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Political correctness affecting film

Borat.jpgIt'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 Yahoo News 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?





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Comments

Possibly. But I'm an independent film-maker and no [expletive removed - Richard] tells me what I should or should not put in my film. Hence 'One Day Removals' is possibly the most politically incorrect film ever made in Scotland. So maybe it's up to individual writers and directors to grow some balls? Also it's up to reviewers like your good self to review films that attempt something different. Looking at your front page and it's dominated by high end studio output. You want more risky films? Well support the ones we have then.

Mark "angry" Stirton, don't worry it's on my review list!

I think it's up to everyone to toe the line, audiences to demand to see films that aren't the mainstream (one reason why this site is dominated by such things) and film-makers to provide the material.

To be fair though on the front page right now there's P and P2, Sean Flynn, Lucky Luciano, Fools Rush In, Ripple Effect, which aren't so much mainstream.

Review wise there are Mouth to Mouth, Now You See Me, Now You Don't (Most látszom, most nem látszom), Underground, Strays and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane - that's out of ten reviews shown! Not bad I'd say.

However it is clear that the real scripts and films that don't pamper to money driven studios are out there, and you Mr Stirton are one of those people. Yet you're getting ignored and are struggling to make a difference.

Perhaps the next feature should be on you and why smaller film-makers (in distribution, not physical size - I haven't met you to see how tall you are!) are finding it hard to make it?

Oh I'm nae angry, and with The Planet all over America right now I'd hardly say we were ignored. But I bet it'll be harder to get One Day Removals out in the USA precisely because it's incredibly politically incorrect. And yet, a much better film than my first one. Give the yanks a spaceship and a monster and they're more than happy. Give em something challenging and they're likely to hide under the bed. Maybe that's unfair? I'll remain optimistic and hope that ODR does well, if not, I'm sure there are plenty of safe Adam Sandler comedies to watch with nothing controversial in them whatsoever. Which is why my next film will be 'Whoops 911'. For a start it might give me the chance to meet Dylan Avery... and smack him right in the puss! Hey, maybe I am angry? Gosh, look at me going on and on.

Peace!

Angry is good Mark, I wasn't meaning that in a negative way. If you weren't a little angry there'd be no passion in the film-making.

Well a Doric film in America can be a hard sell, PC or not.

Actually I think we could get a feature out of you!

"Well a Doric film in America can be a hard sell, PC or not."

You're not wrong about that mate. We'll soon see if the world is ready for something, um, different. Probably the biggest problem The Planet has in the USA wasn't the thick Scottish accents, but the below par visual effects. Which is fair enough, if Mr USA picks up Cloverfield and The Planet from Blockbuster, it clearly suffers by comparison. And many of the reviews mentioned that. At least ODR is visual effects free. So that might help? Our wealthy producer has offered extra funding for ads and festival screenings - I shall keep you informed.

Give the yanks a spaceship and a monster and they're more than happy. Give em something challenging and they're likely to hide under the bed.

Thank God for you, Mark. Damn if I wouldn't have known what I should be watching for entertainment would you not have chosen something challenging for me. Goodness knows I'm a half-wit, PC, robot because I live in America. I wait with baited breath for your masterpiece sure to send me screaming and running for the cover of my bed. Hopefully WaterBoy will be in rotation on TBS on that fateful day so I can recover. Maybe one day I can be as enlightened and arrogant as you.

Well I did say that might be unfair and that I remained hopeful for US distribution again. But the fact of the matter is that I know of several British directors who went down the road of 'challenging cinema' and could not get distribution in the US. I made a sci-fi piece of shit and got statewide distribution. So don't tell me that distribution agents are looking for the next Brazil - cos they ain't. Come to that, they didn't want the original Brazil much. But as I said, I remain optimistic. If you're right after all and the US markets are open to something different my film stands a chance. I hope you're right mate.

Hey. I think Stirton can be a tiny bit arrogant being a UK director with two films out in America. Unlike hap whos a rank conservative and Bill ORealy fanboy. And should therefore be ashamed of himself. Typical American reactionary. And be probably DOES like the Waterboy!

Hang on, hang on. I've got one film out in America. Not two. I have another about to be reviewed on this site - so stay tuned to either gloat or cheer. But lets stay polite (on an Internet forum - fat chance) All I'm saying is that I could have made it much easier for myself by making another sci-fi film because the market is actually crying out for more and the market for broad Scottish snuff movies might not be so large and profitable. Nevertheless, lets see what happens? I am not saying that all Americans are bloated, thickheaded with one hand on a pistol and the other on a burger. Plenty of very nice Americans from New York, Boston and LA have sent me some very sweet e-mails of encouragement. So lets play nice.

David: You can check my posting history on this site or my blog if you want. I do like the Waterboy, but other than that, you're way off base. I merely get tired of people who *think* they're smarter, more educated, or more talented telling me what would be best for me. Actually, you're close on the Conservative angle, but I'm so far "right" of O'Reilly, I might as well be left.

Mark: Nice sarcasm and innuendo on that last post.

Well I was trying to be sincere actually, God you're hard work! I pointed out why the visual effects in my last film were less than what was required for the mainstream market and that I'd chosen a tricky subject matter for US distribution. I don't think I was being all that arrogant. But the fact is that if you're so far to the right that O'Reilly is left (the mind boggles) the chances are you might not bond with my new film. I'm trying this thing of being nice to everyone I meet online. I even thank the reviewers that trash my film - doesn't have throw them! It only gets really tricky when debating 911 Truthers. Those guys go for the horrible insult the very moment you disagree with them!

The reason you're tired of it is because you probably meet a lot of people who ARE smarter, more educated, or more talented than you. It's called resentment.

So much for that playing nice thing. And just for the record I'm only semi-educated. Durr.

Oi! Filmstalker, I've just noticed that you've censored one of my posts in a debate about political correctness. You trying to be ironic or something? Only kidding, nice review, nice review, don't look around my eyes, look into my eyes, nice review.

x

Mark: If you were being sincere, you lost my interest in your films again. I liked the way that post read if it was sarcastic, and if you were the screenwriter, I might enjoy the dialog you would come up with. ;-) As to right/left stuff, politics may be a little different here than across the pond. I'm what you call a Libertarian. Technically, that's to the right of O'Reilly in the political spectrum, but two dimensions aren't necessarily enough to classify all of us. As to the 9/11 truthers, I'm not one even though many lean Libertarian politically.

David: Guess what...you're right. Many people I meet are smarter than me. That comes with the field in which I work and life in general. Resentment? Nope...nothing but respect if you can best me. Software development is a humbling profession, and I've been at it a long time.

btw, why has nobody called me on my PC-like objection to Mark stereotyping Americans in an anti-PC feature by Richard? If I set you guys up to knock one out of the park, then knock the stupid thing out of the park. Very disappointing...

Good point hap, I was so engrossed reading the banter that I totally missed that PC point.

Mark - yes I did! I tend to remove most swearing from the comments, no biggie. That and illegal, clearly inflammatory or advertising comments are the only ones to go these days, and in the case of swearing only the swear words are removed.

Obviously me doing that will break the cycle of kids swearing, turning to violence, picking up guns, and then killing people.

Oh dear. I disappointed hap. How sad. Great news about the London Raindance festival though. I'm very pleased they'll be showing my film. Guess the broadness and lack of PC didn't bother the English judges too much? Yaa. Marky hap,hap happy.

There's a corker over at Deadline Hollywood Daily where the author rants about the fact that this film is being released on the anniversary of the New Orleans disaster.

What?! The film is about a meteorite hitting the planet and it's a comedy (or so I'm led to believe).

Next we'll be removing any film anywhere that offends anyone. We'll be left with nothing. I defy you to think of a film that wouldn't offend a single person.

This is insanity.

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