I’m being dead serious.
Nevermind the fact that Jon Favreau’s quality of work speaks for itself, both in critical reviews and in box office numbers. No, what we’re really concerned about is the fact that he’s a straight white male.
A trend that I’ve been seeing in conversations surrounding the movie business is this idea about representation. Everyone wants their side represented, whether it be race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
Here’s the thing, though: In regards to film, valuing representation over quality is a bad idea. When you care more about representation over quality storytelling, that’s a sure sign that the quality of movies are heading toward a downward spiral.
This was evident to me with the release of BLACK PANTHER, which I thought was a good movie. It was fun, funny, well-acted, well-directed, and I could appreciate the cultural representation of African culture in the film. However, when wanting to get into discussion about the film with those who value representation over quality filmmaking, I realized that it was a losing battle and it would be best that I bow out of the conversation. It looked like I couldn’t have an honest discussion about the film’s quirks and flaws without being labeled as a racist. And for someone like me who despises racism, that hurts.
Now, I’m not Ryan Coogler, the director of BLACK PANTHER, so I can’t speak for him. However, I would make the case that, if he and I ever got into an honest conversation, I’d venture to think that I don’t believe Coogler would want to be recognized simply for him being a black filmmaker. He doesn’t seem like that kind of guy. I think he would want to be recognized as someone who tells quality stories. And he does. Seriously, have you seen CREED? Good lord, that movie was fantastic.
The same case can be made with women writers and directors in Hollywood. Patty Jenkins with the awesome WONDER WOMAN, and Ava DuVernay with the incredibly moving SELMA, for example. I don’t think they would say that they were able to get the job of directing these quality movies because they are women. I think they would say that they had a specific vision they felt would resonate with the audience, and that they believed they were capable of pulling it off. And that vision, in the hands of anyone else, wouldn’t have the same effect.
And these women weren’t just handed the director’s chair. They paid their dues and then some, and had quality work beforehand that spoke to the studio executives and made them believe in their vision. If you don’t believe me, look up the “Miscellaneous Crew” section in Ava DuVernay’s IMDB page. There’s a good example of someone who kept on working hard, more than likely having to deal with tons of rejection along the way, and got their chance.
Or, how about John August, the screenwriter of films like TITAN A.E., BIG FISH, and FRANKENWEENIE. August has been in the movie business since the late 90s with writing his first film, GO, and has kept working steadily ever since. He’s also a member of the LGBTQ community. Again, I’m not sure he would say that his sexual orientation mattered in getting work, but it was the fact that he knows how to write good quality stories that resonate with the audience. In fact, he was a guest on a recent episode of the ID10T Podcast with Chris Hardwick where he mentioned that he is often brought on jobs that aren’t exactly the warmest atmospheres because he’s good at making people feel comfortable on set and can work with difficult people to get the job done. I don’t see how sexual orientation has anything to do with it. I see it as here’s someone who has put in work and has proven that he can do a job and do it very well, and that’s why he is trusted with certain projects. By the way, if you haven’t already, I would recommend checking out his podcast, “Launch”, especially if you’re an aspiring author, or indie author looking to the traditional publishing route. He details his journey in writing a novel and going through traditional publishing, and it’s really fascinating!
Now, listen. I think it’s important to hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that Hollywood doesn’t have its issues. Clearly, this year has uncovered a lot of them. Sometimes, people are put in positions of power where they have no clue what they’re doing, and some really talented voices are more than likely passed up because of that. There’s a really funny story about the making of one of my favorite movies, BACK TO THE FUTURE, where the head of Universal Pictures didn’t like the title and tried to get them to change it to “Spaceman from Pluto” because, according to him, no one would see a movie with the word “Future” in the title. Steven Spielberg sent a memo back to him, basically saying “Thanks for the joke”.
Look, I would love for everyone to be represented in film, if that’s what they are passionate about. However, I care more about telling a good, engaging story than anything else. And yeah, maybe we do need more people in the big executive chairs that will pay attention to the voices that haven’t gotten a chance. Ultimately, though, when it all boils down, I think what they’re looking for are stories that will captivate. If we are solely focusing on representation, then we’ve missed the point in what makes film so great, and why it has lasted for as long as it has.