Social Issues

Shang Chi and the Influence of Cinema in Culture

    Back in 2018 with the release of Black Panther, people of African descent all over the world rejoiced at the perspective of seeing the first major black superhero movie in the theater. The media could not stop talking about how it was a huge milestone in the history of cinema and the film was even nominated as one of the best pictures at this year’s Oscar ceremony. But apart from the political consideration surrounding the movie, it is certainly worth noting that Black Panther was an international public and critical success, earning more than one billion dollars at the box office. Yet, despite its undeniable success, the film did not facilitate debate about inequality and race for a very long time. Events such as George Floyd’s passing in 2020 and crimes against black people are still as frequent as they were before the movie came out.

    But regardless of political and social issues, the Marvel and Disney production assembly line had to keep going. It was now time to target another minority with the recent release of Shang Chi. Still available in theaters to this day, Shang Chi has been another financial success for Mickey Mouse’s studio, earning more that four hundred million dollars at the box office, without taking the Chinese market into account. And yet, once again, despite the movie having been successful and well produced, it does not seem to have had any impact on the wave of Asian hate mostly present in the United States because of the emergence of Covid-19.

Which brings me to this age old question : Can movies and art have any significant influence on culture as a whole ?

    This may seem like a redundant question, but in the age of social confrontation and pandering, it feels more important than ever before. It is a debate that I have had multiple times while I was in film school. Because the industries dictating the cultural trends of our present times are constantly patting themselves on the back with how inclusive and innovative they are being with their choices in leading actors, how they represent sexual orientation and so on. But I think we are all aware that most of those choices come from a desire to pander to certain minorities in order to be seen as morally righteous.

    On one hand, some may argue that, regardless of the motivation behind the recent trend of diversity in movies and tv shows, a better and more regular representation of minorities is always a good thing. But I tend to believe that, as human beings, we are very sensitive to honesty and we can often sense when we are being manipulated. And knowing that diverse representation in mainstream media does not come from a sincere desire makes us wary of the product that is being sold to us. My point being that minority pandering might attract a targeted audience in the theater, but I doubt that it would ever bring someone who has a bad opinion on a certain community, to change his mind or actually be curious enough to check the movie out.

    And I know what you are going to tell me : Why should we expect an industry whose primer objective is by design, to make profits out of its creations, to show any sort of sincerity in its artistic choices or political positioning ? The idea that art is at the forefront of cultural and ideological shifts in worldwide culture sounds a little naive to me. Especially when the supposed trendsetters are actually controlled by the same conglomerate of old and conservative people. Yet, I do believe that art can be part of the process of change, numerous examples can be found to support that opinion.

    One of my friends who was a director of photography told me that his favorite movie was Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, because he approached that movie while having grown up in a very homophobic environment, but he was an absolute fan of Tom Hanks. And so, the movie completely shook him. It drastically changed his perspective on gay people and the way they were perceived by society. Another friend of mine told me that Xavier Dolan’s Lawrence Anyways actually helped her to understand her sister a little better. She was a transsexual who had been rejected by her family for a very long time.

    In both of those instances, movies were an ideological vehicle that was fueled first and foremost by the curiosity of its viewers. And the sincerity of the art being presented in front of said viewer, was enough to convince them to rethink their stance on certain social and political issues. But in those particular effective cases, and I cannot stress this enough: the reasoning behind the creation of the movie was sincere to start with. Especially Lawrence Anyways, with Dolan being gay, we can most certainly assume that he intended to give the LGBTQ+ community sincere and complex representations, as oppose the flagrantly pandering to a minority.

    So it is my belief that sincerity and curiosity have to be at the center of a population which thinks for itself and which is able to connect its diverse components despite their differences. But it does not start with the supposed impact of an industry of narcissistic billionaires, talking about equality while earning millions. It starts by giving the common people a voice and a chance to be represented in a just and complex way. And I would actually be really interested in getting feedback from my stance on this question, because the more I write about this subject, the less sincere movies seem to come out every month...

Charles M.

November 26, 2021

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