Message Over Character
Political Hollywood is entering its death spiral - flailing and ripping at every thread on the way down.
The Writer's Strike pulls a particular lens of reflection on recent works in particular. Something happened post-Covid; true, our collective lens illuminated sincere acts of justice, civil rights, and the human experience. But it also lent a voice to the delusional minority, and once that pedestal was erected, the tolerant gifted this minority with a megaphone.
It meant that while silent voices can finally be heard, that we can all stop and think for a second, such a pause gave momentum to new ideas.
I'm a creative person. I like looking at things from many angles, finding new and innovative solutions, and for a time, being "woke" was a good thing. We were checking our privileges, reaching hands across invisible gaps, acknowledging the collective human experience, and raising the awareness of social, cultural, and environmental issues. Inclusion, diversity, and representation are not a bad thing in and of themselves. These moments I like to think are our glimmers of hope; the instances where we evolve as a species, and collectively acknowledge fundamental truths of our time:
1) LGBTQ+ people ARE PEOPLE, and deserve the same rights as everyone else. If you're not hurting anyone, who you love does not dictate your worth as a human being.
2) My body, my choice.
3) Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.
4) It is okay to change your mind.
5) Fear is the mind killer.
6) Sexism and racism are wrong...in every instance. (including against men, and white people)
7) The truth, taking responsibility, and showing integrity are the building blocks of a powerful society.
8) Art will always be relevant.
9) Change is constant.
10) "...and then we die." Life is too short to be spent on petty squabbles. Commit to the future work.
The Pendulum Swings
Then we went too far. (I'm about to be very honest)
Sexism is wrong. Except, apparently, when it's against a man. Instead of writing compelling female characters alongside their male counterparts, let's re-write those male heroes to be staggeringly flawed, broken, stupid, and overly emotional...and write our women to be stoic, flawless, and super-intelligent at all times. Have them fill the traditional male roles...every time. No exceptions. Make a fleet of girl-bosses; unstoppable, allied with all other females, unified against the blatant oppression of the male hero, with no struggles to overcome and no arcs to journey through - because you were always perfect, Queen. But male characters can be belittled, subservient, outclassed in their own expertise, and emasculated for a laugh.
...This was novel once. It is now the norm. And I'm exhausted.
Captain Marvel and Mulan were...strange. I actually think that Captain Marvel *mostly* worked in its first two acts, but the payoff felt unearned (she was always mega powerful, her powers were just being dampened). Unfortunately, this film's message now appears subtle in light of current trends.
The modern character of Mulan (the remake) BEGINS the film perfect - SHE has no arc. It's just the supporting cast that needs to recognize how awesome she is. In fact, she's NEVER actually defeated; the only time she comes close is against a witch (another oppressed female character). She doesn't even struggle. There is NOTHING for her to overcome.
What message does this send actually? "Feeling down, little girl? It's okay, just START at perfect. No big deal."
This wouldn't be such a slap in the face if the animated film didn't already exist. The original Disney Mulan doesn't know how to be a soldier or a lady; she doesn't fit into either category. But we identify with her nonetheless. She's witty, likable, interesting, and we can see some of her strengths beginning to shine through - she's determined, she rallies for what is right, and she thinks outside of the box. For all those good traits, though, she needs to be tempered; there are skills she lacks, and when she takes up arms to save her father, she has to LEARN how to be a soldier (a great musical montage, by the way). You SEE her progression from a girl to a soldier, and the Mulan we see Act to Act is a different version of herself, each one learning new lessons from struggles and defeats and challenges, bringing all that she has learned and cultivated to bear at the climax of the film when she squares off against Shan Yu.
And that's an intense fight, too! I remember seeing such an imposing force; Shan Yu is a BIG GUY, and is WRECKING the palace as Mulan flees from and dodges him. She doesn't go toe to toe with him on the physical stage - that would be impossible given her build and strength. Instead, she outsmarts him; outmaneuvers him. A skill that she has fostered throughout the film. She didn't start her journey at this level; in fact, the Mulan of the first act would probably have died a horrible death at the hands of this guy. But this Mulan grew; she leveled up to fight the boss.
That's a character. I love that character. And I'm a white dude.
Which, by the way, DOES NOT MATTER. My race and sex has NO BEARING on what I enjoy. I'm allowed to like things. That is all.
Fat Mice Don't Know What They're Doing
And I wouldn't be so defensive if actual, multi-billion dollar studios weren't weaponizing their fans against each other, gaslighting their audience trying to rewrite history (looking at you, Woman King and Cleopatra the "documentary"), or accusing their audience of racism or sexism just for not seeing a bad film. If a film looks bad, I won't see it, regardless if it's lead by a female ensemble (Ghostbusters, 2016). Make a good film first, focus on your checkboxes later.
This roiling landscape of shifting blame and shattered integrity, gaslighting and gatekeeping, crushing otherwise decent humans for the simple sin of not being interested - terrifies me on the grand scale of the entertainment industry. It is rare to find something without an agenda.
To which you reply, "It's entertainment, everyone has an agenda!" And yet, in the quiet corners of Hollywood, far from the bastions of scandal and woke, we get a Top Gun: Maverick - a film that makes no promises other than to be entertaining (and it delivers). Or a masterpiece like Puss In Boots: The Last Wish - a beautifully animated fairy tale with a lot to say on life, death, and happiness, if you just take the time to watch it. And though it was released before this string of years that feel like an eternity burrito wrapped in guilt, Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse is STILL lauded as one of the greatest animated films of all time. No messages or agendas...just stories.
And that is why I am so sad for Hollywood. The mainstream studios are precise and ironic examples of having so much potential, literally BILLIONS of dollars in resources, and not knowing how to use them. Disney walked into Star Wars without a plan, and it SHOWS. How embarrassing for them. How shameful. After decades of entertainment, the execs didn't think far enough ahead to avoid becoming a laughingstock in the industry.
Disney's stock dropped by 50% and HAS NOT RECOVERED. If you feel the same as I on their business practices, we could literally collectively buy them out, and start over. It is baffling the rate at which the fandom has turned on Disney and others like them; no matter the remaining projects, it is clear that one of the biggest studios on the planet is mishandling a beloved franchise, and burning the other to the ground.
Remember, inclusion and diversity are not a bad thing. Vilifying specific groups to raise up others...is.
Thor is now a moron to laughable levels to pave the way for...Taika Watiiti? Valkyrie? I actually don't know. Just seems mean-spirited for no reason.
Loki has been reduced to a moron to make way for Female Loki (Sylvie).
The Mandalorian has been reduced in intelligence, agency, and resourcefulness to make way for Bo Katan.
Hawkeye is a side character in his own show (even though I like Kate Bishop).
Bruce Banner, a literal genius, who has gone through over five films of character development and personal growth, is reduced to a montage of jokes and outclassed in every way by She-Hulk because "Go Women," I guess.
The list, unfortunately, goes on, and the House of Mouse's hate boner for their legacy characters is baffling. It's also COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY. You don't have to diminish or destroy one character to lift up another. You can retain and respect where a character has come from AND usher in the next generation. That way, you don't alienate fans.
Instead, what we're getting is a push too hard and too fast toward certain "woke" ideologies to the point of brow-beating, scolding, and pandering. As if we should all feel bad for liking Phase 1, 2, or 3. That because we identified with a flawed character who grew over time (ya know, with an arc), that we're "part of the problem." That if we can't connect with a flawless, superpowered, rude heroine that belittles and conquers the weak men around her with little effort...then we're just sexist, and should shut up.
This is backfiring while these studios double down. It is appalling, and a complete waste of time. Better scripts, better films, better plans. That's how you win us back. I will not be guilted into watching a crap product.
Most of what I see, I'm not excited for. I don't look forward to many films. The system is currently broken.
But there are glimmers; rays of possibility, stretching outside the echo chamber to actually make art again. And, as I've stated, that is one of our fundamental truths.
Thank you for reading this long.
Stay safe out there, nerds.
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Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
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