The Interview, Sony's hacked emails, and Hollywood's culture problem


The recent Sony hacking debacle and release of The Interview has got me thinking a lot about the types of narratives coming out of Hollywood.
I went online Christmas Day to see what all the fuss was about. What I watched was more or less an endless stream of slapstick, male-, and sex-centered jokes rife with gratuitous nudity and misogyny. The film's attempt to rise above that to a commentary on freedom and democratic values was ultimately destroyed, in the end, by a hailstorm of gunfire and explosions.
On the American side, according to Gawker:
Emails sent from UK Sony Pictures exec Peter Taylor to president of Sony Pictures Releasing International Steven O'Dell are particularly harsh, describing the comedy as a 'misfire,' 'unfunny and repetitive,' with 'a level of realistic violence that would be shocking in a horror movie.'"
The South Korean execs said they were offended by the strange N. Korean accents in the film and the caricaturization of leader Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park):
The Chinese execs said that they liked how the film used a song from a Chinese artist, but that it was drowned out by the extensive ode to Katy Perry--and a level of violence would get too high a rating to draw a large enough audience.
The Dutch thought the film spun violently out of control, while the French said Seth Rogen's humor didn't "translate" to their audiences.
That The Interview was the film to bring Sony down--or, at least, exec Amy Pascal--was the biggest joke of all given how generally bad it was, according to most critics.
Whether or not the hack was really N. Korea's fault, what emerges from these emails is a sad tale about a company trying and failing to create a funny, relevant film. (I encourage anyone who wants to know more to read Leaked Emails: Sony Execs Scared of "Desperately Unfunny" Interview on Gawker.)
Reading these emails and watching The Interview, I found a blatant, cultural tone deafness at Sony and perhaps in the entire American movie industry. When you think of filmmaking as an international ecosystem, films made in Hollywood's Men's Men's Men's World don't seem economically, politically, or culturally viable for global audiences.
Year after year, film execs keep churning out the same franchise films, starving out creative diversity, and putting out work that quite frankly isn't worth what we pay to see it. All the while, they complain about running out of stories to tell (read: stories that target the 18-34 white male demographic)--when they haven't scratched 1% of narratives by people of color and women that increasingly target far more people around the world and, in my opinion, are far more culturally relevant.
Whose world does The Interview represent? Whose humor? Whose society(ies)? Even as far as satires go, it lacked the subtle nuances to attain the level of "subversive" commentary to which it aspired (although the hacks, quite ironically, started these very discussions for all the wrong reasons).
Hollywood is facing the same kind of problem as the Republican party--while the American public becomes more diverse, its most entrenched institutions become increasingly culturally tone deaf.
Thank goodness for alternative platforms that make room for more diverse stories--which Sony was also grateful for when their awful, tasteless film broke the theatrical distribution chain. But I wish that the hack and surrounding publicity didn't just serve to drive sales, with The Interview becoming Sony's highest-grossing online release ever.
These are the times when global audiences really need to demand better or, year after year, we'll be forced to watch more of the same s*it. Any company or industry that does this should, by the laws of Darwin, fail. And those of us telling more relevant stories should be ready to take up the charge. --AL.
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