Today, some commentary on the interesting brand of creativity that Hollywood and the big-budget entertainment producers send out into the world. This is part one; I have another link to blather about, but it didn't seem to fit here, so I'm saving it for another post.
First, there's a thoughtful review of Avatar on io9 that says the movie’s plot is basically the old “enlightened white people selflessly sacrifice popularity in their own culture to save the natives whose culture they’re destroying and become popular in the other culture” cliché — with the novel addition of “in SPACE!” ;) You may want to avoid the review if you're a spoiler Nazi who hasn’t seen the movie yet, though most of the "spoilers" are pretty darn general plot descriptions that should come as no shock to people familiar with American speculative fiction and adventure movies. Anyway, it's worth checking out.
Although I haven’t seen the movie yet, the review points up the fact that even as Hollywood tries to push the known boundaries of technology, methodology, and special effects, they tend to get into plot and idea ruts.
The article is interesting to me on several counts: I studied anthropology in college, I have an interest in diversity, and I’m half of non-Western descent. I’m also interested in creativity, whether it’s the creativity of famous directors, yet-unknown indie business owners, or amateur artists who never intend on showing their work outside their home.
If the review is as correct as I think it is, it makes some pretty important points. For fans of diversity and fans of creativity, both, it’s worth noting that Hollywood could use a fresh infusion of cultural awareness … and since the super-visible mainstream has been taking a lot of cues from the indie world lately, there’s a niche to be filled here, people! Go forth and be culturally diverse, create a multiplicity of perspectives, and market them well, so when the big-budget companies catch on, you can proudly point to your work and say, “I did it first!” ;)
Also, this is probably a good time to bring up Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea novels, in which Le Guin has outright said racial diversity is a crucial element. The Slate article linked in the previous sentence talks about the bizarre white-ifying of her main character in the Sci-Fi Channel Earthsea miniseries, but more importantly, it talks about successes and lost battles in trying to get the entertainment industry (in which I'm including books) to stop being afraid of non-white characters. Her experiences support the idea that there is a real tendency in American filmmakers and entertainment marketers to try to cater to an audience that supposedly won't understand the world unless it's framed by a white person's perspective.
Not that white people's perspective is valueless — but it's pretty ludicrous to let one perspective dominate our entertainment choices in what’s supposed to be a “melting pot” country.
And come on, entertainment industry. There's no lack of money available to big Hollywood producers and directors, and there's a lot of complete drivel out there to show that you're willing to throw money away. Why not go ahead and invest in something that really deserves buzz words and phrases like "bold," "daring" and "like nothing you've ever seen before"?
There are probably some good movies, books, TV shows, etc., out there already that show a genuinely non-white perspective, too, with non-white main characters moving through a plot that isn’t based on “one culture destroys another” (or the ever-popular “look how different we are but we’re really the same” theme). Recommendations, anyone?
Part two of "Hollywood creativity needs an upgrade" coming soon in another blog post. In that one, I'll write about the strange, creative vision Hollywood has of the human body.