Privilege and Familiarity

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Happy International Women’s Day, everyone!

As some of you may know, this year the theme for International Women’s Day is “Make It Happen”. This is to promote the idea that awareness is not enough — we have to take action to bring about equality.

As some of you may know, I studied film in college. The dream (however far off it may have been) was to write and direct independent film. That was my passion. Still is, to some extent. Now that I’ve graduated and had a few years of reality in my back pocket, the dream has changed a bit, but the truth behind it still remains: I want to tell stories — whether in the format of film or book or improv, storytelling is in my blood. A lot of people have told me over the years that I have talent. Not to discredit those people, but unfortunately, in today’s industry, you need more than talent to get anywhere. You need privilege.

A lot of people got pretty upset about the fact that the Oscars’ nominee line-up was full of white people, and, in the case of the Directing, Screenwriting, and Cinematography categories, white males. I’ve talked about this with several of my coworkers, and the conversation has, every time, boiled down to this: the reason that there are so many stories focusing on white males is that that’s the majority of what Hollywood is made up of. People create things that are a reflection of what they know and care about, and the majority of the time, what they know and care about is people like them — that which is familiar.
 
It isn’t that only white males are interested in filmmaking — it’s that they are the ones pushed forward, given more opportunities to succeed. There are many talented filmmakers out there who don’t fit that demographic — but, just as we create the familiar, we also pay attention to the familiar. Predominantly white audiences are more apt to watch predominantly white films, because it’s what they know; in the same way, audiences who have become accustomed to the man as the hero and the woman as the supporting character will continue to seek out such stories because they’re used to it. And Hollywood acts accordingly. So yeah, there is a good measure of bias in what becomes popular and what gets funded.
 
This is not to say that we should just accept the standard. Hell, no. I’m saying we need to rebel against the standard. I don’t know if you’ve noticed from my previous posts, but the act of stretching yourself, becoming more receptive to new things and incorporating different things into your worldview, is a concept that I’ve been stuck on as of late. It’s a concept that I strive to apply to my life, though don’t always succeed. I wish that we, as a society, were more willing to stretch ourselves. Even in the simple act of choosing which film to spend two hours on, we fall into the same patterns, choosing the familiar and, consequentially, passing the opportunity to widen our worldview.

It’s a cycle: attention affects creation, which affects attention. But it’s more than just that… discouragement comes into play as well. For every earnest, driven artist out there trying to get their work seen, there is an artist who looks at the content before them and says, “No one will care about what I put out there, because it’s not within their interests”. And they don’t even try to share their art with the world.
 
Women have a tough time in pop culture, because of a standard that has been supported for centuries. Even in films with a female protagonist, there is still a chance that said character will not be an archetype or under-developed. So, in accordance with this year’s theme, let’s change that standard. Let’s try to encourage, instead of discourage, that which is different (and sometimes this boils down to the difference between a well-made film and a film you enjoy — you can learn something from a film that has an uncomfortable message). Stretch yourself and become familiar with the unfamiliar. Let those who have a voice be heard, and those who feel looked over be visible. Make it happen.

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