Edgar Wright, Peter Jackson, Alfred Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson – anyone serious about film knows all these directors. They have many things in common. First, they have created many of the movies we have come to love and cherish. Obviously, these directors are skilled in the art of film production; we wouldn’t know of them otherwise. However, they represent a larger issue in the Hollywood film industry: a lack of experimentation and change in philosophy. Do not misunderstand me – I am not discounting some of the wonderful films that these people have made, with great musical scores, cinematography and an overall excellent execution. It is important to note that we can enjoy art while being critical of the issues it presents.
All these directors, along with most directors in Hollywood, are white, male and presumably straight. There is very little diversity and representation in Hollywood. Most women there work in casting, as actresses or as editors. This, in and of itself, is a problem. Film has become increasingly prominent in our culture as visual media dominates above all other mediums. Incorporating diversity and representation is extremely difficult when everyone making the films is part of the dominant group. The best representation, therefore, manifests in experimental and independent films, because small filmmakers have no corporate studio restricting their ideas and production for the sake of profit. It is not until recently that marginalized groups have had the opportunity to direct and star in blockbuster films like Black Panther. While this is a good development, the caveat is that Hollywood is not necessarily recognizing that black people have their own perspectives and talents to contribute to the film industry; rather the studios have realized that black and social justice audiences represent a large market to be exploited. I would not be surprised if a surge of new films were produced to capitalize on these audiences.
As a result of the lack of diversity and freedom in Hollywood film making, there is very little experimentation and innovation in film themes. Most mainstream films we watch today focus on a narrow white, straight and male lens; they solely experiment with film narratives, if at all. One example of this is every Disney movie following the same Hero’s Journey plot structure because it is familiar to audiences, requires little work and is profitable. Methods of sound, cinematography, editing and mis-en-scène – all the things that appear on screen – are rarely outside the box. We rarely see anything close to experimental in mainstream cinema culture, resulting in a nation of film-goers unaware of cinema’s potential. The lineup of films for Introduction to Film Studies at Lawrence is indicative of this, as students attend film screenings in confusion and absolute boredom. We are simply not adjusted to anything beyond what Hollywood shovels down our throats.
Beyond experimental films, there is also a very limited implementation of film theory in Hollywood; this is one reason why there is so little diversity in film representation because production is prioritized above theory. We have not yet seen a generation of directors in Hollywood combine the two, applying psychoanalysis, feminist theory or queer theory to their creations. According to my film studies teacher, the most common film studies courses focus on production and theory as a binary as well as traditional cinematic techniques. Lawrence is unique in that regard, combining both production and film theory in addition to exposing its students to styles of cinema they may be unfamiliar with. One day, we will see a wave of directors calling for a combination of production and theoretical techniques and introducing new and interesting stories to audiences, and I hope to be a part of that movement. Perhaps Lawrence’s film program will be the first stepping stone to do so. After all, Jill Beck Director of Film Studies Professorship and Associate Professor of Film Studies Amy Ongiri did say that the film studies major – paraphrase – “is the best major at Lawrence,” but that’s an argument for another time.