How To Navigate Cancel Culture When It Comes To Studying Film
The more I write this blog and educate myself on the works of brilliant female directors the more I get frustrated at the curriculum I studied as part of my university film degree. We looked at film making from many different angles in terms of genre, time period, philosophy and meaning, and yet the majority of films covered were still directed by white men. Even most of my lecturers were white men. I had two female lecturers in my three years of study that taught me film subjects; neither of which were practical on-the-tools classes either.
Having this kind of one sided perspective when teaching film can be detrimental to the progressive nature of the art form. How are women supposed to imagine themselves in these careers if you only ever talk about the works of Tarantino, Scorsese, and Woody Allen. Works that I believe can still be appreciated but should not be held high as the be all and end all of good cinema. Which leads me to the central inspiration of this article.
We are in a time of cultural shift where previously unquestioned behavior is being called out on the internet for all to see and pass judgement like never before. This is leading to a new phenomena called Cancel Culture. As defined by this Vox article when someone is ‘cancelled’ it means “to effectively end their career or revoke their cultural cachet, whether through boycotts of their work or disciplinary action from an employer. ”
Nowadays a persons body of work can be completely disregarded because of an offensive comment they made or an allegation against them, often in the form of a sexual assault charge. Woody Allen for example has been accused by his daughter Dylan Farrow of sexually assaulting her at the age of 7 . The allegations began in 1992 yet only now in recent years after the MeToo movement and Times Up initiative have they finally been taken seriously with many other celebrities coming forward in support of her. To many these allegations are enough to ‘Cancel’ Woody Allen.
In my opinion his films are not detrimental to the study of film making. There are plenty of other body of works out there from far more diverse filmmakers that would educate students in whatever lessons you could potentially extract from his films. And yet if we start slashing art away from the annals of history based on a misplaced comment or a sexual assault allegation I can’t imagine we would have very much left to pick from. A sad sobering thought that even I struggle to fully comprehend.
And maybe you’re okay with this. Maybe your opinion is that we should go through and remove any artwork, film, or song from history based on the behavior of the person who made it. But where do we draw the line? Are we capable of separating the art from the artist? Should we be separating it? One of my favorite movies of all time Sing Street was produced and distributed by the Weinstein Company. Do I never watch it again because of Harvey Weinstein?
The emergence of less tolerance for insensitive comments, sexual misconduct, and general racism and sexism in our society is a massive step forward for equality. Call out and cancel culture however still needs to find its place. If we just boycott certain films because the lead actress said something racist it doesn’t really teach anyone anything. I have been boycotting the live action Disney remakes for the past year or so because I don’t agree with them and yet the recent Lion King movie made $1.6 billion worldwide.
I think the way forward in this is not to ignore the work of those who have done wrong, but to celebrate the work of those who have done right. Particularly when it comes to studying film we need to be putting a more diverse range of directors on the pedestal. Certain scenes, characters, and overall movies have become classics because society has made it so but we can just as easily change that if we start to champion other works.
I don’t think boycotting works because it’s inaction and therefore I don’t think cancel culture has the impact that people think it has, apart from a couple hundred thousand tweets. You should always do what you feel is right but choosing to see a film by a filmmaker that isn’t a straight white man or one that will not get a large cinema release is a far more impactfull way to show what you really care about in terms of art.