Whatever your views on social media, it’s undeniable that it has opened up the floor for discussion to those previously without influence or recognition. We can see that vocal online platforms are changing the ways in which industries must respond to the demands of their audiences.
This is particularly true within the entertainment world. A notoriously exclusive and insular industry, for decades, Hollywood has turned a blind eye to the indiscretions and insensitivities of those at the top. Being a white, “old boys’ club”; women, LGBTQIA+ communities and ethnic minorities have been cast aside and been subject to the unchecked dominance of oppressive industry leaders.
The exposure of Hollywood super-boss, Harvey Weinstein’s, extensive history of sexual harassment and abuse birthed the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. Women such as Alyssa Milano and Ashley Judd flocked to social media to open up about their own experiences within the misogynistic and sexually abusive environment that is the entertainment industry. While numerous past accusations against studio heads working with iconic starlets such as Judy Garland and Joan Collins, as well as, more recently, Casey Affleck and Michael Bay, resulted in little to no consequence for the culprits, 2017’s outburst of allegations caused an unprecedented move to hold perpetrators liable for their actions.
What’s changed is that social media has made it impossible for those with the right money and connections to have the transgressions of industry leaders brushed under the carpet. These aren’t headlines that will eventually disappear: the internet means that a story can stick around. As it became apparent that the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements weren’t going away, numerous people in the industry openly declared their refusal to work with accused parties. Kevin Spacey was axed from in All the Money in the World, Channing Tatum and David O’Russell pulled their Weinstein productions, and myriad lawsuits were filed. Boycotts of productions associated with these individuals means that the industry can’t afford to ignore the issue any longer. The public has realised the power that they hold over the failure and success of a film - a weapon they are wielding with growing confidence.
Likewise, the call for inclusive representation in film and television is not a new phenomenon. These cries have been placated by token casting, usually in stereotypical supporting roles (see: Regina King as ‘The Sassy Black Best Friend’ in every 90s/00s rom-com or Morgan Freeman as ‘The Wise Old Black Man’ in numerous indulgent stories of a white man’s self-discovery). The prominence of social, however, has meant that these voices have become harder to silence with feeble gestures. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite surrounded a boycott of 2015’s Academy Awards by a number of ethnic minority actors, and as Black Twitter establishes itself as the engine room of the internet, these calls have needed to be addressed in a much more satisfactory manner.
It was no small thing when Black Panther was released, marking the first time that the black community saw themselves take over the big screen in a film that portrayed black people and blackness itself as a force of positive power. The film is littered with references to black internet culture, including Shuri’s “What are thoooose,” and “Don’t scare me like that, coloniser,” lines. It’s easy to see these moments as a nod to the black communities on the internet who propelled the film’s inception, and Black Panther undoubtedly owes its success as one of the highest-grossing superhero movies of all time to the online communities who asked for and inspired it. The age-old Hollywood excuse that people of colour don’t sell movie theatre tickets has been invalidated, and as Crazy Rich Asians continues to climb in the US box office – a film that puts Asian actors front and centre in roles and storylines they have previously been denied – Asian communities online have also driven the triumph of a film that allows them the representation they deserve.
Until recently, when the stories belonging to PoC and minority groups have occasionally been told, often the stories have been appropriated by those to whom the stories do not belong. In 2017, Scarlett Johansson’s role in Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell caused an uproar online at the whitewashing of her character, Motoko Kusanagi. The film, unsurprisingly, flopped at the box office as online conversations condemned the casting. The announcement of her casting, then, in the same director’s upcoming production of Rub and Tug as a transgender man was staggering to the public on social media. The tumultuous reaction was such that, relatively swiftly, the decision was reversed. The LGBTQIA+ internet had made it clear that they were not going to stand for further erasure of transgender actors and minority communities on screen, and through the sheer force of social media demands, those in Hollywood were forced to listen and act accordingly.
The democratisation of discussions within a formerly closed-off industry, through social media, means that those previously subjugated in Hollywood now have a powerful role. The industry must be held accountable for actions that contribute to repressive and harmful practices. Hollywood now has to actively address problematic issues and make a conscious effort to action socially responsible work. As society’s cultural leader, it is inevitable that the responsibilities of Hollywood must trickle through to the ways in which other industries operate and understand their markets through social. Others would be wise to start paying attention now.