Hannah Parker

Can the film industry change perceptions?

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Photo credit: PCS DWP Sheffield

This sometimes cruel, sometimes unfair, and always unequal world took a turn for the worse in 2016. Britain left the EU due to protest votes from the majority white working class. The same happened in America, but this time on steroids, with Donald Trump elected as president. In times of turmoil, where do people feel safe?

The answer is often found in a different world. Films are an easy way to escape. Worlds with superheroes, wizards, or lightsabers, take people away from real life. For those two hours, you sit in a dark room with some popcorn and forget what’s happening on the outside. You become immersed into the world you see on the big screen.

However, there may be another reason why people use films to help cope with the struggles of a sometimes-unjust world. Movies have the ability to portray what’s happening in real life, with no filter or corruption. It’s purely one person, or a group of people’s vision of what’s happening, and how they can turn that into a story.

Filmmaker, Ben Moore explains: “The way films are made is to make you feel emotion. It’s essentially going on a rollercoaster. You can be sad one minute and happy the next.”

As a film graduate from the University of Sunderland, he understands the other aspect of more realistic films: The ability to relate to the characters, which is essentially impossible to do with fantasy films. When watching a film about a rich genius that has flying suits made of iron, there’s a limited sense of empathy towards the character. Therefore, films portraying real people give the film a deeper meaning. “If a certain aspect of a film is heavily relatable to a person’s current situation, then it’s going to make them think about it and could potentially change how the person then deals with it,” said Moore.

This raises the question of whether films can affect the way people see the world – and in particular, fellow people. Films such as I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach), released in 2016 shows the point of view of the most vulnerable people in Britain. It gives an insight into the lives of people that are very rarely given a voice. They feel ignored, and this realistic type of film gives them a way of communicating with the country from their point of view.

This has never been more important than now. A time when the most powerful countries in the world seem to be split. A time when people have forgotten to look out for others, and care for others, and see every person as equal.

However, this is nothing new. Films have been portraying realism, groups of people that are usually ignored, and the more controversial side of society, for years. Ethan Deplitch, a scriptwriter, believes the film industry has been doing this for the whole 21st century: “Diversification and social stature are massively focused on in film, regardless of our recent nationalistic outbreak.

“The 21st century has been about celebrating uniqueness. So I do think that films affect the way people think, we wouldn’t have such a progressively cultured society without them.”

Thinking about controversial issues that have been portrayed by film in the past, the list is endless. Movies such as Pride (Matthew Warchus) portrayed the struggle that the gay community has had to contend with, while Mississippi Burning (Alan Parker) tells just one of the many stories of inequality for non-white people.

Deplitch makes the point that: “It depends on what nation we’re looking at. If you look at the US, diversity and the racial status quo has been challenged and harshly presented to audiences, films like 12 years a slave (Steve McQueen), Milk (Gus Van Sant), The Help (Tate Taylor) have been massive.

“In terms of the UK you look more towards the films that represent the working class, Shane Meadows in particular (This is England) has produced captivating and heartfelt portraits of working class Britain, and highlights moral issues we’ll all face in our lifetime.”

Real life events, such as 9/11 or the 7/7 London bombings also have a place in this realistic genre of film. Moore spoke about the film that stands out to him as powerful and shaking perceptions: “A big one would be World Trade Centre (Oliver Stone). This film, with it obviously being based on a real event allowed the public to experience in more detail what the police and fire crews did whilst the event took place.”

But, can I, Daniel Blake start a film revolution? As CGI becomes more impressive, and sci-fi takes on a much bigger audience, is there a place for realism? According to Screendaily, “I, Daniel Blake recorded the best-ever opening of Ken Loach’s career to date.” The support that Loach has been given, and the success of his film, shows that there is an audience for this grimy, dark, and representative type of film.

However, whether it will be enough to change the film industry is up for debate.

Moore claims: “Films that are more real and relatable to people are always going to be popular. Of course it doesn’t have the Hollywood beauty and what seems to be an unlimited budget with countless involvements of CGI but it has the ability to make people think.

“Films like I, Daniel Blake can make people realise what is happening in the world and is more likely to make people engage and change their own ways and perceptions. I’d like to think that films like that would start a new revolution, as in the long run it would probably be better for the world.”

However, Deplitch holds a more cynical view: “I don’t think I, Daniel Blake is an eye-opener, it’s a reaffirmation that the working class are being deceived and mistreated in a continuously devolving society. Audiences will adore what Loach has done, but it won’t be enough, and considering a film like I, Daniel Blake won’t be able to achieve that is sad enough. If Precious (Lee Daniels) couldn’t start the wheels of change, how could I, Daniel Blake?”

Whether films can change perceptions, and how people are seen and treated is still being argued. There will always be a place for realism in the industry, and movies will always make people think, but they may not be influential enough to change the world. Should we expect more from the film industry?

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