When I told a friend I was writing a five minute speech about the problems of Hollywood, he said, “There’s no way that’s going to be long enough.”
Indeed, it’s true - Hollywood is completely broken. The writers and actors are on strike, box office returns are down, streaming has destroyed the revenue stream of artists, and, most important of all, and there’s no nice way to say this – the latest movies suck.
I collected comic books as a kid and if I have to watch another superhero movie, I’m going to throw my drink at the screen. Did I mention that Harrison Ford is 80 YEARS OLD and there was no reason for making this Dial of Destiny travesty except as a shameless money grab on his way out the door? Way to ruin your legacy, Harrison.
Completely frustrated at current releases, I’ve turned to watching older movies, movies I can count on to deliver the goods and not this The Flash dreck. Recently I watched the movie “Aliens”, the sequel to Alien, and on re-watching, I found it’s still as awesome as when I first saw it back in the 80s.
But the thing that stood out to me on re-watching was the diverse cast. I hadn’t noticed it before. In fact, none of us had. Both Alien movies feature a female protagonist, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, who is strong, tough, and saves the day in both movies. She’s a female character I can confidently point to my daughters and say “Be like her.”
But when this movie came out in 1986, we never declared it Year of the Woman or celebrated the movie’s girl boss energy. Back then, a female hero in a blockbuster movie wasn’t a big deal. We had already seen that in both Terminator movies. And isn’t it kind of sexist to suggest that women are weak and useless and we need to enthusiastically celebrate the few who are exceptions to this norm?
In both Alien movies, Sigourney Weaver was a hero first and her female identity was a distant second, and she wasn’t the only diverse cast member in this movie worth noting. Aliens also featured a black Marine Sargent who gives a convincing performance because the actor who played him really served in the military. He’s authoritative, strong, and well-liked by his fellow Marines and not once during the entire movie does he engage in a “needed and overdue conversation about race relations.” He’s just a bad ass that you look up to and respect.
The same can be said about the extremely butch Hispanic woman named Vasquez. She’s one of the heavy machine gunners, paired off with another equally tough male who regards her as his equal and teammate. The issue of gender identity and gender relations comes up exactly once in the movie. One of the Marines goes up to her and asks, “Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?” She turns to him and says, “No, have you?”
How different this movie from the 80s is from those in current release. Aliens, as directed by James Cameron, was designed as a good movie first and foremost with the need for a diverse cast a distant second priority. Movies today work in the reverse order – where a diverse cast is the most important priority and quality not considered at all.
Let’s take for example, The Little Mermaid reboot. There was no need for this movie except for Bob Iger milking the cash cow of the Disney intellectual property vault. How does one make a sloppy, lazy movie? Take a beloved classic that even middle aged men like me enjoy watching with their kids, redo it with live action computer graphics that are cheaper than paying animators, and replace the white woman in the original with a black woman. Voila, you’ve got a movie that will alienate and insult millions of viewers who loved the original.
The Little Mermaid reboot was bad enough but the one that broke my brain was the updated version of Snow White. The original story is a German fairy tale which features a woman whose “skin is as white as snow” so of course Hollywood cast a Hispanic woman in the lead role. But the thing that absolutely destroyed me was the re-imagined dwarves as “the magical people who live in the forest.” Has it really come to this? We can’t even cast minorities in roles that were specifically written for them? Why stop there, why not make the Hobbits of Lord of The Rings six feet tall Scandinavian blonds?
No, casting dwarves in roles designed for them in fairy tales was too much so instead we get “the magical people who dwell in the forest” and, get this, they will no longer be referred to by their names of Sleepy, Sneezy, and Dopey. We wouldn’t want to offend, err, who exactly? I’m not even sure what Hollywood is doing here? Are we now protecting fictional characters from negative descriptive adjectives? Is this a new form of bias?
Hollywood now lives in such terror of the diversity police that they can’t build a single thing or take a single artistic risk, even over something as superficial as gender or racial identity. Aliens was a completely different movie from Alien, itself already a classic. Cameron took a real risk with it, he went with a whole new storyline and concept. He didn’t just replace Ripley with a black lesbian and use the same plot as the original. He re-imagined a whole new world with a new script, actors, concepts, everything. That was a tremendous risky, playing around with an established classic. But risk pays off and everything else is a sad imitator.
Before Harrison Ford besmirched his legacy forever with The Dial of Destiny, he made a classic and under-appreciated movie called The Fugitive. From start to finish, it is magnificent. There is a scene in The Fugitive where a train crashes into a train car and they really did this. The production team really crashed a train into a real train car to film this scene. Imagine you are the director of this production and you are filming this scene: You have to bus in a hundred people, make sure you have a train all set in place with cameras recording, no one gets injured, and no way you are getting a second take. This is it. Let’s go.
That’s risky filmmaking, the kind of filmmaking that made Hollywood legendary. Let’s get back to doing that and put this obsession with superficial diversity behind us.