How To Be An Active, And Activist, Film Spectator

April 9th, 2019

It’s an overwhelming time to be an activist. Everybody’s requesting campaign donations, signatures for petitions and phone calls to Congress. There are meetings, marches and peaceful protests to attend. There are pins to wear, MONEY TO STAMP and justice to be served. It’s exhausting, not to mention a whole lot of work.

Fortunately, there’s a fun, recreational way we can help be part of the solution. One of the biggest problems in the USA right now stems from a lack of understanding and communication between disparate groups within our society. Thanks to a broad range of storytelling voices, we can gain new insights from watching and discussing films and television by and about people with distinct experiences from our own.

I’m not suggesting that an ignorant White person watching I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, or some misogynist incel watching GOOD GIRLS REVOLT is the key to fixing society’s problems. But it’s not a bad start for the rest of us.

Most films and TV shows that reach mainstream audiences are produced, first and foremost, to make money. To realize this goal, the powers-that-be create more and more content targeted at specific niche-markets. Most action flicks are targeted at males; most romances are targeted at females; films that feature primarily Black cast members are targeted to Black audiences; and films with LGBTQ storylines are targeted at Queer ones. And so on.

I think that sucks.

Our society hasn’t always abided such limited viewing scopes. Before the Internet, before cable, before personal DVD players and VCRS, viewers had fewer choices about what films and programs they could see. As a result, there were far more communally shared media experiences, and those experiences were not limited to a single genre or niche. A prime example is the 1977 mini-series based on ALEX HALEY’S ROOTS. It was so popular, I’d be willing to guess, it spawned the term “water cooler talk.” You could go most anywhere—school, work, the grocery store, even public bathrooms—and expect to hear people discussing it. It gave us free reign to talk to perfect strangers. And whether any given viewer liked it or hated it did not matter. Everybody was engaged. What an important discussion for our society and one we may not have had if people weren’t compelled to watch the show everybody else they knew was watching, too.

Given the current landscape, it’s unlikely we’ll ever reach that level of shared communal narrative experience again, but we can bridge a few gaps here and there by each making an effort to broaden our respective viewing horizons, think about what we’ve viewed and engage in thoughtful discourse with friends (and ideally strangers, too, who might offer deeper insight into the subject matter.)

So, I urge us all to shake up our viewing practices. We can still watch our favorite films and programs featuring people who look and behave just like we do, but once a week, or at least once a month, let’s agree to take a swim outside our immediate gene pools. Incest is never best, let’s put diversity to the test and brave some subtitles, dare to venture into new cultural territory, expand our claustrophobic comfort zones. And let’s not end there. Let’s read how others have responded to these stories. And when we find them worthwhile, recommend them to our friends and/or Twitter followers. If these new stories leave us confused, disappointed or angry, let’s ask questions of people who came away with distinct impressions.

If we diversify our viewing, if we actively engage in narrative content that embraces intersectionality, we make a difference—not only in the entertainment industry, which is beholden to audience demand, but within ourselves. Sure, it costs a little more, but isn’t our humanity worth it?


Incidentally, for the next few months, I will be posting exclusively on alternating Tuesdays as I contend with some pressing outside writing assignments but will return to my usual Tuesday/Thursday schedule as soon as I am able.



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