As the rest of the world comes to terms with what is meant by “diversity”, Hollywood continues to struggle with the concept – both in front of the camera and behind it. This topic plus other letters from Imagination Connoisseurs.
Not all diversity is created equal.
I’ve had some thoughts about the diversity in entertainment that’s happening nowadays.
To me, most of it feels surface deep. They usually change or select some of the characters to be that of an under-represented group. It could be that the protagonist is Black, Asian, Latino, Gay or Female. They usually don’t let this inform the storytelling any deeper than just the surface of the characters. I’ve seen many instances where this has been done quite poorly and you just know that they are ticking of boxes to be as “diverse” as possible without putting in the legwork of actually doing it for real.
I’ve wanted to see more diverse storytelling in themes and story forms for some time. The powers at be in Hollywood are very attached to the western style of storytelling themes. It primarily centers on the development of an individual.
Speaking in general terms Western storytelling often focus primarily on the following aspects:
– Self-esteem arcs
– Character’s change
– Struggle against enemies
– Individual heroism
As a contrasting point let’s look at the East-Asian themes that they often focus on:
– Internal struggle
– Group heroism
– Relationship between individuals and larger societal groups
– Character’s self-realisation
If we look at the movie Mulan and look at the difference between the Disney-fied version and the traditional Chinese story we can see some of these differences.
In the Disney version – the story follows traditional Western storytelling themes. It’s about a character rebelling against the expectations of the society. The character finds herself as fulfilling her own desires to break free from the traditional place that society has placed her in, rejecting her traditional role in society and fight against an external enemy in a war.
That’s all well and good, but it’s pretty far from the original Chinese folk tale. Bear in mind that I read this a long time ago, so I might have forgotten some aspects.
In that original story Mulan agrees to take up arms in her father’s place because he was to old to fight. She doesn’t do that to break away from either her obligations or from her family. She does it to honor her family. She does it reluctantly as a sacrifice for her family. She actually prefers her life in the traditional role in the societal family structure and enjoy’s the finer clothes and make up.
It sets up a notion of femininity that’s non-binary. She can both wear fine clothes because she wants to, as well as fight against an enemy when the situation calls for it. One doesn’t exclude the other. In the folk tale they focus more time on the period before and after her time as a warrior rather than the action elements of her as a fighter. It has also that focus of sacrifice for the group rather than the individual.I think that was one of the reasons that the movie flopped in China. The typical Western empowerment story, the emphasis on individual heroism and the disdain for traditional feminine qualities probably made it ring false in many ears in China. It was a Western story with a Chinese spray-tan. I would rather see the true folk tale in a movie. I don’t think it would be as great of a spectacle, but I would probably find it more authentic and interesting.
Other than story themes, I would also like to see more diverse versions of story forms.
In Western culture we usually have the three-act structure in most movies. In the first act we introduce the characters, the problem and the main story elements. In the second act we develop the story as well as increase the tension and the conflict. Finally, in the third act we have the resolution to the story that often comments on a question raised in the first act.
If we return to East Asian storytelling and their storytelling forms, they often use a four-act structure. They usually do not pit the different storytelling elements against each other directly. Instead, they often introduce the main characters and elements in the first act. Then in the second act they build on those characters and elements without introducing a lot of conflict. In the third act they spring a surprise twist on us which makes us re-evaluate the situation. Finally, in the fourth act they resolve it all, often with another element to the story, that harmonizes the ending in a satisfying conclusion. The movie Parasite, which more or less swept the Oscars last year, is a good example of a four-act story form.
There are other cultures with other story forms and storytelling themes that I would find it fascinating to learn more about. And I’d like to see those type of stories made into movies or tv-series with substantial budgets behind them. I hope we get a few more of those and less of the bad versions of tokenistic stories that are just trying to tick of boxes of perceived diversity on a spreadsheet.
As I said earlier, I’m not an expert on East Asian storytelling forms, nor on the Chinese mindset, so I might have gotten some things wrong in my commentary earlier.
Anyway, that’s all I had to say about that.
Rob, what do you think of story forms and storytelling themes from other cultures?
Would you like to see more of that kind of thing in some future Hollywood projects?
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So much talent – but no guarantees of quality.
Hail to the Soothsayer of Streaming, the Oracle of Online, and the Prophet of… Production?
I just wanted to give a humorous stroll back into my childhood viewings. After watching the big Luke Skywalker reveal at the end of the Mandalorian, even with it spoiled, I had to stop my self-torture of trying to watch modern Star Trek, and go back to something a bit simpler and more fun.
So I watched this show, with a car that could travel back in time. It went back to the wild west, and was able to return to the year 1985 by being pushed off of a gorge to gain enough speed to make the magic happen.
If Wikipedia can be believed for the date of release, what in talking about original broadcast on September 12, 1985, only a few months after the opening of the original Back to the Future, and a bit less than five years before the release of Back to the Future III.So what am I even talking about, if it’s not a Back to the Future property? Strangely enough, I’m taking about the 1984 animated series called Heathcliff, also known as Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats. The series was designed with the first half of the episode being dedicated to the titular Heathcliff, while the second half was dedicated to the Catillac Cats, though they were confusingly referred to as the Cats & Company in the credits and a variant of the theme song.
The time travel event in question occurred on the fourth episode of season two, or the overall 69th episode of the series run, entitled “Dr. Heathcliff and Mr. Spike / Time Warped.” In the Time Warped segment, the Catillac Cats, who live in the city dump, scavenge through a pile of garbage that came from a professor’s lab, and find a car engine. They put it into their already incredible Cadillac, which had the ability to transform into a camper trailer and a hovercraft. They try out the engine, get some speed, and are whisked away into the wild west.
I’ll stop there, as it’s not a particularly great episode. If I were to wager a guess, the production team probably knew about the production of Back to the Future, and felt a time traveling car would work well with their show. I don’t think they realized how enduring of a legacy the movie would have in the minds of imagination connoisseurs, but I’m sure they knew it was going to be a big deal worth riding in the wake. The fact that there are some parallels is quite interesting, but I’m fairly certain it’s a great coincidence.
What I find most curious about the Heathcliff series is the people who worked on it. The show was developed in part by Chuck Lorre, as in the same Chuck Lorre that worked on Sitcoms like Roseanne, Two and a Half Men, and the Big Bang Theory. Heathcliff is voiced by legendary voice actor Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny among other notorious voices, and was actually reprising the Heathcliff roll from that was previously performed in a 1980 Heathcliff series by Ruby-Spears Productions, creators of Thundarr the Barbarian. The theme song was composed in part by Haim Saban, founder of Saban Entertainment, which was responsible for bringing the Super Sentai to the west in the form of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, which the singer Noam Kaniel helped perform the theme for both Heathcliff and Power Rangers. One of the animation studios involved during the first season, TMS Entertainment, worked on number of shows like Lupin the Third and, the still ongoing series since 1996, Detective Conan. TMS were also responsible for Hayao Miyazaki’s feature length directorial debut, Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro.
So it seems the sum of its parts are not as great as the individual pieces, as far as Heathcliff is concerned. The show lasted for 86 episodes, and is only credited for ending so soon, due to Mel Blanc’s failing health. It sounds like the voice actors in general enjoyed their time, but the production crew were not as pleased. John Kricfalusi, famous for creating the animated series Ren and Stimpy, said of Heathcliff and other shows he work on at the time were the worst animation of all time. But it was apparently so popular in France, they made region exclusive toys, including a transforming Cadillac, which I suddenly want.
So thank you for taking this strange journey back in time with me, revisiting the Cats and Company. I’ll be back with Star Trek when the time is due. Don’t let the stars collapse on you.
-Electron Star Collapse
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Some classic sitcom recommendations for the post-Must See TV generation.
Hi Rob, moderators, and Post Geek Singularity,
This letter is inspired by Willow mentioning how she does not seem interested in watching sitcoms from the 1950s all the way to the 1970s.
I wanted to write a recommendation/persuasion type letter, to convince her, and others who feel the same way she does, to give those sitcoms a chance.
First off, some of the sitcoms I will bring up as examples are, like all entertainment, are products of their time, which should be taken into consideration, so you have to watch it from the perspective of the time period in which the shows came out.
I Love Lucy is probably the gold standard of sitcoms. Now, it is obviously dated as the show does represent gender roles of the time. However, a lot of the comedy does still hold up. Sometimes, it can be the characters’ personalities which cause the humor, whether it’s Lucy always trying to get into show business with her husband Ricky, her frenemy relationship with a woman called Carolyn Appleby, and the neighbor Fred Mertz’s cheapness.
There are also many great appearances from celebrities of that time like William Holden, Orson Welles, George Reeves, John Wayne and others.
The Andy Griffith Show’s comedy came from the deputy sheriff Barney Fife, as he is shown to be well meaning but incompetent. He doesn’t have a very good singing voice, and has a on and off relationship with a woman called Thelma Lou and another unseen character called Juanita. He often misuses his gun, which causes the gun to go off before he gets it out of the gun holder belt. Other times are when he accidentally locks himself in the jail cell of the sheriff’s office.
The Dick Van Dyke Show’s comedy also comes from its characters. It can be the lead role of Rob Petrie being accident prone, or the banter with his co-workers. One of his writing partners, Buddy, has a funny banter with the boss, Mel, where he often makes jokes about Mel such as his baldness, with Mel occasionally saying “yuck”. There is also Carl Reiner as Alan Brady who always tells Mel to shut up.
Those are just examples of older sitcoms to check out a take a chance on. They might be of a different time, but there are definitely aspects, such as the humor, which still hold up.
Thanks, live long and prosper.
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Is it possible The Sopranos are going to “whack” DUNE later this year?
I hope you are well! The terminator said he’ll be back and I am back. I am listening to your Ethan Hawke – Wandavision Robservation podcast as I write this. I am sure you have heard by now that Godzilla VS King Kong is confirmed to come Day and Date with HBO Max and the release date has also been pulled earlier into March. This is a sign of Warner Bros and Legendary mending their bonds and I hope this means good news for Dune.
Speaking of which, I have actually noticed something. Some time ago, the Sopranos Prequel ‘The Many Saints Of Newark’ was actually delayed from early March to late September. At the time, this made no sense to me since it was going to be released day and date with HBO Max anyway.
The fact that Godzilla Vs Kong has taken over the March slot means that Warner Bros considers the tentpole as a loss-leader and would be purely assessing the movie based on the subscriber acquisition as most of the cinemas would still remain closed by then. Instead of having two Warner Bros movies competing each other, it made sense they decided to delay the Sopranos prequel to late September.
But, there is a catch:The Sopranos movie is now scheduled for 24th September. And guess what comes just over a week later? That’s right: Dune.
Do you remember a couple of letters ago I sent you an article which suggested that Dune might get an earlier release date than expected? Well, Warner Bros will not want their movies to compete with each other and so I got a feeling that Dune might get pulled to an earlier release date. Keeping the October release might dissipate the hype somewhat, so an earlier release might actually be healthier.
Of course, this is under the assumption that Dune goes get a day and date release with HBO Max. I am hoping Warner Bros and Legendary make a deal where the latter will agree with the HBO Max release strategy in exchange with the former greenlighting and funding the two subsequent sequels: Dune: Prophet and Dune: Messiah, regardless of the box office performance. If Warner Bros agrees to greenlight and fund the next two Dune movies in exchange for the HBO Max release, I feel like this would be the best case scenario.
You know my viewpoints and why I believe a HBO Max strategy is more advantageous.”
All that being said, what do you think is actually going to happen and what do you think should happen? Either way, I hope the movie is a success!
Thank you for reading, Rob! I wish you and your family all the best and I hope you have a great day!
I’ll be back,
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The problem with re-makes, generally.
Hi Rob and the PGS,
I was watching Elysaviews episode on Tremors and you decided to watch Total Recall next, someone super-chatted about the remake. Which like you I have great disdain for.
This got me thinking why does Hollywood love to remake movies that are considered classics?
I get it, Total Recall is a successful film when it came out and nearly 30 years later it still a much loved film. I get they want to cash in on that nostalgia. Yet every single film that is a remake of a successful or much loved film has flopped, every single time. So why does Hollywood keep pushing these remakes?
Now saying that, not all remakes are complete and utter crap fest. I may be wrong in this, but the successful remakes are of films that are little known or changed in style.Take John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing, which is a remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World. Both films have the same basic plot, an alien is found in the Ice and goes on a killing spree of the science team that found it. Carpenter really made his remake his own using the current film technic of the time and adding body horror to the mix. Taking it from a sci-fi film and turning it into a full on Sci-Fi Horror film.
While The Thing was a flop when it came out, it went on to become a much loved film. But even this film has not escaped the dreaded remake. It was remade in 2011 and let’s face it, it does not come close to Carpenters film, even if the producers tried to claim it was not a remake but a prequel.
Then you got 1983 Scarface, which is a remake of 1932 film of the same film. (The director of the 32 film also directed The Thing from Another World) Both movies are violent gangster films, however the original is not as well-known give the 51 year gap between the two. They are both completely different animals form each other due to era’s they were made.
One reason that the original is not as well-known as the remake is that there was no physical media when it came out, so it has been lost to time. While if I wanted to watch the remake I could easily find it on DVD, Bluray or even some streaming service.
However even this remake is now being rumoured to be getting the remake treatment again.
Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita was remade as Point of No Return also known as The Assassin.
However not all remake of foreign are successful. I put this down to the changes made so it more acceptable for the America audience.
Just look at La Femme Nikita, there is one scene where Nikita is given a package and told to take it to a hotel room, where she delivers it and walks away. We never learn what was in the package.
But for the remake, our femme fatale take the package to the hotel and drops it off and as she is leaving the building, the room she dropped off the package, blows up. Why was this scene changed? Simple put the America audience expects a payoff to the action she is preforming. While in the original film it shown that she is under the control of her handlers, therefore no pay off is needed.
On a personal note I think La Femme Nikita, is a better film even if it is in French.
We also got the remake of Dune, come at some point this year. Will it be good?
I don’t know as it only half the book, but one thing for sure it will look stunning given the advancements in film making. But you know it will still be compared to the original. Weather that is fair or not only time will tell.
So that bring me back to my original question, why does Hollywood insist on doing remakes, when the majority of them fail?
At least we know for sure that one film or trilogy will never get the remake and that’s Back to the Future as Robert Zemeckis has said he will never allow it to be remade. And it should not be, it prefect as it is.
Peace and long life,
P.S. I have been hearing rumours that Episode 4 of Star Wars is going to be remade by Disney at some point. Can I just say that is not going to happen, because they have already done it. It’s called Episode 7 The Force Awakens. It is pretty much a carbon copy of the original film and while it did make some serious money at the box office, it’s nowhere near as well regraded.
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Just because a story is good doesn’t mean it’s a good story.
Rob, I believe popculture is like a sport, it’s like a craft, when you are a kid you don’t play rough, people are not too tough on you, they let you play for fun ,it’s a playground and you pretend you are good even though you suck.
When you get used to it you realize it’s competitive and difficult, but some people learn to be talented, and it’s pretty impossible to deconstruct how or why they can do what they can, it’s trade secrets that either you get or you don’t.
I think this an allegory to popculture, BECAUSE, at some point people started treating it like a daycare or a playground or something like that, people got to do stories, but the ideals behind the stories were more improtant than the stories themselves, you had to have moral obligations to craft characters in certain ways so that people who read the stories would behave and be inspired.
This was the playground era, now people are moving beyond that era, some writers from the last century got critique from moving away already then, there are children stories that are not afraid to talk about death or where kids get to do whatever they want and not listen to adults.
In this day and age these fancy regulations on how to tell stories seems to be sort of dead, even cartoon network seems to have serious stories or really ridicoulous insane stories, even when they are for kids.
But also, people are moving away from the good sense of morality and more into crafting a good story, nobody can explain how that makes sense, it’s a trade secret to how you do craft a good story, everybody understands morality, but positive messages don’t mean your craft is good.
Maybe it’s because people are more experienced with story telling, they know the canon and wants to expand, they don’t just do random shit they think is funny they try hard to stay connected to the universe of what they are writing for.
Some people don’t like this change, but I think as story telling becomes more competitive, people are forced to swallow their pride, and realize that the philosophical question at the end of man of steel, or in the beginning of Batman begins, “should these charcters be vengeful or get their hands dirty by being forced to kill their enemies?, is more relevant than forcing them to be like wonder woman 84 perfect moral beings.
At least that’s my opinion, no conlusions, just random thoughts I had, hope the letter was not too long, thanks.
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