I don’t watch as many films as I’d like to. I love good films, but I find it hard to find something I’ll genuinely enjoy, and by the time I realise I’m watching a clanger, I’m annoyed at the time and money I’ve wasted when I could have been reading a book instead.
Sadly I find it hard to avoid bad films and, unfortunately, I’ve learned that I can’t trust most film critics.
Before you dismiss me as a curmudgeon, let me present an example: the 2006 festive film The Holiday, starring Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet and Jack Black.
A combination of being a new parent and feeling Christmassy led me to want to watch something gooey and escapist. The Telegraph describes The Holiday as “a treat that will tickle your romantic fancy”.
But I had to stop watching this film. It made me too angry.
Reason 1: A joke about suicide
Kate Winslet’s character, feeling sad about a romantic rejection, puts her head in the oven before changing her mind. How hilarious!
Reason 2: Dreadful attitudes to sex
Cameron Diaz’s character tells Jude Law’s character that she thinks foreplay is overrated. He replies (paraphrase), “You are fast becoming one of the most interesting women I have ever met.”
His evident delight at the prospect of minimal-effort sex made it clear that he’s a repellent human being and not the kind of dream man that the film is trying to present him as.
Reason 3: Unintentionally hilarious lack of diversity
Later in the film (about halfway through, just before I lost patience and switched off) Law (the implausibly wealthy book editor) says to Diaz (the slightly more plausibly wealthy film trailer editor): “We’re from such different worlds“.
That says it all, really.
The world has moved on, but Hollywood hasn’t
Since 2006, my own understanding of diversity issues has improved significantly. Moreover, many industries, communities and sectors are making great efforts, but sadly, not enough is happening in Hollywood.
As the linked article makes clear, The Holiday isn’t an outlier in terms of representation. My film knowledge is far from encyclopaedic, but other examples include:
- The Change-Up (2011) – it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything so horrendously sexist. One of the “jokes” involves a man waiting to meet a woman who he’s been told is incredibly attractive. Punchline: she’s heavily pregnant and therefore repulsive! Given I was also heavily pregnant at the time of viewing, I didn’t laugh.
- Paterson (2016) – a critically acclaimed film focusing on a male bus driver/poet and his girlfriend. While watching it I became steadily more irate about the fact that the man’s art was portrayed as deep and meaningful, but his girlfriend’s art was shown to be frivolous and wasteful.
Maybe I would have enjoyed The Holiday back in 2006, before awareness of feminism and other diversity issues ruined most mainstream popular culture for me. However, I wouldn’t call myself humourless. I simply expect more effort from comedy writers than jokes which punch down at easy targets.
This is important because if we don’t see diversity, we don’t learn that those who don’t conform to the white, slim, conventionally attractive Hollywood model have interesting stories to tell. We get writers writing boring stories about other writers because they’re the only people they know about. We get crass jokes about suicide and pregnancy that hurt people. And, in a world where we generally don’t discuss sex openly and honestly, women don’t learn that it’s okay to seek their own pleasure and fulfilment, and that a decent partner would want to support this.
Worst of all, films like The Holiday get described as “a treat” by reviewers who don’t seem to care about these types of issues. (This excellent blog post describes many more of the film’s problems in a blow-by-blow account.)
I do like some films
In evidence to prove I’m not an utterly joyless sceptic, I’d like to list some films I’ve enjoyed:
- Sorry To Bother You: funny and clever social commentary
- Miss Sloane: intelligent thriller about a female poker player
- Another Year: charming but quietly devastating family drama
- Magic Mike XXL: funny and surprisingly feminist
None of these films are perfect; I’m not on an impossible search for perfection in the media I consume. But I do look for an effort to get away from the lazy sexist, racist and otherwise offensive tropes and tell a good story.
A lack of diversity in the fundraising profession also causes harm
It leads to the same ideas being recycled over and over again. It leads to a public increasingly feeling alienated by, and willing to criticise, the charity sector. And it means that we miss out on talented people who don’t think they can be fundraisers because they don’t see anyone who looks like them in the profession.
Things aren’t nearly as bad in fundraising as they are in Hollywood, thank goodness. And I’ve been proud to be part of the movement for change. But I hope this post serves to remind you just why representation matters so much. And maybe I’ll find another half-decent film to watch one day.