Motion Picture Biographies: The Hollywood Spin on Historical Figures

Motion Picture Biographies: The Hollywood Spin on Historical Figures

Motion Picture Biographies: The Hollywood Spin on Historical Figures

Motion Picture Biographies: The Hollywood Spin on Historical Figures

Synopsis

Hollywood movies are famous for promoting negative stereotypes of all kinds, especially against minorities, women, Southerners, and Christians. To what extent are biographical films selected for production according to certain biases, conscious or unconscious, among the Hollywood elite? An expert on the U.S. film industry gives readers brief synopses of Hollywood biopics produced and/ or released from 1912 through 1994. This survey provides the basis for discussion and analysis.Tracking these one-sided depictions over a longer period of time, the patterns of bias - and the source of the problem - become more clear. the problem appears to be that most of the people who have green-light authority in the U.S. film industry - for either the production and/or distribution of a motion picture - share a common ethnic/religious/cultural background. Thus, the stories of their own cohort and those of all other ethnic, religious and/or cultural groups (whose members seldom achieve positions of power in Hollywood) are being filtered through the cultural sensibilities of a single group.John Cones suggests that the solution could lie in increasing diversity at the highest levels in the U.S. film industry.

Excerpt

This work grew out of the observed frustration of film industry critics who have chosen to criticize specific Hollywood movies over the years only to be rebuffed by the overly simplistic studio executive arguments that such films reflect the real world, and that the studios just make the movies that audiences want to see (i.e., moviegoers significantly influence the choices relating to which movies are made by voting with their pocket books at the theatre box office). After all, if it can be shown that consistent patterns of bias exist in the choices Hollywood studio executives make with respect to the movies they produce and release, as well as in the specific content of those movies, and that same bias is not reflected in our general population, it becomes obvious that Hollywood is selectively portraying reality, and that moviegoers only have limited options among all of the possibilities that could be portrayed on the silver screen. Thus, the moviegoers themselves could not possibly be significantly influencing such executive-level motion picture choices, since they have never been given the freedom to choose from a comprehensive slate of possibilities.

One body of films that provides an excellent opportunity to explore the question of whether Hollywood movies exhibit certain patterns of bias is that entire body of work referred to as “biopics,” (i.e., motion picture biographies). the Hollywood biopics are particularly suited for such a study, because there can be little pre-selection by a film industry observer as to which films are to be included in the research sample (i.e., the studio executives and filmmakers themselves have already decided which subjects they deemed worthy of a film biography). Thus, once these films are isolated, they can be examined to determine if there seems to be a Hollywood preference for certain types of people, (e.g., political liberals as opposed to conservatives, Europeans as opposed to people from other parts . . .

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