Remember, quality counts
I canâ€™t tell you how many times Iâ€™ve told someone â€śI didnâ€™t like [insert film being praised for its diversity here] as much as everyone elseâ€ť or â€śI didnâ€™t think [insert film with representation here] was that great of a filmâ€ť and they responded with â€śWhat? But itâ€™s so important.â€ť
Movies have come to represent more than just entertainment. In the wake of the #MeToo Movement following the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, audiences have become increasingly aware (and, therefore, increasingly critical) of films that have less diverse casts and/or exclude certain groups of the population. Representation is extremely important in the push toward true equality and equity, and film is a transcendent medium of art that is capable of portraying underrepresented stories that need to be told.
Take â€śBlack Pantherâ€ť for example, already one of the most popular films of the decade. A major commercial studio filmâ€™s inclusion of a primarily black cast, with a story inspired by African culture, is praiseworthy. However, although I recognize the value of representation, I do not believe representation and cultural significance should be indicative of a filmâ€™s objective quality. â€śBlack Pantherâ€ť is definitely a good film but not as good as everyone hypes it up to be, as seen in its lackluster visual effects and overbearing screenplay. Nevertheless, whenever I tried to bring up flaws of the film, I was shut down and my opinions were invalidated by the overwhelming support for what the film represented.
And this complaint is not solely aimed at â€śBlack Panther.â€ť The phenomenon of attacking those with opinions against an â€śimportantâ€ť film has, rather, emerged as an overwhelming trend in todayâ€™s society.
With the recent release of â€śCrazy Rich Asians,â€ť thousands of people have gone on social media to write about how the film has impacted them and why representation is extremely important. I personally really enjoyed â€śCrazy Rich Asians,â€ť and I acknowledge that, as an Asian-American, feeling represented in a Hollywood studio film definitely added to the experience and skewed my ability to form an objective opinion about the film.
However, when I was reading through reviews on Letterboxd, an app for film enthusiasts, I found some people attacking others for giving it a low score. They were accusing those reviewers of not â€śunderstanding the filmâ€ť and saying that the reason they did not like the film was because it â€śwasnâ€™t made for [them].â€ť Just because a film portrays a story from the point of view of a certain race does not imply ownership. Representation has the ability to not only portray minorities in pop culture, but also show others a story through a different lens. Representation is a stepping stone toward change. A film that truly represents a minority should be able to invite its audience, no matter their race, gender or sexuality, into its world and beget acceptance.
Lastly, people need to recognize that, even though films may represent the same group of people, each respective film is its own individual entity of art. This trend of pigeonholing films based on the group they represent is most prominent with LGBTQ films. It is somewhat of a disservice to the film and filmmaker to label their film as â€śthat LGBTQ movie,â€ť whether you are praising it or criticizing it. Even though they represent the same group of people, they will have a different impact on people because they are inherently different films with a different director, different cast and different story.
When I watched â€śCall Me By Your Nameâ€ť last year, I felt extremely underwhelmed but was too afraid to share my opinion online out of fear of being attacked or accused of not supporting the LGBTQ community. Recently, I watched â€śCarolâ€ť and was truly shocked at the impact it had on me. I began to reflect on exactly why I enjoyed â€śCarolâ€ť so much more than â€śCall Me By Your Name,â€ť even though they were both films with LGBTQ storylines. Then, I realized that I was guilty of exactly what I am criticizing in this article: this trend of grouping films based on their representation and, consequently, determining their quality based off of that categorization.
Representation and quality are not mutually exclusive. It is absolutely acceptable to have your own opinions on a filmâ€™s merit and also be able to appreciate its diversity, representation and message. Film has been an integral piece of pop culture since the early 1900s, and the beauty of film is its ability to produce conversation. Taking away peopleâ€™s freedom to form their own opinions by shaming them is the antithesis to the purpose of representation; the impact a film has on people and the dialogue that a film provokes is, arguably, just as important as the film itself.
So the next time you are discussing a film with someone, do not be afraid to shy away from giving constructive criticism. Your opinions, as long as they do not come from a place of hatred or prejudice, matter because change begins at conversation.
By Sarah Aie, Copy editor-in-chief
Editorial Cartoon by Amy Lo