Monday, February 6, 2017

The Power of Movies

When I was taking electives for my undergraduate, I actually took a class all about ethnic minorities in film. One thing that stood out to me was the movement by some film makers like Justin Lin and Spike Lee. So often, we go to the movies with our sole focus on being entertained that we accept the subtle messages within the plot of the movie as being normal. For so long Hollywood was able to portray their messages through the movie screens and they created a "norm" for the roles that different ethnic groups would be cast for in movies and the audience became accustomed to these roles. Disney is one of those notorious for their older movies being tools to reinforce the stereotypes of different ethnic groups in movies. We have probably all seen examples but I did not know about some some of these moments by film directors that try to challenge the standard roles for ethic groups in movies until a few years ago. It was fascinating to me to watch some of Spike Lee's low budget movies that were created to show the racial persecution and stereotypes that face African-Americans everyday. Lee's contributions are duly noted and appreciated, but Justin Lin's work really stuck out to me as a director who has been trying to change the standardized roles of ethnic groups in film. His movement really started with the film Better Luck Tomorrow.
Lin's approach to this film was to focus on a group of high schoolers with asian ancestry going through every day high school struggles. This group of friends find a way to make money and their choices lead down an illegal path. On the surface, the movie looks like it is playing on stereotypes for Asians when even the main characters flat out say that they just have to get good grades and people don't question the Asian kid. There is also that wild "otherness" feel about the characters in the movie because they do some dumb stuff that breaks the law. If you sit back and think about the movie, Lin is trying to show people how stupid it is to put these stereotypical labels on this group of high schoolers when the mistakes they have made are mistakes that have been made by other people of different ethnic backgrounds at that age. Lin tries to show the audience through the movie that the problems are not an ethnic problem but a youth problem.

For those of you that do not know, Justin Lin directed a few of the movies in the Fast and Furious franchise. A very popular and successful franchise. One of the keys to the Fast and Furious success is that the main actors have different ethnic backgrounds and this helps the film reach a wider potential audience. Lin used his opportunity as the director of these movies to try and break down some of the standard casting roles for different ethnic groups. The problem is, it seems like people can still see several stereotypes and even the concept of Orientalism in the films.

There is still the sidekick role for ethnic minorities in film even after the attempts by directors Spike Lee and Justin Lin. So what would Hollywood need to do to eliminate certain ethnic concepts like Orientalism from their films? 

Are the standardized roles for particular ethnic groups in films already so widely accepted by audiences that it would be near impossible to change them? Why or why not?

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