Columns / Discourse / November 3, 2010

Check the Reel: Film and politics collide

Film has reached a point in its history where, much like music and literature, it appeals to most everybody. Regardless of your race, gender, ethnicity or creed, there must be some type of movie you enjoy. The omnipresence of cinema ensures that everyone is exposed to film in some shape or form, via billboards, TV or friends.

Movies, as both art and entertainment, should bring people from various backgrounds together and bridge differences. That’s my belief, anyhow. But the fact is, in today’s increasingly partisan political environment, and with the midterm elections just behind us, interest groups from both parties are encouraging Hollywood to accentuate differences, to take one side in a heated debate that shows no sign of letting up.

By no means is politics the only controversial element in movies. I could write a whole series of columns on film and religion, film and race, film and etc. By no means is this a new phenomenon either. From the beginning, politicians realized film’s ability to spread messages to the public. From the Ku Klux Klan-glorifying “Birth of a Nation” to Hitler’s propaganda tour-de-force “Triumph of Will,” politics and film have often gone hand-in-hand. But in the 2000s, it’s still as relevant an issue as ever.

Today, movies represent the whole political spectrum: liberals, conservatives, anarchists, socialists, libertarians and the list goes on and on. That does not bode well for certain interest groups, who want the movie industry to represent their side and their side only. Thus we see conservatives accusing “The Social Network” of being “too leftist,” putting down self-made billionaires and big business in favor of wealth-distributing litigation, and liberals claiming that “The Social Network” isn’t leftist at all—it’s misogynistic and anti-progressive. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Can we really tell?

These interest groups also like to take popular movies and claim they support their arguments. After the worldwide success of “The Dark Knight,” conservatives insisted the film defended Bush’s decisions during the War on Terror as unpopular and controversial, but ultimately the choices America needed. Never mind that “The Dark Knight” is as morally ambiguous as movies get, glorifying Batman as it demonizes him. The film gives both parties something to complain about.

Not all accusations of politics in movies are so ambiguous. It is understandable that Republicans would cry foul over Michael Moore, an unabashed liberal filmmaker. Director Oliver Stone, while neither explicitly Democrat nor Republican, covers political topics like Vietnam, Wall Street and the JFK assassinations controversially enough that he invites backlash with every film he releases.

Still, isn’t there a way to keep the debate civilized, to convince all parties that while they might not agree with a film’s message, they can agree to disagree? When politics are involved, all hopes of civil discourse fly out the window.

I’m no political commentator. That’s one of the reasons I write about movies instead. Regardless, I still beg all parties involved, Democrats, Republicans and everyone else, to understand Hollywood is neither left nor right and its movies represent all viewpoints. If we let politics take over cinema, then the power of movies to pull us together disappears. Going to the theater turns into a vote, a ballot on what your social stances are, when it should show our unity. Whether we watch the next documentary from Al Gore or a non-political bloodbath like “Saw,” we’re watching some sort of movie. That, ultimately, is what counts.

Ivan Keta
Ivan Keta is a weekly film columnist for The Knox Student. In 2013, he won first place in Critical Film Review from the Illinois College Press Association, competing in the open division against dozens of other Illinois college newspapers.

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