Political correctness affecting film
It's getting beyond a joke, a film is made, upsets some group or individual, and the next thing is it's being pulled from release, re-dited, or hopefully at the very least, delayed until it all blows over. It seems you just have to complain about a film upsetting someone and the rest of the audience suffer.
When the minority can dictate what the majority can and can't see, what's the right in that? Should the studios stand up more to what the majority wants to see, or should others be able to dictate what the cinema audience are allowed to see?
Interestingly as I re-read that I suddenly realise that what I'm describing is the BBFC or the MPAA, or whatever ratings or censorship body your country operates. Of course there's a distinction between ratings and censorship, for with ratings organisations they just assign a rating, it's then the studios and producers who panic and decide to re-edit the film to try and get a different rating.
Still they are both cases of a small group of individuals dictating what the majority can watch, but that's not the growing problem of late, it's political correctness.
The Cambridge Dictionary describes the phrase politically correct as:
“adjective (ABBREVIATION PC)
1- describes someone who believes that language and actions which could be offensive to others, especially those relating to sex and race, should be avoided
2- describes a word or expression that is used instead of another one to avoid being offensive:
Some people think that 'fireman' is a sexist term, and prefer the politically correct term 'firefighter'.”
So that’s what it means, and in practical terms in today’s society it means anyone can complain about what they find personally offensive and through fear of bad media, loss of revenue and in more extreme cases legal recrimination, companies will accommodate their complaints.
Of course there are reasons for this and cases where political correctness is well warranted, but these days it’s just being overused and the pc-meter has leapt too far the other way.
We’re seeing it in films right now and the highest profile example has been with the film Tropic Thunder and their use of the word “retard” which has upset disability groups. A couple of things to set the scene, the word had been used in some promotional clips outside of the film, and those that complained had not seen the film in its entirety.
The film-makers defended their use of the word as the scenes are actually ridiculing the lengths to which actors will go in order to be nominated for awards and the predictability of the organisations behind those awards, however spokespeople for a few disability groups were publicly calling for a boycott of the film, predictably before anyone had seen it.
Timothy P. Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, was one of the voices against the film. He was interviewed by the New York Times last week before the premiere and said that he was heading over to picket the opening, without having seen the film.
Shriver wasn’t going to stop there though, he was going to head to Congress and start shouting about “hate speech”, a step too far without a shadow of a doubt.
In the story goes even further with Peter Wheeler, a spokesperson – note that I can’t say spokesman as that’s politically incorrect and would face a boycott, perhaps even be accused of hate speech against women - for the Special Olympics was saying that they don’t want the film shown and wanted it pulled from all cinemas. Again, without apparently having seen the film.
“Ideally, we'd like the movie not to be shown…If they don't pull it out of theaters, we'd like for people to hear what we're upset about, to not go and see the film and boycott screenings.”
In fact what he was saying is that people should listen to him about a film he hasn’t seen and not go and see it themselves. Isn’t that a little crazy?
Personally I would have thought the most controversial part of the film was Robert Downey Jr. playing an idiotic actor who decides to have his skin pigmentation altered in order to play a black man in the Tropic Thunder film, would have been the part to raise most controversy. Apparently those groups who could be offended by that have seen the humorous side and realised that there is no offence intended towards them but to actors and Hollywood portrayed within the film.
It seems that these complaints only really took off when the “retard” comment was used in the promotional material for the film, taken out of context and used on posters and in clips. Perhaps not the best idea.
Thankfully, in this case, the film is released unchanged.
This isn’t an isolated case though, many films are undergoing immediate, knee jerk reactions without just cause, or at the very least without those complaining even seeing the material.
Often these happen around religiously themed films, and even ten it’s only the ones that grab the big headlines and in turn, grab big headlines for those complaining.
The Last Temptation of Christ and The Golden Compass are but two of those films that spring to mind. It was the fear of comment from the religious groups caused the religious thread of The Golden Compass to be removed.
It’s not just religious groups trying to stamp out the release of films showing the beliefs of others, it’s happening for political reasons too. In a recent story in Variety we heard that Adam Sandler’s comedy You Don’t Mess With the Zohan isn’t being shown in Egypt, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. In fact the distributor for the Middle East thinks it’s going to be much worse:
“It is 99% likely that the film will be banned in all Arab countries”
Surprisingly it was one of the year’s biggest hits in Israel cinemas, with Amnon Matalon, the head of Matalon, the local distribution company in Israel, saying that “Israeli’s like to laugh at themselves”, and that is perhaps the biggest clue as to why most groups don’t get upset at such films, because they see the irony and humour.
Even odder is that Morgan Spurlock’s film Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? Has not been released in the United Arab Emirates and the distributor there is fighting to get a DVD release. That confounds me because it shows an open, honest, accepting and rather humbling view of America and the Middle East, and it shows a view of Middle Eastern people that is very positive.
Then we hear through The Guardian that critics in Germany are beginning to shout about Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglorious Bastards, probably in an attempt to stir up controversy on the matter. Tobias Kniebe the film critic of Süddeutsche Zeitung said:
“This is pop culture meets Nazi Germany and the Holocaust with an unprecedented force”
I can only assume he’s read the leaked script, since there is no film to critique.
Perhaps the only film that was hit by such controversy that could actually be deemed to warrant it is Gone Baby Gone, a film which depicted a child kidnapping and was delayed from UK release until the story of Madeleine McCann’s kidnapping had passed. What was interesting was that this move came from the film-maker Ben Affleck, not from pressure from anyone else.
Personally I don’t think that the film needed to be delayed, but it showed a strong sense of understanding and morality from the film-makers, although I’m sure they realised the box office takings could be hit too.
So what do these examples show us? Well groups with smaller members than the audience of a film are being heard, and in some cases are actually affecting the releases of films, and yet they are not the majority of the audience.
Of course I could understand if the film was indecent or genuinely intended to cause harm, but seen in context and with understanding and self-depreciating eyes, most of these films are far from attacking people on such a level.
I could also understand if the film had actually been seen, something that is all too commonly not the case.
Is political correctness going too far? Are studios too scared to upset the vocal minority in case they affect the majority audience? Is this really a problem since we’re almost always liable to see the full film released on DVD anyway?
What other films can you think of that have been affected by this culture? Any adversely so? What do you think? Are films pampering too much to the over politically correct culture? Most importantly, are you feeling that others are dictating your viewing choices a little too much?