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Hollywood’s latest fiction

Sensitive, nice and inclusive

Ernesto Ayala
Film critic Cover Photo: Juan Pablo Molina Santiago, Chile Á - N.1

The film industry, as a great apparatus of public relations of itself, often accommodates efficiently in the political and social discourses in vogue. Today, through its main ritual, the Oscars, it shows a growing consideration for issues of gender and minorities. However, at the very core of business, reality seems to be rather backwards

The cliché often describes Hollywood as the factory of dreams. The possible interpretations are many, but the most obvious alludes to the form in which Hollywood produces fiction industrially. Then there’s the one where Hollywood would be a sort of promised land for actors and makers, a place in which anyone can be discovered and make a reality of their American dream, a myth that Hollywood itself has fed through its films.


Today however, the factory of dreams has added another fiction about itself, in which it shows itself as a liberal, nice, talented, sensitive community, so careful with the quality of its art as highly moral and as its political preoccupations. To carry out this fiction, of course the interviews and gestures of some of its main stars -before Dennis Hopper, Marlon Brando or Jane Fonda; today Sean Penn, Leonardo Di Caprio or Meryl Streep-, but overall there is the annual awards of the Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences, the Oscar, an enormous marketing campaign in which the industry compliments itself with the support and consent of the media, that year after year doesn’t even hesitate in doing eco to the whole performance, when we all know that the encounter between the Oscar and the truly valuable movie is basically fortuitous. The academy awards are -and the bobbery that the media show about this results depressive–a great artefact of public relations.


After the scandal of the 2016 Oscar, that (with the exception of Straight Outta Compton in the Best Original Script category) they didn’t consider among the candidates a single black actor and no film with reference to Afro-American culture, in 2017 and in 2018 the Academy has been careful to be more representative. In the 2017 awards, three of the nine candidates for best film had Afro protagonists and between the winners of the seven principal categories, three were to Afro films, including of course, Moonlight, in which the protagonist, as well as being black, were poor and gay (“what white people are most scared of”, a comedian would later say).


This 2018, the political orientation of the Academy was still stronger and between the nine candidates for best film there were hints at the most relevant groups in the recent public discussion: a fantastic film that hardly disguised a metaphor about immigration, also directed by a Mexican (The shape of water); directed by a woman (Lady Bird); that manifests herself as an advocate of freedom of press (The Post); one about a white trash world, supposedly Trump voters (Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri; one with an openly gay theme (Call me by your name); and perhaps the most risky, a sophisticated metaphor on racial subjugation (Get out). The three remaining candidates responded to the traditional style of the Oscars: quality cinema, that Hollywood normally takes for a drama based on true events, if possible, historic. In this context La mujer fantástica, about the social prejudices against a transgender protagonist, fit the Academy, that had to show inclusion, representation and diversity, like a glove.

Superheroes and explosions

Tell me what you presume and I’ll tell you what you’re missing. The Academy, perhaps more than ever has its reasons to symbolically strain the Oscars.

On the one hand, it’s enough to see the film listings. The films offered in multi-cinemas are more spectacular and depressive, full of superheroes, explosions and complicated plots. Or they’re terror films. Or animation.


Among the twenty coolest films of 2017 only one –Dunkerque-, in number 18, qualifies as a realistic drama. These twenty films had sales of over 15,489 million dollars, one or two million dollars above Jamaica or Nicaragua’s PIB. And they’re only the first twenty. That’s the heart of Hollywood: mega-productions for adolescents and children.


Films for adults are becoming the exception to the rule and even so, they’re the ones who are taken to the Oscars and, between clips, the red carpet and cries of gratitude, they make us believe that it’s about a dispute between the big talents. There’s too much hypocrisy in this. It’s as if an association between McDonald’s, KFC and Subway insisted, year after year, to award a prize to haute cuisine.


On the other hand, if it’s about parity, inclusion, diversity or minorities, Hollywood preaches but doesn’t practise. With the accusations against Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, James Franco, Michael Douglas, Mario Testino or Louis CK, among many others, the entertainment industry, not unlike the suffering of the Catholic Church or the political class, is under fire. However, nothing guarantees that structural changes will come from there. Women not only have less power and worse salaries than men in Hollywood, but their representation on the big screen declined during 2017.


An study from the San Diego State University (SDSU), “It’s A Man’s (Celluloid) World”, showed that the universe of the 100 films with most domestic income last year had women as protagonists in only 24 percent of occasions, in five points less than 2016. Meanwhile, only 32 percent of these films had ten or more women in speaking roles, while for men this was 79 percent

With race, the situation isn’t very different. According to “Hollywood Diverse Report 2018”, elaborated by the University of California from the first 200 principal screenings of 2016, only 13.9 percent of principal roles represented an ethnic minority, while 38.7 percent of the population of the United States belongs to a conglomerate of minority races. This occults brutal disproportions, as Latinos have about 2.7 percent of roles although they represent 18 percent of the population. When looking behind the camera, as it’s easy to imagine, it’s even worse: only 12.6 percent of directors belong to a minority race. If looking at script writers this is reduced to 8.1 percent.


Hollywood is liberal, diverse and inclusive only on television. In practise it’s white, masculine, conservative and a lover of money. We don’t even have to discard that it’s clumsy ability of adaptation and the limitations it shows to select its talents are some of the causes of the poor quality of the films that are being produced. It’s what’s behind the words that the critic Richard Brody wrote in the New Yorker: “Although most of the explicit discourse of Hollywood is liberal (as Weinstein himself, his films and his personal life), the understanding of the industry of form is on the whole reactionary, constrained and hostile”.


Hollywood likes to make money like a conservative businessman of the hard right, but to go around the streets dressed as a leftist liberal that reads Zizek. In this way, Hollywood has achieved the wet dream of any capitalist field: to make a lot of money while looking for to the community and with its own guilt. Neither universities, that possibly do much more than Hollywood in every sense, achieve this objective so fully. Anyone would like to buy a Porsche with 550 horsepower and believe that, at the same time they are saving humanity.

«This 2018, the political orientation of the Academy was still stronger and between the nine candidates for best film there were hints at the most relevant groups in the recent public discussion»

Ernesto Ayala