability, not on skin color or gender; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still acknowledged the significance of when new barriers are crossed for the first time. One day these accomplishments won’t warrant headlines, but I don’t think that day has come yet.
The flip side is also true, however. The Hollywood Reporter ran an article this week about the poor financial and critical performance of A Wrinkle in Time, declaring that the film “was destined to disappoint, given the outrageously high bar set for female and minority directors.” Other articles have make similar claims. To me, this a distortion of the diversity Hollywood should be fighting for. Diversity means equal opportunities to succeed…but also to fail. A talented black woman should have an equal opportunity as a talented white male to make an ambitious blockbuster film—but they should also be held to the same critical standards. Women are as capable as men at making great films, but they’re also as likely to make subpar or bad films. Real diversity means that everyone should be given a chance to swing the bat. It doesn’t mean every swing has to be a homerun. Let’s not just exchange one slanted and unfair standard for another.
Pop Culture Trivia of the Week:
In honor of Star Wars: The Last Jedi releasing on digital and the new Fantastic Beasts trailer, here are some movie franchise trivia:
- The largest movie franchise is James Bond with 25 movies released.
- The biggest money-making franchise is The Marvel Cinematic Universe with $5.8 billion.
- The highest per/film box office earnings franchise is Star Wars with an average of $400.6 million per film.
Trivia Question: This character holds the record for being portrayed on screen over 250 times! Who is the character? (*answer in the comments below!*)
Interesting Read of the Week:
Are “Inclusion Riders” (contractual rules which enforce diverse representation in films) a good thing? Everyone in Hollywood is going crazy about them, but I’m skeptical. I found this article interesting in offering a different take.
Weekly Culture Rant:
Not enough coffee. Come back next week!